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Education Culture and Sport Committee

6th Report 2003

Report on Inquiry into the Purposes of Scottish Education
Volume 2 - Evidence

 

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SP Paper 815

Session 1 (2003)

 

SUBMISSION FROM WEST OF SCOTLAND DEVELOPMENT CENTRE

Theme 1 Coping with Change and Uncertainty

In the work of Development Education Centres participation and experience are central to all learning. We believe that with this methodology, the essential knowledge and understanding will follow and will be retained more easily and for a longer time. Skills of listening and debating are emphasised and the sense of belonging helps override the potential fear of change.

If education is to help all deal with change and uncertainty throughout future life, there must be an underlying value of concern for the person rather than the product, a focus on society rather than economics. The process promoted by development educationalists emphasises the need for values and dispositions, skills and competence just as much as knowledge and understanding. (Citizenship Document, Learning and Teaching Scotland)

Such a process also focuses on a vision for a better world and more importantly how we can work with pupils towards achieving a world in which there is greater equity, social justice, human rights for all

The kind of Society we want:

This really needs to be debated alongside the education debate because the two are so closely interwoven.

To be able to influence such debate the education system must furnish young people with appropriate skills, attitudes, values as well as the necessary knowledge and understanding. Therefore the way that pupils are taught is every bit as important as the content of the teaching. ICT must be a tool integral to the education process and this must be accessible to all. If is helps only certain sections of society it becomes a negative rather than a positive influence.

Theme 2 Engaging with Ideas

If there is to be improvement in this area, it is necessary that the value and achievements of all are equally valued. There must be a move from the "league-table" mentality to a situation where all feel their efforts are recognised whether they top a list or not.

The pupil teacher ratio needs to drop in order that there can be closer relationships This will bring benefits in the social as well as the academic ie as well as producing better results there will be few problems. Classroom management will be easier and better. Work on children's rights has opened up the possibilities of more democratic schools but unless views are taken seriously and the pupil's right to be heard is validated, no change can take place.

The period of initial education has indeed to be an apprenticeship to society. Education has to be a preparation for a global society in which young people can play an active and useful part by questioning and being critical. Therefore, this education must be such that pupils are involved, encouraged and enabled to

· Become aware of their role as useful citizens who have the ability and confidence to think and act critically

· Contribute to local, national and international governance

· Acknowledge their dependence and interdependence in the global society

· Feel the need and desire to work for justice to eliminate the present extremes of poverty in our own country and in the developing world.

Theme 3 Keeping Everyone Involved with Learning

In order to do this there needs to be a reappraisal of our system which expects one model to fit all. Not all children learn in the same way, at the same rate nor do they have the same background of support.

Recognising and encouraging new models of community and society might add to the relevance of education for the many who, at present, find themselves excluded. Emphasis on skills of listening, reflecting and analysing especially of contemporary social and political structures is central to keeping people involved.

Schools cannot be expected to overcome all problems caused by the social and economic backgrounds of many pupils but they can encourage the critical challenging of the causes of these problems.

The earlier pupils are involved in their own education and are given the opportunity to take ownership of their learning the more successful will that learning be.

Theme 4 Promoting a Sense of Identity

Global citizenship is a necessary development if education is to produce a healthy society but this does not mean losing the local or national identity - the opposite is the case. NGOs and Aid agencies have experience of working in many different societies. Their educational material stresses the importance of working on the strengths of local identity with pupils and building on that to widen education from the local to the global.

Globalisation has the potential to bring the world closer together but only if those who have the power begin to work for the benefit of those who are oppressed by unjust political and economic systems. Our identity must be based on an individual's sense of worth and not at the expense of another society or section of society. Education's focus would shift to self awareness and self esteem, away from a culture of blame to one of responsibility. Young people have a very great sense of fairness and justice. This must be encouraged and developed in order that they realise the importance of both rights and responsibilities.

Theme 5 Developing Necessary Skills

Enquiry and communication skills precede the acquirement of skills of literacy and numeracy and should be emphasised. Investigating, interpreting, reflecting and analysing occur long before formal education but somehow are overtaken in the stress on literacy and numeracy. Participation and action skills such as designing, co-operating, negotiating, listening and decision-making build the capacity of individuals and societies.

The ability to challenge stereotypes, counter prejudice and welcome diversity will be key factors in educating for change and uncertainty. The value of affective education must run parallel with the concerns about literacy and numeracy. They are not mutually exclusive and must be seen in the symbiotic relationship which they share in reality.

It is essential that education provides young people with transferable skills because of the rapidly changing nature of our society. Once again this means that the emphasis on methodology is very important in order that learning can take place at different stages throughout life and is not confined to one period of formal education.

Theme 6 Fitting Structure to Purpose

The purpose of our Education system must be to give our pupils the best possible preparation to take their place as useful citizens: as members of the local, national and international community. Therefore the principle which must govern all decisions about the future of Scottish Education is what is best for the pupil. Social justice and equity have to be part of the school experience if these are to be "learned".

There is no doubt that our present education system is not suited to the needs of all pupils. The challenge is to be open to new models and ideas while retaining the best of what we have. This will certainly mean greater input of resources to education but if we believe in providing our children with the best possible preparation for adult life, it is a small price to pay. It also means being open to learning from the experience of other countries.

SUBMISSION FROM WWF SCOTLAND

' Education in Scotland is currently a production line, feeding further education establishments and the job market.' 1. Introduction

1.1 As a contribution to the National Education Debate (Scotland) and the Education, Culture and Sport Committee's Inquiry into the purposes of Scottish education WWF Scotland facilitated an on-line discussion, Schools for a Sustainable Scotland, from 5- 28 June 2002. Its purpose was to generate thinking on how school education relates to the wider needs of society in the 21st century and specifically how we equip people with the commitment and skills to ensure a more sustainable world.

1.2 The global, national and local responsibility to change the course of humanity towards 'sustainable development' was recognised at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and progress over the last 10 years will be discussed at the second World Summit in Johannesburg in August 2002.

1.3 Sustainable Development has been given a high priority by the Scottish Executive and there is commitment to ensure that it is at the heart of all policy making. There is currently no strategy to ensure that this is the case for education.

1.4 Using a web-board as a means of engaging people in useful discussion was an experiment for WWF Scotland and reflection on our experience of the process is presented below. This paper also presents the common threads of discussions that are relevant to the purposes of Scottish education.

2. Discussion Summary

The following points summarise those made by the debate participants in response to some of the key questions posed by the Education, Culture and Sport Committee in their Discussion Paper on the Inquiry into the Purposes of Scottish education. Access to the full debate on the web board can be obtained by contacting Nancy Nairn, WWF Scotland, tel: 01887 820449, email: nnairn@wwfscotland.org.uk.

2.1 Is there a need in a rapidly changing world for radical change in the education system?

' As a society we will either learn towards a sustainable future or we will flunk it in the next few decades...we will either get there through learning by design, that is by intent, or by default, that is through mounting crisis.'

Stephen Sterling, writer

2.1.1 There is a need for radical change in the education system, carefully introduced in stages over a period of time. Changes are required to enable people to make informed and responsible decisions to improve the quality of life now without damaging the planet for the future.

2.1.2 Preparation for life is the basic role of education and as life changes so must education. This refers to lifelong learning not just formal education at school and includes community education including parents, peers, community members, and workmates. Schooling should be viewed as an integral part of that experience.

2.1.3 Secondary education, at present, is too compartmentalised, constrained by emphasis on traditional subjects, inflexible, and driven by the need to deliver learning outcomes and meet assessment deadlines. Attainment is seen simply in terms of that which can be measured, ie in examination passes.

2.1.4 Primary education offers an opportunity for a more holistic approach but there is concern that primary schools may lose flexibility with increased emphasis on testing from an early age. Schools that look creatively at how they deliver the curriculum are often not valued in assessments.

2.1.5 Change needs to be for the whole school institution and all those who make up the school community, not just piecemeal by inserting a few new values, concepts and skills into an already overcrowded curriculum. Everyone should be involved in the learning process.

2.1.6 Citizenship and sustainable development are not given priority in Initial Teacher education at present because of the drive for quality and introduction of new initiatives in schools (e.g. ICT, MLPS, 5-14 ES Guidelines). They are optional elective elements, not viewed as a central purpose of education.

2.1.7 Sustainable development and global citizenship should be made a 'purpose' of education, providing the opportunity to shift the education culture as a whole rather than graft new ideas onto old models (such as adding a quality indicator here and there).

2.1.8 Comprehensive indicators of success in this area will be required at school level to signify that it is important and to allow measurement of progress in relation to sustainable development and global citizenship.

2.2 Coping with Change and Uncertainty

How can the education system help children and young people cope with high levels of uncertainty and the rapid pace of change?

Sean Meikle, Inverness Royal Academy

2.2.1 Education is itself a force for change in society and needs to be seen not just as preparation for economic life but for sustainable communities, economy and environment.

2.2.1 Schools should promote more clearly what constitutes Quality of Life. More emphasis and resources should be given to discovery (experiential learning), outdoor education, music, drama, dance, arts, sports and community activity.

2.2.3 Sometimes the values presented by a school's practice are at variance with that presented in the curriculum, eg, the messages in a health education lesson are not followed through into healthy school meals.

2.2.4 Involvement in good, sensitive, democratic, inclusive practice is needed in schools, as promoted by the proposals in the Education for Citizenship in Scotland report (Learning and Teaching Scotland, June 2002) to prepare pupils for participation throughout life.

2.2.5 For teachers to engage people in the learning that might transform their lives, there needs to be less separation between the learning programme and real life and experience emphasising linkages rather than compartmentalised subjects.

2.2.6 The ability to cope with change and uncertainty is needed throughout the system and more training and support will be required for teachers to deliver.

2.3 Engaging with Ideas

How far should education be encouraging children and young people to be capable of engaging with existing knowledge and developing innovative ideas as a basis for questioning authority and social conventions?

'Children need to see that they can make a difference, that something happens because of what they have contributed.'

Barbara O'Brien, Craigellachie Primary School

2.3.1 Education should promote reflective thinkers in our society in how they interact with the human and natural environment. This means pupils who:

· Can think for themselves

· Can work with and listen to others

· Can state and justify their personal opinions

· Are confident in expressing themselves, contributing to discussion and debate

· Are creative in their approach to finding solutions and alternatives

· Have a spirit of genuine enquiry and are interested in local, national and international issues.

2.3.2 Methods suggested to achieve this included:

· Taking a whole school approach, involving teaching and learning, institutional management and the school environment

· Community based approaches involving all staff, pupils, parents, local businesses, council members and more

· Involving staff, parents and children in democratic decision making processes in schools at an appropriate level (eg, school council, class council, playground committee, School Board, development planning working groups, comments and suggestion boxes)

· The incorporation of real life and experience in the learning programme to help them address local and global issues.

2.4 Keeping everyone involved with Learning

Is what we are doing in schools an adequate proxy for what we think education ought to do?

'We are in danger of losing sight of ensuring that the system fosters creativity and thinking, builds confidence and social skills and above all encourages deep thought and exploration of different ideas.'

Mark Hope, Shell Expro UK

2.4.1 Recommendations made in Education for Citizenship in Scotland, if made central to the purposes of education in Scotland, offer great potential for positive change. Leadership will be required at every level, a real willingness on the part of government, local authorities and head teachers to take part, if it is to have the desired impact. Schools will need convincing that this is not just another burden.

2.4.2 Issues such as sustainable development, citizenship, enterprise, creativity are seen to be 'in vogue' but responding to these is constrained by the continuing emphasis on traditional academic subjects in secondary schools.

2.4.3 Resources must move from the traditional to the currently relevant eg, education for citizenship to ensure the recommendations are implemented. Delivery of the promised continuing professional development, pre-service training and support will be central to the success of Education for Citizenship.

.2.5 Developing Necessary Skills

What skills are needed to make sense of large amounts of information and to bring them together in a coherent response to change?

' In terms of Initial Teacher Education, citizenship/ sustainable development education is in danger of being squeezed so tight that it either slips away from the agenda completely or has such a watered down content that it does not prepare our students for the large changes that are taking place in the world.'

Allen Thurston, University of Dundee

2.5.1 It is important to have an education provision that develops knowledge and skills that enable people to engage in economic activity that is fulfilling, economically viable and sustainable, socially and environmentally.

2.5.2 Critical thinking, problem solving, communication skills and co-operation skills are central to the skills outlined in 3.3 above, Engaging with Ideas. Developing well-informed thinking will require pupils to collect information, analyse, debate and make choices based on real life issues. Such skills should be developed throughout the curriculum and through participation in school life.

2.5.3 Training and support is required to increase teachers' knowledge and understanding of contemporary issues such as sustainable development.

3. The Process

3.1 WWF Scotland invited teachers and other educators with whom we had worked, people in other fields of life, for example, business and sustainable development and WWF supporters to participate in the private, facilitated, on-line discussion carried out through WWF's dedicated learning website, www.wwflearning.co.uk. 55 people registered their interest and of those, 40 logged into the site and 20 participated in discussions. The participants came from a wide spectrum of interests and were widely spread geographically, from Dorset to Shetland (Appendix 1).

3.2 Facilitated discussions over the three weeks were based around three themes:

Week 1 What is Education in Scotland currently for?

Week 2 Is our education system fit for future needs?

Week 3 Creating Schools for the 21st century

The WWF Scotland Parliamentary Briefing paper on the Purpose of Education (Appendix 2) was presented as an initial stimulus for debate and weblinks were given to the Parliamentary Inquiry and Scottish Executive's National Debate on Education. Other resources and weblinks suggested by participants, were added throughout the debate.

3.3 The debate brought together far-flung education practitioners and people from the private and voluntary sectors for stimulating and useful discussions that are unlikely to have been possible otherwise. Participants valued the ability to contribute at the time and place of their choosing and to easily access any background information. Although open to all that were interested, participants required a password to enter and discussions were 'private' to the group. Introductions were made on-line and participants knew who were reading their contributions. A facilitator, who used phone and email to try to maintain their interest and encourage contributions, supported the contributors.

3.4 The on-line discussion was slow to start, as many participants were unfamiliar with the software. It took time to read the start-up information before having the confidence to put up a comment for debate. The facilitator spent time emailing and phoning contributors to ensure their participation. Many had limited time to contribute and were not able to repeatedly visit the site. Some potential participants had technical difficulties getting into the web board because of computer 'firewalls' in their institutions.

Appendix 1

P - Debate Participants

O - Debate Observers

Alison

Nind

Currie Community High School

P

John

Tracey

Fortrose Academy

P

Keir

Bloomer

Clackmannanshire Council

O

Barbara

O'Brien

Craigellachie Primary School

P

Norma

Smith

Lunnasting Primary School

P

Sean

Meikle

Inverness Royal Academy

P

Marie-Jeanne

McNaughton

University of Strathclyde

O

Anne

Paterson

Inveraray Primary School

P

Moira

Leslie

Raigmore Primary School

O

Jane

Murray-Smith

Tomintoul Primary School

O

Peter

Martin

WWF-UK

P

Simon

Pepper

WWF Scotland

P

Geoff

Fagan

CADISPA, University of Strathclyde

P

Mark

Wells

SEPA

O

Kyla

Brand

AGENDA

O

Mark

Hope

Shell Expro UK

P

Mary

Paterson

Poverty Alliance

O

Anne

Kane

Oxfam

O

George

Tarvit

Oxfam

O

Hilary

Neilson

IDEAS

O

Tanya

Barman

IDEAS

O

Stephen

Sterling

Writer

P

Kate

Campbell

Ecoschools

P

Alastair

Lavery

RSPB Scotland

O

Zoe

Laird

Forward Scotland

O

Peter

Edwards

Education Consultant

O

John

Smyth

University of Paisley

P

Jackie

Kent

Dunblane Primary School

P

Joyce

Gilbert

Grounds for Learning

P

Penny

Martin

Grounds for Learning

O

Morven

Cairncross

WWF Scotland

P

Derek

Fraser

University of Glasgow

O

Allen

Thurston

University of Dundee

P

Bart

McGettrick

University of Glasgow

O

Ruth

Najda

British Council

O

Elspeth

Crawford

University of Edinburgh

O

Janis

Keast

Highland One World Group

P

Nicol

Stephen

Deputy Minister for Education

P

Mary

Shuma

WWF Tanzania

P

Alec

Downie

Consultant

O

What is education for?

WWF welcomes the Scottish Parliamentary Inquiry into the purpose of education. WWF believes that the over-arching purpose of education should be to shape an equitable, responsible and sustainable society. We urge Education Committee members to ensure that shaping a sustainable and equitable society is firmly placed in their report. (1)

WWF has many years experience of working on education through innovative projects in Scotland and is part of the groundbreaking new alliance known as Education 21 Scotland which aims to promote sustainability into education.

Global responsibility and citizenship

The global responsibility to change the course of humanity towards `sustainable development' is the most important and far-reaching challenge facing today's, and tomorrow's generations. The Scottish debates on education come just before the world's attention will be focussed on progress since the Rio Earth Summit of 1992. In Johannesburg in August 2002 the crucial global debate about the future of human prosperity and the fate of the earth resumes in the second World Summit on Sustainable Development.

The education debate should consider how Scottish schools develop pupils who are `literate' in sustainable development and ready to play an active part. Our education systems need to keep pace with the `sustainability transition' as exemplified in global public concern and as demonstrated by the Executive's new targets for priority action announced in April 2002.

If the debate fails to give full attention to this area it will not only fail to live up to the values and aspirations of society in Scotland but potentially fail the future of young people, our own well-being and that of the planet.

The last hundred years or so have surely shown us that we need new ways of understanding and viewing our world, and that we need to learn from our mistakes. We have mistakenly affected the climate through excessive reliance on fossil fuels, we are losing vital habitats like rainforests - indeed WWF's own international research reveals that in the last 25 years we have lost nearly a third of the earth's natural resources. The rate of consumption and pollution is estimated to be at least twice the earth's carrying capacity.

Scotland's response to Sustainable Development

On 18 Feb 2002, the First Minister set out the challenge in his first major policy speech since taking office: `We know we must deal with the legacy of historically unsustainable development. There are wrongs still to be righted. But more important than ever, we must learn from our past mistakes and as our society develops - economically and socially - it must develop in a way that meets the needs of the present without compromising the resources of future generations.'

The First Minister said in his statement on sustainable development on 30 April 2002, `I am determined that Scotland takes a lead in making sure that the Scotland being built today meets the needs of tomorrow's generations.' The Scottish Executive has made a commitment to put `sustainable development at the heart of all policy making.'

Many actions are proposed by government but nowhere is action needed more than in education.

What is sustainable development?

`development that meets the needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations.' It means human society having a stable and productive partnership with the planet - and a decent environment and quality of life for all.

What!?
"At the local level, our daily newspapers continually remind us of the effects of sustainability issues on everyday life: issues relating to the health of the local economy, transport, community, housing, crime, social exclusion, health, pollution, food quality, energy use, wildlife and so on. These are the quality of life issues that impact on young people now, and will deeply influence their prospects. Sustainability then, is not just about `the environment' but about the future of individuals and whole societies, which can only be secured and sustained by seeing the economic, social and environmental dimensions of issues as an interrelated whole."

Stephen Sterling, International expert on education and sustainable development, May 2002.

The role of school education

Although learning needs to happen in all quarters of society, schools must have a clear role to play. Education in the formal institution of schools is already shaped to a purpose. The purpose may not be made explicit but it underlies the design and ethos of it. If we get the purpose of education right, we have the opportunity to shift the education culture as a whole rather than graft new ideas onto the status quo. Appropriate policies and practice should follow from it.

WWF commends a holistic approach which would involve reviewing purpose, policy and practice and how all contribute to the overall goal of sustainability.

Baltic states take the lead (2)

Ministers of Education in the Baltic states have recently jointly agreed a plan to embed their commitment to sustainable development into their education systems. Their strategy document specifies a goal for schools as follows:

"The individual learner should have the knowledge, values and skills to be active, democratic and responsible citizens and to participate in decisions at individual, as well as at different levels within society, locally and globally, to contribute to creating a sustainable society. Learners in vocational education should also have skills and competencies relevant to their future professions.

This will require the following:

· Legal provisions that clearly include ESD (Education for sustainable development)

· ESD is part of regular teaching and learning in school and the basis of all school life

· Educators have relevant competence to include SD in their teaching

· Suitable learning methods and a learning environment positive to SD."

Scotland could potentially follow such a far-sighted model, catching up to the less cautious efforts of some other countries to respond to this important area of social change. Making this an explicit, rather than what has been until now a rather implicit and well concealed concern in Scottish education, could assist a process of transformation in education which really meets contemporary needs.

What impact would this have for example on the next set of national priorities for schools (3 years from now); on initial teacher education policies; on the way children get involved in decision-making about the use of energy in the schools in which they spend so much time, the food they consume there, how they contribute to the well-being of the local community and its green spaces; how connected ways of thinking are encouraged through the way learning is designed?

Can we afford not to put sustainability at the heart of the purpose of education if it is supposed to be at the heart of all Scottish policy making?

For further information contact George Baxter, Parliamentary Officer on 01887 820 449 or mobile 07771 818 677

(1) WWF also welcomes the parallel Scottish Executive National Debate on Education - we are set to launch an on-line debate as part of this on the 5th June. Go to www.wwf.org.uk/scotland for details.

(2) Baltic initiative member countries: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russian Federation, Sweden. For further information go to: http://www.ee/Baltic21/

ANNEX E - REPORT FROM SCRE CENTRE

Inquiry into the Purposes of Scottish Education

Final report of the findings

from the focus group consultation

Anne Pirrie

Kevin Lowden

Valerie Wilson

August 20021. Introduction

This is a report of the findings of three-month study conducted by the Scottish Council for Research in Education (now the SCRE Centre). The study was commissioned by the Research and Information Group on behalf of the Education, Culture and Sport Committee at the Scottish Parliament.

The aim of the study was to conduct focus group research in order to inform the Education, Culture and Sport Committee's inquiry into the Purposes of Scottish Education.

The 77 participants in the study were recruited from sections of the public perceived to be at risk of social exclusion, and thus unlikely to submit written or oral evidence. These included single mothers in deprived urban areas; young unemployed men; disabled people; people from the major ethnic minority groups in Scotland; low-skilled workers; and older people.

2. The research focus

The research team engaged participants in informal discussions of the six themes that provided the framework of the inquiry. These were drawn from the Discussion Paper (SP Paper 533) provided for the Committee by its educational advisers. The six themes were:

· Coping with change and uncertainty

· Engaging with ideas

· Keeping everyone involved with learning

· Promoting a sense of identity

· Developing necessary skills

· Fitting structure to purpose.

The main findings in relation to each theme are reported below. As the research findings indicated that the development of a sense of identity was inextricably linked with the development of necessary skills, we have decided to treat these two themes under the same heading.

3. Coping with change and uncertainty

· Many respondents believed that Scottish education had indeed become more flexible and inclusive in recent years. Truancy was now considered less likely to be condoned than it had been in the past; and young people with special educational needs (SEN) were now perceived to be more likely to receive help.

· Concern was expressed that young people did not show enough `respect' for their teachers. Allied to this point was the view that some teachers were too informal in their dealings with secondary school pupils.

· Many of the young people we interviewed had a highly instrumental view of education. They believed the main purpose of education was to help them get a job. Those who were still unemployed some two years after leaving school felt badly let down by the education system.

· Most respondents believed that high levels of teacher-pupil interaction were essential if young people were to be adequately prepared for coping with change and uncertainty.

4. Engaging with ideas

· Education was perceived by many respondents to have a key socialising role. Indeed, this was considered to be one of its primary purposes. Enabling children and young people to engage with ideas was perceived by most respondents as being of secondary importance.

· There was little support for the idea that education should develop children and young people's intellectual capacity in order to enable them to challenge authority.

· Education was seen by many participants as having the potential to provide a bastion against the relentless pressure exerted upon young people by a pervasive marketing culture.

· There was the perception among many respondents over several groups that too much emphasis was currently being placed on academic achievement, and that this was detrimental to the development of vocational and key life-skills.

· There was no consensus amongst the focus group participants on the issue of breadth vs. depth in the curriculum. For some, subjects like history, geography, modern languages, economics, religious and moral education all had their place in the curriculum. Others believed that attention should be focused on the basic skills of literacy and numeracy.

· Relatively few respondents took the view that education was an end in itself. This view was confined to those who had been successful in the education system.

5. Developing personal identity and skills

· Most participants expressed the view that individuals need to have sufficient self-esteem and confidence in order to make the most of the available opportunities for the acquisition of basic skills.

· Respondents generally construed `a sense of identity' as personal rather than national identity. Developing a sense of personal identity was seen as one of the fundamental purposes of education.

· For many participants, particularly the young unemployed, those responsible for the care of young children or those in full-time work, there appeared to be rather little scope in their lives for the `artistic, emotional and imaginative aspects of individual development.'

· Self-esteem and self-confidence were considered to be prerequisites for the development of higher-order skills such as problem-solving skills, communication skills and a range of inter-personal and co-operation skills.

· Those in full-time employment considered the workplace as the primary locus of their skills acquisition.

6. Fitting structure to purpose

· Respondents did not challenge the way in which the education system is currently organised, namely in three largely separate age-segregated types of institution.

· Several participants thought that children in Scotland (and by implication the rest of the UK) started school too early, or at least before they were `ready to learn'.

1: Introduction

1.1 Background

In April 2002, the Scottish Council for Research in Education (SCRE)_ was commissioned by the Research and Information Group, on behalf of the Education, Culture and Sport Committee, to provide research services to the Scottish Parliament.

The aim of the project was to conduct focus group research on behalf of the inquiry into the Purposes of Scottish Education. The research conducted by SCRE was designed to complement the written and oral evidence submitted to the Education, Culture and Sport Committee from other sources.

The study was conducted over a three-month period, between May and July 2002.

This report presents a summary of the main findings.

1.2 Aims and objectives

The aim of the research was to organise a series of ten focus group meetings, and to engage the 6-8 participants in each group in an informal discussion of the six overarching themes that provided the framework of the inquiry27, namely:

· Coping with change and uncertainty

· Engaging with ideas

· Keeping everyone involved with learning

· Promoting a sense of identity

· Developing necessary skills

Fitting structure to purpose.

The focus of the research was very much on those sections of the public at risk of social exclusion, and thus unlikely to submit written or to present oral evidence at official hearings. Within time and budget, every reasonable effort was made to recruit focus group participants that met this criterion.

1.3 Research questions

This report addresses, in whole or in part, the following research questions. These are drawn from SP Paper 533 which was provided to the Education, Culture and Sport Committee by its four educational advisers. It is this document that provides the framework to the inquiry into the Purposes of Scottish Education.

· Is there a need in a rapidly changing world for radical change in the education system?

· How can the education system help children and young people to cope with high levels of uncertainty and the rapid pace of change?

· How far should education encourage children and young people to be capable of engaging with existing knowledge and developing innovative ideas as the basis for questioning authority and social convention?

· Is what we are currently doing in schools an adequate proxy for what we think education ought to do?

· Is there something distinctive and special about the way Scotland should respond to change?

· What skills are needed to make sense of large amounts of information, and to bring them together into a coherent response to change?

· Are schools the right places for all young people?

1.4 Method

1.4.1 Recruitment

As stated above, our main aim was to elicit the views of small groups of individuals who were disadvantaged in some way - for example, as a function of socio-economic circumstance, ethnic origin, geographical location or disability.

Given the limited timescale, we sought to identify groups of individuals who were already meeting on a regular basis, or were regular users of a particular facility or service - for example, a crèche or community centre. In order to expedite matters further, we worked through intermediaries, some of whom were already known to us. This ensured both timeous organisation and relatively good attendance at the meetings, all of which took place in locations with which the participants were familiar. Participants were offered a fee of £10 to cover expenses. In some cases, this provided an incentive to take part.

1.4.2 Conduct of the focus groups

Two members of the research team were in attendance at each group. One assumed the primary responsibility for facilitation; the other made extensive notes.

Participants were invited to draw upon their own experience, and, where applicable, upon that of their children and grandchildren, in order to address the issues outlined above. By engaging with the diverse nature of participants' experiences of education, the researchers were able to encourage them to extrapolate from these experiences, and to engage with, in as far as was possible, the six main themes. As the aim was to promote fairly natural conversational exchanges, the emphasis varied to some extent between groups. Overall, participants showed great readiness to engage in discussion, and therefore the contribution of the researchers as facilitators was fairly minimal.

1.4.2 Analysis and reporting

The written accounts of the proceedings from each focus group were circulated and discussed among the research team. The researchers undertook a content analysis of the proceedings of each meeting, and related this to the six overarching themes outlined in 1.2.

Our task was to extrapolate from examples of individuals' experience, and to relate the emerging themes to the key questions outlined in SP Paper 533. Given the readiness of most participants to engage in discussion, our primary role was to bear witness to the events and experiences that people recounted. The challenge for us in preparing this report has been to preserve the immediacy and vividness of some these accounts. We hope that we have succeeded in this respect.

1.5 Focus group overview

Table 1 provides a brief overview of the nature and scope of the ten focus groups.

It is well-documented in the research literature that women play a key role in all aspects of their children's education (cf, for example, West et al, 1998). As Table 1 shows, the majority of the participants in this study were women, most of whom had children. Indeed, the fact that they had a personal stake in the future of Scottish education was the prime reason they had agreed to take part in the research in the first place. This partly explains the gender balance in the current study.

1.6 This report

This report may be read in a variety of ways. Those readers who are particularly interested in the issues raised in the ten focus groups may wish to read the appendices first. Appendices 1-10 comprise brief accounts of the main issues to emerge from each meeting. The participants' responses are organised under the six overarching themes drawn from SP Paper 533 and outlined in 1.2 above.

Those more interested in a discussion of the implications of the findings reported in the appendices would be advised to read it through from beginning to end.

All names have been changed in order not to reveal the identity of those concerned.

Inquiry into the Purposes of Scottish Education

Table 1: Overview of the nature and scope of focus groups

Appendices

Nature of group

Date

Location

Number/gender of participants

1

Mothers using a crèche facility ; play leader and cleaner

15 May 2002

Crèche in an urban housing estate, west of Scotland

4 women, aged 33- 58

2

Young unemployed men

15 May 2002

Drop-in centre in an urban housing estate, west of Scotland

4 men, aged 16-19.

3

Ex-offenders

5 June 2002

Housing project for homeless ex-offenders, city centre, west of Scotland

17 men, aged 19-60

4

Semi-skilled workers

6 June 2002

Large retail warehouse, city centre, east of Scotland

7 women, aged 23- 45

5

Mothers using a crèche facility

7 June 2002

Community centre in an urban housing estate, west of Scotland

6 women, aged 32 -49

6

Retired elderly people

7 June 2002

Community centre in an urban housing estate, west of Scotland

8 women, aged 58 - 79

7

Disabled people

13 June 2002

Residential facility for the disabled, semi-rural, central Scotland

9 adults (5 female; 4 male) (including 3 care workers )

8

Women from ethnic minority backgrounds

14 June 2002

Community centre in an urban housing estate, north of Scotland

6 women, aged between 24-50

9

Women from ethnic minority backgrounds and asylum seekers

18 June 2002

Housing association in inner-city area, west of Scotland

10 women, aged between 22 - 60 + interpreter (f)

10

Young people who have been in public care

23 July 2002

Youth project, remote, semi-rural, north of Scotland

6 men, aged 16 and 18.

       

Total no of participants:
77 (46 female 21 male)

2: Coping with Change

2.1 Introduction

In this section, we examine the extent to which the education system was perceived to help children and young people cope with change and uncertainty.

We should state at the outset that for the majority of participants in this study, notions of global competitiveness, and of responding to the challenges posed by the rapid development of the ICT sector were very remote indeed. It is thus not surprising that they had little to say on how, if at all, these developments should impact upon the education system.

As far as the curriculum was concerned, the emphasis was on basic skills: literacy and numeracy. Some older participants thought more attention should be given to cooking and home management. We note too that some of the young people leaving care felt ill-prepared for the challenges of managing their own budget and with the everyday challenges presented by running a home and working. Moreover, as we shall see later in this report, participants believed that they key enabling factor in coping with change was to emerge from the period of compulsory schooling with one's self-respect intact.

2.2 Life is elsewhere ...

The general tenor of many of the focus group discussions in relation to the theme of coping with change also challenges one of the assumptions contained in SP Paper 553, namely that education occupies a central position in peoples' lives. For many of those interviewed, school had just been something that was there - education was something that you had to go through. It was a shared cultural experience, but it remained a largely abstract concept. For those without academic leanings, life had very definitely been elsewhere. Many looked back with fond regret at the `carrying on', and the going out that had been at the forefront of their lives between the ages of 12 and 16. Some reported that they had spent much of their time sniffing glue, drinking, or `terrorising' people (usually other children, but sometimes their teachers). Others had had to cope with difficult family circumstances - like coming home from school to find that `your ma's out and your dad's lying drunk on the couch'. Many expressed regret that they had not made more of the opportunities offered, but thought that, well, life goes on. They believed that in the years since they had left school, they had recouped some of their losses, and repaired some of the psychological damage.

Many of those interviewed appeared to have been relatively passive consumers of education. But they had aspirations for their children, and wanted the best for them. And, more importantly, most still believed that the education system could deliver. Moreover, the general perception was that, in certain key respects at least, things indeed had got better.

2.3 From small beginnings ...

The evidence certainly suggests that the respondents generally believed that there have been substantial improvements in the education system. Many respondents thought that Scottish education had indeed become more flexible and inclusive in recent years. However, the objective evidence for these claims was fairly slight. We suggest that there are significant cultural and psychological determinants behind such perceptions. We shall explore these further below.

As we shall see, some of the views expressed bear witness to the key assertions made in SP Paper 533. However, there are a number of issues to emerge from between the lines.

2.3.1 `Scottish education has become more flexible and inclusive over the last few decades.'

Those over 30 generally acknowledged that, in some respects at least, Scottish education has indeed become more flexible and inclusive over the last few decades. We note, however, that this view was not entirely shared by the people with disabilities we interviewed (see Appendix 7).

This dimension of change was universally welcomed by participants. There was general agreement that schools were no longer perceived as threatening places. For a variety of reasons, (e.g. increased liaison between the primary and secondary sector and greater levels of parental involvement), `going up to secondary school' was now less likely to be a `terrifying' prospect than it had been in the past.

There was also the perception - derived from personal experience in a number of cases (3) that children with specific learning difficulties were now more likely to receive timeous help than in the past. Three women (all in their mid- to late-30s) in different focus groups (see Appendices 4 and 5) recalled being publicly humiliated and laughed at by teachers on account of the difficulties they were experiencing in school. One even recalled being made to sit in a corner wearing a dunce's hat. Everyone in the group (including the facilitators) gasped in disbelief. However, it was clear that this was no metaphorical dunce's hat.

2.3.2 `The ideas of children's and parents' rights pose serious challenges to how schools are organized ...'

It is difficult to imagine the incident with the dunce's hat taking place in a Scottish school nowadays, not least because `the ideas of children's and parents' rights pose serious challenges to how schools are organized ...' (SP Paper 553, p 2). Nevertheless, concern was expressed that young people did not show enough `respect' for their teachers (and by implication for their elders, cf. Appendix 6). The following quotations illustrate this point:

You did what you were told, there was a line that you didn't cross. (May, 59)

We looked up to teachers in our day. (Jean, 69)

They're all dead quick to chant the Childline number now. (Carol, 39)

This touches upon the issue of `child-centredness', to which we return in 3.2 and again in Section 4.

2.3.3 `Scottish education has become more inclusive while remaining true to its strongest traditions'

One indicator of an inclusive school was perceived to be the extent to which measures were in place to reduce the incidence of truancy. Several participants in one focus group (men in their early 30s) (see Appendix 3) told us that in their day (the 1980s), truancy had been condoned, and it had been easier for teachers to `write off' pupils who were categorised as `problems' on account of family difficulties and/or lack of academic aspirations or prowess:

Some of them even encouraged you to stay away. (Bill, 32)

In our day, it was a lot easier for them [teachers] just to push us out of the way. (John, 28)

They were aye telling you to just go up the back of the class and look out of the window. (Steve, 32)

2.4 The triumph of hope over experience?

The young men quoted above clearly felt that the education system had let them down badly, and had contributed to the constant erosion of their self-esteem that they felt had so damaged their life chances by making them less able to cope with change.

However, the question arises as to the nature of the evidence base for the belief that things have got better, and that their children were less likely to suffer the ill-effects of having been `written off' at an early age. In several cases, respondents were making direct comparisons between their own experiences and that of their children. For example, Steve (32) recounted how his dyslexia had only been identified once he was in a young offenders' institution. In contrast, his son's difficulties had been picked up much earlier. He attributed this to the way the school system was structured and to the availability of specialist support, rather than to his own early experiences. It is possible, after all, that his own difficulties might have enabled him to respond to his son's in a positive way, and to exert pressure on the school for change. The evidence may be slight, but it does nevertheless raise the question of the extent to which notions of children's and parents' rights pervade all sectors of society, and the implications for social justice if they do not. This particular case brings us to issues of personal identity, self-esteem and confidence. These are leitmotifs in the debate on the purposes of education, and we shall return to them below.

It is interesting that so many participants shared the conviction that things have indeed got better. We should point out that the evidence base for this is fairly narrow, and may partly be based on wishful thinking rather than fact. Many of those we interviewed had children28. Indeed, as we stated in the introduction, it was the fact that they had a personal stake in the future of Scottish education that had made them participate in the study in the first place. It may be that the very fact of being parents leads people to take a more sanguine view of the future of education. There can be few parents who can live with the thought that things will be worse for their children. It is difficult to determine to what extent these changes in perception are a direct result of changes in the way schools are organised (more contact between primary and secondary schools, for example, or a more highly-developed guidance system), or are merely a function of ways of seeing that have broader psycho-social origins.

However, not everyone believed that things were getting better. It is salutary to compare the findings reported above with the evidence gathered in the course of discussions with much younger men (see Appendices 2 and 10). One of the ten young men interviewed recalled `being made to feel dead wee in there [in the classroom]'; others to being humiliated or `given a ragging' in front of the class; or to being disruptive because the teacher did not have the time to give them the attention that they needed.

The picture that emerged from the discussions reported in Appendices 2 and 10 was of fairly demoralised young people, some of whom had a highly instrumental view of education (namely, that it would lead to a job); and by implication, of a group of demoralised teachers struggling to give individual pupils sufficient attention, and coping with a small but significant number of `nutters' who routinely disrupted lessons and `brought everybody down'. In short, the picture was one of a downward spiral fuelled by mutual disrespect.

Giving somebody a ragging in front of the class, that's going to make pupils want to shout back at you. (Mark, 18)

It became evident in the course of the meeting that what many of these young men craved was a degree of personal attention that it had not been possible to achieve in the school environment. `They're just no there for you [i.e. the teachers]', one told us, and there was a litany of complaints about `being stuck in front of a video or given a booklet', or being required to copy out large quantities of information, some of which they had already copied down on previous occasions.

The importance of meaningful teacher-pupil interaction, and the key role this played in developing pupils' self-respect and enabling them to cope with new challenges, was a theme that was echoed in another group (see Appendix 1). Susan (33) had witnessed her 6-year old nephew who was in a composite class `lose interest' as he was `just left to get on with page after page in the workbook' while his teacher attended to the needs of other children:

If they're not having the contact with the teacher, they're just going to lose respect for them. (Susan, 33)

2.5 Grasping the nettle

It is evident from the above that many of focus group participants did not share the radical agenda for change set out in the Discussion Paper (SP 553). As we said at the outset, education was perceived as a shared cultural experience. In the abstract at least, it could `set you up for life', or `help you get on in life' and `give you more choice'. Some respondents believed that educational success could result in enhanced social status - it means you're regarded more highly' (see Appendix 1). The implication was that for those privileged by educational success, coping with change was something they would take in their stride.

It must be said that, prima facie at least, the educational agenda that emerged across all the focus groups was a rather conservative one. Many respondents were in favour of school uniforms, and invoked a more authoritarian teaching style that was met with greater compliance on the part of pupils. Some even favoured the return of corporal punishment. The implication of these findings is that there is little sympathy for the notion of education `developing innovative ideas as the basis for questioning authority and social convention.' (SP Paper 553, p. 3).

The research evidence thus challenges one of the underlying assumptions contained in SP Paper 553: namely that rapid social and technological change should necessarily be paralleled by changes within the education system.

2.6 Conclusion

The main finding in relation to the theme of `coping with change' is that participants laid considerable emphasis on having the personal resources for facing new challenges. The key personal resources were considered to be self-respect and self-confidence. And as we shall see, schools were perceived to place too much emphasis on academic prowess, and this was considered detrimental to the development of these personal attributes in those with no academic leanings.

But there is yet another issue at stake here. The references to `setting you up for life', and `helping you get on in life' demonstrate the extent to which the concept of `strongest traditions' of Scottish education has become part of the public consciousness in Scotland. It is interesting that these beliefs were expressed by individuals whose own education had singularly failed to deliver on all of these counts. In practice, however, such appeals to the strong tradition of Scottish education may have made it more difficult for people to engage in debate about the key issues in respect of the future of education. For although such appeals may invoke the notion of a civil society, it is one that is firmly associated with the democratic intellect (Davie, 1961) rather than with basic life and social skills. We shall further examine the implications of this in the succeeding sections.

3: Engaging with Ideas

3.1 Introduction

In this section, we examine respondents' views on the following questions. How far should education encourage children and young people to engage with ideas and values? And, by implication, is what is currently on offer in schools an adequate proxy for what education ought to do?

Education was perceived by many of participants in the study to have a key socialising role, ie to help people live and work in society. However, there was relatively little support for the idea that it should develop children and young people's intellectual capacity in order to enable them to challenge authority. For challenging authority was construed almost exclusively as engaging in anti-social behaviour. This was particularly evident among the older respondents (see Appendix 6), and among the many others whose lives were blighted by the social and physical degradation of their communities (see Appendices 1, 3, 4, 5 and 8).

However, there is a danger that we overplay this apparently reactionary agenda. For many of the challenges to authority were perceived to result from the relentless pressure of consumerism on young people. Much of the discussion, particularly among those over 30, focused on what Rowan Williams has so eloquently described as `the conscription of children into the fetishistic hysteria of style wars.'29 Education was seen by many participants as having the potential to provide a bastion against the relentless pressure exerted upon young people by a pervasive marketing culture. In this respect, many participants were implicitly propounding a radical agenda for change.

On a more fundamental level, education was perceived to be about promoting citizenship, and was considered to have an important socialising role. In one group (see Appendix 1), the perception emerged that educated people were `decent' people, worthy of respect. In this respect, participants' subscribed to some of the views expressed in the Discussion Paper (SP Paper 553) as to what education might be for. What was at issue, however, was precisely how these objectives should be achieved. As we shall see, discussion on this issue revolved around notions of authority and respect, and the nature of the pupil-teacher relationship (see Section 4 below).

These are the issues to which we turn below. We begin by examining respondents' views of the curriculum, and consider some of the implications of the thesis that `well-informed thinking requires depth of study as well as breadth.' (SP Paper 553, p. 3). We also briefly touch upon the issue of child-centredness, an issue to which we shall return in Section 4.

3.2 A balanced curriculum?

There was the perception among many respondents over several groups that too much emphasis was currently being placed on academic achievement, to the detriment of vocational skills and key life-skills. (We have already referred to the highly instrumental view of the purposes of education that emerged in one group, see Section 2.2.4). As one 32-year old respondent explained: `the teachers weren't interested in you, they were only interested in the high-fliers' (Appendix 4).

It was generally acknowledged that `paper qualifications' were important in as far as they were seen to provide a passport to employment and relative prosperity. Here too, the instrumental view of the purposes of education was once again apparent. However, `paper qualifications' were often perceived to have value only in the short term, and were not necessarily considered an adequate reflection of a person's competence. They were also perceived to have a relatively short shelf-life. As one woman in her 30s put it, `what's the good of having the piece of paper when you cannae do it in two years?' Another older woman in the same group expressed great concern at the lack of important life-skills in her grandchildren's generation:

Some lassies can't even boil an egg'. My granddaughter[aged 14] `has nae a clue how to peel a potato ...`It's all paperwork, paperwork, paperwork.. (May, 59)

This example is worth quoting in full, particularly in view of the fact that another older woman (of Indian origin) stressed importance of diet, and of teaching children how to provide themselves with nutritious food. (Her husband was a paediatrician, and both had been shocked at the rising incidence of diabetes in Scottish school children.)

The small number of people with disabilities we interviewed (see Appendix 7) referred to what they perceived as an overemphasis on literacy and numeracy. For some, all the education they had received had focused on these two areas. One young woman with cerebral palsy thought that education `should help people know how to get on with other people...to boost their confidence'. Another told us that she `had got more out of Sunday school than school.'

As the above examples make clear, there was no consensus on the issue of breadth vs. depth in the curriculum. For some, particularly those who were `well-educated'30, subjects like history, geography, modern languages, economics, religious and moral education all had their place in the curriculum. According to one young woman (see Appendix 8), an in-depth knowledge of many of these subjects was an essential precondition for living in a multicultural society. Others who had more limited educational aspirations, and for whom education had played a less central role in their lives, took the view that `reading, writing and arithmetic, that's all you need.'

The real issue, however, is not what should be added to or subtracted from the curriculum in order to engage young people at risk of social alienation. To construe the dilemma facing educationalists in this way would be to fall victim to the very consumerism referred to elsewhere in this section.

Many believed that it was not so much what was included in the curriculum, but the way in which it was taught that was important. We shall return to this issue in Section 4.

3.3 Education - an end in itself or a means to an end?

We conclude this section by seeking to provide an answer to one of the questions posed in the Discussion Paper (SP Paper 553, p. 3), namely `should education be seen as an end in itself?'

In the event, relatively few respondents took the view that education was an end in itself. This view was largely confined to those who had been successful in the education system, for example the highly-educated women of Indian and Pakistani origin we interviewed in the north of Scotland (see Appendix 8). The very fact that these women were recruited through an adult education class is in itself a demonstration of the fact that living the life of an educated person was one of the key purposes in their lives. Interestingly, the other participants who shared this view were from the other end of the social spectrum - ex-offenders who had finally had the opportunity to develop intellectual pursuits while serving long prison sentences.

There appeared to be a strong cultural dimension to this issue, which was also perceived to be related to the pressures of consumerism referred to above. One young Turkish woman living in a deprived inner-city area told us that `people here [in Scotland] don't value education' (see Appendix 9). Children and their parents were considered to be at the mercy of a consumer culture that was progressively rendering them incapable of focusing on longer-term goals and more abstract intellectual and spiritual values.

In the view of both the ethnic minority groups, western society was also suffering the ill-effects of several decades of extreme child-centredness in respect of parenting and educational practice in schools. In their view, such extreme child-centredness, which was in part fuelled by an all-pervasive consumer culture, posed a very real threat to the very idea of citizenship and citizenship education.

3.4 Keeping everyone involved with learning

The focus group interviews reported in Appendices 1 and 10 certainly add credence to the view that some `young people are alienated specifically from learning and education' (SP Paper 553, p. 4). Certainly, several of the young adult males we interviewed were deeply alienated from school (see 2.2.4 above). They felt that they had been let down, brushed aside, swept under the carpet, and they were still raw from the experience. We were told repeatedly that the teachers `weren't there for them' and that they looked down on them'. What they wanted was that teachers had more time for them, and treated them like people rather than as obstacles. This was particularly evident in relation to Personal and Social Education (PSE), including health education. They were highly critical of resourced-based learning in this area of the curriculum. What these young men wanted was more one-to-one or small group interaction in a climate of mutual respect. In this context, we should recall the comment of the young disabled woman who told us that `school should be about helping people to get on with other people'.

These themes were echoed in the focus group with ex-offenders (see Appendix 3); and in the meeting with people with disabilities (Appendix 7). There is one chilling anecdote from the former which is worth recounting in some detail, as it provides a vivid illustration of the complete breakdown of interpersonal relationships in the classroom. One ex-offender recounted how one of his teachers had once cut his own toenails in front of the class. It would be hard to find another example that illustrated such a profound lack of respect for another human being in this particular setting. Such accounts were, of course, one-sided, and one can only speculate on what the behaviour of the pupils in this particular class had been like.

What these examples illustrate, however, is that minor adjustments of curricular content are unlikely to have a profound impact on the educational experiences of the most alienated young people in our society. Indeed it is questionable whether a system that is largely self-referential and focused on academic achievement can provide young people with the innate self-belief and confidence that they will require in order to meet the demands of a rapidly-changing world. This brings us to the theme of fitting structure to purpose. We shall return to this issue in Section 5.

3.5 Conclusion

The main point to emerge here is that the primary purpose of education was considered to be socialisation. The development of the individual's self-respect was viewed as a necessary precondition for full participation in civil society.

A perceived emphasis by schools on academic achievement rather than on vocational or life skills had meant that those without academic leanings considered that they were, to a greater or lesser degree, marginalised from the mainstream concerns of schools as institutions. It is thus not surprising that these respondents in particular did not consider schools the primary locus in which to encourage children and young people to engage with ideas. This is consonant with one of the main messages to emerge from Section 2, namely that for many, life was simply elsewhere. And it was about acting and reacting, rather than thinking.

As we saw above, the notion that engagement with ideas might under certain circumstances be tantamount to challenging authority was comprehensively rejected.

4: Developing personal identity and skills

4.1 Introduction

Everybody should be given the chance to shine. (Focus Group 1)

In this section, we turn to the themes of promoting a sense of identity; and developing skills. The rationale for addressing these two issues together is that the latter was seen to be dependent upon the former. That is, the consensus to emerge from the focus groups was that individuals needed to have sufficient self-esteem and confidence in order to make the most of the available opportunities for the acquisition of basic skills such as literacy, numeracy and ICT.

4.2 Promoting a sense of identity

The evidence gathered in the course of this study underlines the key role education was perceived to play in the further development of a civil society. However, there was little evidence to suggest that there was anything distinctive and special about the way Scotland should respond to change. For with few exceptions (see Appendix 10) `promoting a sense of identity' was construed to refer to personal rather than national identity. Developing a sense of personal identity was seen as one of the fundamental purposes of education.

All the people we talked to would subscribe to the view expressed by one focus group participant (a play leader in a crèche) that everybody should be given the chance to shine, regardless of aptitude or ability. However, the consensus was that even in a comprehensive system, this was just not happening. There was perceived to be too much emphasis on academic success, to the detriment of those that either could not or would not succeed.

Many participants were primarily concerned with the stresses of bringing up children in a competitive consumerist society; of trying to ensure that their children received the individual attention that they needed at school; with bullying; with the financial implications of putting their children through university; and with what was perceived to be a general lack of respect for persons and property evident among many young people. It was widely acknowledged that these were wider societal issues, and that schools could only do so much to address these.

For many participants, particularly the young unemployed, those responsible for the care of young children or those in full-time work, there appeared to be rather little scope for the `artistic, emotional and imaginative aspects of individual development.' It is thus not surprising that these issues did not come up in the discussions. However, there was considerable discussion on the theme of the optimal relationship between teacher and pupil. It is to this issue that we now turn.

4.3 What makes for a good teacher?

Some of the discussion focused on the nature of the pupil-teacher relationship. Several participants - and not just those in the older age groups (see Appendix 6) - felt that relationships between pupils and teachers had become rather informal in recent years, and that this was ultimately not in the pupils' best interests. One young woman (aged 32) described how `the teachers tried to be your friend ... they would sit on the edge of your desk.' She personally had found this difficult, especially as it had become more marked in S3 and S4, a stage at which she described herself as having `lost it a bit'. She felt in retrospect that she had needed more guidance and support at this stage in her school career, and that the informality of the relationships between teachers and pupils had effectively precluded this.

There were several references in this group to what was considered an inappropriate dress code among teachers. The following quotation is one example:

You should have seen the way she [the teacher] was dressed. You'd have thought she was going up to a club in the town.

There was also widespread concern that there were few sanctions open to teachers. The issue of excluding difficult pupils was raised in 5 of the focus group meetings (see Appendices 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 9). None of those who expressed a view on this issue was in favour of excluding pupils from school. The consensus was that `some kids pushed for it', and that it was neither an effective deterrent, nor in the individual pupil's best interests.

Teachers were perceived to be under pressure, sometimes even by young people who had just left school themselves (see Appendix 10). More support for teachers was advocated, and it was suggested by two groups (see Appendices 5 and 10) that both pupils and teachers would benefit if there were classroom assistants in some secondary classes. Some participants from ethnic minorities (see Appendix 9) believed there was considerable scope for drawing on existing expertise within local communities and providing extra support in the classroom for children from ethnic minorities. Some mothers reported that their children were often unclear as to what their homework entailed, and were sometimes reluctant to ask the teacher for help. These children were often not technically in need of bilingual support. Nevertheless, they were often disadvantaged in the classroom, particularly if there was a sizeable minority of disruptive pupils present.

It was recognised that teachers were under pressure to deliver results, and were being expected to cope with changes in pupils' behaviour that were perceived to be the result of wider social changes. At the same time, however, they were considered, by certain groups at least (see Appendices 1 and 6), to be doing themselves a disservice by dressing inappropriately and behaving too informally in the classroom.

4.4 Developing necessary skills

As we have seen throughout this report, considerable emphasis was placed on the acquisition of basic skills such as literacy and numeracy. This was as much a reflection of the pressing nature of the concerns (such as working or bringing up a family in a difficult neighbourhood) as an indication of the value attached to learning. Self-esteem and self-confidence were considered to be indistinguishable from the higher-order skills referred to in SP Paper 533, namely: `problem-solving skills, communication skills and a range of inter-personal and co-operation skills'.

Those in full-time employment (see Appendix 4) considered the workplace as the primary locus of skills acquisition. One participant told us that everything she had learned she had `picked up from work.' The human resources manager at the retail outlet where this focus group was conducted thought that schools were still not providing quality careers advice to young people - particularly to those who aspired to enter employment rather than education or training. In her professional capacity, she encountered many school-leavers who lacked the presentation skills to make a good impression at interview. This certainly fits with the views of the younger people we interviewed, who reported feeling ill-prepared for finding employment. For the human resources manager, the challenge for education was not necessarily to equip young people with the skills they would need in the workplace, but to ensure that they retained the disposition to acquire new skills.

Learning to learn and developing critical thinking were considered to be particularly important by several of the participants in one of the ethnic minority groups (see Appendix 8). Once again, the importance of high levels of teacher-pupil interaction in a climate conducive to learning was emphasised. The involvement of parents was considered by this group in particular to be especially important in inculcating a `study ethic' in young people, in building their confidence and in making them `open to all things'.

4.5 Conclusion

Many of the issues raised in this section adumbrate those discussed in Section 3. Most of the individuals to whom we spoke were coping with a variety of personal and socio-economic pressures. Consequently, there was little scope in their lives for the `artistic, emotional and imaginative aspects of individual development'. For the majority of participants, who construed `identity' as individuality rather than as national identity, what mattered was being `given a chance to shine' - in whatever sphere. The development of an individual's self-confidence and self-respect was considered to be a crucial enabling factor for the acquisition of key basic skills, and a necessary precondition for a disposition to acquire new skills and develop other interests throughout life.

Teachers were perceived to have an important role to play in developing young people's self-confidence and disposition to learn by developing sustainable relationships based upon mutual trust and respect.

5: Fitting structure to purpose

5.1 Introduction

As we have seen, most respondents appeared to take education for granted. The way in which the education system is organised, namely in `three largely separate age-segregated types of institution (primary, secondary, tertiary)' (SP Paper 533, p. 6) was not really challenged. Nor was there any indication of a constructive reappraisal of the concept of comprehensive school. Most of the findings reported below are drawn from the two focus groups with ethnic minority representation. This is partly because these groups appeared less likely to take the system for granted; and because some participants (cf Appendix 8) had the benefit of being able to compare two or more rather different education systems.

5.2 Short-term gratification vs long term goals

The consensus was that schools should provide for the needs of all children, irrespective of aptitude or ability. This may be considered as an endorsement of the comprehensive system. Nevertheless, it was widely acknowledged that the system was under pressure. There was widespread concern at what respondents believed were high levels of indiscipline in schools. Nevertheless, the root cause of many of these problems was perceived to reside in the importance accorded to short-term gratification in contemporary society. In short, there was a general perception that many young people between the ages of 12 and 16 were simply not prepared for the long haul. One of the participants of Pakistani origin commented on the lack of a `study ethic' among young Scots. She found this surprising, particularly given the strength of the `work ethic'. One young Turkish asylum seeker told us that `kids here don't think about the future'. The implication of these statements was that in the countries of origin of several of the participants, education was seen by all groups, including the most disadvantaged economically, as the passport to a better life. The welfare system in the UK was regarded as reducing some young people's motivation to succeed, and to `better themselves' - socially, economically, and culturally. There was a strong feeling that `kids were being spoiled by the system' and that parents were colluding by giving in to consumer pressure and attempting to provide their children with a wide range of consumer goods.

The consensus was that children were acquiring the trappings of adulthood earlier. For example, one participant told us how her 14-year-old nephew had taken his girlfriend out to dinner. She vividly recalled entering a restaurant with friends for the first time after she was in full-time employment, and being somewhat overawed by the experience. However, in other respects, children were considered likely to be financially dependent on their parents for longer, and their parents were more likely than in previous generations to be paying for the trappings of early adulthood for their offspring. In contrast, one older respondent (a 59-year-old women) recalled:

... jumping on and off buses at 15, wearing ankle socks, but I was working! (May, 59)

The implication of the above was that school management and teachers were having difficulties identifying the right response to many young people - both in terms of the structure of the curriculum and in terms of the quality of interpersonal relationships.

5.3 Continuity and progression

There were some interesting views expressed by the two ethnic minority focus groups (see Appendices 8 and 9) in respect of school starting age and the pace of learning in primary and secondary schools.

Several participants thought that children in Scotland (and by implication the rest of the UK) started school before they were `ready to learn'. There were many comparisons made between the school system in Scotland and those in India and Pakistan, where many of the children of the professional classes begin formal education as young as three or four. There was some criticism of the rote learning and pressure exerted on children and their families that were features of early education on the Indian sub-continent. Nevertheless, it was considered that children reached the later stages of primary school and the early stages of secondary school with a greater disposition to learn than many of their Scottish counterparts.

There was also a perception shared amongst several of the participants from ethnic minorities that many Scottish pupils were ill-prepared for the various transition points within the system. One particular point of difficulty was perceived to be the transition from S2 to S3, where the pace of learning was considered to increase considerably. Some also felt that the `soft start' of nursery persisted too long into the early years of primary education, and that children were taken by surprise when the pace of learning increased markedly in the later years of primary school.

5.4 Conclusion

There was tacit agreement that schools, whatever their faults, were basically the right places for all young people. However, a small minority of participants (mostly in the ethnic minority focus groups) took issue with the issue of age at school entry. Some pupils were believed to be starting school before they were ready to learn.

The implication of much of the above was that in some communities in Scotland, there were perceived to be profound dissonances between the respective value systems of home and school. Moreover, these dissonances were considered to result in anti-social behaviour and poor educational progress.

Finally, it appears that compliance with the immediate demands of the school system does not necessarily breed conformism. Indeed the evidence from the two focus groups referred to above appears to suggest that it may first be necessary to succeed in a system in order to be able to challenge it effectively.

6: Conclusion

It has been a privilege to conduct the focus group research reported above on behalf of the Education, Culture and Sport Committee. We are greatly indebted to all those who took part in the ten focus group meetings, and to those many people behind the scenes who made it possible to convene the meetings at such short notice.

It is evident that for many respondents, education was a side issue. They were primarily concerned with bringing up their children, or combining family life with full-time employment; looking for work; overcoming disability; or attempting to become reintegrated into society after time spent in prison or in public care.

The theme that came through most strongly in all of the discussions was the perception that within the education system, the emphasis was still very much on academic achievement. Young people were still considered to be leaving school with poor life-skills and ill-prepared even for the basic challenges of working life (such as time-keeping and presentation skills). The participants in this study believed that one of the purposes of education was to prepare people for working life by developing their self-confidence and giving them `the chance to shine'.

Some readers will perhaps be disappointed with the apparent paucity of findings in relation to some of the key themes, most notably Theme 2 (engaging with ideas) and Theme 6 (fitting structure to purpose). Nevertheless, the fact that most participants did not engage with this theme is in itself an important finding. Indeed, it calls into question part of the very framework of the inquiry. It is also of particular significance given the promises set out in Making It Work Together [1999]31: namely, to promote social inclusion; to modernise Scottish schools; and to raise standards and achieve excellence, in order to give children `the best possible start in life so that they have the opportunity to play their full part in Scotland's future'.

1.1 Background

Focus group 1 comprised two mothers who used a crèche facility located in a community centre in an urban housing estate in the west of Scotland; a play leader; and a cleaner. The women were aged between 33 and 58.

Three of the four had left school at 15 without any qualifications. One had a four-year-old son; another had four children - two teenage daughters, aged 16 and 18, and two sons, aged 9 and 3. The 58-year-old, who worked as a cleaner in the community centre, had children, but her main point of reference during the discussion was her 9 grandchildren, who were aged between 6 months and 18. The play leader did not have children

The meeting took place in the corner of a large room above the cafeteria. The researchers joined the participants for a cup of tea downstairs after two of the group had collected their children.

This focus group was arranged through the crèche leader, and took place within a week of the first contact being made.

1.2 Key themes

The main themes to emerge from the discussion can be summarised as follows:

· Coping with change and uncertainty

Education was perceived to have a key role to play in enabling people to cope with change and uncertainty, mainly by imbuing them with the confidence to face new challenges. Educational success was associated with `paper qualifications', which were perceived to lead to enhanced social status, and to `getting on in life'. On the other hand, participants equated `being educated' with `being decent', thus alluding to broader social purposes of education.

· Engaging with ideas

The main focus in this group was on the acquisition of key life-skills and basic skills such as literacy and numeracy.

· Keeping people involved with learning

Two of the participants expressed particular regret at not `having made more' of their education. They described in some detail the `carrying-on' that had been a feature of their school lives, particularly in S1 and S2. Both women felt in retrospect that they would have benefited from more parental support and encouragement, but conceded that in their parents' lives, as indeed in their own, there was `a lot going on'- particularly during and after puberty. A great deal of the discussion focused on perceived discontinuity between primary and secondary education. Keeping people involved with education was a theme that was considered to relate to the next theme.

· Promoting a sense of identity, which in turn was considered to be inextricably linked to the nature of the pupil-teacher relationship. One young woman (33) in particular believed that teachers were missing the mark by `trying to be your friend.' Paradoxically, this had led to a lack of trust, an inability to develop a sense of respect, and in her case, to the absence of guidance and security at what she felt was a key stage in her development, S3. The vision of the `good teacher' was of someone who was authoritative and compassionate.

· Developing necessary skills

There was a concern that some pupils were leaving school with poorly-developed life-skills, and were incapable of attending to their everyday physical needs - cooking a meal from scratch, for example, or cleaning up, or attending to matters of self-presentation.

· Fitting structure to purpose

Participants did not challenge the way in which the Scottish education system is organised, namely `in three largely separate age-segregated types of institution' (SP Paper 533, p 6).

Background

Focus group 2 comprised five unemployed young men, aged between 16 and 18. The meeting took place in a drop-in centre for young people located in an urban housing estate in a deprived area in the west of Scotland.

Two of the young men were still at school, and three had been unemployed since leaving school at 16 without any qualifications. All had attended or were attending school(s) in the area.

The meeting took place in a small room in the outreach facility, which was a small flat that had been converted for office use and was located in a new housing development. The researchers were able to have a short debriefing meeting with the outreach worker after the young men had left the premises.

This focus group was arranged through the project manager, with whose predecessor SCRE had had prior contact. The meeting took place within a week of the first contact being made. The project manager advised us that the £10 participation fee had proved a major incentive for the young men to take part.

2.2 Key themes

The main themes to emerge from the discussion can be summarised as follows:

· Coping with change and uncertainty

These young men had a very instrumental view of the purposes of education. For them, education was primarily about equipping them to find a job. As three of the five were still unemployed some two years after leaving school, they felt badly let down by the education system. And as is apparent from the findings reported below, it is clear that they had a limited understanding of local labour market conditions, and the implications for the future direction of their lives.

· Engaging with ideas

The young men in this group had a highly instrumental view of the purposes of education. They considered that its purpose was to equip them with the basic skills to enable them to get a job; and to equip them with specific job-seeking skills.

· Keeping people involved with learning

Given this instrumental view of education referred to above, it is perhaps not surprising that these young men felt that many areas of the secondary curriculum were `irrelevant', modern foreign languages was cited as one obvious example. Interestingly, PE was another, although several had found this subject intrinsically more enjoyable, but as one 18-year-old explained `playing volleyball's no going to help you get a job'.

Once again, the theme of keeping people involved with education was perceived to relate to the next theme.

· Promoting a sense of identity

For these young men, a sense of identity and self-esteem was bound up with employment and financial independence. Most aspired to an apprenticeship in a trade, and intended to remain in the local area. A great deal of the discussion centred around the nature of the pupil-teacher relationship. They clearly felt they had been `written off', and that teachers had neither the time nor the inclination to engage with them on a personal level. There were several references to `being put in front of a video, or given a booklet', and to being made to feel `dead wee in there', to being humiliated in front of others.

· Fitting structure to purpose

Participants did not challenge the way in which the Scottish education system is organised, namely `in three largely separate age-segregated types of institution' (SP Paper 533, p 6).

These young men were at pains to distinguish themselves from the `nutters' that some teachers were scared of, and who regularly disturbed lessons. They had watched them `getting away with' extreme verbal abuse, and this had had a profoundly demotivating effect.

3.1 Background

Focus group 3 comprised 17 men (aged 18-65) who were participating in a housing project for former offenders. The project was located in a city centre in the west of Scotland.

The project manager advised us that the £10 participation fee had proved a major incentive to participate, and had resulted in rather more clients than expected attending the weekly service-users' meeting.

This focus group was arranged through the project manager, with whom the researchers had had no prior contact. The organisation concerned welcomed the opportunity to participate in the National Debate, and that the views and experiences of some of their clients would be represented. The meeting took place within a week of the first contact being made.

This is the group from which we had the most positive post-meeting feedback. The project manager advised us that several clients had reported how much they had enjoyed the session. She also commented upon the positive impact attendance at the meeting had had on her clients' self-esteem.

3.2 Key themes

The main themes to emerge from the discussion can be summarised as follows:

· Coping with change and uncertainty

It emerged from the discussion most of the men present had had to cope with considerable personal upheaval in their early lives. In many cases, personal experience of change and uncertainty had rendered them incapable of responding positively to school - `there was nothing really there to go for', as one man. Some reported that their family circumstances had been chaotic and overwhelming. For some, this meant that even attending school was well nigh impossible. Another man (36) told us that he'd been to two primary schools, but had `never really gone to secondary school'. And yet another (aged 32) that he had effectively left school in S2 and had `been more interested in making money'. Several participants reported that their education had been severely disrupted, by frequent changes of school. For example, one young man had attended five secondary schools in and around the city, and had been excluded from three. He could not recall any provision ever having been made for easing the transition. He told us that `I'd go in there to find they were on a different book and they were doing different things.' It was only once he was in prison that it emerged that he was dyslexic. In contrast, his son's dyslexia had been identified in the early stages of secondary school.

Schools were seen as rather threatening places, where bullying (`terrorising people') and intimidation were rife. One 32-year-old participant recalled being `terrified' at the prospect of `going up' to secondary school' - `you were either in a gang or you didn't go'. Nevertheless, the consensus was that this situation had improved in recent years.

According to one participant, schools as institutions had singularly failed to recognise that individual pupils were coping with extremely difficult circumstances. `Schools are too objective, they don't make enough of a connection with what's going on at home'. There had been the tacit expectation that pupils could bracket off negative experiences and comply with a system designed to promote the interests of those who could put their minds to it, and make the most of the opportunities offered.

· Engaging with ideas

Many participants in this group had only had the opportunity to engage with ideas in prison. One member of the group (aged 53) who had left school at 15 with no qualifications told us that he had read widely in prison, where he had also achieved several highers.

· Keeping people involved with learning

In many cases, difficult family circumstances had deprived many respondents of the motivation to keep involved with education. Several reported feeling that they had been `written off' by teachers, and that their reputation (or that of their family) had preceded them. There were several references to truancy being condoned by teaching staff - `they encouraged you to stay away [because you were difficult]'. However, it was generally acknowledged that there had been changes for the better, and that absence was no longer condoned, even by teachers facing considerable occupational stress.

There was some discussion of the merits of a more vocationally-focused curriculum, to the virtual exclusion of subjects like modern languages. However, the view was also expressed that `learning a trade in school' would result in a two-tiered system, and that those in a vocational track would be consigned to the bottom of the pile.

· Promoting a sense of identity

There was considerable discussion around the notions of personal and social identity, and mutual respect (or the lack of it) between pupils and teachers. As in focus group 2, a great deal of the discussion centred around the nature of the pupil-teacher relationship. Once again there were references to being `written off', and to the fact that teachers had neither the time nor the inclination to engage with them on a personal level. As one young man explained:

If you're told again and again that you're never going to amount to f... all, you're going to end up believing it.

· Fitting structure to purpose

The experiences of many participants in this group may lead us to question whether school is the right place for all young people although this sentiment was not articulated directly by participants.

4.1 Background

Focus group 4 comprised a group of six semi-skilled workers in a large retail warehouse located in a city centre in the east of Scotland. The meeting took place in staff training room There were seven women present, aged between 23 and 45. The meeting was arranged by the company's human resources manager, who was also in attendance. The six other women present were all employed in retail sales. The researchers had had no prior contact with the business, and the recruitment process took slightly longer than for the other groups. The meeting took place three weeks after the first contact had been made.

The HR manager reported that it had not been possible to persuade any male employees to take part.

4.2 Key themes

The main themes to emerge from the discussion can be summarised as follows:

· Coping with change and uncertainty

The educational experiences of this group point to an educational system that they believed was primarily focused on academic success. One respondent told us that

The teachers were only interested in their favourites and in the high-flyers. They assumed we would either go to work in the local factory or get pregnant.

There was much criticism of the quality of careers guidance. Perhaps not surprisingly, the HR manager was particularly critical of what she perceived as a lack of insight on the part of the teaching profession as to the skills and personal attributes that were required in the workplace.

Several of those present expressed the view that there was not enough emphasis put on social skills. As one participant put it:

School should be teaching kids important skills and things for their future lives, it should teach them how to care for themselves and for others. It's about social skills, not just qualifications.

· Engaging with ideas

The main focus in this group was on the acquisition of key life-skills and basic skills such as literacy and numeracy.

· Developing necessary skills

Further to the above, it also emerged from the discussion that participants thought that they had had more opportunities to develop skills and to acquire new skills in the workplace than they had had at school. Perhaps not surprisingly, given her profession and the fact that she had been routinely bullied and humiliated at school because of her dyslexia, the HR manager was a particularly strong advocated of work-based learning. She did not view this merely in terms of skills acquisition, but was also convinced it was associated with a range of pyscho-social benefits. Another participant told us that `everything I've learned I've picked up from work.'

· Fitting structure to purpose

The discussion indicated that for some respondents at least, in particular those who had been less successful academically, valuable educational opportunities were being provided during their working lives. This raises the questions of whether the workplace might in future prove a more productive locus of educational activity; and the effect that the interaction between age, life-stage and personal circumstances have on individual's disposition to learn.

5.1 Background

Focus group 5 meeting took place in a room in a community centre located in an urban housing estate. The meeting was attended by six women, aged between 32 and 49. All of the women present had attended local schools, and were all still resident in the area. All of the women in the group had children, several of whom were attending local primary and secondary schools.

The meeting was arranged through an existing contact at the centre, and took place shortly after the first contact was made.

5.2 Key themes

The main themes to emerge from the discussion can be summarised as follows:

· Coping with change and uncertainty

There was some concern amongst the group that too much emphasis was being placed on academic achievement. All those present recognised the importance of qualifications as a passport to employment. Nevertheless, they took the view that education had a greater role to play in the development of civil society. The women present lived in an area blighted by vandalism, there was much concern that more could be done to inculcate values such as greater respect for persons and property. Indiscipline and bullying were viewed as endemic, and as having a deleterious effect on the education of a substantial number of children. Enhanced teacher-pupil ratios were seen as one way of alleviating the difficulties caused by `disruptive kids'.

· Engaging with ideas

The main focus in this group was on the acquisition of key life-skills and basic skills such as literacy and numeracy.

· Keeping people involved with learning

There was a consensus that pupils in the early years of secondary education were perhaps ill-equipped to make choices that might effect their future education or employment prospects. They were also perceived to be generally lacking in motivation. The introduction of tangible, short-term rewards was perceived to be one way of overcoming `educational drift' in S1 and S2.

· Developing necessary skills

Literacy, numeracy and computer skills were considered of primary importance. There was also considerable emphasis placed on the development of social and interpersonal skills.

· Promoting a sense of identity

Schools were perceived to have an important role to play in developing self-confidence, and in enabling individuals to present themselves in a positive light. One member of this group recalled being made to sit in a corner wearing a dunce's hat. Considerable emphasis was put on developing pupils' communication skills, which were considered deficient in some respects.

· Fitting structure to purpose

Participants did not challenge the way in which the Scottish education system is organised, namely `in three largely separate age-segregated types of institution' (SP Paper 533, p 6).

6.1 Background

Focus group 6 comprised eight women aged between 58 and 79 who regularly attended a 50 plus group at their local community/family learning centre in an urban housing estate in the west of Scotland. Most had been born and brought up in the area and had left school at 14 and gone straight into employment. Some had attended the school formerly on the site of the community centre.

6.2 Key themes

The main themes to emerge from the discussion can be summarised as follows:

· Coping with change and uncertainty

The group highlighted the importance of education providing the `three Rs' with early and primary school education being seen as important to provide the `basics' for future learning and behaviour. However, a `balanced' education was seen as important for today's world. This included adequate physical education given concerns over young people's health (they highlighted obesity issues).

The group believed that links between education and the wider community were important to meet the education needs of young people, as were positive role models. They cited the waning of community education involvement in the neighbourhood as another example of fewer learning opportunities for young people.

The perceived omnipresence of TV and electronic entertainment, linked with greater passivity was seen as creating an isolated and unhealthy youth population. They also believed that the lack of playground games and physical activity in school exacerbated this.

· Keeping people involved with learning

Engaging young people with learning was seen as a major problem particularly when they reach S3. Young people were seen as having more opportunities than their generation but were subject to a bewildering range of pressures from peers, the media and consumer society. New health risks such as drugs and HIV were also mentioned. The group believed education had to address and also compete with these aspects of modern life.

Teacher-pupil rapport was identified as an important factor in promoting pupils' willingness to learn. The group suggested that effective teaching meant not trying to be too familiar or friendly with pupils but establishing a supportive and authoritative role. This also involved adopting an appropriate dress code. The group also highlighted the importance of the school management in promoting a positive ethos, staff morale and a learning environment. Denominational schools were thought to be particularly successful in this respect.

The group was strongly in favour of school uniforms as a way of promoting an ethos conducive to learning and discipline, `Designer clothes cause so much trouble' (i.e. bullying).

Exclusions from school were seen as unhelpful. However, input from other agencies and clubs to support pupils and engage with their interests was advocated. The group believed that local groups and activities for young people had declined in recent years.

In contrast to their experiences of school, the women saw teaching as a beleaguered profession that did not have effective sanctions and measures to address pupil discipline issues. Also, teachers could not rely on parental support.

· Developing necessary skills

While literacy and numeracy were seen as prerequisites for independent living, broader skills and knowledge were also advocated. In addition to schoolwork, work experience and participatory activities, including the scouts, was suggested as a good way to acquire such skills and self-discipline necessary for adult life. There was a strong feeling that every child should be taught how to swim.

· Promoting a sense of identity

While the group did not discuss the issue of identity and culture in detail they stressed that young children appeared to lack pride in themselves and highlighted the impact on young people of wider societal pressures such as the media and `consumerism'. These were seen as generally negative influences that schools should address, however, the group believed this would be a major challenge.

· Fitting structure to purpose

Participants did not challenge the way in which the Scottish education system is organised, namely `in three largely separate age-segregated types of institution' (SP Paper 533, p 6).

7.1 Background

Focus group 7 included 3 males and 3 females aged between 20-50 years who lived in a residential facility for the disabled in a semi-rural area in central Scotland. Two of the women had experienced mainstream schooling. The others had attended special schools The participants had severe special needs (five of the six had cerebral palsy). Three Capability Scotland staff were present to assist with communication. These members of staff were also able to provide relevant insights and comments pertinent to the consultation

7.2 Key themes

The main themes to emerge from this group can be summarised as follows:

· Coping with change and uncertainty

A theme running through the discussion was that education should play an important role in helping people with special needs to deal with transitions and change in their lives. However, for this group, school education had largely failed to do this. In some cases, participants reported that schools had been unable or unwilling to identify individuals' needs and help them realise their potential.

Schools were seen as becoming too focused on developing literacy and numeracy in a narrow sense. The needs of some disabled people meant that they faced severe difficulties learning to be literate and numerate. Some of the Capability Scotland staff argued that such people could be taught how to `get around many literacy and numeracy issues and to cope by using technological aids such as calculators and speech/writing machines'.

Schools were seen as being limited in helping learners achieve their aspirations. One young man had wanted to go to college or university but could not because his schooling was unable to help him acquire the necessary qualifications. This, he argued, then limited his chances to access a job and money.

Improved social skills and self-confidence were seen as important for coping with everyday life. Therefore, the group saw other important purposes of education as helping people to `know how to get on with other people' and `to boost confidence'.

Some in the group stressed that education should be inclusive `not one type for wheelchairs and one for others'. However, the Capability Scotland staff present in the group provided insights on how so-called inclusive education could actually limit inclusion for people with special needs because it was not yet well enough funded or structured to address SEN in a mixed school setting. As one staff member put it:

People without special needs have to be educated to know how to work with those with these needs as they are integrated into their communities. Society is currently not geared to work with those with special needs either attitudinally or resource wise... Not enough has been done to address special needs in the community. It is a multi-disciplinary issue- teachers alone can not deal with all of the issues.

This argument applied to wider society where the public's attitudes and awareness of SEN limited the opportunities for people with special needs. Participants perceived that the education system had a key role to play in furthering social inclusion and promoting awareness of how to meet the needs of these people with SEN.

· Keeping people involved with learning

A recurrent theme from this group was that to keep people with SEN involved in learning, education had to learn from the past. It had to ensure that teachers understood the needs and abilities of learners, and match content and teaching approaches to these. Therefore, it was paramount that schools were able to provide learners with SEN access to appropriate means of communication. Increasingly sophisticated but costly technology had allowed the participants with communication difficulties to express themselves better. These were perceived to have added to their quality of life.

The group noted that when they were young there were few choices in education because the needs of people with disabilities were not taken into account. Things were seen to be changing but more choices would be appreciated.

· Developing necessary skills

The deficits of much of their early education meant that developing skills including communication and social skills were not addressed until later in their lives when they became involved with Capability Scotland. One woman highlighted that `Friendship skills were not covered in school'. There was a sense that they had missed out on so much because education had not engaged with their needs and abilities, their comments included:

I got more out of Sunday school than school

I wasn't taught to read

I didn't get the opportunity to sit exams

I missed out on education because of communication difficulties

There was no input in geography, history or modern studies.

Those with more profound special needs noted that access to communication technology would have helped them when they were young to cope better and make their needs known. The lack of a means to communicate clearly usually meant that the general public and teachers often thought they had mental impairments. This further limited their opportunities.

· Promoting a sense of identity

The group highlighted that the whole experience of education could affect self-perception. Some of the group said that in school, as in wider society, people did not relate to them as people in their own right, as one man explained `People would talk to the person pushing my chair and not me... I have a chair and a brain'.

One woman stressed that people had been ignorant of her needs and had also treated her differently which meant that she felt isolated and stigmatised `I was on my own and lonely, people were not nice to me'.

Again, the group stressed that if school education could effectively challenge assumptions about disabilities it could help disabled and able people develop more constructive relationships and work and live together in a truly inclusive way.

· Fitting structure to purpose

Participants did not challenge the way in which the Scottish education system is organised, namely `in three largely separate age-segregated types of institution' (SP Paper 533, p 6).

8.1 Background

Focus group 8 was arranged through Black and Ethnic Minorities Infrastructure Scotland (BEMIS) in association with the Workers' Educational Association (WEA). The group was part of a class set up for ethnic minority women `to promote integration with the community' and activities included a diverse range of courses (e.g. computing) and practises (e.g. aromatherapy). The group included 6 women: 1 Nigerian (the group's co-ordiantor), 2 Indian and 3 Pakistani. Some of the women were teachers, had higher degrees, others were involved in voluntary work and one had her own business (beauty therapy). The Asian women's husbands were mostly health professionals (doctors) who had moved to the UK and qualified to practice here.

8.2 Key themes

The main themes to emerge from the discussion can be summarised as follows:

· Coping with change and uncertainty

The group believed that `Society is changing fast and education has to help people cope'. One member explained that the main purposes of school education was:

Equipping individuals with skills and knowledge to cope with adult life ...producing a well-rounded person who has aspirations for HE...someone who is open to all things and has the confidence to learn, to get on and progress...The power of comprehension regardless of subject ...being able to read and understand is very important

The women stressed that people need to be able to understand social, political and economic issues and relate them to their lives. This would help communities to integrate and develop:

The world order is important it impinges on everyone's lives - the world is a small place - so education has to reflect this, for example, hunger, health issues, poverty etc

The group believed that this was especially necessary in communities where there are high proportions of ethnic minorities in order to reduce tensions and foster understanding:

Education should explain what is going on in society including the controversial issues like ethic minority issues... it should highlight the historical, social and political context underpinning today's ethnic issues.

The group thought that teachers and other people were afraid to discuss issues related to ethnicity. They believed an ideal education should focus on historical facts, global issues and a critical awareness set within a moral framework and respect others. There was concern that current health trends (e.g. diet) highlighted the need for health education to be included throughout school education.

The women compared Indian and Pakistani schooling to Scottish and wider UK approaches to education. Generally, they thought that Asian education systems, with their emphasis on rote learning of languages and mathematics, were geared to passing exams. However, children who had gone through such systems were perceived to be better able to cope with the transition from primary to secondary school. Intensive primary school education meant there was less of a shock when pupils went to secondary school where the curriculum was more intense. However, the group also criticised this type of learning, and suggested that it did not help pupils to think in more depth or critically about topics and issues. Unlike much Asian education, UK and Scottish education was seen to have a better mix of practical and theoretical content. All agreed that a balance was needed in education between the learning of factual knowledge and the development of critical understanding. They were also very impressed with how the curriculum was constantly upgraded to keep pace with developments and to maintain its relevance.

· Keeping people involved with learning

The role of parents in supporting learning and maintaining discipline was highlighted. All the women present highlighted cultural differences towards the value of education. They believed that they had to support their children's learning, especially their homework, if their children were to succeed because schools provided insufficient content/input. The group saw room for improvement in how schools liaise with parents.

Some participants highlighted how the need for women to be economically active in the UK meant that in `the busy UK lifestyle a working mother is less able to take a more active role in their child's education'.

Methods of learning were discussed. Dynamic and interactive approaches that made learning interesting were valued. The importance of teachers' skills was also highlighted, especially in teaching core skills such as literacy and numeracy. An example was given of how changing a child's maths teacher had helped improve his performance.

While the rights of pupils were seen as important, all of the women agreed that there should be a more effective deterrent to help maintain discipline in classrooms. Teachers were seen as concentrating their efforts on those who were not disruptive. Some of the group noted that the general lack of discipline in classes meant their children's learning was being disrupted.

The women also thought that UK pupils struggled with the transition to secondary school and become frustrated with school. They proposed a better balance between the curricula of the two sectors.

Finally, they highlighted the importance of peer groups, and the role of wider culture, ie `it is very acquisitive and materialistic' but believed that school uniform can be `a great leveller'.

· Developing necessary skills

There was consensus that education should help pupils to `learn how to learn'. This would foster independent learning and allow pupils to cope in secondary and tertiary education. They also believed that education should help people develop critical awareness and questioning approaches which would help them cope with life in general.

· Promoting a sense of identity

There was concern that the Scottish education system was not meeting the needs of children from ethnic minorities as it `lacked a cultural awareness'. Although some pointed out that some schools were better than others at addressing issues of culture and a few women had been asked to provide an input about their own culture.

· Fitting structure to purpose

Participants did not challenge the way in which the Scottish education system is organised, namely `in three largely separate age-segregated types of institution' (SP Paper 533, p 6).

9.1 Background

Focus group 9, which was also arranged with the assistance of BEMIS, consisted of 10 women from ethnic minority groups. The participants included four of Pakistani origin, who had lived in the area for some time; a young Iranian woman with a young baby, whose husband was competing his PhD in Scotland; an older Afghan woman; two young Turkish women, whose status was unclear; and a young Scottish convert to Islam, who attended with 2 of her 6 children.

The ages range was from 22 to 50 +. The group met in a housing association in an inner city area in the west of Scotland. The ethnic minority outreach worker based at the housing association acted as a translator/co-facilitator.

9.2 Key themes

The main themes to emerge from the discussion can be summarised as follows:

· Coping with change and uncertainty

The group believed that overall, school education should aim to provide pupils with qualifications in order to obtain employment, or to access FE/HE in order for then to progress to employment. There was a consensus that in the countries of origin of many of the participants, including the most disadvantaged economically, education was seen as the passport to a better life. In contrast, they believed that the wider UK populations took a very short-term view. One participant told us that `kids here don't think about the future'.

· Keeping people involved with learning

The group linked social deprivation to lack of educational attainment. Some also believed that the ready availability of benefits lowered the motivation of many people to `better themselves' socially, economically, culturally. There was a strong feeling that `people here don't value education' and that `kids were being spoiled by the system' in which parents were colluding.

Parenting styles in the UK were seen as too liberal and laissez-faire and this combined with the lack of effective sanctions in schools meant that children were not motivated to learn. There was also concern that children were starting school before they are ready to learn and that once in education the pace of learning was too slow. As a result, children were perceived to find the transition from primary to secondary school difficult, as they suddenly found themselves in a more pressured environment.

Lack of discipline, self-discipline, and widespread anti-social behaviour, some of which was directed at people from ethnic minorities, were major concerns. One of the participants was `frightened to walk past the local primary school.' Participants were strongly against exclusion because it disrupted the education of the excluded pupils, and exacerbated some of the problems that had led to their exclusion in the first place. Some in the group thought that poor teacher-pupil relations could lead to disruptive behaviour in class.

They believed that people from ethnic minorities, who spoke little English, faced particular difficulties in education because of the lack of suitable translators or appropriate learning support. Available bilingual teachers were a potentially valuable but underused resource. Several parents thought that they should play a greater role in the classroom to prevent children from ethnic minorities falling behind in schoolwork, becoming frustrated and possibly disruptive. Some cited examples of where skilled local racial equality/community workers had offered their expertise to local schools, but these offers had not been accepted.

A range of other factors faced ethnic minorities. These included difficulties in funding travel costs for their children to travel to available education, and funding issues concerning the situation of overseas students. One woman thought that local FE colleges were flouting the regulations, and demanding the full overseas students' fee even though she had resided in the country for three years.

· Developing necessary skills

The group believed that Scottish education could better prepare pupils for further study and employment. However, it was widely acknowledged that it was difficult for teachers to engage with pupils who did not value education. Some thought that practical skills were important, but that these were accorded relatively low status in schools and that careers advice, or at least vocational orientation, should start at a far earlier stage, i.e. P7/S1.

· Promoting a sense of identity

Overall, Scottish education was seen as being poorly geared to including other cultures, meeting the needs of ethnic minorities and challenging racial stereotypes. Participants cited cases of teachers providing careers advice who assumed that ethnic minority children, particularly those of Pakistani origin, would move straight into a family business. As a result, some families had experienced a closing down of curricular options and felt that their children were being excluded, tacitly or overtly, from more academic pathways.

· Fitting structure to purpose

Participants did not challenge the way in which the Scottish education system is organised, namely `in three largely separate age-segregated types of institution' (SP Paper 533, p 6).

10.1 Background

The final focus group meeting involved six young men aged between 16 and 19 who have been in public care. They are currently involved with a youth project situated in a remote, semi-rural area in the north of Scotland. The project helps those making the transition from care to independent living. The meeting took place at the project base and the group organisers were pleased to see that this consultation was willing to `come out to people to get their views'.

10.2 Key themes

The main themes to emerge from the group were as follows:

· Coping with change and uncertainty

The men believed that one of the main purposes of education was to provide individuals with skills, knowledge and abilities to cope with the transition from school to the `adult' world of responsibilities and work. They thought that `education should be based on real life issues' and that `school should prepare us for the real world'. It is perhaps not surprising that these vulnerable young men placed such a high priority on the need for education to help people to cope with change given the numerous transitions and uncertainties they had experienced in their own lives. Overall, the group thought that their school experience had not prepared them for such transitions. As one man commented `School didn't prepare me for managing my own place. I picked that up from work and from experience'. For some the curriculum was seen as irrelevant, inflexible and poorly taught. This was particularly the case for those who had learning difficulties such as dyslexia.

Some thought that the school curriculum should be more closely linked with the world of work. The careers guidance and support available in schools was perceived to be out of touch with the needs of pupils. More specifically, careers guidance and preparation for job interviews was criticised as bearing little relation to real job seeking and interview experiences.

One participant highlighted the need for more effective and more relevant Personal and Social Education (PSE), particularly concerning sexual health and drugs. Again, there was dissatisfaction with both the content and the way that these topics were taught in school. Concern was also expressed over the limited way in which they prepared pupils for experiences in adolescence and adulthood.

· Engaging with ideas

The group thought that education should help people engage with ideas and think about bigger issues, but that, their school experiences had not. Participants believed that school should make people aware of, and willing to participate in, the political process. They thought that remoter areas of Scotland were often overlooked by policymakers in London and Edinburgh, and this meant that local needs were not met. Members of fishing and farming communities could be alienated and needed access to the political system in order to seek redress. One man stressed that schools should have the potential to promote communities rather than produce disenchanted individuals.

· Keeping people involved with learning

School lessons were typically seen as having been uninspiring and unlikely to inspire learning. Lesson content, materials and teaching styles should, aim to capture the attention of the class and stimulate interest. Some had experienced teachers who set work and sat at the front of the class marking work until the end of the lesson. This approach was contrasted with the more participative style of learning some had experienced in FE and post-compulsory education. However, the group added that such approaches were not always easy for school teachers to adopt because of larger class sizes. As one young man explained: `sometimes it would take the whole period before the teacher could help you, but often you never got help'. This was even more of a problem for those who struggled with their learning.

The ethos of a school was seen as a key factor that influenced pupils' behaviour and their willingness to learn. Participants thought that in a school with a positive ethos that valued pupils, there would be less frustration and, therefore, fewer discipline problems. Again, the group reiterated that motivation to learn would be increased if the curriculum better reflected the needs of pupils and was seen as relevant to the `real' world of work and independent living.

The group thought that the quality of teaching was very variable both within and across schools. However, there was agreement that teachers faced a daunting workload and were often stressed, and that this affected their rapport with pupils. Some suggested that there should be more classroom support for learning to relieve the burden on teachers and improve pupils' chances to learn. Ultimately if schools are to help all people and meet their needs, then more flexibility and genuine curricular options were required. Teachers were often perceived to have `steered' pupils' choices.

· Promoting a sense of identity

The group believed that schools should develop self-confidence and self-identity. This included the promotion of a National identity and a distinctively Scottish curriculum. Some believed Scottish cultural identity was being lost from education and it was becoming more Anglicised. Too much emphasis was placed on pupils to perform well in academic subjects which could have adverse effects on pupils' self-confidence.

· Fitting structure to purpose

A key issue for the group was how education needed to take account of the issues which arose from remote geographical locations. Travelling to school could be difficult in winter, when snow closed roads for up to a week at a time. Bus companies were criticised for not operating enough or reliable services to transport learners to school.

The group thought more use could be made of ITC to teach people in remote areas. Outreach style learning was also suggested as a valuable complement to school-based education but the co-operation of parents would be necessary to make this work and there would also be cost implications.

Overall, the group stressed that school education had to be more flexible in content, teaching approaches and location to meet the varied needs of learners. They suggested that the remit and work of the Inspectorate be geared more closely to ensuring schools meet these needs.

In contrast to the other nine focus groups, the participants in this group raised issues related to a National Scottish identity and the structure of Scottish education.


Footnote

27 These can be found in the Discussion Paper for the Inquiry into the Purposes of Scottish Education, available at /official-report/cttee/educ-02/edr02-discuss.htm. This document is henceforth referred to as SP Paper 533.

28 In view of the size of one group (see Appendix 3), it was not possible to determine the precise number of respondents who had children. However, if we exclude the groups described in Appendices 2 and 10 (young men aged between 16 and 19), then the majority of those who participated in the study had children.

29 From Lost Icons by Rowan Williams. Cited in `The new head of the Anglican church ... in his own words', The Guardian, July 25, 2002.

30 In the present context, we are aware that this conventional expression is in fact a value-laden term. It is used to refer to those who have been (academically) successful in their school education.

31 The Scottish Executive [1999] Making It Work Together: a programme for government. Edinburgh: The Scottish Executive.

 

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