System to blame for bad behaviour in Scots’ schools

System to blame for bad behaviour in Scots’ schools

The standard of behaviour among children in Scotland’s schools is plummeting, a conference has been told.

Delegates attending this year’s Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) conference spoke in doom-laden terms about the nation’s education.

We can agree that the educational system is under pressure in Scotland due to Covid lockdowns and the problems of ‘unmotivated students with behavioural problems, unreasonable parents’ and social media creating ‘stress and depression’.

These factors are the usual suspects that are turned to when things are not going well – fair enough. But this is true throughout the country and beyond.

There is more at play here. We must look beyond the classroom to the syllabus and the system.

The Scottish educational system has been in decline for some years. It was once the envy of the world and standards were very high.

It was highly placed in the PISA rankings for literacy and numeracy. It had challenges but other jurisdictions in the UK looked across enviously at the standards and success of the Scottish education system. No longer.

For 14 years Scotland slipped down the PISA rankings in literacy and numeracy.

As a teacher, I’ve always believed in excellent preparation and lesson delivery.

This solves many problems of disengagement and discipline in the classroom.

I believe it is the educational system in Scotland that is the real reason for the crisis.

When you put something under pressure the cracks will appear more readily and that is what is happening.

The ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ was rolled out in 2010 by the Scottish National Party and it has been disastrous.

It is highly progressive, vague in content and focuses far more on experiential child-centred learning than on specific content delivery.

This lack of specificity and definite teaching content has led to confusion and a lack of clarity about what children should actually learn.

It is not wrong to include modern teaching methods and devise an interesting, enquiring and questioning approach to education.

However, my examination of the ‘Curriculum for Excellence’, particularly for primary pupils, left me baffled.

It very much resembled the National Curriculum for England prior to 2014. This had been responsible for falling standards in literacy and numeracy across the country for years.

This Scottish curriculum is equally poor.

Could it be that the ‘chickens have finally come home to roost’?

Children become disengaged when what they’re being fed does not satisfy them.

Surely the falling performance in the PISA rankings should have been a warning of worse to come. A red flag perhaps? Though maybe that is the wrong symbol to reference with Scotland’s left-leaning approach to education.

Rather than heeding the warning of its declining educational standards, the Scottish Government has doubled down on trying to deliver its curriculum more effectively.

This is exactly what happened in England. The government brought out the National Literacy and National Numeracy Strategies which were attempts to do just that in the early 2000s.

These documents were even more confusing than the curriculum they tried to explain and define. It was the curriculum all along that needed addressing.

Could it not be the same in Scotland?

The Scottish government needs to steer the educational juggernaut in a different direction before it sinks altogether. It has tried various interventions in 2016 and 2019 which have failed to address the problem. They simply cannot face up to the fact it is the curriculum that is the real issue.

A more traditional approach is definitely needed in literacy and numeracy for primary pupils.

These are foundational for everything that happens in the secondary sector. Most problems in discipline occur in secondary schools and poor literacy and numeracy often exacerbate this.

Children must have good foundations before moving into the secondary system. It is best to deliver literacy and numeracy in a more traditional form in the primary system. Put simply, it works better.

There should be a focus on the delivery of grammar, syntax, spelling, punctuation and reading skills to raise literacy standards.

Numeracy skills should focus on learning times tables, the four rules of number, decimals and fractions, percentages, ratio etc.

It should be structured learning at primary level, and it should not be vague. Exploratory and progressive approaches are best employed once the basics are in place.

The generation causing difficulties for secondary school teachers in Scotland has been through the progressive-inspired primary education and the results are there for all to see.