This weekend, The Herald is reporting on the launch of a new qualification, the International Sustainability Diploma, that has been developed by Dollar Academy. We’re also running an interview with the Rector, Ian Munro, in which he explains why he supports the development of this sort of ‘non-traditional’ course.

It’s important stuff, but some readers may, perhaps, be a bit surprised to see my name attached to such positive coverage of a private school.

In fairness to any of you in that position, it’s not unreasonable: my views on private education aren’t exactly a secret. Over the years I’ve criticised their unjustifiable tax breaks, highlighted the way in which they can buy unfair advantages for their students, and argued that better education isn’t what their customers are buying. In my book, Class Rules, I argued that Scottish schooling and society “would obviously be much improved by the abolition of fee-paying education.”

And none of those views have changed.

But I’m still an education journalist, and one with a particular interest in improvements to Scottish schooling, so although I may set a higher bar for private schools when it comes to deciding what I write about, I’m always going be looking for initiatives and approaches that could, under the right circumstances, help to make things better for every pupil in Scotland.

The Futures Institute at Dollar Academy (FIDA) is one such initiative, and the new International Sustainability Diploma could provide a model for at least some of the reforms that our outdated education system desperately needs.

Indeed, if you take the time learn about the work that is going on, and talk to people about their ambitions for the future, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that all of this should have been driven by the public sector. What is the point in having national organisations like Education Scotland if it falls to a private school charging up to £40k a year to drive the sort of transformation that something like FIDA could, one day, deliver?

Ever since the pandemic, and especially since the appalling 2020 results scandal, there has been a huge appetite in Scotland for a major, even radical, reimagining of our assessment and qualifications system – the thing we currently, for good reason, call the exam system. Some believe that the current approach needs to be changed, while others want it burned to the ground so we can start again, but vanishingly few believe that all is well as things stand.


New International Sustainability Diploma to be piloted by Scottish schools

'An equal seat at the table' - private school head talks 'non-traditional' education

In the last few years we have had seemingly endless consultations and discussions and promises, but precious little progress. Today it feels like most, if not all, of the momentum for change has been lost, and there’s a strong sense that this is exactly what the people running the show (up to and including the Scottish Government) always wanted.

Maintaining the status quo, even a demonstrably broken one, is easy – especially in a conservative and profoundly insecure country like Scotland.

Changing things for the better, on the other hand, is really difficult – it requires a great deal of commitment and hard work, and a willingness to work towards long-term common good rather than short-term advantage. No wonder politicians and the people around them keep letting us down.

But things could be better.

It is possible to imagine an education system fit for 21st Century – one that does a far better job of meeting the needs of young people and preparing them not for work, but for the world.

The FIDA project, and qualifications like the ISD, prove that to be the case.