Education Scotland is the policy-making body for the Scottish education system and for the last twenty-five years or so they have produced a handbook called ‘How Good Is Our School?’, or HGIOS for short. It is used by Scotland’s school inspectors on their visits to schools and all schools also use it in self-evaluation in order to ensure that they meet national standards. ‘How Good Is Our School?’ is designed to promote effective self-evaluation as the first important stage in a process of achieving self-improvement.
The latest version was published in September 2015 and it is organised around three categories: Leadership and Management; Learning Provision; and Successes and Achievements. Within each category, there is a set of quality indicators. For the very first time in twenty-five years, ‘Creativity and Employability’ appears as one of the quality indicators, within the section on Successes and Achievements. This can be seen as moving Education Scotland’s approach closer to the aims of Scotland’s new Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).
The HGIOS rubric explains that: ‘This indicator [Creativity and Employability] focuses on a range of significant skills for learning, life and work which children and young people should increasingly be able to demonstrate as they move through their learning pathways. A key feature is learners’ ability to apply their skills in a range of contexts, including in unfamiliar settings. Learners understand the importance of these skills to their future lives and to local, national and global economies’.
The document goes on to describe what an excellently performing school would look like in this area: ‘Children and young people take ownership of their own learning and thinking. They are imaginative, open-minded, confident risk-takers, and appreciate issues from different perspectives. They can ask questions, make connections across disciplines, envisage what might be possible and not possible, explore ideas, identify problems and seek and justify solutions’.
This is positive and fits well within the ‘process model’ of the curriculum. The process model describes an approach to curriculum planning in which the form and direction of enquiry is flexible and open-ended, rather than pre-determined, so that the potential for growth and development is maximised, which means that the outcomes can be unpredictable. Process-based curriculums are based upon intrinsic principles and procedures rather than upon extrinsic objectives. Typically, they are predicated around a view of what an autonomous adult should be and a learning process (often dialogical, inquiry-based and experiential) that may serve as the route to achieving this state.
A difficulty with CfE, however, from the beginning (as in pointed out by Priesteley and Humes in their excellent 2010 article, ‘The Development of Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence: amnesia and déjà vu’) is that it is a rather awkward mixture of the process-based approach and two other models merged uncomfortably together: the content model and the objectives model. In the content-based model, the emphasis is on subject content (“we teach this content because we always have”); and in the objectives-based model the emphasis is on defining particular learning objectives which students are expected to overtake. This second approach arguably narrows and predetermines learning. CfE – in common with previous Scottish curriculum reforms such as the 5-14 initiative - specifies content as objectives, in the form of the Outcomes which are defined for every curriculum area, and thus is a rather awkward mix of these two models. In addition, however, the Experiences which sit alongside the Outcomes speak of a process-based approach. In other words, in its lumping together of three disparate approaches, CfE is not based on a clear and consistent approach to curriculum planning.
The potential for another clash of contradictory approaches around CfE is evident in the fact that the Scottish Qualifications Authority is now, in partnership with the University of Stirling, shortly going to be examining how Creativity might be assessed within ‘high-stakes’ subject-based assessment. This project is in the form of a studentship at PhD level.
The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is a partner in the implementation of the Scottish Government approved Creative Learning Plan. As the project outlines states, the Plan includes: “…a commitment to consider how notions of creativity will feature in external course assessments…in the future, across a broader range of subjects, going beyond the subject domains traditionally associated with creativity (for example, Music, Product Design, English, Art and Design).” The project will set out to: “Trial and evaluate assessment practices related to creativity in the school curriculum across multiple subject domains.”
There are a number of reasons why one might argue that this is a desirable project, not the least of which is that, if something is not assessed at a ‘high-stakes level’, it will be neglected in the classroom. The classic example of this is the decision to formally assess Talk within Standard-Grade English when that qualification was being implemented in the mid-1980s. By grading Talk on an equal footing to Reading and Writing, the SQA ensured that talking – both on an individual and group basis – suddenly leapt to the top of the classroom agenda and a considerable amount of resources in all their various manifestations were devoted to this particular skill. But in many ways this was an illusion. Overall, talk ceased to be a pleasurable feature of the English classroom and instead became, for both student and teacher, another assessment hurdle to be got over, another (literally) tick-box exercise to be completed in the internal-assessment marathon.
The problem with the Standard-Grade Talk scenario just described is that it was attempting to reconcile two irreconcilable approaches to the curriculum: the process-based approach (i.e. Talk as a natural activity in the English class) and the objectives-based approach (i.e. the formal assessment of Talk). Talk is a form of creativity; and it is therefore profoundly to be hoped that whoever leads the research work on Creativity will avoid the pitfall described above. If they manage to do so, they will have succeeded in squaring one particular educational circle.
 Humes, W. and Priestley, M., ‘The Development of Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence: amnesia and déjà vu’, Oxford Review of Education, Vol. 36, No 3, June 2010, pp. 345-361.