Review: The Scottish Learning Festival

On 20th and 21st September the Glasgow SECC hosted the Scottish Learning Festival (Twitter: #SLF17), one of the largest education events in Scotland. There were over 200 stall holders and 4500 delegates at this year’s conference! The stall holders covered every aspect of Scottish education, from science and technology, to Local authority contacts, to education supplies, to health and wellbeing and creative practitioners.

This year was the first of the Heritage Village, which was situated immediately to the left of the main entrance. The village was at SLF to celebrate is Scotland’s year of History, Heritage & Archaeology. There were an exciting range of Scottish Heritage Organisations present, including Historic Environment Scotland (HES), the National Trust for Scotland, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the National Library of Scotland, Glasgow Museums and Go Industrial Museum Collective. Running concurrent to the exhibition hall and stalls were a range of lectures, discussion panels and workshops exploring a range of topics relating to education and learning in Scotland.

Hannah Sycamore, our Blog Content Producer, attended on 21st September. Needless to say, there just weren’t enough hours in the day to make it around all the different stalls, sessions and workshops! So here are a just a few of Hannah’s highlights. If you attended the exhibition and attended an exciting session or workshop, or found an amazing stall you want to shout about, write your highlights in the comments section below!

Closing the Poverty-Related Attainment Gap

The first session I attended was devoted to closing the Poverty-Related Attainment Gap, a key strategy and aim of the Scottish Government. The session involved both presentations by speakers and discussion in small groups sharing best practice. A phrase which was new to me was the “relevance gap”. Linked to the Attainment Gap, this is when pupils become disengaged with learning because they feel that what they are being taught has no relevance to them or they can’t relate.

An especially fascinating part of this session was the presentation given by Sue Ellis from Strathclyde University. She had worked extensively on the Renfrewshire Literacy Project, which was focused on raising literacy attainment in Renfrewshire. Her research had identified three main areas or “domains” to consider in relation to literacy and reading. These include Cognitive, Personal and Social. What Strathclyde found was that teachers would often focus on the cognitive domain when pupils struggle with reading, but ignoring personal and social knowledge and awareness. One example given was that a boy who appeared to struggle with reading, but he was struggling in the personal rather than cognitive domain. He couldn’t engage with the content of the books the class was looking at as he had no experience of the things being described in them, such as going for a picnic. Sue recommended was choosing books which the children can relate to through their personal and social knowledge, such as Horrid Henry’s Nits. Only through knowing your pupils can you choose books appropriate to their personal and cultural experiences. The Renfrewshire literacy approach focuses on places children as inside readers and participants in the story. Find out more about the project here.

Our Digital Journey- Inverbrothock Primary School

One fascinating project was presented by Inverbrothock Primary School, Arbroath during the session “Our Digital Journey”. As a school they have embraced the national Digital Learning Strategy and have focused on developing skills in coding. There are already a number of projects and national frameworks devoted to encouraging girls and young women into computer science and coding (see Girls Who Code, and Closing the Gender Gap Lesson Plans), but I was fascinated by how early the teachers at Inverbrothock had introduced computer coding to pupils (P2 onwards). They highlighted ways to introduce the topic, and activities for coding that can be completed without using a computer at all. This is known as “unplugged learning”. One activity they presented to the audience involved following instructions to draw a picture (see below). The activity emphasised the importance of having precise, clear and detailed instructions, especially when working with computers, as all the pictures the audience created were different. The teachers at Inverbrothock Primary School firmly believe that teaching computer science from a young age will equip them in future.

My creation following instructions given by Inverbrothock Primary School
My creation following instructions given by Inverbrothock Primary School

Useful links: https://code.org/

https://barefootcas.org.uk/

https://scratch.mit.edu/

Historic Environment Scotland – Supporting Learning

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has over 300 sites across Scotland, with 35,000 objects and 5 million archival documents in its care. They run a range of learning programmes, professional development and excellent learning resources across many their properties. They encompass a range of other organisations, including SCRAN and Canmore.

One highlight of SLF was the presentation given by representatives from SCRAN. They take a holistic approach to digital learning in a heritage context, and ran a fascinating WW1 project with Forthview Primary School, Edinburgh. The students not only used the archive material for research, they took part in immersive heritage learning at Edinburgh Castle and developed their own short animation film using the archive material and their own drawings. What was most exciting about this project was the creative and multidisciplinary approach taken to the digital material. For example, links were made to literacy through reading Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, as well as links to the Expressive Arts through the animation project. The digital material held on SCRAN was a springboard for activities across a range of curriculum areas. Find out more about the project here and see the video pupils at Forthview created here.

Curriculum Pathways

The final session I attended was an open discussion of the Curriculum for Excellence with learning professionals from Primary and Secondary education. I was the only “external partner” at the session and it was fascinating to hear the opinion of those using the curriculum daily. The session looked at the Building the Curriculum 3 Framework from 2008 and compared it to the 2016 delivery plan, asking how the aims and objects set out in 2008 were being met and what could be done moving forward. The group looked closely at the concept of a learning journey and how the six entitlements outlined in the report contributed to a holistic learning journey. The six entitlements are:

  1. Every child and young person is entitled to experience a curriculum which is coherent from 3 to 18
  2. Every child and young person is entitled to experience a broad general education
  3. Every young person is entitled to experience a senior phase where he or she can continue to develop the four capacities and obtain qualifications
  4. Every child and young person is entitled to develop skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work, with a continuous focus on literacy and numeracy and health and wellbeing
  5. Every child and young person is entitled to personal support to enable them to gain as much as possible from the opportunities which Curriculum for Excellence can provide
  6. Every young person is entitled to support in moving into a positive and sustained destination

The workshop closed on a discussion of partnership and collaborative working across Schools. The session highlighted to me that in my current role running School Events, I am in a privileged role of visiting a full range of schools, but also seeing first hand best practice within the sector. I left the session feeling I understood the core principles of the Curriculum for Excellence and how it is used in schools across Scotland.

This is just a snippet of the sessions available at SLF. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to a wide range of stall holders and am already looking forward to next year!

-Hannah Sycamore, Scottish Learning Group Blog Content Producer (find out about Hannah)

header photo by Joe Shillington on Unsplash

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