What should Swinney do to improve Education.(41 Posts)
I teach in Scotland (Secondary) and also have a DD (S4) and a DS (S6) who have been in the eye of the storm with the Curriculum for Excellence, new exams etc. I have also been involved in implementing things at school, Chair of Parent Forum when kids were at Primary. I even mark for SQA.
My school is unusual (tiny, remote secondary) with 1 teacher for most subjects. There are lots of things I would like to see happening (and one of them is an end to the SNP and talk of IndyRef2 so I am not a supporter). What would you advise him to do?
1. Get rid of units, unit tests etc. They do not match up with final exams and are a pain, plus stressful for kids. In English there were 12 separate assessment standards that have to be overtaken at N5/H (now 9) and 24 at N4.
2. Make it easier to get rid of poor teachers. My kids' school careers have suffered at various times from some pretty shocking teachers who are still being paid to fuck kids' lives up. If everyone else in every other subject can get kids through an N5, and all your pupils fail (really!) then you should not be a teacher.
3. Have a fixed number of N5s that schools have to offer. Avoid schools trying to attract kids /parents with 8/9 or 6 or whatever. Getting rid of the units would make 8 much more manageable.
4. Free schools up to let kids do things early, or stay on until 18, if that suited them. DS did some exams in S2 and S3 (2 Int2s and a Higher) but rules stopped DD from doing the same.
He needs to work on bottom 20%. Re-examine exit arrangements. Beef up colleges etc.
There must be more.
From a primary perspective,
- class sizes must go down
- every class should have a classroom assistant
- presumption of mainstream must be reconsidered
- behavioural units have to be reopened
And the answer to the above would be that there is no money and no teachers.
The benchmarks released during the week were frustrating. It was great to see the expectations but I'm now worried about how I'm going to fit all of the lessons and skills, and if this is going to be the outline of the new national tests. It also means that every teacher across Scotland is now going to have to sit down and write their own mini-curriculum.... yet more paperwork.
Presumption of mainstream is a good point. Have come up against this for the first time recently. We usually muddle through but no LS Teacher and just expected to teach mixed ability 13 year olds (30 of them) 1 with very complex needs - differentiate, we are told....
It really must be reconsidered in the context of rising class sizes and classroom assistant cuts.
Over the past few years, I'd reckon my average class size was 27.
There would be 2/3 in each class with severe behaviour problems (violence, destruction, aggression, swearing, threatening me and the other children).
Every class had a least one child with ASD. 27 children in a small classroom stressed them out as it was, never mind the behaviour I've just described up there ^.
I teach in a highly deprived area, so then we had the effects of poverty on top of all that. Children coming to school hungry, children without any help with reading and writing at home etc. etc.
Thinking of each group of children, they just needed more quality teacher time. The less children you have in your class, the more time you can give them... it's not rocket science.
Agree class sizes for a start. My daughter is in P7 and has been in a class of 32 since P3. There is a classroom assistant, but one of her classmates has Aspergers, two are dyslexic and one is sometimes on crutches, so teaching assistant is there to support them, not everyone else. My son is in P5 in a class of 26.
I've only got one at secondary and he's only just started s2 so we haven't got into the whole exam thing yet.
Get rid of the Curriculum for Excellence.
More classroom assistants.
If children with behavioural needs are going to be in mainstream, make sure there is proper support for them.
GIRFEC doesn't work - if you're getting it right for one child, it;s not right for another.
Get rid of Jolly friggin Phonics. We are unleashing a generation who can't spell.
Reduce class sizes please. Practical subjects are capped at 20 and rightly so but English and Maths can have 33 in the junior phase.
Many PPI schools were built when the plan was to have smaller class sizes. Cramped unpleasant conditions.
Only teacher numbers have been protected (for now) and the cutbacks in non teaching posts mean that many of these duties now land on teachers. Swinney's letter was accompanied by two hefty documents to be read. Was it an attempt at irony?
I wouldn't like to see a return to early presentation in my subject - English. I teach in a very high achieving state school and very few pupils would cope with the challenge of Nat 5 in S3. I also like the smooth transition into Higher , I think that would be lost with a year away from exams.
My DDs have also been caught up in this "time of change " . DD1 second year at uni, DD2 S6, DD3 S3, DD4 S2. None of them have followed the same model of number of subjects and when they are chosen. Time for some standardisation.
This reminded me. Under Labour / Lib coalition English and Maths in S1 and S2 were capped at 20. This was quietly dropped under the SNP. No mention of a change in policy, it merely became OK to have bigger classes.
Some kids need that level of focus and the ones that do are the ones the government claims to be targeting.
English teacher too.
Why, oh why haven't they even bothered to update the units on the secure site? Makes me so, so angry.
Make the SQA much more accountable for accuracy. We had some wildly "out there" Higher Folios, including one scribbled down at the last minute from a weak candidate that was a high enough mark to give a band 1A. Another, superb Folio, scored the same mark.
I also LOATHE the subtle brainwashing which the SNP is promoting in Scottish schools. My S2 was last week in PHSE asked to work with his group to discuss Scottish athletes who had succeeded at the Olympics. He pointed out they were competing as Team GB, not Team Scotland.
I also think it is very wrong that there is a huge focus on studying Scottish authors/poets/playwrights irrespective of whether they are of international standard or not (or even half way decent) - being Scottish trumps everything else. And don't get me started on the obsessive promotion of "Scots language" in schools - if my child has to learn one more dreadful poem along the lines of "My Wee Doggie" by JK Anand I wil SCREAM.
(Not an SNP voter as you might imagine).
A friend, who teaches Biology, tells me the Scotification is there in her subject too. Not just a mammal, but a Scottish mammal.
But, it is History that is a real eye opener. Asked about problems in the trenches in WW1 the answer "lice in their clothing" is not good enough. It has to be lice in the kilts of the Scottish soldiers.
As for English.......I was in a meeting room in Stirling when someone came round, tasked to ask a roomful of English teachers about Scottish Texts. (On the day of Hurricane Bawbag). Everyone on my table spoke passionately against......guess what we got?
There is nothing wrong with being proud to be Scottish and having pride in your country. Robert Burns is a great poet and some of his work is truly world class. But thinking back to the texts I did at Higher English, we did Macbeth, Of Mice and Men, Great Gatsby - none of them are Scottish enough for the SNP. It is immature and inward looking to think that Scottish children have to be taught Scottish things at all cost. Part of being an adult is learning to appreciate other cultures and countries, and realise that actually, other countries have some writers and artists which are better than Scottish ones.
My son who is in S2 has done the Scottish Wars of Independence TWICE - once in P7, and again in S1. I do not believe this is a coincidence. There's nothing he doesn't know about King Alexander III falling off his fecking horse. But he only knows about globally more important figures like Hevry VIII and Elizabeth I because he reads independently and is a history geek.
Plus I am not daft and can see right through what the SNP are trying to do. Husband is English, S2 child was born in England and we disagree with practically everything they are trying to do to Scottish education.
I agree that reducing class sizes is critical to improving education for all children. I also feel quite strongly that there are too many people with poor numeracy skills, and to a lesser extent poor literacy skills, entering the teaching profession. And linked to that, teacher educators are often paid less than teachers at the top of their pay scale, so we're not encouraging the right people into those posts either. We can't expect kids to enjoy maths when they see their teacher struggling to complete a written multiplication on the board.
I don't have an issue with teaching more Scottish history though - why teach about the Tudors (for which there are resources galore online and in history books etc) when teaching the Stuarts gives kids a more local perspective? Equally gruesome and exciting times! But a lot harder to find quality resources for (although that's now changing for the better).
It's about balance, Superjaggy. At the moment there is no balance.
Texts ds studied for his Nat 5 English were One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and (for his Scottish text) some Carol Ann Duffy poems. He'd also studied Kidnapped in S2 and Of Mice and Men in S3 but chose not to revise them.
I've been impressed
so far by the quality and range of what he's studied in English, which is comparable to what I studied 40 years ago () - but maybe that's just because he had a scary good English teacher for his 1st 4 years at secondary.
My main complaint about the modern English exams is that they no longer include a précis. It was/is such a good skill to learn for work life if you do anything that involves reading reports - which so many spheres, even scientific ones, require.
He now has a new English teacher for his Higher (the new HoD) but seems to like/respect her. No idea
yet what texts he's studying though . I suppose I should try asking again
Luna, as a primary teacher I try to strike a balance between Scottish history and British, etc. I haven't been told to do that, and I definitely haven't been told to teach Scottish history at the expense of all other perspectives. I just think I should offer the children a range of experiences, and teach them the skills to research the aspects they find most interesting. Some teachers will no doubt sway more one way than others, but I suspect most aim for a balance.
It's a shame if kids are getting taught the same period of history twice in a couple of years though - suspect that's down to lack of liaison between schools in a cluster rather than anything else.
Prettybird, my DS read the same texts for his Nat 5! And now he's reading Arthur Miller for his Higher
The five mark question in RUAE paper at Higher draws on similar skills to the précis Prettybird. I've been using précis to prepare my seniors for the exam. Now they hate me as they have to read the entire passage and not just jump to section the question covered. Mwah ha ha
That's good Lidl - it'll serve ds in good stead. I'm pleased he's enjoying the literature (whatever it is he is studying ) and the creative writing side (he's working on an essay tonight, due in on Friday) but he hates close reading - which is actually a good skill to learn.
He was pleased with his A (worried it might be a B because of his challenge with close reading) for his Nat 5.
Do other people take issue with the variety of options in S4 - some schools 6 subjects, others 8?
Also, the acute lack of money in education.
Our high school appears to do 7 subjects for Nat 4 or 5. What is different from when I was at school is that during S3 my child will do 9 courses, then drop another 2 at the end of S3. For S3 he HAS to carry on with all curriculum areas, so has to do one of art/drama/textiles/graphic design/music. I'm not sure that keeping it so broad for so long is a good thing.
Our high school has most kids doing a maximum of 6 Nat 5s, I think. My DS did 5 and to be honest, that was broad enough for him (plus Nat 4 maths). But he was maybe lucky enough to know from a young age the kind of subjects he wanted to pursue.
Ds' school allows pupils to do 8 - but does so by making them choose their options at the end of S2 (although not at that point whether they'll be at Nat 4 or Nat 5) - although some pupils won't do any Nat 5s in S4 and will sit those that they are capable of in S5.
Ds ended up with 8 Nat 5s and a Nat4 in RME
or whatever it is called
I can understand the frustration at the lack of consistency and agree that it is something that needs to be addressed.
Even though schools appear to get judged on the percentage of pupils that get 5
or more Higher in S5, so in one sense the number of Nat 5s sat in S4 is irrelevant (but not to the pupils), the lack of consistency in S4 doesn't reflect well on CfE.
Do other people take issue with the variety of options in S4 - some schools 6 subjects, others 8?
Five only here. Yes, we are a small school but I've not heard of anywhere else that's so narrow in the S4 choices (English and Maths are compulsory).
That is really narrow only allowing 3 choices if Maths and English are compulsory. Back in the day when I was doing O Grade I did two languages, two sciences and geography along with the maths/english and that gave me a bit longer to figure out what I did for Higher.
I am assuming with only allowing 5 in S4, there is the option to take more in S5/? It's fine for the pupils who know from an early age where there talents lie at they're really picking their Higher options at the end of S3. But it's tougher for the kids who aren't so sure and may end up finding it hard to go back and pickup subjects they've dropped.
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