Mike Russell: Leading young to a fulfilling future

Scottish education provides a solid platform for realising future ambitions
Scottish education provides a solid platform for realising future ambitions
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The Scottish system provides a route to attainment, writes Mike Russell

Every parent has high ambitions for their child. Attainment – in its broadest sense – is about having these ambitions realised. Within the context of Curriculum for Excellence; Scottish education’s big idea – we need to drive up attainment for every child, and improve life chances for all our children and young people. For high, rich attainment recognises and affirms achievement, builds a child’s confidence and opens up future opportunities. It also makes a confident, successful country.

At present, Scotland’s education system provides a solid platform for realising future ambitions, with raising attainment already an integral part of a teacher’s daily work. As a result our educational performance is improving. In 2009/10, 50 per cent of pupils left school with at least one qualification at higher or above, while fewer than at any point in the past left with no qualifications. Last year’s exam results also show an increase in the number of pupils achieving three or more highers. We’re heading in the right direction but we need to make even greater progress on the journey.

I want the best for Scotland’s children and young people. With this in mind, I have been working with a group of head teachers, the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland and Education Scotland to consider how we keep raising attainment and improving life chances, and we have developed a range of advice to assist teachers.

This week I have sent this advice to every teacher in Scotland to support them and to start a wider discussion. I hope it will also, at this crucial time, help inform teachers’ personal improvement plans.

Raising attainment is deeply embedded in Curriculum for Excellence, transforming the way in which children learn and develop the skills (and experience) required for successful futures. And I should stress it’s not just about achieving better exam results – hugely important as that is. It also encompasses the variety of ways in which young people develop the knowledge and understanding required for life and work in the 21st century.

Increasing standards through excellent teaching and learning is central to Curriculum for Excellence. Using the new curriculum’s greater flexibility we can improve motivation and rich attainment in our young people.

The work with educational professionals on this project has identified core principles based on teachers’ experience and recognisable to us all. These include increasing a child’s ambition; wider engagement with families to support pupils; a focus on literacy and numeracy and the need to develop effective leadership at every level of the school.

My aim is to support teachers and aid ongoing professional development in every sphere. We have many successful learners being taught by many great teachers, meaning we have many strengths to build upon.

Yet Scotland’s education system is still not delivering everything that it should for all our young people. Vulnerable school leavers, such as those from disadvantaged backgrounds continue to leave school with fewer qualifications than their peers. These youngsters are also less likely to go on to further education, employment or training. It’s therefore vital that we address this link between deprivation and lower attainment and learn from those schools across Scotland who have shown it can be broken.

Again, Curriculum for Excellence will help here, enabling schools to deliver learning which offers pupils more personalisation and choice to help them thrive, regardless of background or personal circumstance. This must be enshrined from early years education, through Curriculum for Excellence and into post-16 learning if we’re to keep getting it right for all our children and young people.

I believe passionately that Scotland should be the best place for a child to grow up and flourish, and education is the key to achieving that ambition. Working together across politics we must make that happen and in so doing deliver improved life chances for all of our children and young people.

• Michael Russell is cabinet secretary for education and life-long learning.