Making Learning Work for Disengaged and Disaffected Young People; Engaging with A Curriculum for Excellence

June 2008

Here is our report on the 3 regional seminars. The key presentation was from Dan McGinty, Leader of the Engagement Team for A Curriculum for Excellence based at Learning and Teaching Scotland.

Dan’s PowerPoint presentation can be downloaded HERE

A pdf document of this report can be downloaded HERE

Follow the links below for the seminars’ reports and feedback on various statements and issues.

Learning should be a happy, positive experience – it should be fun, interesting, exciting, creative, challenging, inspiring , engaging, adventurous, enjoyable.

Learning should give the learner hope. It should be empowering, motivational, a moving experience and enlightening.

Learning should take place in a safe environment, which supports wellbeing and mental health and helps engagement and a sense of belonging. Children and young people should be valued, and listened to, and respected.

Learning should be person-centred, and tailored to individual needs and life circumstances. Methods should be inclusive, multi-sensory, adaptable to different learning styles, hands on and practical , informal, flexible, participative , explorative and experimental, and should challenge boundaries/self-perceived limitations. Methods should encourage peer interaction and positive peer groups, and give the opportunity to develop social skills.

Young people should have a role in planning their learning.

Learning should develop life and social skills that are relevant and help young people in their futures. It should encourage self-confidence and acknowledgement of self-worth. It should focus on the strengths of young people. It should be based on praise and reward. It should use a holistic approach, and be ethical.

There should be smaller classes. Residential and Voluntary Sector services should be better known. A multi-agency approach should be used, to ensure an effective ‘change of minds and hearts’, building on the evidence of what works. A continuum of learning should be available.

Learning should include out of school experiences. We should give young people experiences, as well as skills.

Partnerships should be built, including with employers and colleges, and with other sectors which can contribute to learning e.g. health, youth work, social work… a ‘one stop shop’? Learning should be joined up, less fragmented, de-cluttered, with more discussion. It should be about more than just information for exams.

There should be equality of opportunity for everyone. Training and resources should be made available to all educators, to assist in the provision of adding a different dimension in Education. Learning should go beyond the classroom.

Assessment should be ongoing. Goals should be achievable, expectations should be realistic, explicit, relevant. Young people should have autonomy within tasks, and should have input into their own curriculum. There should be a wide curriculum, with choices. There should be academic and vocational provision, and social/sporting/healthy lifestyles etc. ‘Sport can be the sugar that makes the medicine go down’.

It is important to develop positive relationships between teacher and pupil. Young people must be able to relate to appropriate role models, and respect for pupils is important. A positive ethos, including amongst teachers, should include the disengaged who may be off-site. Ethos should build (a sense of) community and belonging, a sense of pride in self and in school. Families should be involved.

A substantial number of contributions were about schools getting better, they are on a journey of improvement. In particular: there is an increase in vocational and college placements; schools are getting smarter at helping young people achieve, rather than attain; and getting better at recognising the input and significance of partners who also contribute to learning; and getting more thoughtful about curricular flexibility, and personalised education; having a good range of cultural exchanges, residential trips, work or life experience, sport, drama, tutoring, after school groups, and community schools being opened in the evening; there is excellent Early Years and Primary Education; the upper end of Secondary is good preparation for higher and further education.

Schools are becoming more forward thinking and progressive, and initiatives such as ‘Determined to Succeed’ are prominent in schools.

However, several delegates felt that there is a lack of flexibility at present within the curriculum, but that things are beginning to change, e.g. through Skill Academies and vocational programmes.

Scottish Education is good at inclusion, and this continues to be a priority.

Ethos/atmosphere in schools is important, but there are questions though about how much we have achieved in this area.

Some comments included:

‘Overall we are going in the right direction, but still have a way to go in engaging some children and young people.’

‘There is a need for early intervention’.

‘We think the emphasis on NEET (not in education, employment or training) students is positive – clearly Education isn’t working for everyone.’

‘Academic pupils are achieving, but we need to focus on all pupils regardless of their abilities, and money and staff are needed to address this.’

One comment cited the ‘Discipline Survey of 2006’ – a wide range of approaches to behaviour management have been introduced (Staged Intervention, Restorative Practices, Whole School Approaches) but there is still some way to go to get consistency.

Lack of consistency was cited a number of times, with variations between local authorities, and within them, and within schools in terms of promoting social skills, leadership and citizenship.

Concern was expressed about the quality of learning taking place in some settings:

‘We’re concerned that children and young people feel great pressure to perform and that they learn to pass exams or regurgitate information. We want children and young people to learn how to learn and think critically’.

The effect of league tables was noted. Schools can be geared towards certification rather than education. A large percentage of young people do not achieve qualifications. Standards of basic skills have to improve throughout school life. There should be more involvement with community groups and with the voluntary sector.

‘The system is good at pushing pupils but not at catching them’.

Half the statements written by the Aberdeen delegates praised aspects of Scottish Education. Primary schools promote a lot of confidence and learning. Scottish Education meets the needs of the majority of young people (those who are stable and committed to their education)

But concerns were expressed about pathways for those who struggle to be engaged and find themselves excluded. Qualifications are achieved but there is narrow focus on attainment.

Some young people do have opportunities they would not normally experience.

There was the reservation that Scottish Education does less well in personal and social development. There is evidence of attempts towards a holistic approach, but it is fragmented and dependent upon leadership and ethos of the school, the value bases of staff and resources.

Two statements concerned training. Teachers’ training should include caring for children and young people, not purely educating, and support and supervision for teachers is needed. There are training issues around demoralised teaching staff (and) their personal value bases with regards to young people, affecting newly qualified teachers.

There is a need for Parents to be recognised and respected as prime educators. Schools could be better at supporting parents.

Children and Young People who want to learn are struggling due to disruptive classes and are missing out; their needs are not being met.

One thing Scottish Education may do very well is put pupils off mainstream high school.

Many participants were positive about Scottish Education when thinking about the majority of students; but with reservations about it meeting the needs of all students.

‘The main focus is on ‘middling students’ – excellence is nurtured and valued? The wee soul in the corner is often overlooked. The lowest 20% struggle to ‘fit’ the system’.

‘The statement may be more or less valid depending on your ‘place’ in the system’.

‘Recognise the many good things, but still need to focus on challenges. What about students out with ‘the model? We shouldn’t be complacent – must continue to consider core – mustn’t do top-down policymakers – must bring in experience of those involved’.

Several comments were made about a lack of consistency of delivery, and specifically linked this to leadership at Local Authority and School Management levels.

‘Strength of school management … impacts on teachers and pupils’.

‘Schools are autonomous, and engender a sense of the community – but the potential of a ‘community-focussed’ school hasn’t been realised’.

‘The vision and leadership of local authorities and individual schools is a key factor.’

‘Vision and Aspirations are sound, but leadership (depends on quality, can be a constraint) and implementation have not reflected this.’

Several comments expressed the need for Scottish Education to change.

‘Hits the target and misses the point’.

‘Need for change and lack of environment to do it in’.

‘Need to celebrate achievement (and) focus on positives. Scottish culture needs to validate achievement.’

‘Total involvement with SQA for all relevant awards for students in Scotland is restricting opportunities for students.’

There were comments about the need for better inter-agency working.

‘Developing a shared understanding (through joint training opportunities) of the language/concepts we use e.g. inclusion, curriculum is essential. We need a workforce that’s working in partnership for the needs of the child’.

Two statements express the concerns of the seminar participants:

‘Scottish Education is a succession of changes. Are we now about excellence or smugness?’

‘The Curriculum for Excellence is great in principle, but already being diluted away from needs of children and future adults.’