English Education v Scottish Education? Which is Better?

Michael Gove

The English and Scottish Education systems are completely different and certainly in recent weeks, Michael Gove, The Education Secretary has come under attack.  There are many articles such as this “Michael Gove has made a cruel mess of exam grades”.  The English education system does seem to be in a bit of a turmoil but is the Scottish education system really much better? 

Less publicised but still causing headaches for many Scottish schools is the introduction of new National 4 & 5 exams introduced as part of the new Curriculum For Excellence and only time will tell if this transition runs smoothly in the next few years.

Why Scotland’s approach to publicly funded education works

I came across this interesting article online by Melissa Benn of the Guardian and I wanted to share.  I would be interested to hear your point of view.

Guardian Article in Full

Last week, a British education minister spoke eloquently of the necessity of a highly qualified teaching profession, free university learning and the vital importance of public education as a “societal, not just an individual, good”.

Michael Russell

No, Michael Gove has not had a radical change of heart over the summer break. The minister in question was Michael Russell, cabinet secretary for education in the SNP government. He and I were sharing a platform at a packed session at this year’s Edinburgh book festival on “the value of education”, with many cogent and passionate contributions from leading academics and educationalists.

The most immediate thing to strike a visitor from Planet Gove is how very different the atmosphere and assumptions are on this subject north of the border. With its proud tradition of the “democratic intellect”, long history of compulsory education and world-renowned universities, the Scots seem genuinely to value their school system.

Here one finds very little teacher-bashing and scant reference to market solutions to social problems. At the Edinburgh event, the overriding concern was how to improve access by poorer students to higher and further learning and keep universities free, despite considerable pressure from an unholy alliance of English newspapers and Scottish conservatives. There is a heartening and robust belief in publicly funded, publicly accountable high-quality education.

Is this perhaps the very reason we in England hear so little about Scotland‘s education system, bar some envious carping at its avoidance of tuition fees? While every fashionable free-schooler or educational conservative has rushed to bash underfunded Wales as proof of comprehensive failure, or bemoaned attempts in Northern Ireland to eliminate its outmoded selective system, there is little discussion of the evident strengths of the Scottish comprehensive system.

In fact, Scotland has deliberately rejected what Russell accurately labels the Germ (Global Education Reform Movement) approach so beloved of the coalition, with its commitment to privatisation, competition and deregulation.

He is rightly scathing of the “three initiatives before breakfast” policy-hyperactivity of the current English government. At the Edinburgh session he declared himself “stunned” at recently announced English plans to allow unqualified teachers into classrooms. Rigorous teacher training is at the heart of the Scottish approach, and there are plans, modelled upon the Finnish example, to require every teacher to possess a master’s in addition to a first degree.

Scotland publishes no official league tables, although individual schools obviously release their results. (Even Wales now publishes the results of secondary schools grouped into one of five bands.) The Scottish government is moving towards greater school self-evaluation and has, over the past decade, slowly rolled out a progressive “curriculum for excellence”, in stark contrast to our own government’s speedily devised, overly prescriptive and increasingly contested programmes for learning.

And it seems to be working. Results for Scottish highers, a formal examination taken between 16 and 19, have slowly climbed over the years and are up again in 2012, with no serious claims of grade inflation. From this year, pilot schemes will be rolled out, with the ultimate aim of each child learning two languages in addition to their own. And only last year, the Royal Society praised the high numbers of Scottish students – 49.7% – who study science to the higher levels, and suggested that the rest of the UK should emulate Scotland in this regard.

Denominational schooling is still a huge issue and while some indicators suggest that Scotland is better at educating its poorer students than we are in England, it remains, like all parts of the UK, dogged by an unacceptable attainment gap based on social class.

Acknowledging this, Russell points to “some spectacularly good practice” on improving the performance of low-income students in Glasgow’s toughest schools. It is an approach, says Russell, consistent with Scotland’s belief in “collaboration rather than competition”. He adds succinctly: “We do not believe that poverty is destiny. But Kipp (a reference to the US Charter model) would not work for us.”

Not perfect but improving: that seemed to be the general, modest consensus up in Edinburgh. Indeed, it may be that modesty and consensus-seeking are the hallmarks of Scotland’s approach, in marked contrast to the “quick fix”, grandstanding approach of Germ guerillas everywhere who deliberately seek to undermine public trust and confidence in the role of the state.

Scotland offers another model, celebrating both the possibilities of good government and education as a public good. As a result, it could well nudge ahead of busy old England in the years to come


SQA Exam Results 2012 – What To Do If You Fail Exams Or Don’t Achieve The Pass You Expected

SQA Exam Results are Announced on 7th August 2012!

There are only a few days to go until the 2012 Scottish Exam Results are received by students in Scotland.  Waiting for important exam results like these are extremely nerve-racking for students and parents alike.  As a teacher of so many exam students, I am also waiting to hear results with a lot of expectations as I know my students were ready and capable of a great pass.

SQA Exam Results Day 2012

Exam results will be arriving by mail on Tuesday, 7th August 2012 for Scottish exam students.  For those who have chosen the option, many students will be receiving their results by an online method.  I remember when my daughter’s exam results came through in the post many years ago and she had just gone abroad on holiday.  I had to wait for over a week until she returned and opened her results!  I was desperate to open the envelope but I managed to control myself and wait patiently.  It was so worth it to see my daughter’s face  when she realised that she had passed in all of her subjects and her hard work had paid off!

What do I do if Exam Results are Not What I expected?

We hope that every student receives the exam result they were wanting but, if for some reason that does not happen, what can parents do to help their children keep their goals on track?

Scottish Exams Appeal

If you have not received the grade that your prelim and course work has expected you to, you can appeal.  Contact your school immediately.  This is advice posted from the official SQA website on who is eligible to appeal and what meets the criteria for appeal:

Before exams take  place, your school or college sends us an estimate grade (the grade they think  you will achieve). To be eligible for an appeal, you need to have achieved an exam grade that is lower than the one your school or college estimated for you. You must also meet these conditions:

  • Your estimate grade needs to be higher than a 7 (for Standard grades) or higher than a D (for Intermediates, Highers  and Advanced Highers)
  • You must have completed all parts of Course that are externally assessed. External assessments are marked by specialists hired by SQA, whereas internal assessments are marked by your own teachers/lecturers.
  • Your school/college needs to send us convincing evidence (eg a prelim) that demonstrates that you previously managed to achieve a better grade than the one you got in the real exam. The evidence must reach us by the closing date.

I have a College/University Place but I didn’t achieve expected exam results.

If you did not achieve the exam results you needed to gain a place at College or University, please try not to panic. There is a course of appeal that you can take and the phone number and email address for Universities & Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) are available at http://www.sqa.org.uk/sqa/32810.html.  Please talk to your lecturers and contact them for advice on how to proceed.

Another Chance?

At the end of the day, if you do not achieve the results you expected, there are other options available to you.  If you are in 4th or 5th year then speak to your Guidance Teacher and teachers.  Could you benefit from some extra tuition to help you prepare in studying techniques?  If you have not achieved  your goals this time then perhaps there is a reason for this.  Speak to your teachers and talk about your future.  How can they help you achieve your dreams?

There is always another option.  Many students take a year out to travel.  Many students are mature students who return to education in later life.  Failing or scoring poorly on an exam is something that most of us do at some point in our lives.  It is important not to dwell on this.  These things happen!.  The important thing is to decide that this is not going to happen again – I am going to make a plan and talk to my teachers, school, college, parents and this time next year I will be back on track!

Curriculum For Excellence – A Parent’s View

This is the first article submitted by a parent of students at one of our Kip McGrath Tutoring Centres. We hope that other parents will also contribute to our blog about their experiences at Kip McGrath.  Having read our previous blog about Curriculum For Excellence, this parent wanted to add his own experience and we are very grateful to him for taking the time to write such a blog.

Curriculum For Excellence – My Views as a Parent

I am a parent of two children both at high school, one a third year student and the second a first year student.  My older child is preparing for standard grade exams next year and will see very little change in teaching practice as a result of the Curriculum For Excellence (CfE), the new curriculum being introduced to Scottish schools.  In contrast my youngest child will be in the first group of children in the school who will see teaching practices, and eventually even the exam system, change as a result of CfE.

When both my children were at primary school my wife and I were well aware of how the new curriculum was impacting on Primary teaching.  At its core the CfE aims to develop four learning capacities, to enable each child or young person to be a successful learner, a
confident individual, a responsible citizen and an effective contributor.  The curriculum aims to ensure that all children and young people develop the knowledge, skills and attributes they will need if they are to flourish in life, learning and work, now and in the future.  Full details of the CfE can be found on Learning and Teaching Scotland’s web site: http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/understandingthecurriculum/whatiscurriculumforexcellence/index.asp

The new curriculum seemed to make sense at the Primary level and I was happy with how it was taken forward by my children’s’ Primary school.  But now that my youngest child is encountering CfE at high school there are a few issues that I think we parents need to think about.  Last week my wife and I attended a briefing session at our children’s school to hear about how the school was going to take CfE forward.

Having listened to what the head teacher had to say there are two major issues that cause me to think hard about what my youngest child will experience in the years ahead. Firstly the CfE gives the school much more flexibility in how it teaches and designs lessons in the school, not a bad thing in it’s own right I think.  Secondly to develop the four capacities there will be more teaching of subjects such as Maths across many subject areas to show children the practical applications of Maths and to reinforce Mathematical concepts, this is known as cross curricular teaching.

If I take the first issue highlighted by the head teacher, the degree of flexibility in teaching that is now being introduced.  Having spoken to some teachers (including my sister in law) many are concerned, not with the flexibility and freedom that they are getting, they welcome that, but the speed at which this is being pursued and the limited guidance they have received to date on how to design lessons and teaching.  Some teachers say they are confused about what it is they are now being expected to do in lessons and that it will take some time to iron out such issues.

My concern is that during this transitional phase the stability of the previous system is being lost and my child will not be exposed to a new degree of certainty until teachers are more comfortable with the CfE.  At primary level I was less concerned with this as my children did not face the prospect of exams, which is obviously not the case now.  We all know that stability is a key aspect in helping all children succeed in education.  Turmoil, confusion, change (even when it is for the better) can undermine a child’s efforts to learn. I know that the teachers in my children’s school will be working hard to reduce the prospect of instability undermining the hard work of the children.  But the simple fact of transition, as CfE is brought into all aspects of teaching and learning in the school, makes me more anxious as a parent.

The second issue that I thought about following thepresentation by the head teacher was the way core subjects, such as Maths and English, will be taught across the curriculum and not just in the Maths or English class.  Again I think this is a useful development and should help some children realise how important Maths and English is in both their learning and also in the real world.  My concern is more about the implications that this might have on how Maths and English themselves are taught than how my child will encounter Maths in other subject areas.

I might be something of a traditionalist here but my worry is that Maths and English teachers may look for more ‘exciting’ ways to teach their subject and sacrifice the core learning in lessons as a result.  All good teachers balance core learning(teaching concepts and ‘rules’ within the topic) while seeking to engage children in the subject to deepen their understanding of it.  I hope that the introduction of the CfE does not result in teachers focusing more on the engaging element, to try and makethe topic more appealing to children and in so doing sacrifice the core underlying learning, especially with more challenging topics and concepts.  Good teachers should make lessons interesting for children but they also need to get children to realise that some topics also require hard word, hard thinking and lots of effort in order to really grasp things.  This is the less glamorous side to teaching but critically important if children are to succeed.

Overall I think the introduction of the CfE will be good for Scottish children.  It should help more children learn better and fulfil their potential.  My concerns relate more to the transitional phase that my younger child will experience and the impact that this will have on how teachers ‘teach’ as they come to terms with the new curriculum and itsimplications for teaching practice.

All change, even good change, can lead to periods of instability as things move from one approach or system to a new one.  Change in the education of children raises important issues that as parents we will all be thinking about.  This means that as a parent I will be searching for means to keep some stability in my children’s learning environment as they experience change in their school and their classrooms in the years ahead.  I personally think that Kip McGrath will be important for my younger child in particular but will also remain important for my older child who will not be affected by the CfE directly.  Kip will provide some stability while the school makes the changes it needs to make to implement the CfE.  As the CfE is further implemented in my children’s school I also wish to see Kip’s approach evolve to support what my children will be learning and how they are being taught.  In the meantime I am happy that Kip McGrath and its teaching staff will be one pillar of stability as my children experience change in their learning environment.

Comment by Kip McGrath

These concerns are often raised by parents when bringing their child to Kip McGrath for an initial assessment.  Most parents (and some teachers) are still a little confused about how Curriculum For Excellence will affect their children’s education.  This particular parent has taken the time to talk to his school and other teachers and we would stress that these opinions are his alone.

If you have any concerns about your child’s education and would like to talk to one of our teachers or arrange a Free assessment, please go to www.kipmcgrath.co.uk to find your local centre.

Curriculum For Excellence in Scotland – What do you think?

We currently have 28 Kip McGrath Education Centres in Scotland.  Every Centre Director is a qualified Teacher and we only employ tutors in Maths and English who are fully qualified, members of the General Teaching Council Scotland and hold enhanced disclosures.

Although we follow the proven Kip McGrath method of teaching, we also closely follow the Scottish Curriculum. Many of of our tutors still teach in schools as their daytime job and some are retired teachers and Head Teachers.  We feel it is important to keep up to date with the Scottish Curriculum and to this end we are all about to undertake refresher training on “Curriculum for Excellence” in Scotland which was introduced in 2010.

This is a link for parents and teachers alike to the main “Curriculum For Excellence Website” which should answer any questions you may have. http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/understandingthecurriculum/whatiscurriculumforexcellence/index.asp

We also stumbled across this Forum on TES Scotland which highlights teachers’ views on CFE.  Please note you may need to be a teacher and sign up with TES to view.


We would be interested to hear from parents and teachers alike in Scotland on how Curriculum For Excellence is working  for you and what difference this is making to your teaching methods and the results you attain.  Perhaps you could complete our poll?