New JRF paper: Liberal education in a neo-liberal world: re-culturing and recalibrating

As featured as the main story on the front page of the Herald newspaper today (Monday 19 April 2020):

The Jimmy Reid Foundation releases this new paper to coincide with the first day of the 2021 STUC annual congress. The full paper can be found here:

Summarising the paper, Boyd, Kelly and Maitles argue: ‘Whilst there are some strong positive aspects to Scottish education and which can be improved with some relatively small alterations, the key negative factors operating within our education system — a neo-liberal agenda and inequality of attainment and achievement, stemming from too many of our population living in poverty — mean that a radical overhaul is needed’.

The authors say: ‘Neo-liberalism – the idea that choice and markets and testing can deal with the problems – has failed and, indeed, exacerbated the problems.  Marketisation of education, de-skilling and lack of trust in our teachers, the growth of managerialism and the politicisation of education all need to be challenged’.

Instead, they argue that: ‘The development of well-rounded human beings, knowledgeable of values, human rights and citizenship, should be the aim of education. All pupils should have the opportunity to become independent learners and creativity should be at the heart of education and this requires a radical student-centred approach. Parents, pupils/students, communities and society as a whole should have a role in designing an education system for all.’

The authors suggest the closing of the achievement gap is related to poverty and will require macro-intervention but positive attempts to tackle it should begin in Early Years education.

They say: ‘We need to intervene early, postpone the age of formal education, ensure that early years are based on play and outdoor learning and raise staffing levels and funding in our nurseries and primaries’. Then, they add: ‘Secondary schools should never again be in thrall to an examination system which distorts learning and teaching and institutionalises failure for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Nor should internal selection in schools, supported by Universities’ ever increasing entrance requirements, be continued. Further and Higher Education need to become much more student and community focused’.

Boyd, Kelly and Maitles lay out a blueprint for radical change, putting Scottish culture and history and the decolonising of the curriculum at the core and whereby all students should have the opportunity to become independent learners with creativity being at the heart of learning. Also part of this blueprint is that all of the sectors of education should find common cause and create a coherent system with manifest choices being presented to learners with parents, pupils/students, communities and society as a whole having a role in designing an education system for all.

Details about authors: Brian Boyd, Emeritus Professor of Education, University of Strathclyde, John Kelly, Lecturer in Business, West College Scotland, and Henry Maitles, Emeritus Professor of Education, University of West of Scotland.