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by Jack Thomson
19 April 2021
'Radical overhaul' needed in education system in Scotland, says think tank

Ben Birchall/PA

'Radical overhaul' needed in education system in Scotland, says think tank

A "radical overhaul" is needed in Scottish education to tackle an "inequality of attainment and achievement", according to a think tank.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation has released a paper, which makes a series of recommendations to improve the system in Scotland.

These include postponing the age of formal education and increasing the focus on play-based learning in early years.

The paper is authored by Professor Brian Boyd, of the University of Strathclyde, John Kelly, of West College Scotland, and Professor Henry Maitles, of the University of West of Scotland.

The report is broken up into sections suggesting changes that could be made in early years, primary and secondary education, as well as in further and higher education.

Summarising the paper, Boyd, Kelly and Maitles said: "Whilst there are some strong positive aspects to Scottish education and which can be improved with some relatively small alterations, the key negative factors operating within our education system – a neo-liberal agenda and inequality of attainment and achievement, stemming from too many of our population living in poverty – mean that a radical overhaul is needed."

They added: "The development of well-rounded human beings, knowledgeable of values, human rights and citizenship, should be the aim of education.

"All pupils should have the opportunity to become independent learners and creativity should be at the heart of education and this requires a radical student-centred approach.

"Parents, pupils/students, communities and society as a whole should have a role in designing an education system for all."

Some of the ideas put forward in the paper, entitled 'Liberal education in a neo-liberal world: re-culturing and recalibrating', included investing heavily in early years and seeing it as a "sector in its own right" and of equal importance to primary, secondary and post-school education.

Additionally, the report said play is a "crucial aspect of learning" and is not "frivolous".

On the topic of primary education, it suggested a stronger emphasis on outdoor learning and cited its success in Scandinavian countries.

According to the report, the exams at the end of secondary education should be "completely rethought".

The authors said: "We need to intervene early, postpone the age of formal education, ensure that early years are based on play and outdoor learning and raise staffing levels and funding in our nurseries and primaries."

They added: "Secondary schools should never again be in thrall to an examination system which distorts learning and teaching and institutionalises failure for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"Nor should internal selection in schools, supported by universities’ ever increasing entrance requirements, be continued. Further and higher education need to become much more student and community focused."

A blueprint for "radical change" is outlined, where students have the opportunity "to become independent learners" with creativity at the centre of learning.

The report was published a month after Audit Scotland criticised the Scottish Government's progress in closing the attainment gap, which it said remained "uncomfortably wide".

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