AASA Explores High-Performing Schools in Scotland

By AASA The School Superintendents Association

Superintendents see system with small schools and small class sizes where students learn high-level skills and focus on pathways to college and careers

Note: AASA, the School Superintendents Association, led a delegation to visit Scotland's public and private schools last month to learn about the country's education system and find good practices that could be replicated in the United States. The blogs below are a summary of one superintendent's experience.

Traveling to Scotland has been eye opening. The scenery and castles are beautiful.

Equally impressive is the thriving, government funded, education system where 95 percent of students attend public schools. The country claims to have achievement results that surpass Finland!

In the Highland area, schools are small and offer pre-K to secondary, the equivalent of our high school. Countrywide, class size (student-teacher) ratios are about 15-to-1 in primary and drop to 12-to-1 at the secondary level, the equivalent of our high school.

Scotland has a national system controlled by its Parliament and government oversight, much like we do with standards for the 21st century, with a focus on literacy, numeration, the arts and problem solving.

Scotland’s standards for excellence sound like those we have in the U.S. The list below outlines objectives which are very similar to ours:

  • Progression in learning and evaluating achievement, ages 3-18
  • Supporting improvement
  • Literacy and numeracy including Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN)
  • Career long professional learning
  • Support for engaging parents and caretakers
  • Senior phase pathways
  • Employability and skills (DYW)
  • Using data to support improvement
  • Tackling bureaucracy
  • Supporting the new national qualifications

There is a focus on leveling the playing field which the Scots call reducing the attainment gap, similar to our achievement gap.

The sequence of education continues through ages 16 to 18, where the focus is on school to work, entitled a “pathway”. How similar is that to what many of us are working to accomplish in our high schools? They are focused on “meeting the needs of all learners” as we work to meet the needs of “each learner”.

During what the Scots term the senior phase, they focus on service to others, and health and wellness, much like our profile of the graduate. This ensures addressing the knowledge, skills and dispositions that prepare students for the 21st century world of work and life. The Scots have an online tool which benchmarks the outcomes of the students called Benchmarking for Excellence.

Champions for Children

Whether you are in Scotland or in the U.S., the educational systems have many similarities. They include regulations, funding, hiring, teacher shortages, and the effects these issues have on teaching, learning, and ultimately student achievement. Traditional teaching and innovation are dispersed throughout Scotland as is the use of technology—quite similar to the diversity in educational approaches in our schools. We visited some very creative and personalized classrooms where students were actively engaged.

We had an opportunity to view private schools that were the very best that money can buy. We also viewed government schools that were not as fortunate. In many cases, however, the schools with limited funding still produced amazing results. We saw, as we see at home, that funding and resources can be critical in leveling the playing field.

In the end, the key is to do what is best for every student. Meeting the needs of the underserved, narrowing achievement gaps, working with 21st century skills and personalizing instruction are all topics we face and struggle to address. Both countries strive to prepare students for careers and higher education.

Wherever we travel throughout the globe, it is apparent that kids are kids. They deserve the best education that we can deliver. We always conclude that we need to maintain our focus. That education must meet the needs of children so that they graduate from high school prepared to be successful contributors to our ever-changing world. As America’s superintendents and educators, we need to continue to be the champions for public education and be the voices of our students!

By Amy Sichel, superintendent of the Abington School District in Abington, Pa. She also served as the 2013-14 president of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. Learn more about the visits at http://dandomenech.org/.

Views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

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Women standing in front of school signs in Scotland

Superintendents Amy Sichel, left, and Gail Pletnik took part in AASA's delegation to Scotland.