With Scotland’s state education system now facing a long period of turmoil following the OECD report’s recommendations, one independent school in Bridge of Allan credits its International Baccalaureate status for pupils’ personal and academic achievements, writes Nan Spowart

 

ASSESSMENTS and the curriculum are presently the hottest topics in Scottish education, with the recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report recommending huge reforms for both.

However, alternative classroom models are already being successfully rolled out in Scotland,with one example being Fairview International School near Stirling – where head teacher David Hicks is keen to share his strategies towards learning with others.

HeraldScotland:

Fairview is an International Baccalaureate School – showcasing development programs for students aged 3 to 19 help develop their intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills – and Mr Hicks believes one of its strengths is continuity in the curriculum due to what is learned in primary being constantly built on, right through the students’ school careers.

A number of approaches to learning are used and these are developed through the different stages from primary to secondary. ‘Learner profiles’ also play a key part in Fairview’s holistic education meaning that the focus is not just on academic learning but also on developing a balanced individual.

“At Fairview we have an exceptionally strong curriculum but we consider that attributes such as ‘balanced’ and ‘open-minded’ are every bit as important as ‘thinker’ or ‘knowledgeable’,” says Mr Hicks. When it comes to assessments, different mechanisms are used rather than relying on old fashioned formal exams. 

“We are moving more and more to an e-model of assessment where students can include things like video and audio material, modelling and graphs,” Mr Hicks explains. 

“The way students can interact with their assessments is much richer than would be the case in a traditional pen and paper exam, so in that sense I think it is very innovative and forward thinking because students nowadays are using different skills in assessments rather than simply regurgitating acquired knowledge. 

“We are looking not only at content knowledge but skills such as investigating or applying concepts to real life contexts. Also there is further continuity in the development of research and communication skills with the culminating experience for our primary students being an exhibition where they focus upon an aspect of a global or personal concern. 

“For example they might explore deforestation or cruelty to animals and look at developing solutions. These skills become more sophisticated as they proceed through the middle years programme when they undertake a community project and thereafter a personal project.”

This community project can be anything from recycling clothes to creating hedgehog pathways but has to involve independent research as well as collaboration with others. 

In IB schools this leads to a pre-university 4000 word research paper on an area of importance to them and, according to Mr Hicks, has paved the way for many pupils to have an advantage when applying for university.

Assessment begins in the early years but never through formal exams for the youngest children. “I don’t think it is correct for children of such a young age to be doing that,” says early years teacher Jonny Knibbs. 

HeraldScotland:

“Instead there is constant observation of the children in everything they are doing whether it is maths, English, science or their topic subjects.

“Even if they are just playing with toy dinosaurs, I am constantly observing them and making notes on what they are doing independently because then I can see if their learning is embedded.”

His class has just finished a unit on living things which involved the children using their iPads to research different habitats in Scotland and then make a shoebox habitat based on their research. As the final part of the assessed project they gave a presentation to the rest of the class on what they had found out and how they had made their habitat.

“As a piece of assessment, it is more about whether they have learned and understood what they have researched, and whether they can present it” says Mr Knibbs. 

“At the end of their primary years they have to present their work on a subject through the ‘exhibition’ so we start getting them used to standing up in front of people and talking about things.”

While phonics has to be taught as a stand-alone subject, all other subjects are taught through trans-disciplinary themes that are explored during the term. Each year builds on what has been learned the previous year and efforts are made to explore aspects the children are particularly interested in.

Primary teacher Claire Lind gives the pupils options on how they are assessed with some working collaboratively and some using slide presentations, for example.

HeraldScotland:

A recent focus was about celebrations around the world and her pupils asked if they could organise an assembly on this theme. They organised workshops and, as they needed props, also worked on a proposal for financial assistance.

“We try to use the students’ ideas to focus on their learning and what they can showcase,” says Lind.

As a teacher she appreciates the IB curriculum’s flexibility as content can be changed easily to reflect world events. “Last year for example, during the Black Lives Matter protests, we had a debate about what we thought about the statues being pulled down. 

“When significant things are going on in the world we can quite quickly focus on them,” Lind says.

“Being an international school we have students from other countries so we try to embrace that by bringing in other traditions and cultures.

The students learn Mandarin and we have a big celebration assembly for the Chinese New Year. One of the big pillars of our school is global mindedness so in everything we do we are trying to relate to what is happening beyond us.”

www.fairviewinternational.uk

-----------------------------------

Opinion: Head teacher David Hicks

‘Students acquire the skills to become lifelong learners’ 

ONE of the key strengths of an International Baccalaureate school is continuity between the programmes that begin in primary school and continue all the way through secondary, writes Fairview International School head teacher David Hicks. 

They are embedded within the focus we have on approaches to learning. 

We have a number of explicit approaches to learning, and these help to structure the way students understand their learning and how they learn. Different skills such as research skills, communication, self-management, thinking and social skills are all developed throughout the student’s career and we have expectations for these at all different stages throughout their school life.

HeraldScotland:

Learner profiles are another key facet of our curriculum as it is aimed at not only knowledge and understanding but a broad and balanced development of students. 

Learner profiles like ‘caring’ and ‘risk-taking’ are all explicitly defined within the curriculum, so every time we learn together we are considering which of these 10 attributes we are seeking to develop and then we acknowledge these through celebrations and rewards. 
Students are not only well aware of the topic or subject content but are equally aware of their wider holistic development.

This is incorporated in our internationally-minded approach. 

We very much look at global issues within the curriculum. There is a great deal of emphasis on what is happening in Scotland and the UK but equally we do look beyond those borders as we are a school that has international teachers and a growing number of international students. 

Having sister schools in Asia allows us to collaborate and communicate with them and compare similarities and differences between our cultures. 

We look to focus on student agency and the student voice. For example, students decide on the projects they want to develop and learn not only to appreciate standard knowledge but develop a conceptual understanding and develop their personal attributes through their learner profiles, and their skills through the approaches to learning. 

They all then come together as an interconnected whole so it is a very holistic model and the students acquire the skills to become lifelong learners. They can apply this learning to themselves and their passions as well as their academic studies.