Linking educational funding with learning activity



Professor Richard Teese 2008

Back in December 2007 the OECD published a report entitled Reviews of National Policies for Education – Quality and Equity of Schooling in Scotland. I’ve written previously about Professor Richard Teese – the main reporter for that report -who criticised the Scotish education system for not making a strong enough link between funding and educational outcomes. I picked up on this same theme in a related post when considering further how funding might be used as a lever to improve educational outcomes for children.  However, over the last few months I’ve been giving this entire area a great deal more thought and have been researching how we might change the way we do things in Scotland.

I suppose my interest was initially triggered by considering how we could fund sixth year students who wanted to take Open University courses through the YASS scheme. The problem that I encountered was where would such funding come from to allow such students to follow these courses?  The reality is that all available funding is locked up in schools through the traditional secondary school funding formula which is typically based upon a per capita allocation which takes account of the number of students in the school.

It is this “devolved” budget which pays for teachers and support staff, allows resources to be purchased and covers any other expenditure deemed to be the responsibility of the school.

The alternative model I have been exploring is one which identifies the “per capita” allocation as a flexible learning credit which the student can use to access learning at a place and time of their own choosing, e.g. their own school, YASS, Queen Margaret University in East Lothian, a Further Education College or even another school in East Lothian.

For ease of exemplification let’s say that every senior student in East Lothian currently carries a nominal “value” to the school of £3000. Before the commencement of an academic session students would select their “learning programmes” from a wide variety of courses and opportunities ranging from their own school’s traditional senior school curriculum or other learning opportunities which may be available outwith their own school. The system I have in mind is that the funding would follow the student. In such a scenario some students may select to study a distance learning programme with a university which carries an SCQF credit equivalent to HNC, Higher or Advanced Higher – the payment of such courses would directly follow the student and be credited to the relevant organisation delivering the learning.  Most  students would choose to continue to study courses at their own school and the funding would remain within that establishment.

Of course there would be some real concerns that schools might see a drain of funding from their own school as students choose to study elsewhere.  However, one of the benefits from such a scheme is that it would incentivise schools to co-ordinate their senior courses to allow certain schools to specialise on delivering some programmes which currently are not viable when only recruiting from within their own school.

The last element of this possible scheme is that funding would also take account of student outcomes. I’m not yet sure how we might be able to achieve this but I reckon that a certain proportion of the funding for each student would be linked to educational outcome and would only be released to the organisation claiming the funding on confirmation of outcome, e.g results. 

Over the coming months I’ll be researching and writing about this further but in the meantime I can recommend the following links for those who might be interested in following this up themselves.

System Funding Council funding 1999 – grant letter – funding student learning – Redesigning Public Education

Accumulating Credit for Learning

One of the conclusions I’ve gradually come to over the years is that in order to facilitate real change in any system it’s necessary to change the landscape.  It’s come to me slowly and for all that I believe that focusing upon cultural change is still fundamentally the correct route to improvement – I’ve also come to recognise that we just tinker at the edges if we are asking teachers to change their practice within a system where the fundamental features remain static. 

So when it comes to a Curriculum for Excellence I fear that little will change unless we shift some of the key building blocks upon which our practice is based, e.g. how we give credit for learning; how we organise learning, and how we deliver learning. 

My thinking on this has been influenced by a recent trip to New Zealand where I encountered their qualifications system. Much like our Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) their system is based upon levels and associated credits for learning.  However, there are two important features of their system, which appear to have an advantage of our Scottish version.  Firstly, their levels and credits equate exactly with university entrance requirements, whereas SCQF has to be translated into UCAS points; and secondly, they differentiate outcome by a simple system of Pass, Merit and Excellence in any unit of study. A New Zealand student needs 80 credits to gain a National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) at any level.  That certificate can be endorsed with “Merit” if 50 of these points are achieved with “Merit” and likewise for the student who gains 50 points or more with “Excellence”.

It was while this was fresh in my mind that I recently visited Jewel and Esk College of Further Education with a group of our secondary Headteachers and senior staff. In something of a damascene moment I began to see how we might begin to change the landscape for organising and delivering learning in our schools and the example has been under our nose for a number of years now – you don’t even have to go to the other side of the world!

One of the understandable strategic elements of the Curriculum for Excellence implementation process has been to try to keep the qualifications issue separate from the curriculum development – as it was feared that the focus of secondary teachers would always swing to what was going to be tested and ignore some of the more fundamental questions about the experiences and outcomes of the courses they taught.  However, with hindsight this may have been a mistake as it denies the reality of secondary education and its links to access to employment and further and higher education. 

The other lesson to be learned from our New Zealand cousins and, more pertinently, from our colleagues in further and higher education – is how to trust internal assessment.  I’ve written before how colleges in Scotland can give credit for learning up to Higher National Diploma (which is a couple of notches beyond Advanced Higher level) without having to rely upon any form of external assessment) – while schools continue to have to rely heavily upon external assessment – at levels of learning significantly below HND.

So how might we use this knowledge to create a framework within which our schools can innovate, develop practice and improve the outcomes for learners? Perhaps we could create a common assessment and accreditation that could overlay the curricular model being developed in our schools?

Imagine a scenario where each relevant unit of work taught in S1 – S3 carried a credit for numeracy, literacy, health and well-being – and skills for work, i.e. all those experiences and outcomes that are the responsibility of all teachers. By creating a matrix of learning experiences learners could, through moderated internal assessment, which builds upon formative assessment strategies, be awarded credits at a range of levels of learning with outcome being recognised through Pass, Merit and Excellence. As these credits are accumulated the learner could achieve a local Certificate of Achievement that could be endorsed with Merit or Excellence. By the end of S3 a learner will have undertaken a broad education and will also have a record of their achievements in these crucial building blocks for learning.

Such a system would provide teachers with a clear framework; yet enable them to create innovative and challenging learning contexts where these outcomes can be achieved. Some schools may create units of study which fill identified gaps in provision, which may not sit clearly with a single subject domain.

Finally, such a system would enable students to become familiar with the likely curricular structure and national accreditation model, which they will encounter, in the senior phase of learning and beyond school in further and higher education.

Measuring Learning

When I was out in New Zealand I came across their equivalent of our Scottish Qualifications Authority.  The NZQA are in many ways very similar to our own awarding authority but I did come across one distinct difference which may have some significance for a Curriculum for Excellence.

The New Zealand system uses a system of levels and credit points.  In much the same way as our SCQF uses levels and credit points.  The main difference appears to be that the New Zealand points system directly relates to university entrance , whereas we have to translate our courses into UCAS points.  In other words the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) system is focused upon allowing comparison to made between qualifications, and doesn’t give any indication of the extent to which learning outcomes might have been met by a learner. For example, all Higher Courses are awarded 32 SCQF credit points, regardless of whether a student gains a D or a A.

In New Zealand a school can select from a range of Units, each of which might have a different number of credit points attached, depending upon the standard required.  In addition to the credit points available for completing the unit successfully a student can gain additional recognition by achieving a unit with “Merit” or “Excellence”.  If a student achieves a certain number of Credit points with Merit or excellence at a certain level then their National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA)  will record that this has been achieved with Merit.  The following is lifted for the advice to Parents on the NZQA website.g

level 1
  When you have achieved 80 credits from level 1 or higher, you have gained NCEA level 1. Eight of these credits must be from numeracy standards and eight other credits must be from literacy standards. These skills can be assessed in English or in te reo M?ori. Your teachers can tell you which standards provide the required numeracy and literacy skills.
level 2
  NCEA level 2 requires a minimum of 60 credits at level 2 or above and 20 credits at any other level. Credits can be used for more than one quali?cation; so some of your NCEA level 1 credits can count towards NCEA level 2. At level 2 there are no speci?c literacy or numeracy requirements.
level 3
  For NCEA level 3 you will need to achieve 80 credits, of which 60 must be at level 3 or above, and 20 at level 2 or above.

If you gain the required number of credits with ‘Merit’ or ‘Excellence’, your certificate will be endorsed:

  • 50 credits at Merit or Excellence – Certificate with Merit
  • 50 credits at Excellence – Certificate with Excellence

In order to get into university in New Zealand a student must satisfy the following:

  • a minimum of 42 credits at level 3 or higher on the National Qualifications Framework, including a minimum of 14 credits at level 3 or higher in each of two subjects from an approved subject list, with a further 14 credits at level 3 or higher taken from no more than two additional domains on the National Qualifications Framework or approved subjects
  • a minimum of 14 credits at level 1 or higher in Mathematics or Pangarau on the National Qualifications Framework
  • a minimum of 8 credits at level 2 or higher in English or Te Reo M?ori; 4 credits must be in Reading and 4 credits must be in Writing. The literacy credits will be selected from a schedule of approved achievement standards and unit standards.

I particularly like the way that the New Zealand system allows students to accumulate points and gives students and schools the opportunity to create their own curriculum from a set of approved units.  I spoke to one student out there who knew that he was weak in some areas but was able to compensate by being able to accumulate more points in other areas where he had strengths.

So how does this compare with our system in Scotland?

Scottish Qualifications* UCAS points

Advanced Higher Higher     Intermediate 2 Standard Grade SCQF Credit Points UCAS Tariff points
A           32 120
B           32 100
C           32 80
D A         32 72
  B         32 60
  C         32 48
            32 45
  D     A   24 42
          Band 1 24 38
        B   24 35
        C Band 2 24 28

Trying to compare SCQF credit points with UCAS tariff points is like trying to compare apples with oranges. The SCQF credit points only give an indication of the amout of learning time required – with one point translating to 10 hours.

All this came into sharp focus for me on Friday when I visited Jewel and Esk College with senior managers from all East Lothian secondary schools. In the course of a very productive day we learned how the college makes use of units of study and which enables course teams to make up courses to best suit their students – in much the same manner as in New Zealand.  The contrast with schools couldn’t really be more marked with subject departments being locked into course delivery which offers a very limited degree of flexibility and decision making for the teachers – and students.

It set us to wondering if we couldn’t begin to develop a curriculum/assessment model in our secondary schools which made much more use of units of study which had UCAS points attached to them, whilst relating to SCQF levels.

Looking to the revision of the assessment system in Scottish schools I think I’d like to see us try to emulate the best features of the New Zealand system whilst also learning fr the experience of our colleagues in Scottish colleges. 

As a starter we are going to explore the possible delivery of National Units and HNC units in our schools for the coming year.

In order to provide some strategic leverage for this change to take place in schools I’d like to move from reporting attainment from the number of Highers or standard Grades gained to the number of UCAS tariff points accumulated by each student at the end of S4, S5 and S6.

Improving Scottish Education – 12 action points

HMIe have just published their most recent report on Scottish education in the form of Improving Scottish Education The report is based upon the findings of HMIe inspections and reviews of schools and local authorities in the period 2005-2008.

HM Senior Chief Inspector Graham Donaldson, in a very comprehensive commentary, sets out some the main challenges facing the Scottish education system. I’ve had a go at identifying twelve key action points from his commentary for local authorities to consider, with a particular emphasis upon the implementation of A Curriculum for Excellence.


“Scotland’s future economic prosperity requires an education system within which the population as a whole will develop the kind of knowledge, skills and attributes which will equip them personally, socially and economically to thrive in the 21st century. It also demands standards of attainment and achievement which match these needs and strengthen Scotland’s position internationally.”


“I am encouraged by the extent to which The Early Years Framework, Curriculum for Excellence, Skills for Scotland: A Lifelong Skills Strategy and Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) address these findings. The challenge remains, however, to translate aspiration into action.”


“The best of our local authorities are already leading curricular change and ensuring that high quality experiences and outcomes are being provided for learners. The challenge remains, particularly in a demanding economic climate, for all local authorities to use their increased freedom in innovative ways which address difficult issues and raise standards”


“Curriculum for Excellence embodies a new way of working. It recognises that sustained and meaningful improvement should, to a significant extent, be shaped and owned by those who will put it into practice.”


“Self-evaluation should not be seen simply as more effective monitoring by managers but as the commitment of a staff team to reflect and improve. The increasing extent to which teachers are sharing, analysing and comparing each other’s practice, although still limited, is encouraging.”


“We have to place professional development, covering both subject content and pedagogy, at the centre of our approach to change if we are to achieve better experiences and outcomes for learners. The onus will be on local authorities, centres, schools and individual teachers to make optimum use of the time and expertise available for professional development.”


“Curriculum for Excellence proposes to address literacy and numeracy directly, emphasising the need to develop these fundamental skills across the curriculum and to provide formal recognition of progress up to the end of every young person’s school career.”


Formally accredited attainment and broader forms of achievement are sometimes portrayed as alternatives. They are not. Both are essential to the future success of individuals and of our society and economy as a whole.”


“Sound assessment is integral to the learning and teaching process and to our ability to be confident about standards. A prerequisite is for educators to ensure that they are secure in their judgement of pace and progress in learning. That means actively and rigorously seeking to develop and share knowledge, data and other intelligence about performance in order to be confident that each learner is achieving fully.”


“Scotland’s lifelong skills strategy draws upon the agenda set by Curriculum for Excellencein the pre-school and schools sectors, and requires partnership working between schools and other sectors, including colleges and community learning and development, in developing skills progressively.”


“The (OECD) report Quality and Equity of Schooling in Scotland3report highlighted the limited success of Scotland’s schools in tackling those differences in outcomes that are associated with socio-economic disadvantage. A number of important steps are being taken to address this fundamental issue, particularly through early intervention. Curriculum reform should also, in time, make an impact by improving motivation and relevance.”


“In our last report we said that systems of accountability must themselves adapt to reinforce the kind of changes in practice and in culture which the new ways of working demand. Since then, HMIE has significantly reformed inspections and reviews to focus on what matters most in terms of outcomes for learners, building directly on self-evaluation and enhancing capacity by promoting well-judged innovation.”


Imagining a Secondary School Curriculum for Excellence in East Lothian

The following outline for a Secondary School Curriculum for Excellence in East Lothian is presented as a stimulus for discussion. 
Some of the year group scenarios are more fleshed out than others and I apologise for not having been able to complete the model to the level I had hoped.  Nevertheless, I do hope it provides us with an opportunity to begin to work out some of the “hard” details of ACfE – even if at this stage that’s only to identify the questions we need to ask ourselves.

The model presented here only relates to the secondary school curriculum.  That has been quite deliberate at this stage but in reality we will need to address issues of transition and it might help us here to think more about a P6 – S3 curriculum at a future meeting.

 The S1 Curriculum

For many children the gulf in the type of learning experience on offer in primary schools and secondary schools means that many do not show any progress in the early years of secondary school.

If we are to build a curriculum which flows from 3-18 then S1 provides a remarkable opportunity to capitalise upon the primary experience where children have been encouraged and enabled to be responsible and independent learners and prepare them for the future.

The building block for constructing the S1 curriculum would relate to Learning Teams. In this scenario there are 200 children in S1.  Let’s say that the week is split up into 15  blocks of learning (3 per day).

A Learning Team who are timetabled to only teach S1 classes would deliver the S1 Curriculum. A teacher will teach 12 blocks of learning a week. An S1 Learning Team might have some primary qualified teachers.

In Scotland some S1 subjects have a maximum class size of 20 (science, art, Craft and Design; , home economics, maths, English

10 classes (20) x 10 blocks of learning = 100 blocks of learning require                7 classes (30) x 5 blocks of learning = 35 blocks of learning

The S1 curriculum could be delivered in 135 blocks of learning – which would require 11.25 teachers to deliver the curriculum.

A timetable for an individual student might be as follows:

NB – the blocks of learning used in the timetable models are only provided to give an indicative shape to the curriculum.  Nevertheless, there is some evidence to show that longer blocks of learning do challenge teachers to teach in a very different manner than the traditional one-hour period.

   1     2              3


Social subjects rotation

Rich task 1


Rich task 2





Rich task


Technology rotation





Rich task 4


Expressive Arts rotation

Rich Task















Rich Tasks:

Over the course of the year students would complete 15 rich tasks (inter-disciplinary projects).

The Learning Team will create the rich tasks. Students should be given the opportunity to contribute to the creation and development of Rich Task topics. The tasks should engage and stimulate students to explore issues in depth and take some responsibility for co-creating their curriculum. It will be necessary to identify the desired outcomes to be fulfilled over the course of the year.  Having identified the outcomes the Learning Team will try to map out the most appropriate learning experiences, which will allow these outcomes to be fulfilled. 

In each of the rich tasks either literacy or numeracy must feature as key components. Skills for Life, Skills for Work and Skills for Learning and Health and Well Being should be woven into the programme of tasks.

Rich tasks should enable some form of choice for students to select topics, which are of personal interest.

A range of  examples of Rich Tasks can be accessed from Argyll and Bute Council.

PSE and RME would be embedded in the rich task approach.

 The S2 Curriculum

The S2 curriculum would take account of the end point of S3 – it might be worth jumping at this point to that outline before reading the rest of the S2 model.

One of the lessons we can take from the Australian curricular models is the notion of variation of experience from one year group to the next – albeit that the experience are linked by a common outcomes.

With that in mind I would suggest that the way in which we structure learning in S2 would be quite different from the proposed model in S1. 

A characteristic of the secondary curricular model would be that the degree of choice and specialisation increases as young people move through the system.  The following model takes account of that principle.

Using the curricular areas set out in the BTC3, i.e. science, languages, mathematics, social studies (including Scottish history); expressive arts, health and wellbeing, religious and moral education and technology a series of curricular options could be devised which enabled students to make a range of choices across a broad range of courses. Maths and English would continue to be common features but all other courses would be optional.  In addition to curricular options there would 2 Rich Tasks each week that would also provide students with choice – although the outcomes might be similar.

Vocational education would be an essential element for every student, although some students could opt for additional vocational programmes.

The following curricular experiences would form the S2 Curriculum. Schools would create a curricular model which enabled a student to create their own programme of study.

  • 1. Maths
  • 2. English
  • 3. Science
  • 4. Vocational
  • 5. Social Subjects
  • 6. Expressive Arts
  • 7. RME
  • 8. Technology
  • 9. Rich Tasks 1
  • 10. Rich Tasks 2

Literacy and Numeracy and Health and Well being would permeate all programmes of study and be key elements of the Rich Tasks.

Rich Tasks in S2 would provide considerable choice for students to follow areas of personal interest and to study subject matter in some depth.

Within single curricular area it might be possible to follow two course over the course of single year e.g. within Social subjects to choose History and Modern Studies.


   1     2              3


Social subject


Rich task 1









Skills for Learning






Rich task 2


Expressive Arts

Science or vocational











An S3 timetable: students would be making choices within these curricular experiences

 The S3 Curriculum

The guidance for A Curriculum for Excellence for the S1 – S3 phase is as follows:

The period from S1 to S3 has a clear purpose: that all young people will have a strong platform for later learning and for successful transition to qualifications at the right level for them. The experiences and outcomes include opportunities at this stage, as at other stages, for challenge and success in different contexts, for example cultural, physical and technological. The curriculum continues to provide opportunities to adopt an active and healthy lifestyle and to plan for future life and careers.

As they continue to develop the four capacities, the curriculum should enable each young person to:

  • experience learning across a broad curriculum, covering science, languages, mathematics, social studies (including Scottish history); expressive arts, health and wellbeing, religious and moral education and technology
  • achieve stretching levels of literacy and numeracy
  • develop skills for learning and skills for life and skills for work
  • develop knowledge and understanding of society, Scottish contexts, history and culture and Scotland’s place in the world
  • experience challenge and success


I’d go so far as to say one of the key purposes of the curriculum up to S3 is to make young people employable. Employability requires a person to have mastery of the above and would also provide a coherence to the S1 – S3 curriculum which otherwise can seem a bit amorphous and open to those who would want to bring certification as we know it into the early years of secondary education.

There are many in education who would decry this as utilitarian and regressive.  Many teachers see themselves as fulfilling a much higher function than simply making young people employable. 

I think it is possible to wrap up all of the experiences and outcomes described above as a subset of employability within a modern Scotland. So I’d like to propose that we use this as a focus and rallying point to give the S1 – S3 phase a distinctive character and purpose.

Assessable elements of the curriculum?

If employability is the driver, what might we want to know about children at the end of S3 which would indicate how successful we have been – and just how employable a young person might be?

A young person’s “employability portfolio” might include achievements in relation to:

Numeracy and Literacy – I’d be in favour of an external nation test  which would be used to validate the teachers’ judgement. There could be different levels of achievement in these areas to ensure that there is sufficient “stretch”

Skills for Learning – including how to use a virtual learning environment without supervision or support; knowledge of their own learning strategies and preferences.

Skills for Work – punctuality; absence;

Skills for Life – politeness; courtesy; ability to working with others;

Curricular achievements across a broad curriculum  

Health and Well Being  – knowledge; personal health and fitness; attitudes; health behaviours; participation in physical activity.

A Scottish Certificate of Education – a proposal for change

The recent OECD report on Scottish education contained a recommendation that “a Scottish Certificate of Education be developed to sanction completion of an approved programme of studies or training.” This ‘graduation’ certificate would have defined minimum requirements to reflect the purposes of the new 3-18 curriculum but also substantial flexibility as to content, level and duration of studies to ensure accessibility. This recommendation is reflected in the National Consultation on Qualifications

It was whilst pondering the significance of this recommendation that I was challenged by a secondary teacher about how he was going to keep kids motivated for three years, whilst they experienced an “S1 – S3 curriculum which is broad based and prepares students for the “senior phase of education which provides opportunities to obtain qualifications”.  

The teacher’s challenge to me was that if we can’t motivate kids in 2 years, why is extending that another year going to make a difference – especially if our entire secondary education is driven by the certification system?

The “reality” is that in many teachers’ – and students’ minds – the S1 and S2 curriculum is only given value by its link to the certificated curriculum.  In fact such is the power of this “value through certification” that some schools in Scotland have introduced the certificated curriculum even earlier. The logic for this step is quite compelling and it certainly demonstrates that a school is doing something to address these fallow early years of secondary school.

So if, in reality, most secondary school curriculum models are actually driven by a “trickle down” effect of certification why not recognise the power of such a driver and seek instead to build a different engine – which would still serve the needs of higher education – but which would also serve the needs of every young person and the needs of society.

I’d like to suggest an alternative “driver” for a broad based S1-S3 curriculum, which might have value to parents, teachers and students.

That “driver” would be to create a Scottish Certificate of Education which students would be eligible for at the end of S3. In the OECD proposal such a certificate was to be for the 3-18 curriculum but I believe that some means of capturing a young person’s achievements up to that point before they start to engage with the world of formal qualifications, i.e. 3-15.

What if we could create a Scottish Certificate of Education which was more akin to Duke of Edinburgh Award, or John Muir Award, where it is more about accumulating achievements as opposed to any external exam? A curriculum where schools could be given the freedom to create the content within their SCE course using the headings set out in A Curriculum for Excellence,  e.g. skills for learning; skills for work; skills for life; curricular achievements across a broad curriculum; health and well being and, of course, numeracy and literacy. The only externally assessed element of this certificate would be numeracy and literacy – which would utilise the proposed Scottish Certificate for Numeracy and the Scottish Certificate for Literacy. A school’s S1 – S3 course could be submitted for external moderation to ensure that it met national standards but within that framework there could be considerable freedom.

I know this proposal seems to run counter to the original concept of non-certification before S3 but if we really seek to change our practice we need to recognise the “reality” in our schools and build from there and use “drivers” as forces for positive change – as opposed to ignoring that reality and building upon our “hopes”.

S4/5 Curriculum

The key to envisaging the S4 Curriculum is to see it as part of the senior phase of secondary education – it is not an entity in itself and classes will be composed of students from all of the year groups within that senior phase.

In my Imagine S3 post I set out a possible end point for the early phase of secondary education to be a Scottish Certificate of Education which recognised a broad range of achievements, skills and attributes – which in turn established a very strong foundation for the certificated curriculum – but which also gave a clear indication as to the employability – at that stage – of an individual.

A Consultation on the Next Generation of National Qualifications sets out the following:

8. Every young person should be able to move into the qualifications framework at a level that is appropriate to their needs. For example, vulnerable learners may focus primarily on Access qualifications in S4 and progress either laterally within an SCQF level or through other SCQF levels. The majority of young people should move into the new qualifications at SCQF level 4 or 5 in S4. Some will then be able to progress to Highers at a later point. The most able young people should be free to study for Highers from S4 (see Proposal 4).


Increased flexibility to better meet the needs of young people. Suggestions include:

  • studying National Qualifications over 18 months (or 2 years) as well as one year;
  • introducing a winter diet of examinations; and
  • encouraging the most able young people to bypass lower level qualifications and to study Highers from S4 onwards.

The following clearly sets out the shape of the senior curriculum:

Implications for curriculum planners

13. For young people leaving at the end of S4, the expectation is that they would be able to follow a maximum of five courses leading to qualifications during the year, in addition to taking the awards in literacy and in numeracy. Having demonstrated their literacy and numeracy skills through the new awards, some young people might choose not to take English and Mathematics at the same level, opting to concentrate on subjects in which they may achieve stronger results and on which they might build future learning at college or with an employer. Many young people, however, will still elect to take English and Mathematics at the same or higher levels.

This contrasts with the 8 or even 9 subjects that most students currently sit at the end of S4 – the reason being that it’s almost impossible to offer a mix of time blocks to students of the same year.

However, I don’t see this to be a great problem.  Many students look forward to being able to reduce the number of subjects for which they formally study for qualifications, as all too often the “extras” for which they have no great enthusiasm or aptitude do not enhance their employability nor their life chances.

 The fact that students will have reached a minimum level of literacy and numeracy by the end of S4 will do away with the need for compulsory Maths and English in S4.  Students who wish to enhance their numeracy and literacy skills will have the opportunity to take additional qualifications in these areas – which may or may not be developed through other subjects.

The Course Choice Process

The school offers all students a free choice of subjects – depending upon suitability. The traditional idea of a subject columns and balanced programmes of study will not be a requirement given the broad course that people have followed up to the end of S3. Students will choose courses leading to Highers, Scottish Certificates of Numeracy and Literacy; alternative lower levels of certified courses; work experience; Health and Well Being; and personal learning tutor time.

Timetabling the senior phase

The key to unlocking the senior phase of the curriculum will undoubtedly be the timetabling process. The great benefit which is constantly referred to in this model is the notion of the “two year higher” – contrasting with the current “two term dash” with all the associated problems of delivery, depth of learning and content coverage.

One of the ways in which the “two year higher” can be conceptualised is the traditional idea of a “class”, which stays together for two years and may be taught by the same teacher throughout. Although this seems to be the most sensible model in terms of continuity it places huge limitations upon the timetable.

The alternative – which I would prefer – is to consider the senior curriculum as a “unitised” matrix of units which can be taken at any time over the three year period.

To provide some exemplification of what I mean here I’ll consider how History might be offered in the senior phase in such a format. NB – I’ve used Intermediate level awards for ease of reference

The number of senior students wanting to take History in our model school is as follows:

S4 = 35 x  Higher; 17 x Intermediate 2/1;

S5 = 32 x Higher; 12 x Intermediate 2/1; 1 x Advanced Higher;

S6 = 12 x Higher; 13 x Advanced Higher

Total senior students = 122 (79 higher; 29 intermediate 2/1; 14 advanced higher)

 Class organisation:

A = Higher Units 1 & 2 – 1 class 26 students (this class would be composed of students taking Higher History for the first time)

B = Higher Units 3 & 2 – 2 classes, 26 and 27 students (these classes would be composed of a significant number of students who are in their second year of studying Higher History)

C = Intermediate 2/1 — 1 class, 29 students

D = Advanced Higher — 1 class, 14 students

Rationale for class structure – Students taking History for the first time would join class A and complete Units 1 and 2 over their first year. Class B is primarily for those students who have already completed Units 1 and 2, some of the students in these classes will be able to take the Higher exam at the Winter diet of exams.  Those in class B who were not ready would continue on until the May Diet of exams.

If class A and Class B were not timetabled against each other it would be possible for some students to complete the higher in a single year by switching between classes, e.g. completing Units 1 and 2 in Class A and Unit 3 in class B.

Some choice options:

  • Five Highers over two years
  • Some Highers over one year and Advanced Highers over two years (S5 and S6) – for exceptionally able students
  • A combination of Highers and lower level courses.
  • Lower level of courses linking to college and work experience
  • Various levels of the Scottish Certificate of Numeracy and Literacy – compulsory for those who have not reached minimum standards..
  • Some courses will be available on-line – especially those which extend curricular choice beyond the norm.
  • Work experience; volunteering; college courses. 

The S6 Curriculum


It will be important to see the purpose of sixth year as fitting within the overall purpose of A Curriculum for Excellence. Nevertheless, it will have some distinctive features which make it a worthwhile experience in its own right. It is also important to recognise that much of what students are offered in sixth year will be based upon the knowledge, skills and attitudes which will have been developed in the preceding years.

There is a need to blur the line between school and higher education where a young person can gain additional qualifications which will enhance their employability, gain experiences which will enhance their employability, gain qualifications which will give them entry to university, and gain qualifications which allow them to follow develop areas of personal interest.

Some students will be combining vocational qualifications with serial work experience and college placement.

Exit points

Sixth year should not be seen as the most appropriate end point for every child who enters secondary education.  As described above it will have a strong academic emphasis from which students are likely to enter further or higher education. Leaving school before sixth year should be not be seen as an inferior route.


Sixth year students in East Lothian will become members of a sixth form campus -which will exist in a real and virtual sense.  The campus will include every secondary school in East Lothian, Queen Margaret University and Jewel and Esk Valley College and the community and locality within East Lothian. A student’s curriculum will be delivered within that campus. It will be important to conceptualise a student’s study programme to be very different from a traditional sixth year pupil’s timetable. 

Personalisation and Flexibility

The S4 – S6 phase should be considered as a single cohort as opposed to separate year groups. Students will have access to any course on offer in the senior phase and can construct their own study programme according to their needs and abilities.

A Programme of Study

A programme of study might be composed of a mix of the following:

  1. a  student may spend only a small part of their time in their base school;
  2. a student’s programme of study will extend beyond the normal confines of a school day and week;
  3. employment will form a part of their programme;
  4. courses might be delivered in a much more compressed period of time;
  5. many courses will be delivered through a virtual learning environment – some of which will be supported by workshops, seminars and weekly tutorials;
  6. baccalaureate courses will be a key element of the sixth year experience for many students. These courses will be delivered through the East Lothian Learning Campus.
  7. some students will undertake a formal internship with employers – perhaps for one or two days each week throughout the school year. These internships will be linked to preferred career routes.
  8. an alternative to, or in addition to work related internships, students may undertake formal voluntary service internships to support local community volunteer groups. There may some qualifications related to both of these internship experiences.

It might be possible for some students to engage in study for part of the year in another country by swapping with a “study partner”. Schools in other countries could be matched up with East Lothian Campus and students who are following similar courses could be linked together as “study partners”  – the academic year would be split into three parts – the first term would involve the students corresponding and developing their link; the second term would involve one of the partners going to live and study with their partner; and the third term would involve this arrangement swapping over.

Some sixth year students may leave school at the end of December having sat their exams that month. This would give them a more significant  “gap” period before starting university.

School Responsibilities

Schools might have to rethink how they currently give responsibility to senior students, e.g. prefects, etc. The change to “looking out” beyond the school to life opportunities beyond the school gates and school career might mean that the traditional responsibilities might be undertaken by younger students, e.g. pre-S4.


A lessening in the sense of attachment that students have for their particular school. One of the most  popular aspects of a sixth year experience is the sense of attachment and belonging that students have for their particular year group and school. Yet this very attachment can possibly reduce the capacity of students to operate independently.  The solution might be to try to balance these two competing elements of experience.


Students only register at their classes – there is no school registration for S6 students.

Example Timetables

Here are three possible study programmes of sixth year students:



Maria gained five Highers in S5. She started her Higher courses in S4 and did not sit any exams below that level. She wants to study languages and law at university.

Her study programme is built around her Baccalaureate programme. She is spending one day a week working as an intern with an Edinburgh law company.  She has a study partner in Italy and she intends to spend the second term in Milan – she will maintain her studies via a VLE.  Her study partner will come back to Scotland for the third term. In addition to her Baccalaureate she is taking Higher Italian which is being taught by another teacher in East Lothian which she accesses via a video link with another East Lothian school (the six schools have matched timetables to allow such access).

Maria also attends Queen Margaret University for one a day a week to follow Baccalaureate courses and to experience university life.

Maria helps out in the school’s additional support needs class and participates in the East Lothian wide senior students’ health and well-being afternoon which offers an integrated and comprehensive programme of health and sprts related activities.  She meets her personal learning tutor at the school once a week in a one hour seminar session with fourteen other students.

She fulfils the four aspects of the curriculum as follows:

The ethos and life of the school as a community: Volunteering with ASN unit and representing the school at volleyball.

Curriculum areas and subjects: Higher Italian

Interdisciplinary projects and studies: Baccalaureate

Opportunities for personal achievement: Internship; Bacc programme; County level representation at volleyball.


When Hannah entered S4 she planned to leave school after that year and selected five courses at the level below Higher. However, she did so well in S4 that she decided to try to gain enough qualifications to gain entry to university after S6. She chose to study three Highers over S5 and S6 and to try for one Advanced Higher over the same period in her favourite subject – PE.  Hannah wants to be a PE teacher. Her learning programme in S6 is dominated by her subject studies but she still manages to undertake a work placement with the local council’s Sport and Leisure Department.

All of Hannah’s Highers are taught in school. Her Advanced Higher class is taught at a neighbouring school which she has to travel to over the lunch break. She attends the local further education college on a Friday afternoon to take a Certificate in Sports Coaching.

On a Friday mornings she is working through a self study programme to improve her numeracy.  The university have stipulated that candidates must reach a minimum level in numeracy before they can gain entry.

She fulfils the four aspects of the curriculum as follows:

The ethos and life of the school as a community: Hannah does lunch duty twice a week and coaches the S2 Hockey team which she supervises on a Saturday morning. She is also on the Dance Committee which organises all the various school dances

Curriculum areas and subjects: Higher English, Higher Business Management, Higher Art and Design and Advanced Higher PE.

Interdisciplinary projects and studies: Numeracy programme – one of the key parts of this assessment is a project in which she has to demonstrate a facility to use and apply numbers. Hannah is undertaking analysing a statistical analysis of game stats for her S2 Hockey team and a data review of their fitness levels.

Opportunities for personal achievement: Work Placement; Sports certificate; coaching S2; Hannah is a star of the school show and hopes to audition for a lead role in this year’s school production.




Toby has some learning difficulties which make him quite vulnerable.  He finds the school environment very secure and his parents did not want him to leave.  He would like to work in the building industry.

Toby did not reach the minimum levels of literacy or numeracy when he was assessed at the end of S3.  His learning programme in S4 and S5 focused upon improving these areas and he has now reached the minimum level in numeracy and surpassed that level in literacy.  Both Literacy and Numeracy feature as key parts of the employability programme which Toby has been working on for three years.  The employability programme has involved a three way partnership between the school, Jewel and Esk Valley College and a local building company.  Toby started long term work experience with this company in S3 and has now extended this to two days each week.  The company have placed him on a apprenticeship as a joiner.











 Internship – Edinburgh

 Internship – Edinburgh  Internship – Edinburgh

 QMU Bacc programme


 QMU Bacc programme  QMU study
Wednesday  Meet with personal learning tutor to review the week and to plan ahead.  Higher Italian  Health and Well Being AfternoonDance/Swimming

 Volunteering Helping  students with additional support needs

 Bacc programme – school based  Higher Italian 

 Bacc programme – another school


 Home study  part-time job




























  Work Placement 

Work Placement  Work Placement


Higher English 

 Higher Business     Management   Advanced Higher PE
Wednesday  Meet with personal learning tutor to review the week and to plan ahead.  Higher English  Health and Well Being

Higher Art and Design 

 Higher Business Management  Advanced Higher PE


Numeracy Programme 

 Higher Art and Design  Attends College for Sports Coaching Certificate







 Work Placement

 Work placement  Work Placement


Work Placement 

 Work Placement   Work Placement
Wednesday  Meet with personal learning tutor to review the week and to plan ahead.  Numeracy  Health and Well Being Afternoon


 Literacy  College



 Literacy  College







If colleges of further education can do it why can’t schools?

I had a very interesting meeting on Friday with someone who used to work in the field of further education.  We were discussing A Curriculum for Excellence and the pressure on Scottish education system to have external examinations in order to create a level “playing field” in terms of equality of standards.

As we chatted about this I referred to my Scottish Certificate of Educationproposal where schools might be able to certificate students’ achievements at the end of S3 and for this to be externally validated.

My colleague then described how colleges of Further Education can present students for Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas which in the Scottish National Qualifications Framework have more value than Advanced Highers, e.g. it’s possible to proceed straight to third year at university if you have the appropriate Higher National Diploma.

If universities are prepared to accept HNDs which are not subject to external regulation as we know it in terms of Highers and Advanced Highers, why can’t schools or local authorities be given similar status to award certificates?

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.

The future of education in Scotland?


I still haven’t received my copy of the The OECD report of Quality and Equity of Education in Scotland but I accessed the read only version as advised by John Connell.

I’ve had to type up the following – as I couldn’t cut and paste – apologies for any errors.

As I suspected it’s much more positive than any of the newspaper reports I read and sets out some very exciting recommendations. I think we are moving in many of these directions within East Lothian and it was very gratifying the see that they mentioned the potential of Student Evaluation of Learning – which was developed in East Lothian.

I’ll be returning to this report over the next few weeks but I just wanted to capture its essence in one place for ease of reference.

The report was compliled by educators from  Australia, Finland, New Zealand and Belgium – a point worth noting when reflecting upon the recommendations.


Few Countries can be said with confidence to outperform Scotland in Maths, reading and science.

Scotland has one of the most equitable school systems in the OECD.

Headteachers are amongst the most positive of school principals in the OECD in judging the adequacy of staffing and teaching resources and students are generally positive of their schools.

On national tests many children are one or two years in advance of expected levels.

The OECD examiners were impressed by the capacity of Scottish primary schools to respond to public expectations of continuously improving standards and consistency of outcomes.

Indicators of improvement as well as high international standards also show that Scotland’s confidence in its comprehensive system is well placed.
It is through Scottish Local Authorities that an equitable distribution of resources is managed, and they are also responsible for ensuring that schools are responsive to community needs, adaptive, and effective. The community Assets represented by schools are in capable hands. The professionalism and commitment of the education departments of the local authorities makes a wider reliance on them a good strategy.

Scotland’s approach to teacher induction is world class and the Scottish qualification for Headship is an outstanding and demanding programme.


One major challenge facing Scottish education is to reduce the achievement gap which opens up about Primary 5 and continues to widen throughout the junior years secondary years (S1 to S4)

Children from poorer communities and low socio-economic status homes are more likely than others to under achieve.

Inequalities in staying-on rates, participation at different academic levels of national courses and pass rates on these courses are a concern

Understanding the challenges
Who you are in Scotland is far more important than what school you attend so far as achievement differences on international tests are concerned.

Children from poorer homes are more likely to under-achieve, disengage from school work, leave school earlier than others, and – if they continue to study at lower academic levels and record lower pass rates.

Curriculum innovation is appears to be modest and schools only have limited flexibility in teaching resources. These are two key instruments of change and adaptation in schools. So lack of more freedom in them makes achieving g high standards for all groups of students more difficult.

Schools should be able to build the mix of staffing they need to tackle the particular challenges they face and offer programmes which best address these challenges.

There is concern about the lack of reliable data on student achievement and school performance throughout Scotland..


These strategies aim at greater flexibility for the agencies which exercise the most direct responsibility for how schools work. We have sought a balance between greater freedom of action on the one hand, and greater transparency and accountability on the other.

National priorities funding through local government compacts

Some of the recommendations include:

A national innovation plan to fund educational improvements and outcomes through agreements with local authorities; fundin g for schools of ambition is more selective and targeted; that the Scottish Survey of Achievement be extended to all children.

Greater school autonomy in a local government framework

Some of the recommendations include:

 each local authority develops a policy framework which defines the priority targets it seeks to make including improvements in student opportunities and outcomes; where a local authority provides additional resources for equity purposes it should do so within a the framework on the national innovation plan; local authorities should negotiate agreements with schools under which greater management autonomy in staffing and curriculum is established in return for an agreed platform of improvement in learning opportunities and outcomes

A comprehensive , structured and accessible curriculum

Some of the recommendations include:

Each local authority develop an explicit policy framework which contains a charter of learning opportunities – a commitment to provide a wide range of education and training places which best suits the needs of the community; vocational courses should be available to all young people from S3 and that sequences of courses be developed spanning the compulsory and post compulsory years; the \Scottish government should support school based provision of school-based courses; each local authority establish a curriculum planning and pathways network which links schools, colleges and employers groups; Standard Grade examinations should be phased out as the 3-18 curriculum is implemented; that Scottish Certificate of Education be developed to sanction completion of an approved programme of studies of training – this graduation certificate would have defined minimum requirements to reflect the new purposes of the new 3-18 curriculum; young people pre S5 should undertake programme of studies with specified minimum standards leading to the SC of E at the and of that year or S6; young people who choose to leave at the age of 16 negotiate an individual plan for further education and training;.

Continuous review of the curriculum and teaching:Some of the recommendations include:Education authorities in Scotland should examine current approach to gathering student feedback on the quality of teaching (e.g. Student Evaluation of Learning Software) and that they work with teachers to gain wider acceptance of the most promising approaches; rolling consultations should be undertaken with teachers from a cross-section of schools regarding their classroom experience in delivering courses.


Monitoring school leaver destinations

Some of the recommendations include:

Consideration should be given to extending the scope of the Scottish survey of school leavers to make contact with children before they leave school and to provide fuller information about school achievement and experience; Careers Scotland should investigate approaches to providing all schools and local authorities with comprehensive pint-in-time data.

Blended Learning


I met Wendy McAdie this morning from Jewel and Esk Valley College.

We met to discuss how we can support adult and community learning access to our schools. Evening access can be sorted with a service level agreement between each school and the college, which is supported by a clear policy which we’ll take to the Education Committee for ratification.

Of even more interest was how we might promote adult learning opportunities in the school day and school curriculum. The current system is fairly ad hoc and is dependent upon the adult contacting the school and being proactive.

The challenge for schools is how they ensure that access for adults which:

  • doesn’t interfere with children’s learning;
  • doesn’t present any significant expenditure on their part; and
  • doesn’t compromise pupil safety.

We explored how we might develop a more professional approach in much the same way as colleges currently charge for adult access to Higher courses, schools might be able to set a fee.  Wendy’s going to explore this with the Executive and other authorities.

The last item on our agenda was how we might develop a combined e-learning approach towards access to courses. This chimed very neatly with the issue I touched upon yesterday in response to John Connell’s recent post.  JEVC are exploring using moodle – something which East Lothian Council is also developing. There might be a real opporunity here particularly if we were to link up with Queen Margaret University – who are definitely more advanced of both of us in terms of delivering e-learning.

I like the potential of some our students being able to access their curriculum in a blended learning approach, i.e. through face-to-face contact with teachers/lecturers; through e-learning; through group seminars; or through work experience.  The construction of the blended learning approach might vary from student to student.  Such an approach might enable students to follow very varied programmes of study – which would extend well beyond the existing curriculum.

I’d love to hear some parental views on this.