Expert praises Scotland’s education ambitions

Written by Tom Freeman on 29 September 2014 in News

'Don't be driven by data' warns Professor Harris

A highly respected academic in education policy has praised Scotland’s ambition for equitable education.
Dr Alma Harris, Professor of Educational Leadership at the Institute of Education at the University of London, told the Scottish Learning Festival she thought the commitment to reduce inequality in the development of the Curriculum for Excellence showed Scotland was serious about balancing both excellence and equity in attainment.
“Here you have the Curriculum for Excellence, it’s not delivered in one year or two; it’s about sustainability. It’s about the long haul. The big idea is it’s not about collaboration or competition, it’s about both,” she said, adding: “More of the same accountability is not going to get you improved performance. I want to put people in England on a bus to bring them here and say, ‘have a look at an education system that is principled and actually making a difference.’”
She also praised the Robert Owen Centre for Education Change at Glasgow University for “putting the focus back on equality.”
Harris added she had recommended to overseas educationalists that they look at the Scottish system but cautioned reform must always be put in a local context. The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) needed to be “put on pause”, she argued, because it had led to decontextualized policy shifts and taken the focus away from children. “The idea you can get better by following Singapore or Hong Kong or Finland is the exact opposite of what we found. We found the best leaders actually did the reverse of what the competition did,” she said.
She also issued a word of warning to Education Secretary Michael Russell, who had earlier said improvements must be driven by data. “I don’t want to be driven by data, but I do want to be informed by data. That’s the imbalance you see in the US right now. The data there is used punitively, not to inform,” she said.

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