14 February 2022

Councillors listen to young people's thoughts on the future of education

Young people have been telling Aberdeenshire’s councillors how they think assessments should be carried out in the future and what the priorities should be for Scottish education.

The local authority's senior councillors and officers are continuing to ensure an increased focus on youth participation and children's rights, and as part of that the Education and Children’s Services Committee holds regular meetings with young representatives. The young people taking part are drawn from Aberdeenshire Youth Council, local MSYPs and members of the local authority’s Pupil Participation Forum. They have the opportunity to ask questions of senior leaders and vice versa. The feedback received from these meetings may be shared with head teachers when they consider national curricular changes that arose from the OECD report.

Committee Chair Cllr Gillian Owen welcomed everyone to the online meeting on Wednesday 9 February, picking up the topic of the Curriculum for Excellence as the group had agreed previously.

Director of Education and Children’s Services Laurence Findlay introduced a ‘Jamboard’ to encourage young people to place virtual post-it notes in response to a series of key questions. He was keen to know how much focus is given to the Four Capacities in schools, better understand young people’s experiences of moving up through the various stages of school and moving on to exams, how well digital technology is used in learning and what young people think school should look and feel like for future generations.

The group enjoyed a discussion about the merits of moving the focus of success away from what grades you get and instead how hard you work and how much you progress as an individual. Young people highlighted the language adults may be familiar with using is not necessarily inspiring for them.

Asked if there should be an education ‘system’ in the way there is now, one young person said: “There should be a system, but the system should have pathways that allow you to go different ways.”

Lee Menzies, Head Teacher at Turriff Academy who participates as Chair of Aberdeenshire Secondary Head Teachers’ Association (ASHTA) agreed about the importance of making learning “more personal to each learner”.

Another young person commented, “The system helps run things, but it should also bring in more ways we can develop,” and they also underlined that a better understanding of the impact of living rurally and ways to overcome the barriers they may face as a result should be integrated into the curriculum.

Looking to the future and questioning whether what they’re learning now will be relevant in the jobs market ahead of them, young people were reassured by a number of councillors and officers that everything they’re learning has value that’s setting them up for the years ahead.

Laurence highlighted: “It’s not just about the knowledge you build but the skills you gain are so important,” referring to his own background in studying modern languages and how the communication skills and confidence he gained he still uses today.

Building opportunities to develop resilience into the curriculum was also a recurring theme, noting that the world has changed since the Curriculum for Excellence was first developed. Less emphasis on exams was also a popular idea, with the majority of the young people who attended saying they’d scrap annual exams in favour of monthly assessments and using classwork as evidence. One young person disagreed, though, saying ongoing assessment had been stressful too and instead of scrapping exams the focus should be on “helping young people to cope with the stress.”

Helping young people navigate through misinformation and using topical events like elections to encourage young people to have proper debates and develop skills for debating, and making the development of these skills a core part of the curriculum was also suggested by one of the young people taking part.

A discussion about radical change prompted one young person to say – based on her experiences of lockdown – that continuing with structured lessons, timetables and in-person teaching time was very important to her.

Broadly, everyone agreed on the importance of helping young people to learn how to study and develop study skills from a young age.

Laurence brought the meeting to a close by highlighting his experience of judging a debating competition earlier in the day, reflecting how well everyone had contributed to the discussion and how impressed he is by all of the young people he had heard from. 
He said: “I’m inspired by the views you have shared and the thought you’ve put into this. We have opportunities to help shape the national system, and the Scottish Government has committed to engaging with young people as they address the outcomes of the OECD report.”

The next meeting will pick up further on ideas for shaping the curriculum as well as considering budget priorities.

Education and Children’s Services Committee Chair Cllr Gillian Owen reflected on the discussion, saying: “These wonderful young people should be advising at a national level. We will make it a priority to ensure their feedback is heard and understood. I’m so grateful for their contributions which are always so insightful, and I look forward to catching up again at the next meeting.”

Vice Chair Cllr Rosemary Bruce added: “With every report we get as councillors, every update or impact assessment we’re asked to scrutinise, we keep the feedback we have received from children, young people and families in mind. Thank you to the young people who are engaging with us through this forum and if you are interested in taking part in future please get in touch.”

For more information about youth participation in Aberdeenshire, visit: https://www.girfec-aberdeenshire.org/home/children-and-young-people/get-involved-youth-participation-and-engagement-in-aberdeenshire/

Any young person seeking mental health support can find a range of resources signposted on Aberdeenshire Council’s website. This includes free access to online tools Kooth and Togetherall, which are available to support anyone in Aberdeenshire aged 10 and up:  https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/social-care-and-health/community-care/living-independently/mental-health-wellbeing-services/mental-health-wellbeing-support/

You can also find all the details for local children and families teams, including an out of hours phone number, online: https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/social-care-and-health/children-and-families/children-and-families-team-offices/