Revolution, not Evolution


A Curriculum for Excellence provides us with a singular opportunity to radically transform our secondary school curriculum. It seems to be taken as a fact in education that change should be something that evolves over time “Evolution not revolution” – I’ve used the term myself on many occasions. But there are times when evolution just means more of the same – it’s safe, conservative and often results in no change taking place at all.

So here are 33 ideas for the secondary school curriculum, some of which might not be revolutionary in themselves, but taken collectively would certainly constitute a revolution:

1. Children and Young People will take tests and exams when they are ready – not because of the year group to which they belong.

2. The majority of learning will not be delivered in year group blocks, i.e. not age specific. Students will access learning opportunities as a consequence of prior learning.

3. There will be significant opportunities for young people to follow areas of personal interest during the school week.

4. Home and school learning will be considered to be of equivalent value and be reflected in the learning programmes developed by each young person.

5. Each young person will have a unique learning programme (timetable) which will include home and school learning in it’s widest sense.

6. Supplementary courses (delivered in the evening) will be available for parents to enable them to support their child’s learning.

7. Parents will be encouraged to “shadow” their child’s learning at any time they might be available.

8. Teachers will have personal timetables/contracts which will enable them to work from home – supporting online learning; at school during the day – supporting Learning Teams, delivering courses, and supporting core activities; at school during the evening – delivering courses and supporting core activities.

9. We will develop a “Learning Licence” model of progressive courses where children and young people “learn how to learn” for which they will receive accreditation.

10. Each child and young person will be part of a Learning Team (20 members), which will represent a cross-section of ages. Each Learning Team will be supported and facilitated by a teacher who will help guide them in their progress through their own curriculum. Learning Team’s will meet for one hour each day and will also encourage and enable peer coaching.

11. Young people over the age of 14 can apply for up to one day work experience which can be paid or unpaid employment.

12. Young people over the age of 16 need only attend the courses they are following – they can apply for up to two days work experience which can be paid or unpaid employment.

13. We will break the traditional inter-locking and restrictive nature of the timetable by ensuring that teaching staff spend the majority of their teaching time working with a “horizontal” level of work.

14. Young people over the age of 16 may devise their own curriculum by accessing courses available at their own school, other schools,  further education and higher education institiutions  learning and on-line learning environments.

15. Children and young people will be progressively taught, from an early age, how to make the best use of virtual learning environments.

16. All courses and materials will be made available on-line via GLOW.

17. Schools can use voluntary mentors who – following appropriate disclosure – can support the independent learning of students.

18. The maximum size of any Learning Group will be 100 learners, e.g. the traditional year group; or house group would be too big. It will be possible to  belong to a “vertical” and “horizontal” Learning Group. Teachers and other members of staff will be associated with a Learning Group

19. All pupil support staff  (including guidance staff ) should be focused upon the needs of children with additional support for learning needs. All other children and young people should be supported by their Learning Team. PSE will be embedded in the curriculum.

20. The learning needs and curriculum for a group of young people will be delivered by a Learning Team of teachers and support staff.

21. All secondary schools will adopt a common structure for the school day to enable shared on-line learning to take place and for common timetabling to be established for some subjects.

22. We will create an East Lothian Learning Campus where children and young people can access learning suited to their needs regardless of geographic location.

23. We will form a strategic partnership with further and higher education institutions to offer distance learning and on-site courses.

24. Some courses for senior students will be delivered in the evening.

25. We will seek to double the current range of certificated courses available to young people in East Lothian – many of which will have a vocational focus.

26. We will offer a wide range of learning opportunities for adults to access during the school day and in the evening.

27. We will work with local employers to support modern apprenticeships where young people can access learning and training.

28. We will develop specialisms at all of our secondary schools which will enable some young people to focus their education on particular attributes which they are seeking to develop. 

29. All learners will have their own personal computer with wifi capacity which they can use at home and at school to access their learning.

30. Teachers will be members of staff of the East Lothian Learning Campus and can be deployed in any location with their agreement.

31. All young people must achieve Level E in Reading, Writing and Maths by the age of 14 – unless they have specific learning needs – their curriculum would be modified to enable additional time in these areas to facilitate learning

32. Schools will develop and promote their identity through a strong emphasis upon wider achievements such as music, creative arts, performing arts, sport, community volunteering, local politics, outdoor education, community leadership – these will be referred to as “core activities”

33. There will be no ability groupings for any classes, although differentiation within classes will be encouraged.

10 thoughts on “Revolution, not Evolution

  1. Firstly, congratulations on your appointment.

    Secondly, this is a refreshing wind of change coming from someone who is in position to attempt this change. I firmly believe ACfE is an opportunity not to be missed. Too many schools seem to think it is a opportunity for S3 to sit SG exams and that’s it. We need forward thinking administrators prepared to take the bull by the horns, publish their ideas and let the conversation flow.
    I for one like the idea of a personal contract and I think the idea of a vertical learning group is fantastic, allowing older students to help the learning of the younger ones, because (in theory) they know how to get around the problems facing the younger students.
    Youngsters of 14 should be able to access the world of work, we all know those students who just do not want to be in school and already know what they want to do further down the line.
    I think more and more we need to emphasise the learning of learning. This is such a transferable skill and once embedded from an early age any subject can be accessed.
    Not sure about the deployment of teachers across a county wide campus, mainly because Aberdeenshire is such a massive county that a lot of travelling would devalue the idea.
    The idea of courses for adults to help support their kid’s learning (lead by teachers of same subject area?) is excellent, presuming of course it forms part of the normal workload.
    Would you envisage ASN pupils to be taught apart from mainstream?
    Do you think such a set up would reduce the montains of foem filling and paperwork currently required?

    I will leave my comment there. These are simply my initial reactions on reading your post. Thank you and bravo for some outstanding thought.

  2. Can I add to the congratulations on your new appointment! I’d heard that you were going for the post but the previous comment is the first I’d heard that you’d been successful.

    I think you are about to make EL a phenomenal place to learn in… even a fraction of the proposals you’ve made have the potential to bring about real change for the better… taken together, they are a bold and brave statement of intent that anything less than excellence is not good enough. Bravo!

    More than anything, I believe it is your own willingness to listen and learn from so many quarters that must help to inform and model the learners that you hope to encourage in EL. You will, as you know, face much opposition to such a radical overhaul… but as Adam has already said, AcfE is an opportunity not to be missed and I believe it needs a new vision to best serve the needs of those we have a responsibility to prepare for the future.

    Best wishes, and along with many others, I look forward to reading about your (and EL’s) journey.

  3. Loads of food for thought there Don, and expressed as a considered response to learner’s needs.

    PS On a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t help but smile @
    ensuring that teaching staff spend the majority of their teaching time working with a “horizontal” level of work.

  4. I agree with the other posts-this is an exciting manifesto you have drawn up which maps out a very challenging, maybe controversial, vision for EL, but which is bound to have an impact well beyond its borders. I think the notion of deploying staff to the “learning campus” (rather like government proposals for polyclinics?) will meet some resistance-does the “authority” (a somewhat abstact entitity) replace the school with its traditions and sense of staff collegiality as the focus for learning? How will schools maintain/retain a sense of ethos/loyalty if staff can be deployed across the authority? I know I am biased-I work in an independent where the school rather than the authority-is the focus for everything. I am trying to imagine the up- and downside of this aspect of your proposals; I suppose it is rather similar to some of the learning communities in bigger authorities or the old TVEI consortia. Still, there are times when it is better to be radical than merely to tinker; as I heard Norman Drummond say of leaders and leadership: “be brave, be bold, be broad”!

  5. Hi Don
    Here at Islay High we have been Implementing number 2. with some success. I have some video’s if you would like to see them I can send you a copy.
    Also I think that anyone in learning could choose any examination system in the world. This has some dangers as I think large corporations could drive there own skills based curriculum.

  6. Well done a great vision and you will find that SQA is ready to come with you and that you are going where other sectors especially further education have already moved to.

    I think this partnership will deliver to Scottish learners the skills they need and I hope through GLOW and other tools the curriculum and the ‘test’ will be regularly shaped and reviewed by teachers and learners to a much greater extent than is currently the case.

    This is a great post – have a well earned break

  7. Very interesting ideas. I wish someone were thiniking as seriously about education here in Brail as you are. I just wonder if teachers are being prepared for this new educational paradigm. I’d definitely like to hear more about it.

  8. Thanks all.

    I’m delighted to say that 75% of these ideas have been accepted by our Head Teachers as being worthy of immediate consideration. Obviously some of the main challenges lie in the practical solutions but the first step is often getting acceptance of the principle. I think this level of collective agreement is a great testimony to our headteachers.


    I’m glad you found our work to be of relevance to education in Brazil. It only goes to show that that there are many more similarities between education systems than there are differences.

  9. This is great but I do think that the word ‘safely’ ought to appear in point 29.

  10. Don

    What an exciting vision – great potential and inspirational. I intend to table this blog at Scottish Borders Curriculum Group tomorrow if you have no objections as a ‘food for thought’ paper

    Best wishes


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