‘A Common Weal Education’ review

In February the Reid Foundation published a report on Scotland’s education system written by Professor Brian Boyd from the University of Strathclyde. Having been to a few Reid Foundation events, I get the feeling that they might become more influential over the coming months and years, so it was with much interest that I read their report. To be honest I haven’t fully digested its 22 pages, but a few things jumped out at me.

1). I don’t have enough experience to know whether or not the Finnish system is really the one we should be modelling ours on. It sounds utopian but I’d guess other teachers might have suggestions about why what works in Finland might not necessarily work in Scotland. If we’re looking for models of excellent education systems, from what I’ve heard, the KIPP Public Charter schools in the U.S and the ARK academy chain in England seem to have been getting excellent results in a relatively short space of time.

2). Get rid of yearly exams? Switch to a single, final year, ‘exit ticket’ exam? It sounds extreme, but could work. I think we have to be careful about demonising exams. Daniel Willingham and Joe Kirby have both written about how regular quizzes and tests are important in helping pupils remember new information and I suspect they might also be helpful for boosting motivation. Moving towards a system with fewer high stakes tests and more frequent low stakes tests could definitely be a good strategy for teaching. This might also nudge schools away from focusing on league tables and back to making pupil prospects their top priority.

3.). The report cautiously suggests that “Perhaps we need to ask…what is it that we want our children and young people to learn” (p13.). Sorry Professor, but I believe there’s no ‘perhaps’ about it. It seems to me that this is absolutely where we should start when designing ANY curriculum. I think we’d benefit hugely from coming up with a Scottish version of ‘Core Knowledge’ founded by E.D Hirsch Jr. Hirsch has been labelled right wing because Gove was a fan, but really his philosophy is all about equity and would be hugely compatible with the Reid Foundation’s aims.

I’d love to hear what other teachers think, including those from outside Scotland looking in.

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