The next Scottish Government should create a new Innovation Fund for schools to combat Scotland’s “risk averse” educational culture, a new report declares today.
Published jointly by ScotlandCan and the Social Market Foundation, the new paper concludes that Scotland’s schools system is “cautious, conformist, risk averse and stuck in its ways – in a word, stagnant”.
Constrained by a middle-management layer which seeks to avoid “rocking the boat”, the report argues that the next Scottish Government should do more to incentivise innovative approaches and ask schools to come up with new ideas suitable for their students.
These could include cross-discipline student projects such as engineering and software design, vocational options, inter-year classes, or programmes that get parents and families more involved in school life.
In other recommendations, the report says that the Scottish Government should:
- Make innovation and experimentation an explicit part of the remit of educational bodies, especially Regional Improvement Collaboratives
- Diversify hiring and appointments to key roles in government and agencies
- Support forums for the exchange of ideas
- Invest in research and knowledge exchange
Written by SMF chief economist Aveek Bhattacharya – who was educated at Cults Academy in Aberdeen– the report is based on interviews with leading Scottish education experts and is based on evidence compiled on Scottish education by the OECD and others.
In his report, Mr Bhattacharya says that claims Scottish education is failing are “over-stated”. Rather, the report concurs with analysis by Professor Lindsay Paterson of Edinburgh University that it suffers from “stagnation”
He concludes: “Though experts disagree about the state and direction of Scottish school education, there is a remarkable degree of consensus over its cultural malaise. The accounts of academics, journalists, activists and school leaders converge to present a picture of a system that is cautious, conformist, risk averse and stuck in its ways – in a word, stagnant. This will not do if the country is to meet the social, educational and technological challenges of the years to come, not least in the wake of the current pandemic.”
The report concludes that a dedicated Innovation Fund could help to shift priorities, providing the impetus for broader cultural change.
It argues that, in order to demonstrate the value placed on innovation, schools which come up with the most effective initiatives should be able to apply for an “Innovation prize”, perhaps presented by the First Minister.
The report sets out the key blocks to innovation in Scotland:
- A culture of micromanagement which has led to teachers being overloaded with bureaucracy
- The role of the “middle layer” – the local authorities and new Regional Improvement Collaboratives – which sit between schools and national government, and are seen as a “brake” on innovation
- Senior personnel in leading educational bodies who are too insular and defensive of the status quo. The report declares that “there is a sense that to progress to senior position within the system, people have to conform and avoid ‘rocking the boat”. It adds that senior educational leaders form a “relatively insular group, rotating on a ‘merry-go-round’ with limited outside influence” the report adds.
- The lack of time and resources – 63% of teachers’ time is in the classroom teaching, way above the OECD average of 43%
- Too little opportunity for school innovators to compare and contrast new approaches
- An overly rigid inspection process which discourages “out of the box” thinking
- A lack of research and evaluation as to “what works”.
Eddie Barnes, project manager for ScotlandCan said: “This important piece of research sets out some practical steps Scotland can take now to make our schools more dynamic and innovative. It’s now for all political parties at the coming Holyrood election to set out clear plans on how they intend not just to restore education, but to improve on what went before.”
Aveek Bhattacharya is Chief Economist at the Social Market Foundation, a cross-party think tank. He holds a PhD from the London School of Economics, comparing education policy in Scotland and England. He is available for interview on request.