Tales from a small country: Education, integrated services and universal surveillance

By Sheila Struthers (first published on the SubRosa blog, 30 November 2010)

Tales from a small country: Education, integrated services and universal surveillance


“My opinion is this: Initially ACfE was deliberately kept liquid, fluid and vague. To hide its inherent dangers.” states a wise teacher on the Scottish forums on the Times Educational Supplement website. 

They continue: “Analogy: If you tell a child the destination is the dentist(for example) they will not get in the car. And so you tell them it’s just a nice drive to the shops, they get in without a fight and only start whimpering when their suspicions are alerted by entering the street the dentist is on. The screaming starts in earnest when you pull up outside the dentist. You then have to physically manhandle, browbeat, cajole and bully them out of the car and into the surgery. The parent has known all along that a point will be reached when their power of deception will become obsolete. The gloves come off and new tactics must be employed.” 

The surgery is coming into view…

As Jim Aitken observed in 2007,  “The national debate on Scottish education that took place in 2003 rubber-stamped what was happening and created the illusion that a robust system was on a journey of continuous improvement. It was largely an exercise in contrived collegiality.” 

Donald McDonald more recently described the process as  “a complete sham of a consultation exercise which ignored any dissenting voices.”  He says, “We are about to dismantle what has been a decent education system for a portfolio of utterly imbecilic outcomes.

Just imagine the future scenario:

“Ah’ve passed two o’ ma outcomes the day,” Johnny announces to his parents at tea.
“Whit wis that, son?”
Johnny proudly puffs out his chest: “Ah can communicate in a clear expressive manner when engaging with others within and beyond ma place o’ learnin’, and ah can independently select and organise appropriate resources as required”.
“Very good, son,” says Dad, “wis that the two?”
“Naw, Da’, as well as that ah can regularly select and read, listen to or watch texts for enjoyment and interest, and ah can express how well they meet ma needs and expectations an’ give reasons, wi’ evidence, fur ma personal response!”
Mum and Dad are proud and delighted, but mostly bewildered.”

Similar outcome-based systems are being developed worldwide. Ludicrous, certainly, and some would argue dangerous now that attitudinal and dispositional characteristics are the business of educators. 

Many  reacted with horror to  Richard Woolfson’s  claim  that “all human behaviour is measurable”  and  his  Renfrewshire Council team’s attempt to create a straightforward assessment which will allow teachers to benchmark where pupils are, in terms of becoming confident individuals, successful learners, effective contributors and responsible citizens. 

“Renfrewshire Council is the first local authority in Scotland to embark on creating an assessment approach for the four capacities. It is working closely with psychologists from the University of Otago in New Zealand on an assessment model. A number of countries including Australia and New Zealand use a similar curriculum to Scotland, and the research is already attracting global interest.”

Alan Nicholson , in one of many letters to TESS on the subject, describes Woolfson’s statement  as  “one of the most terrifying things I have ever read in your paper” and continues “The real danger for teachers lurks at the very end of your report, which notes the concern expressed by teachers in Dr Woolfson’s study about “workload increases and the measurement of emotions and personality”. We cannot afford workload to become the over-arching issue, allowing it to blind us as to what is really important. I don’t know about others, but I will not measure emotions and personality. That’s somebody else’s job.”

The  corporate jargon of human resource land endemic to all CfE literature should be a dead giveaway, but Chris Holligan and Walter Hume’s article ,’The Hidden Politics of the Curriculum for Excellence’, spells it out:

“CfE flies the flag of the free market and corporate values. Despite its claims to represent a revolution, it signals continuity of thinking with Tony Blair’s New Labour project and even with some aspects of Thatcherism. Moreover, it is in serious danger of neglecting established bodies of knowledge and the wisdom they contain. It appropriates American trends by favouring a highly adaptable but compliant labour force, who will follow orders rather than reflect on the reasons behind them. It facilitates the growth of employees rather than citizens – employees who will lack the mental tools to evaluate critically the competitive culture into which they will be incorporated.”

What is happening to Scottish education only makes sense when CfE is seen as one of many components in the multi-agency  brave new world of Girfec and eCare;  with its insatiable appetite for more and more interoperable  data in the form of a common language of quality and performance indicators.

Education is no longer a distinctive policy field and this has huge implications for the teaching profession. Initially integrated  services were presented as a way of ensuring that  “at risk” children did not “slip through the net”.This then came to apply to all children. And now integrated services are to cater for all citizens ‘from cradle to grave’. Lifelong “learning” for all. 

This is happening world-wide; put “lifelong learning”+”cradle to grave” into Google and see what happens…Quietly and behind the scenes, England’s Girfec (Every Child Matters) has quietly morphed into Every Citizen Matters – Google that too…

Getting back to Scotland, the CfE Management Board have discussed the prospect of CfE for all learners. I’ll leave you with this quote:

“This brings us to the second issue which is what are we talking about extending when we refer to Curriculum for Excellence for all learners. Is this about extending the concept of the four capacities so that it can provide a basis for learning across all ages and sectors. The current terminology of the four capacities refers to young people “becoming” successful learners, effective contributors, confident individuals and responsible citizens. Extending the concept to all learners would suggest a greater focus on seeing the four capacities as a driver for continuous improvement. The four capacities already have a wider relevance outwith the education system, given their place in the National Performance Framework, in that all service providers (such as health, social work etc) need to be supporting children and young people to achieve that aspiration and we need to recognise the roles and contributions of other agencies.”  

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