The Place of Gaelic in Modern Scotland

Mr John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills

Mr John Swinney, Scottish Government, CC BY-NC 2.0

Last week in Stornoway, as part of the Royal National Mòd, Mr John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, presented the Angus Macleod Lecture on The Place of Gaelic in Modern Scotland.  Mr Swinney assumed ministerial responsibility for the Gaelic language after the last election.

In a thought provoking speech Mr Swinney reiterated the Scottish Government’s commitment to securing the future of the Gaelic language in Scotland and outlined plans for education, broadcasting, digital and economic development to support the language.

The First Minister clearly stated that hostility towards Gaelic has no place in Scotland, adding that the reason for the Government’s commitment to the language is quite simple. “Gaelic belongs in Scotland.”

Although Mr Swinney did not speak specifically about open education, he did refer to the importance of Gaelic education provision:

“Earlier this year, the Scottish Parliament passed an Education Act which included important Gaelic provisions. We will use this to strengthen Gaelic provision in schools.

This Act placed a duty on Bòrd na Gàidhlig to prepare Guidance on Gaelic education. This Guidance, for the first time, describes what parents can expect local authorities to deliver when they choose Gaelic education for their children. The consultation on this Guidance closes at the end of this month.

In recent years, we have seen a welcome increase in the number of parents choosing to place their children in to Gaelic education. Since 2008, we have witnessed a 32% increase of young people in Gaelic medium education and it is our duty in the Scottish Government, working with local authorities, to ensure this demand can be met.

Today I would like to announce £700k of funding for Glasgow City Council for its two Gaelic schools at Glendale and Berkeley Street. This funding will further improve the learning environment for young people studying core subjects such as physical education, STEM and ICT, ensuring Gaelic learning provides a wide experience across the curriculum.”

In response to a question from Open Scotland regarding the importance of ICT to support Gaelic education, the Deputy First Minister reiterated the Government’s commitment to providing 100% network connectivity throughout Scotland. He went on to highlight the importance of education technology to broaden the coverage of education provision, ensuring that Gaelic education can reach greater numbers of learners than ever before.  In addition he also emphasised the new opportunities that information and communication technology affords young people in the Highlands and Islands, enabling them to expand their education and skills, and seek new careers without having to leave the Gàidhealtachd.

A Storify of live tweets from the Deputy First Minister’s lecture is available here: The Place of Gaelic in Modern Scotland

Links

Scottish Government press release
Full text of the Deputy First Minister’s lecture

John Swinney, MSP, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills addresses the Scottish Learning Festival

A guest post from Joe Wilson, reporting on the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills’ speech at the Scottish Learning Festival. 

The Scottish Learning Festival is the annual gathering mainly of schools across Scotland. This year even had the usual mix of excellent keynotes and workshops to re-inforce changes across the sector and provide staff who can get out of school for one or two days with an important opportunity to network.  Keynotes from the event are available here https://www.youtube.com/user/educationscotland

As well as a programme of talks there is an exhibition area featuring most of the agencies that support Scottish schools, commercial vendors, with a broad focus on technology, and a local authority village highlighting a range of initiatives across Scotland’s 32 local authorities.

Traditionally the event starts with an address from the Minister for Education and this year was no exception. There are usually too a couple of well-timed press releases or policy changes that appear on the morning of address to give speech some beef.

This year was the announcement that the ‘assessment burden’ in schools would be tackled (Government plans major changes to school qualifications) and the Digital Learning and Teaching strategy Enhancing Learning and Teaching Through the Use of Digital Technology was published the previous day.

I think I’ve attended all the SLF conferences and this was the most confident delivery I’ve seen by an Education Minister in the last 20 years, focusing unrelentingly on closing the attainment gap. It needed to be a confident speech, relationships are currently fragile across this sector and while the Minister has picked up his brief in a confident fashion, as ever with education, there is a fair amount of baggage to be dealt with.

So what happened?

Swinney’s speech was directive really; a call to arms for teachers, head teachers, local authorities and all those working in public education to focus on the core values of Scottish Education. The system is there to transform lives and should be underpinned by “wisdom, compassion, justice, integrity”.  Scottish Education needs to build on its foundations and not rest on its laurels. There was reference to the recent OECD report on the state of Scottish Education; our report card is that we are on the right road but ‘could do better’ particularly around “closing the attainment gap”.

The challenge is that the right building blocks are there in our Getting it Right for Every Child, Curriculum for Excellence and Developing our Young Workforce policies, we need to free teachers and education leaders from unnecessary bureaucracy and let them get on with the job. The Minister praised the 23% rise in vocational qualifications now being delivered in schools as evidence of change happening and highlighted how the system was working towards building excellence and equity.

In his first six months Swinney has already taken action. Today, he announced that the assessment burden, the internal assessments in National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher, will go and be replaced with more externally assessed components.  This has been done with agreement of the National Assessment and Qualifications Working Group. They are working through ways to give more resources directly to schools, but local authorities, head teachers and teachers also need to get rid of their own self-generated bureaucracy.  Education Scotland is going to take down thousands of pages of guidance that is often contradictory.  Definitive guidance is now provided here Delivering excellence and equity in Scottish education: A delivery plan.

The Minister’s speech did not directly address the Digital Learning and Teaching strategy and its actual or potential impact on the classroom. In response to questions, Swinney highlighted that connectivity was still a challenge in many schools and that resources were being allocated to improve bandwidth across Scotland and that schools should make more effective use of GLOW.

There is much that educational technology, or more specifically changes in educational practice supported by educational technology, could do to support the aim of closing the attainment gap in Scotland.  Digital technology is to become central to all areas of curriculum, assessment and delivery.

Open Education has a key role to play in this but it is not explicitly referenced in the strategy. It as a key part in improving the relationship between teachers and learners and enhancing the learners’ experience.

I know for instance that SQA are looking to move towards making evidence digital a standard in all areas that it can – this could change face of assessment across Scotland.  That is something that everyone across the education and skills system should be thinking about.

There was a question too about the support available for young learners with mental health challenges and the lack of re-sources and joined up provision from education, social and health services.

There was no mention in the speech around the external assessments that are being planned for primary and early stage secondary pupils to provide Government with a performance benchmark and nothing really of substance for those working in Colleges, Higher Education or the training provider sector.

Enhancing Learning and Teaching Through The Use of Digital Technology

Last week the Scottish Government launched their new digital learning and teaching strategy for Scottish schools: Enhancing Learning and Teaching Through The Use of Digital Technology. The strategy outlines:

“a comprehensive approach to deliver the increased effective use of digital technology in education and bring about the equity of opportunity that is the key focus for this government.”

Key themes to emerge form the strategy are closing the attainment gap, developing digital skills, embedding technology right across the curriculum, and using digital technology to improve the assessment process.

The strategy is structured around four strategic objectives that will replace the existing five ICT in education objectives.

  • Develop the skills and confidencescotgov_strategy of educators in the appropriate and effective use of digital technology to support learning and teaching.
  • Improve access to digital technology for all learners.
  • Ensure that digital technology is a central consideration in all areas of curriculum and assessment delivery.
  • Empower leaders of change to drive innovation and investment in digital technology for learning and teaching.

The strategy emphasises that all four objectives must be achieved in order to realise the overarching vision for Scottish Education:

  • Excellence through raising attainment: ensuring that every child achieves the highest standards in literacy and numeracy, set out within Curriculum for Excellence levels, and the right range of skills, qualifications and achievements to allow them to succeed; and
  • Achieving equity: ensuring that every child has the same opportunity to succeed, with a particular focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap.

The strategy also outlines what Scot Gov and Education Scotland will do to deliver this vision and identifies action plans for each strategic objective as follows:

Objective 1: Develop the skills and confidence of educators in the appropriate and effective use of digital technology to support learning and teaching.

  • Ensure Professional Standards for Registration and for Career-Long Professional Learning reflect the importance of digital technology and skills.
  • Ensure that all Initial Teacher Education (ITE) providers instil the benefits of using digital technology to enhance learning and teaching in their students, in line with GTCS Standards for Registration.
  • Ensure that a range of professional learning opportunities are available to educators at all stages to equip them with the skills and confidence to utilise technology appropriately and effectively, in line with the GTCS Standards for Career Long Professional Learning.
  • Ensure that a range of professional learning opportunities are available to educators at all stages to equip them with the skills and confidence to utilise technology appropriately and effectively, in line with the GTCS Standards for Career Long Professional Learning.

Objective 2: Improve access to digital technology for all learners.

  • Continued national investment into initiatives that support digital access in educational establishments.
  • Provide guidance at a national and local level around learner access to digital technology.
  • Promote approaches to digital infrastructure that put users’ needs at the heart of the design.
  • Encourage and facilitate the development of partnerships that will improve digital access and digital skills development opportunities for our learners.

Objective 3: Ensure that digital technology is a central consideration in all areas of curriculum and assessment delivery.

  • Ensure aspects of Curriculum for Excellence relating to the use of digital technology and development of digital skills are relevant, ambitious and forward looking.
  • Support, develop and embed approaches to assessment that make effective use of digital technology.
  • Support, develop and embed approaches to assessment that make effective use of digital technology.

Objective 4: Empower leaders of change to drive innovation and investment in digital technology for learning and teaching.

  • Ensure that the vision laid out in this strategy is adequately captured in Professional Standards, self-evaluation guidance and inspections of educational provision in Scotland.
  • Support leaders and decision makers to lead change in their local contexts through accessing and sharing relevant research in order to identify effective approaches to the use of digital technology in education.

Implications for Open Education

The Scottish Government has clearly placed raising attainment and achieving equity at the heart of its digital learning and teaching strategy. While it is encouraging that the strategy acknowledges the potential of digital technology to enrich education, enhance learning and teaching, equip learners with vital digital skills and lead to improved educational outcomes, it is disappointing that it does not acknowledge the significant role that open education can play in achieving these objectives. Although this may be regarded as something of a missed opportunity to place openness at the heart of the government’s vision for education in Scotland, it is to be hoped that the new strategy lays a firm foundation on which to build evidence of the role that open education can play in closing the attainment gap, developing digital skills, improving the assessment process, creating new opportunities for learners, supporting social inclusion and expanding equitable access to education for all.

Links

Enhancing Learning and Teaching Through the Use of Digital Technology documents: http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2016/09/9494/downloads