A change would do you good? – Assessment and examinations in Music⤴

from @ Exam Scot

by Dr Angela Jaap
Lecturer, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

The Scottish Government’s ‘U-turn’ on the SQA results has prompted some very lively discussions around the approaches to assessment and examinations in Scotland. A quick scan of social media highlights a range of views which make it abundantly clear that there is an appetite and willingness for change; from strong advocation of a ‘root and branch’ review of the current approaches to more subject-specific thoughts, detailing potential ways forward to ensure effective evidence gathering for demonstrating learners’ progress.

Having followed the broader discussions with interest I have also thought about my own subject of Music and the potential changes that the SQA exam system could take in the future with regards to the subject. As a subject and wider discipline Music has an interesting relationship with examinations, sometimes highlighting a variety of nuances around assessment and examinations. While there are some very specific and challenging issues around assessment (for example, subjectivity and appreciation of nuances of genre, the authenticity of assessment) this blog will focus on three broader issues of assessment and exams in Music which may be useful in revising and refreshing our school-based approaches.

Existing continuous assessment in music

Firstly, as a subject Music is rich with assessments and examinations, all of which are integral to our practice as musicians. From beginners through to experienced professionals, there are a range of examples of self-, peer- and tutor-based assessments that feature in our day-to-day activities in lessons, ensembles and concerts which we use to help inform our musical outputs.

For example, a typical 1-to-1 instrumental or singing lesson might start with the teacher giving feedback on warm-ups or scales. A good example of continuous assessment in a scenario with many more participants is that of a conductor of a choir or orchestra, who will make a number of comments during a rehearsal: “that was good, but can you make sure you follow my diminuendo in bar 23?” As follow-up feedback, the singers or players might receive a brief “thank you, much better!”, or just a nod as they sing or play onwards. And the reactions of an audience, or of other players in a group, are often the most rewarding form of ‘assessment’: sometimes this is just a smile or a certain something in the room, sometimes it is rapturous applause (or, alternatively, silence!)

This continuous assessment is so implicit in our work that we hardly notice it; we draw upon it and use it to inform and make adjustments so quickly and naturally almost as though we are on autopilot. However, while continual assessment is so prevalent and valuable in the wider discipline of Music, it could be used to greater effect in the school context. How could music’s unique brand of continuous assessment be utilised in a classroom environment? And, most importantly, how can we get the learners fully involved in this type of assessment?

SQA is not the only player

Secondly, another feature of assessment and examinations in Music is that National Qualifications are only one of the exams available for learners. Beyond the mandatory school exam system, there are a variety of Graded examinations in Music Theory and/or Performance through examination boards including the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), Trinity College London or Rockschool which are invaluable for those interested in further study or indeed those who wish to gauge their skills simply as part of a hobby or a pastime.

The approach taken in preparation for these exams is quite different from that of school. For each of the exam boards above, the learner develops the knowledge and skills required of a particular Grade and then undertakes the exam when they are ready, with a choice of a variety of locations to suit the individual across the country. Could such a bold, learner-centred move be considered in a revised school-based approach? Perhaps such a shift is too radical at the moment: the thought of multiple exam points could be an administrative nightmare, but a combination of continuous assessment and an examination may provide an opportunity to draw from these broader practices of assessment and examination in Music to inform our school-based approaches and help to make it learner-centred.

Following the leaders and bridging the gap to further study

The final point for consideration centres upon the musical activities and achievements of young people who go beyond the mandatory requirements of the SQA qualifications and how these can be recognised.

Since the 1970s the popularity of Music has grown considerably. The subject has shed its perception as being only for a small number of ‘musical’ learners and is now recognised as a subject with a strong philosophy of being for everyone. As noted in the What’s Going on Now? Report (Broad et al., 2019), in session 2016-17 Music was the sixth most popular subject at Advanced Higher with presentations across the National Qualifications comparing ‘favourably’ (p.26) with other subjects.

Yet, while there are high numbers of candidates being presented across the NQ levels, for those who wish to pursue tertiary-level study in Music there is a considerable gap noted between requirements of NQs and entry requirements of Colleges, Universities and Conservatoires. In short, the National Qualifications are not enough for those with aspirations of a career in Music.

I am not suggesting that we should raise the ladder and renege on the subject as being ‘for all’, but there is a need to explore how additional challenge can be provided to those who are consistently exceeding the mandatory requirements for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher.

One possible way to provide additional opportunities for these highly able musicians is to increase access to the Music Leaders Scotland Awards (MLSA) as an extension to the mandatory exam requirements. The MLSA provides credit-rated opportunities for young musicians with performance skills higher than the standard of the SQA qualifications, supporting them to develop and refine their skills of performance and leadership while also engaging with professional music. As such, raising the profile of the MLSA across the country would be invaluable in both extending the learning of highly able musicians but also in our attempts to narrow the gap between school and tertiary-level study.


There is scope for a refresh and change to the assessment and examination framework in Music. The current structures do recognise the core elements of musicianship, but school-based assessment and examinations could look for ways to draw upon the ‘natural’ continuous assessment of the discipline, to promote pupil involvement in assessing their work, and to ensure that the work of those who are regularly exceeding the requirements of the SQA examinations are recognised with credit.

Dr Angela Jaap, SFHEA FRSA, is a Lecturer in Professional Learning at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and formerly a secondary school teacher. She is interested in high ability studies and learning and teaching in the creative arts.

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All this has happened before, all this will happen again – not quite back to the lockdown diaries⤴


Well dear reader, it’s been a funny old week or weeks maybe. Here in Glasgow we went back into a partial lockdown last week meaning that we can’t have anyone visit our homes – but we can go out an meet people and go to restaurants etc.  I totally got my head around this as the levels of infection do seem to becoming from infections via home visits not through commercial venues. To me going to a restaurant is safer as it has all the safe measure in place, unlike most of our houses. Not saying there not clean or anything but you know, you do tend to relax and maybe not keep to strict physical distancing in your own living room.  

So far so good, but now we are faced with “the rule of six”. Meaning from Monday, only up to six people from 2 households can meet anywhere.  So, we aren’t quite in total lock down, but social restrictions are definitely ramping up. Meanwhile the UK government  continue to use the cover of Coronavirus to deflect attention from their outrageous behaviour around flagrantly breaking international law around the Brexit agreement.  I have a feeling all this will not “all be over by Christmas.”  

All this will give me  (and anyone else with access to the BBCiplayer) the perfect excuse to re-watch one of my most favourite TV shows of all time – Battlestar Galactica (not the original one but the more recent 21st century TV show). Fellow BSG fans will probably have spotted a reference in the title to this post. 

BSG was one of the most interesting (sci-fi) dramas of its time. It was one of the few, if not only US tv series to directly comment on the American invasion of Iraq. It drew really powerful analogies around the concepts of: insurgency, the role and place of invading forces, collusion and related moral/immoral justifications.  I watched much of it via DVD on long train journeys back in the days when I spent a lot of my time traveling between Glasgow and Birmingham in particular!

As we often say context is key, and this time around I will be watching in a completely different context. For one thing I won’t be on a train!  I know “the plot” but this time around the battle to save c.50,000 humans left in the universe will have a completely different context. Will I see the Cylon threat more as the the threat from Coronavirus (not just COVID-19 but all its past and future strains)?  How will I perceive the human refugees in light of our current refugee crisis? 13,000 people  were made homeless again in Greece this year when the camp there were living in was destroyed by fire. Yet I feel too numb to fully comprehend this tragedy as my main media messages are full of “the rule of six”  and “Brexit”, and our UK governments seemingly unstoppable corruption under the guise of “making Britain great again”

What about climate change? PPE, masks, disposable plastic is back with a vengeance under the guise of protection and personal safety – despite them adding our increasingly out of control pollution problem.   Where is our humanity now? what are our shared values?  In our rush to get back to “normal” it seems that closing borders are more important that opening up and sharing. That first rush of compassion and care that the pandemic engendered seems to be evaporating.

BSG has a fair bit of its own mythology and mysticism in it too, including an arc about finding Earth , the fabled 13th colony, that some rogue ancestors founded. The phrase “all this has happened before, all this will happen again”, is quoted in the series. I think it’s from one of “the scriptures”. It’s a line that has stayed with me, and as we move in and out of stages of lock down, it seems apt to our current context.  When and how we will get out of the lockdown cycle I don’t know, but at least I have something to watch and think about for a few weeks, and maybe a new stream of posts . . .


Adult Learners Week – national organisations⤴

from @ Education Scotland's Learning Blog

Here at Education Scotland we have been promoting Adult Learners Week and would like to take this opportunity to highlight the wide range of third sector organisations that also contribute to Adult Learning in Scotland. We do not have space to name everyone but here is a few of the national organisations. We know there are also lots of local community organisations too. Please tag us at @edscotcld  and we are happy to promote any adult learning happening out there! 

 Or feel free to tag Education Scotland CLD Officers @LauraMc50938627 @soozeeps @MacdonaldDehra

 There are a wide range of third sector organisations that contribute to Adult Learning…below you can read about some of the main organisations in Scotland and access their websites and twitter to learn more 

 WEA – Workers Education Association (Scotland) 

The UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of adult education in England and Scotland. Founded in 1903, the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) is a charity dedicated to bringing high-quality, professional education into the heart of communities. With the support of nearly 3,000 volunteers, 2,000 tutors and over 10,000 members, they deliver friendly, accessible and enjoyable courses for adults from all walks of life. 

 They have a special mission to raise aspirations and develop educational opportunities for the most disadvantaged. This includes providing basic maths, English and IT skills for employment; courses to improve health and wellbeing; creative programmes to broaden horizons and community engagement activities that encourage active citizenship. WEA’s members also help support their mission and campaign for adult education. 

www.wea.org.uk/ @WEAScotland

 Learning Link Scotland 

Learning Link Scotland was established for and by third sector adult learning organisations. Learning Link’s vision for Scotland is for a learning nation where Scotland is not only the best place in the world to grow up in but also the best place to learn. 

 At the heart of their vision is that adult learning in Scotland will be recognised by all as a central element of personal and community empowerment. They strive to ensure that people will have access and equal opportunity to strong, independent and vibrant Third Sector adult education, and that organisations work in partnership with others to fulfil lifelong learning, social inclusion, and democratic aspirations. 

Their purpose is to ensure Third Sector adult learning organisations work together to create a successful, dynamic and forward-thinking Scotland.

www.learninglinkscotland.org.uk @LearningLinkSCO 

 Lead Scotland 

Lead Scotland is a charity supporting disabled people and carers by providing personalised learning, befriending, advice and information services.  They have projects across Scotland and a national helpline and information service.  The local services are community and home based, one to one or in small groups so that people have the right support to learn and participate. Lead Scotland support people to build a bridge to reach their ambitions of personal development, learning, volunteering and work. At a national level, they provide information and advice on the full range of post-school learning and training opportunities, as well as influencing and informing policy. 

www.lead.org.uk @leadscot_tweet

 Scotland’s Learning 

Scotland’s Learning Partnership is the national partnership for adult learning bringing together the interests of learners and providers in Scotland. By working to develop equality in the relationship between learners and providers we aim to: 

  • Advocate the common interests of learners and providers to key policy makers and politicians 
  • Promote non-formal adult and family learning through the Adult Learners Week and Family Learning Week campaigns 
  • Create, design and deliver innovative projects that reach the most excluded groups 

www.scotlandslearning.org.uk @SLPLearn


Video including closed captions, method 2⤴

from @ @cullaloe | Tech, tales and imagery

Further to this recent post on capturing, processing and captioning video, my colleague, Dr. Audrey Cameron, advised me to try YouTube for capturing the .srt captions file more quickly. I am thankful to her for this, because although I was aware of YouTube’s rapidly improving automatic captioning (I use it myself when I watch with sound off, for example), I didn’t know that the .srt file can be downloaded. Here’s a revised approach I am using today.

Capturing the video and audio

For capturing an old-fashioned lecture-style talk using KeyNote, I use the facility to record a presentation (from the Play menu). The presentation can be exported as a .m4v video file with sound. At the same time as recording the presentation in KeyNote, I also record myself on my Fuji X-T2 camera and capture a high quality audio track separately on a Zoom H-1 recorder. A “pro” tip to is to clap just before you start presenting – it leaves a nice spike in the audio waveforms, making it easy to line up the separate tracks. You can also pretend to be Steven Spielberg or Alfred Hitchcock, according to your genre, by saying, “Action!” at the same time.


Import the video and audio tracks into iMovie, align them using the spike from your clap, and check that the audio is the same length as in the video track of the speaker. I found that for longer videos, over 15 minutes, they can be different. This difference produces an echo effect, eventually separating the video from the soundtrack, like a Swedish movie. Adjusting the audio to align properly can easily be done in iMovie using the speed adjustment. Once the clips are aligned, you can turn the audio level of the video clips down to zero, so only the high quality track remains.

The next thing I do is to change the video track of the presenter to “Picture in picture”, so viewers can see me presenting within the slides: I think this is a bit of a substitute for one of the features I miss from live presenting, which is managing the attention of the viewer. I normally do this by blanking the display, which has the effect of moving the eyes in the room from the screen to my face – a powerful way to add contrast to your talk. This “mini me” within the slides can be faded in or out, according to what you want the students to focus on at any point. Other effects are possible, like switching to embedding the presentation within the presenter video.

The finished project can be exported via the Share menu to a .mp4 file.

Getting the transcript

The video can be uploaded to YouTube now: you’ll need a verified account to upload clips longer than 15 minutes, which means giving Google your phone number. I baulked at this at first, but expedient is the slayer of principle, and in this case, privacy. Make sure you click “Private” when saving the clip. These lectures are not for public consumption.

After a while – maybe 30 minutes, depending on the length of your video – the automatically-generated captions file can be edited using a really nice editing interface in YouTube Studio designed for the purpose. You will need to add punctuation and if you wish, add comments to your own commentary. Once that has been done, the .srt file is ready to download.

Media Hopper Create

Your video can now be used within your local VLE, in my case, Blackboard Learn, by uploading via the media manager, Media Hopper. Once uploaded, you can then add closed captions by uploading the .srt file alongside it. Students then have a choice whether to access captions within the video sequences or not.

Another Hitch

I was about to post this, all smug, like, as I uploaded the latest video made with this method, when I hit a “file too large” error when uploading to Media Hopper. The video I had made was just short of 18 minutes and had a file size of 1.2GB. Now, mp4 is an efficient container format so I maybe made too many “best quality” choices in making the video: high definition 1080p for the presenter, same for the KeyNote. Rather than go back and do it all again, I resorted to ffmpeg to make me a reduced bitrate version. I thought halving the bitrate might produce a file half the size.

$ ffmpeg -i mybigvideo.mp4 	# find out what the current bitrate is..
  Duration: 00:17:28.55, start: 0.000000, bitrate: 9978 kb/s
$ ffmpeg -i mybigvideo.mp4 -b 4489k mysmallervideo.mp4

This made (after thrashing my 5-year old MacBook Air for about 25 minutes) a file – as hoped for – half the size (673 MB).

Deployment to a website

To use the video and captions file together within a webpage is straightfroward, except that the captions need to be in a different format. This format is Web Video Text Tracks (VTT), and is easily obtained using ffmpeg:

$ ffmpeg -i srtfile.srt subtitlefile.vtt

The web page needs the following code (adapted to your own file paths, obviously):

<video width="640" height="360" controls="controls">
	<source src="https://www.learn.ed.ac.uk/path-to-video.mp4" type="video/mp4">  
	<track src="https://www.learn.ed.ac.uk/path-to-vtt-file.vtt" kind="captions" srclang="en" label="English" default>
	Your browser does not support the video tag.


Video production for ‘digital first’ teaching strategies needed in response to COVID-19 measures or similar, is a non-trivial task. Including closed captions is an additional time multiplier. Personally, I don’t like asynchronous teaching at all: it misses so many important aspects of good pedagogy, aspects which are easily ignored by administrators of education in the pursuit of apparent economies or easy fixes. I am at ease, however, with an established workflow.

I am thankful to my colleague, Audrey, for her patience and support in helping me get to this solution. We both have a lot of videos to make, and now it will not take me as long as it might have done.


from @ fizzics

This week, we’ve looked at calculating radiation doses.  The absorbed dose D, measured in Grays (Gy), takes into account the energy E absorbed and the mass m of the absorbing tissue. The higher the energy, the greater the absorbed dose.  If you are wondering why the absorbing mass is important, consider the different masses of ... Read more dosimetry

Family Learning during Adult Learning Week 2020⤴

from @ Education Scotland's Learning Blog

by Susan Doherty

A brief history of Family Learning and how it links to Adult Learning in Scotland…

Family Learning encourages family members to learn together as and within a family, with a focus on intergenerational learning. Family learning activities can also be specifically designed to enable parents to learn how to support their children’s learning.

‘Family learning is a powerful method of engagement and learning which can foster positive attitudes towards life-long learning, promote socio-economic resilience and challenge educational disadvantage’ (Family Learning Network, 2016).

To highlight the amazing work in family learning during Adult Learning Week I thought it would be good to reflect on where we have come from and all of the hard work that practitioners have done to get us to where we are today…

In 2016 we worked with practitioners, researchers, policy colleagues and stakeholder/partner agencies to write the Review of Family learning in Scotland. This document set out to capture what practice, research, policy and strategy looked like at that time and set out some key recommendations to take forward. These recommendations formed the building blocks of what family learning looks like in Scotland today.

At its core family learning is an approach to engaging families in learning outcomes that have an impact on the whole family. It can support improved attainment, attitudes towards lifelong learning, health and wellbeing, confidence etc. which leads to positive outcomes for both adults and children. Family learning is a negotiated process born out of the needs of families and the individuals within them. It builds the capacity from where people are and celebrates in their successes. Although universal, family learning can be used as an early intervention and prevention approach which reaches the most disadvantaged communities and can help close the attainment gap through breaking the inter-generational cycles of deprivation and low attainment. For adults this can be the first step to re-engage with their own learning and help them to support their child’s.

Since 2016 we have developed the Family Learning Framework  and informed the Engaging parents and families – A toolkit for practitioners. Family learning is also present in the ELC Realising the Ambition, CLD Adult Learning Statement of Ambition, and HIGIOS 4 and HGIOELC documents. This highlights the breadth of where family learning can and does have an impact – from early learning to adult learning. Practitioners have shaped all of these documents and their voices can be heard throughout.

Engaging families in a family learning programme can have an impact on their immediate identified need however through research we also know it can extend beyond the duration of the intervention and provide lasting impacts and improved outcomes.​

In practice family learning can take many forms which is driven by the needs of the families. Family learning practitioners are creative, nurturing and responsive to the needs of their families and understand their communities and the challenges that they face. They almost always work in partnership which supports robust services that have strong referral pathways for further learning as appropriate. Practice has shown us that practitioners value the time families spend together over a coffee to chat and build relationships and fun is the magic ingredient that keeps them coming back.

We have many wonderful case studies that we can share with you from across Scotland and we would encourage you to look for more on the National Improvement Hub. Here are just some that you may find interesting:

For more information on Family Learning, Parental Involvement/Engagement and Learning at Home, or to share your practice, please contact: susan.doherty@educationscotland.gov.scot and/or beverley.ferguson@educationscotland.gov.scot


Teaching (without a final exam): National progression awards in law⤴

from @ Exam Scot

by Paul Hamilton

Let’s start with a bit of context. I have been a secondary school history teacher for eleven years. In that time, I have taught my fair share of pupils, taking them through Standard Grade, Intermediate, National, Higher and Advanced Higher examinations; but 2020/21 is shaping up to be a bit different …

In what sometimes feels like a previous life, prior to being a teacher, I studied for and graduated with an LLB (Hons) in Law. For various reasons, I never went on to pursue a career in law, but that does not mean I simply left the subject (or the interest) behind. Now, in session 2020/21, after years of wanting to, I am delivering the Level 6 NPA qualification in Legal Studies to S6 pupils at Clydebank High School, in partnership with the School of Law at the University of Glasgow.

So, what is the course all about? It is a National Progression Award (NPA) that, in terms of SCQF points, is comparable with a Higher level qualification. It consists of two mandatory units, Introduction to Scots Law and Crime & Society. But perhaps the most notable feature of the course is that it does not have a final examination; instead, there is ongoing assessment throughout the academic year.

As a teacher, I cannot stress enough just how liberating it feels to deliver a course which is not predominantly reliant upon a high-stakes final examination. Instead, the qualification achieved (or not achieved) by pupils is based upon their academic achievements across the entire school year. That’s a good thing, isn’t it?

“Since there is no final exam it gives us a chance to prove ourselves throughout the year.”

Mia Moohan (S6 pupil)

“A continuous assessment process is much more representative of what a student can do … there’s a lot to be said for allowing students to be assessed in smaller, less pressurised and time-constrained ways, rather than hanging their fate on how they perform on one single exam on one single day.”

Holly McKenna (LLM Research Student)

“Ongoing assessments … allow you to see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together.”

Rachael Purvis (Law graduate)

I would argue not that we move away from final examinations but, instead, that we think seriously about their weighting. Is it right for an entire year’s worth of study to rely so crucially upon a pupil’s performance on the day of their final examination? I don’t think so, and before anyone suggests that “it did us no harm,” I don’t accept that either! This is not about exams no longer being fit for purpose; my view is that they have never been fit for purpose. (I have thrown the cat amongst the pigeons now, haven’t I?)

Imagine a world where SQA courses were assessed on an ongoing basis, where the majority of subject content was assessed, where it wasn’t a lucky-bag as to the questions being asked on the day of the final exam and where – even if a pupil was having a ‘difficult day’ – there wasn’t a need to consider ‘special circumstances’. My idea of utopia, or sheer madness? You decide.

Further to all this, the school I teach at is situated within an area classed by the Scottish Government as being of ‘high deprivation’. The school is not what I would describe as an ‘exam factory’ (thank goodness, I say). Yet our pupils punch incredibly well. In all aspects of the curriculum, they perform as they should, are afforded the same learning and teaching experiences as their peers in the ‘leafy suburbs’, and in most instances progress towards what the government refers to as ‘positive destinations’. But that doesn’t mean the picture is a wholly pretty one …

“As someone who recently graduated with a law degree, having grown up in what is classed as an area of deprivation, my experience of studying law – particularly in the first year – left me with the sense that there is an inequity. Coming from an area classed as deprived, you may not have had the same contacts, experiences and opportunities as others.”

Morgan Henry (Law graduate and former Clydebank High School pupil)

How many of the young people I teach have had an experience of the law which wasn’t confrontational and was instead aspirational? How many of the young people I teach have had dealings with a police officer in a circumstance which wasn’t distressing or upsetting? How many of the young people I teach have felt that it would be possible for them to go on and study law at university? I could go on with these questions for some time …

“Law can seem scary and inaccessible … bridging the gap between high school (no experience) and university (thrown in at the deep end) is a very positive thing!”

Holly McKenna (LLM Research Student)

“Offering subjects such as Law [at school] is essential. Offering this as part of the curriculum will ignite a spark in young people who have, perhaps, never considered or felt capable enough to consider law as a career path.”

Ami-Jayne Hughes (Law graduate and paralegal with DAC Beachcroft)

“Studying legal studies is benefiting me greatly as I want to study law when I leave school.”

Bethany Provan (S6 pupil)

Offering NPAs such as Legal Studies is an opportunity for schools to think differently to, dare I say, start thinking a bit outside the box when it comes to curricular design, without even having to be radical.  The world is indeed spinning fast and schools have a job on their hands just trying to keep up (I know that) …

So, how am I wrapping this all up?  I certainly don’t pretend to have any solutions (just suggestions), and I am sure some of what I have said will attract a degree of criticism. But maybe that’s a good thing! Perhaps, as teachers, we have been too conformist for too long.  We know the young people we teach, we know our subjects and we know our schools …

If something is broken, let’s start fixing it!

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Some thoughts for new student teachers⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

  Having gained a host of new followers on Twitter, who are either completing PGDE, or other student teacher qualifications, got me thinking about the advice, thoughts, comments I would give to those embarking on their own professional learning journey. 

 It is heart-warming to see, and hear, the enthusiasm of new entrants into the profession. They are passionate about their career path, and are constantly enthusing about the high quality input they are receiving from lecturers, professors of education and practitioners. My first piece of advice would to use those feelings as a touchstone, to go back to and revisit, throughout your career, but especially when you are facing challenges. Teaching is one of the most satisfying and rewarding professions to be involved in, but throughout your career you will encounter a myriad of challenges, and during these times it is often worth your while reminding yourself of why you came into the profession, and re-consider your early enthusiasms. 

 What else would I say to student teachers? These are in no particular order of importance, but I think they all are worth thinking about at the outset of your career, as well as during you career. 

 What are your values and principles, as an educator and as a person? You need to consider these and how you are going to sustain, and develop them, throughout your career. Values are evidenced by your actions, not your words. You can judge a person by what they do, not on what they say they are going to do. Maya Angelou said, 'When people show you what they are, believe them the first time.' In any career, living by your values and principles can be challenging at times, perhaps even more so in education. Doing the right thing is always the right thing to do, but it isn't always easy. Education systems remain stubbornly hierarchical, therefore picking the right fights then acting in a professional and ethical way can alleviate some of difficulties you may encounter. 

 I would say to every young, or older, teacher entering the profession, it is not your job or role to maintain the status quo. Rather it is expected that you will challenge a lot of what you see, to bring about improvements for learners, families and communities. A lot of what happens in education systems discriminates against, and is unfair, to many sections of society, often those already disadvantaged in other ways. Again, forget the rhetoric and look at what people do, and how the system is acted out. If you have come into education to make a difference, this will be hampered if you feel unable or unwilling to challenge some of the characteristics to be found within the system. Systems are made up of people, and you are going to be one of those people. For systems to change people have to change their thinking and their practice. We need new thinking and new practice.

 You have probably just begun your teacher education and may be feeling a little swamped by all that you are being asked to read, listen to, and think about. Good, that is part of becoming a professional, and you will have good people round you to give you help and support. But, when your course is successfully completed and you start as an NQT, the reading and expectation around continuous professional education remains. You need to keep reading, keep engaging and keep thinking throughout your career. No career stands still, certainly none in education. What you have to learn is how to engage critically with all that your read or are told throughout your career. You are not a technician or a deliverer of something, you are a thinking professional, and need to act accordingly. 

John Dewey said in 1895 'It is ...advisable that the teacher should understand, and even be able to criticise, the general principles upon which the whole education system is formed and administered. he is not like a private soldier in an army, expected to merely obey, or like a cog in a wheel, expected merely to respond to and transmit external energy; he must be an intelligent medium of action.' We still have some way to go to achieve all that Dewey proposed 125 years ago! Mark Priestley at Stirling University recently echoed some of Dewey's thoughts, stating that 'we don't need milkmen', merely delivering something someone else has given them.

 By the way, you will never know it all! 

 Do not fear 'not knowing!' For many years education has been full of people keeping quiet, or pretending, because they didn't really understand something that was being presented to them. There was a culture that  viewed teachers, and headteachers, as people who knew everything and understood everything. I wish! Get used to asking questions and probing in order to better understand. Seek clarifications, explanations, particularly when people use phrases like 'research shows.' What research? Who's research? Critically engage with lecturers and practitioners, it is only through this will you deepen your understandings, to help you develop and improve your practice. 

 Dylan Wiliam has said 'Everything works somewhere, but nothing works everywhere.' Context, personal and professional, is key to shaping your practice and your thinking. 

 Beware of thinking in bubbles. There is a lot of talk about 'bubbles' at the moment, linked to Covid arrangements. But there are also 'bubbles' of practice and thinking we can slip in to. You may think your experience of University and your course is the same as everyone else's. It won't be. We come back to context, and people. each context is unique, as is each person's. I was forever saying to teachers, 'don't think what goes on in your school, goes on in every other school.' That applies to both excellent practice, and the downright awful. Behaviours and practice are shaped by a myriad of factors, and these are different in every context. Therefore avoid slipping into thinking 'it has to be this way' or 'its like this everywhere.' It won't be. 

 One of my final points is to remind you to always act professionally, even when others might fail to do so. None of the above is easy to achieve, and all of it presents challenges. But, if you act professionally with colleagues and all others you come into contact with, you are more likely to be respected, as well as to take the right decisions. You will be building up a professional support network of people who will be there to help you when times get tough. (and they will!) Commit to building networks, and not only of people who think the same as yourselves, because the bigger the network the greater the support for your own development, as well as your ability to support others. Immediate colleagues can be supportive in tough times, and I cannot over-emphasise of the establishment of strong, mutually-supportive relationships.

 Everything you will face as a teacher, problems you face, successes you have, are enhanced or improved by a healthy support network. You cannot do it all on your own, but you can deal with most things when part of a supportive network. Social Media can help you extend those networks of support, but remember to use them responsibly and professionally. There are lots of people out there willing to help and support but, as with any group in society, there are some who act as no more than trolls. Use the block button, if you need to.

 John Carnochan, who used to head up the Police Scotland Violence Reduction Unit , is fond of saying, 'Whatever the issue, the answer is relationships.' I agree with him. 

 Good luck on your particular journey into the profession. Accept the challenges, but remember to have fun. Teaching should never become a 24-7 job, and doesn't need to be. Keep a balance in your life, and prioritise your own health and well-being. You are less able to support learners and colleagues if you fail to take care of yourself. The person that has most responsibility for your well-being is you! 

 Have fun, and keep in touch!

Assessment: My road to Damascus⤴

from @ Exam Scot

by Iain White

I believe there is a the need for a change in our assessment practices and I’d like to share where this has all come from. Some 15 years ago or so, when I was Head at Govan High, I was part of a small, dynamic group looking at where the school should be going, particularly in the light of radical changes to the curriculum structure that we had recently made. The school’s focus had changed to getting positive destination for all of its leavers. We came to realise that gaining qualifications was but part of the story;  equally important was being able to succeed at interviews and to do this, leavers had to be aware of what they were good at. In short, this meant they had to know what skills they had. Within the school, a taxonomy of skills was developed, and a system created that identified, developed, assessed, recorded and reported on skills development. Quickly, skills became part of the students’ vocabulary.

Some time ago, in Tes Scotland, there was information in a side panel from a CBI survey, indicating that 49% of young people believe that their education has not prepared them for the world of work. This figure is high and yet I was not surprised.

I believe that the assessment system is based on archaic principles, with the majority of what is assessed being reliant upon the capacity to memorise and regurgitate the thoughts and findings of others.  This certainly prepares nobody for the world of work, unless they intend to earn a living from winning money in pub quizzes! Students are put in exam rooms. They are not allowed to communicate with anyone in the room or the world outside. Most of all, they cannot access the vast store of information and knowledge on the world wide web. In fact, should they be seen to be even just in possession of a smart phone, they will get no award in the exam. What – in the 21st Century?

In any work place today, the emphasis is on teamwork and collaboration in a problem-solving approach. Use is made of all available information on site or on the web. As an example, in my Govan days I visited the design office at BAE Systems shipyard in Scotstoun. Being a Greenock boy of the 60s and 70s, I was familiar with the yards from student summer jobs. However, I was now really taken by the use of computer aided design compared to the drawing boards and pencils that I remembered from my shipyard days. I was introduced to a designer (a Govan High FP) and he explained the problem he had in trying to site a fresh water circulating pump, because of pipework for other lines being placed in his optimum areas by other designers. Within seconds, he was surrounded at his PC by 4 other designers and he was outlining the challenge he was facing. He was in the Chair. Within a few minutes of discussion, a solution had been found through their collective efforts. Working separately, they had created a problem; working together they solved it. The Chair finished by saying, “So everyone knows what we need to do?” Off they went, problem solved, and the freshwater circulating pump had found a home. The designer was not made to sort it himself in isolation! This is how the world works.

Skills of communication, problem solving, team working, evaluation, developing positive relationships, planning courses of action etc. are what matter today – not the regurgitation of knowledge.  In 2005, Dan Pink, in his seminal book, A Whole New Mind, said, “We’ve progressed from a society of farmers, to a society of factory workers, to a society of knowledge workers.  And now we’re progressing yet again – to a society of creators and empathisers, of pattern recognisers and meaning makers … We’ve moved from an economy built on people’s backs, to an economy built on people’s left brains, to what is emerging today: an economy and society built, more and more, on people’s right brains.” He contends that we are beyond the knowledge-based economy and we are! It’s what we do with knowledge and information that is important. Deep learning is important, not rote learning. The future is skills and yet our education system is rooted in the knowledge acquisition that was important in the past.

I have believed this for so many years now and yet it was really crystallised for me 3 years ago through personal rather than professional experience. My son was preparing to sit his National 5 examinations in Business Management, English, Mathematics, Modern Studies, Physical Education and Practical Woodworking. In this preparation he literally wasted days of his life, learning “stuff” for regurgitation; “stuff”, the memorising of which had no intrinsic value; “stuff” that there was no need to commit to memory, because it can be accessed in a matter of seconds from his phone. The skill of memorising quantities of knowledge is of almost no value in today’s world.

I had such great hopes for Curriculum for Excellence, but so much is being lost along the way.  In Building the Curriculum 4 and the Experience and Outcomes, a skill set exists from which a skills taxonomy could be developed easily.  The Report of the Higher Order Skills Excellence Group said as much but, sadly, the message has failed to get through. It would be possible for the development of skills in students to be assessed, internally, along the way, and complemented by external open book exercises. Then we might get close to assessing that which is relevant and valuable for success in the 21st Century world.

If you ask a Scottish school student the question “What are you good at?”, the answer that you will get, overwhelmingly, is “Modern Studies” or “PE” or some such – in other words a school subject. Nowadays, we need young people to be saying communication, or team working or hand-eye co-ordination – in other words a set of skills. That answer will never come till the students actually have a focus on skills development in their school life and are able to articulate their qualities and progress in the vocabulary of a skills taxonomy. The future is skills, but somebody has to let students find out, and understand, what they are good at in these terms. Our system doesn’t! It is possible though – we did it at Govan. Back then, our success was confirmed for me when an English teacher spoke to me about a conversation she had with one of her students. She was exhorting him to work hard for his upcoming National 5 English exam; his response was, “Yes Miss, qualifications will get me an interview but it’s the skills that will get me a job!”

I had a conversation with a colleague who holds a senior position in the SQA examination team at National 5 level.  It is his view that open book assessments could be devised in English “any time”.  What is the value in memorising endless quotations from novels or poems in our world today?

In my considered view, based on my extensive professional experience, and now as a parent stakeholder, our education system in Scotland has a number of serious shortcomings that do a disservice to our young people and lead to the system failing to meet their needs, the needs of our economy and the needs of our society. The assessment regime being unfit for purpose is but one of these shortcomings.

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Adult Learners Week 2020⤴

from @ Education Scotland's Learning Blog

This week is Adult Learners Week 2020 in Scotland. We want to highlight all of the fantastic work that Community Learning and Development (CLD) do to deliver high quality adult learning opportunities across a wider variety of areas. These include social isolation, health and wellbeing, digital inclusion, English as a Second Language (ESOL) , literacies, numeracy/maths, family learning, community inclusion, progression pathways, financial inclusion, personal development and active citizenship. 

  The thing that surprises most people about CLD is the variety of roles and diversity of learning that is covered. People who work in CLD often have a variety of disciplines to cover and ensure they are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to provide these. The CLD Standards Council is the professional body for people who work or volunteer in CLD. 

 Adult Literacy & Numeracy in Scotland follows a social practice model. It looks at the skills, knowledge and understanding that a learner has to build on and relates learning to a context within personal, family, working or community life. Provision is offered in a learner centred way and can use real life resources such as bills, letters, newspapers or other household resources to support learning to have a real life context. 

Community based ESOL is delivered by CLD teams across Scotland. Scotland has supported the Syrian Resettlement Scheme in recent years which also links to ESOL provision and wider CLD activity in communities although this can look different in different local authorities.  ESOL learners can come from any country in the world and groups can be made up of a variety of languages and cultures. 

 Community based adult learning in CLD can cover a wide variety of learning opportunities that are intended to be informal, relaxed, friendly opportunities that aim to break down barriers for learners who are hardest to reach. These can be adults with multiple barriers such as mental health, physical health, learning difficulties, alcohol and drug addictions, long term unemployment and social isolation among others. 

CLD Adult Learning covers a variety of areas such as confidence building, health issues, bereavement, life changes (such as divorce, redundancy) focussing on areas of high deprivation where poverty impacts on households and families. 

 CLD is a value-based practice and CLD professionals have committed themselves to the values of self-determination, inclusion, empowerment, working collaboratively and the promotion of adult learning as a lifelong activity. Programmes and activities are developed in dialogue with communities and participants, working particularly with those excluded from participation in the decisions and processes that shape their lives. 

 The focus of CLD in all areas of adult learning are improved life chances for people of all ages, through learning, personal development and active citizenship resulting in  stronger, more resilient, supportive, influential and inclusive communities. 

 The Education Scotland CLD Team works to support the CLD sector in delivering high quality learning opportunities relevant to the communities that are in need. The team supports professional learning across different areas of adult learning in CLD and supports the creation of new policies and strategies. They are keen to share and promote interesting practice that is of interest delivered by CLD workers who work tirelessly to improve the communities and individuals they work with.   

Follow @edscotcld for more information