Though it sometimes seems that change in Scottish education has been more or less continuous since I started teaching back in the days of flares and feathered hair (or indeed any hair at all!), there has been one constant.
That has been the tendency for folk to pronounce on our schools in a negative manner, whilst not being fully conversant with the facts.
In the past fortnight, I have heard on the radio a couple of "truisms", pronounced with confidence, completely unchallenged, and both less than accurate.
First was: “Of course, State schools are failing”. It’s a common view, I think. But, actually, it’s not true. All the empirical evidence tells us that, while some schools ARE failing their pupils (a source of acute concern), more are improving, and others are providing a good standard of education for their communities.
The other was the statement, again unchallenged and unqualified: “Schools don’t prepare pupils for the world of work”. Again, this was an opinion generalised to the point of inaccuracy.
As it happened, I had just attended a meeting of all local schools to discuss vocational courses and how we worked to ensure positive destinations for our pupils. Given the times that are in it, this is not only difficult, but also a priority.
We heard of many schemes to prepare young people adequately for life after school: training schemes, vocational college courses for school pupils, and collaboration between schools and local industry.
I can point to the Retail Academy qualification, piloted and developed by our school in conjunction with the local Outlet Shopping Mall, which gives pupils national qualifications in practical skills and sets them on a route not just to employment in retail but provides a pathway to management.
There are various courses and projects that enable young people to work in mechanics, horticulture, sport, hairdressing, hospitality -- learning skills and developing talents. These dovetail well with the work experience and shadowing, and community involvement, which are also integral parts of the curriculum.
Of course, it’s increasingly difficult to provide the full range of curricular opportunities, but schools are in the business of trying to meet pupil needs as far as is possible. The crucial element is knowing not just what the pupils want, but also what the employers need.
At that meeting, a representative from a local firm, who worked closely with their neighbourhood secondary on a Bridge to Work project, pointed out that, when he organised a factory visit for the pupils, for some of them it was the first time they had ever been in a place of work -- and, as a result, their understanding of what was required for employment was instantly enhanced.
This reminded me of our successful “Take your Child to Work day”, an effective element of our second year curriculum: there’s nothing to beat first-hand experience.
It occurred to me then, that if employers are concerned about what our pupils are learning, maybe we should institute a "Take an employer to school day". This would give employers an opportunity to see at first hand what schools are teaching, and to feed back to us on any gaps in the learning outcomes. Collaboration can, and should, be profitable in both directions
In education, ignorance is not bliss. But it is lethal to our children’s futures.