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Improving Schools In Scotland - An OECD Perspective

The report from the OECD, commissioned by the Scottish Government, that looked at Scottish Schools, the education system and Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) has been published this week. I, and others, have been quite dismayed already by a lot of the coverage of this report in the printed media. Predictably, they seemed to have ignored a lot of the very positive messages contained in this report and have instead focused on the areas the OECD team felt we should address to make our schools even better and the Scottish system truly world class.

I would like to redress the balance a bit by detailing some of the many positive messages fro Scottish schools, our system and the curriculum which were high-lighted in the report.

They started by identifying much that was positive about CfE. This included:

A 21st century agenda of knowledge and competence
The holistic approach of 3-18 yrs grounded in the four capacities 
Real professional engagement, trust and consensus
An enthusiasm for teaching and learning
Our courage and patience to stay the course with CfE
Other parallel reforms e.g. teacher education

Regarding equity of opportunity and our steps to close the gap, the positives were many and included:

Achievement levels which were spread relatively equally
The resilience exhibited by Scottish students
The fact that migrant students do well, and gender gaps in Scotland are not as wide as in many systems
Scottish schools are very inclusive
There are an impressive array of policies, programmes and strategies aimed at improving equity and closing the gap

When they looked at evidence about the quality of schooling in Scotland, they found:

Achievement which was above international averages in science and reading, and performance that matched international averages in maths
Our learners have positive attitudes towards school and their learning
Our trend in attainment and the move on to positive destinations as young people left the system were upwards
Risk behaviour exhibited by young people is improving

Looking at the quality of schools and leadership they identified positives of:

The widespread engagement in learning, and engagement with parents and local communities
The widespread acceptance and commitment to CfE by the educational community
A strong focus on professional capital and leadership as illustrated by Teaching Scotland's Future, the GTCS standards and the Scottish College for Educational Leadership

With assessment and evaluation they again found many positives to celebrate including:

Assessment which is seen as a part of, and not separate from, learning and teaching
A strong formative emphasis, with a range of methods used to collect information, all designed to support learning
The coherent developmental emphasis taken towards teacher appraisal and school self evaluation

Regarding governance and decision-making they identified:

A wide engagement of different stakeholders and a strong consensual approach
High levels of trust 
Patient building of ingredients and capacity, and of implementation
Extensive frameworks, reference materials and professional development to support all in the system

These are a whole host of strengths within our system. Of course we cannot be complacent and they, and we, have identified areas where we can improve. But please, let us take time to celebrate and build on the successes of what we have already achieved, as we consider how we can become even better for the benefit of all learners. There are areas you may disagree with, both in strengths and developments, but this report is hopefully a stimulus for some celebration and a careful and considered dialogue about how we get even better.

There are no quick fixes, so we all need to commit to sustainable school, curriculum and system development and leadership. It is not just beholden on those with titles to improve what we do, it is everyone's responsibility and professional obligation to the children and young people in our schools, as well as to the country we live in.

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