Janet Brown : Scottish Education: Evolution or Revolution? – some thoughts

Janet Brown BSc, PhD, FInstP, FRSA, FRSEJanet holds a BSc in Physics and a PhD in Physical Metallurgy & Materials Science. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Fellow of the Institute of Physics. She has held leadership roles in Education, Economic Development and Industry and has worked in research and technology development both in academia and the private sector. She has a keen interest in knowledge and skills development across all sectors of education and training. She was Chief Executive of SQA and since retiring in 2019, Janet has taken on a variety of non-executive roles and is Convenor of the Education Committee of the RSE.

Janet’s talk focused on: The Purpose of Education; Changes underway in Scotland; Stages and Transitions; Challenge; and Future Education.

She began by outlining the numerous initiatives of the Scottish Government in relation to education and posed the question as to whether there is an overall strategy and whether these reforms are linked. (The answer would appear to be “no”!)

She then focused on early years education and emphasised that development of sensory pathways and language is critically important by age 6, so the years up to then are crucial in laying the foundation for future development and wellbeing. She also pointed to research findings showing that significant gaps in attainment and behavioural development are laid down very early in childhood.

Janet also expressed concern that there was no overall review of the curriculum underway. She felt there were serious outstanding issues regarding the balance between knowledge and skills development and subject and interdisciplinary learning. It was also important that there be detailed discussions and agreement on the importance of education for individual development, for employment and for society generally.

In relation to tertiary education, Janet went on to discuss a wide range of complex and challenging issues. Among these were the importance of technical and vocational education and life-long learning. Using the example of the built environment she noted the gap between the needs of industry and the economy for skilled employees and the limited work to ensure that young people were aware of the roles and opportunities and the pathways in which they could acquire the skills necessary for successful and rewarding careers in these and other emerging roles in the workforce.

A further concern was the lack of “work readiness” in young people leaving education, expressed by many businesses. Some of the more fundamental skills and characteristics needed include: Managing Self; Learning how to learn; Finding knowledge; Developing skills; Application and problem solving; Working with others; ‘Soft’ skills; Innovation; and Focus and delivery.

Janet covered a range of further topics concerning what education is for in the 21st century and going forward, and she concluded that Scotland needs to discuss and agree a consensus on the ‘curriculum’ and how it is ‘learned’.

The talk was followed by a lively Q and A session which mirrored closely many of the issues, questions and controversies covered in Janet’s talk.

Janet Brown : Scottish Education: Evolution or Revolution? – some thoughts