Equity and Education: Musings from Mandy


by Mandy Davidson

Equity is the key 21st century educational message but to an ordinary teacher this will mean different things depending upon the make-up of their classes. If we want “all children and young people in Scotland to flourish and thrive”[1] we have to address how we teach all children and young people and not just those who educationalists, social scientists and politicians identify as needing “additional resources”[2]. As an mainstream teacher in a mainstream school where many pupils would be not be in the specific groups identified as requiring these resources, I still have to “teach the things that matter most[3] but have reflected that what matters may differ in my classroom to those where curriculum for excellence is all about closing the gap.

So what is equity in this context? If curriculum was a race then trying to manipulate the odds by supplying state of the art equipment to schools in the most deprived areas whilst restricting the amount schools with less disadvantaged pupils might have an effect. It might be easy to assume that the economic and educational advantages that the latter pupils have grown up with would result in families making up the difference in their school provision thereby closing the gap from both directions but not necessarily ‘raising the bar’.

Education is not a race it is an expectation for every individual in the country. Pupils may not come into school with the same prior experience or the same expectations but as teachers we have a duty to create the conditions for all to flourish.

As a teacher entrusted with “developing awareness and appreciation of the value of each individual in a diverse society[4], I have to focus on the way the flourishing of my pupils will impact on society today and in the future. These pupils may have hopes, dreams and stresses from parents but ultimately they arrive at high school as undeveloped potential. They are encouraged to deepen their skills and acquire knowledge and understanding in a myriad of different subjects with the new expectation that they transfer skills and deepen awareness of the links between disciplines. The focus on developing the young workforce has increased their vocational awareness of relevant learning but the emphasis is still placed squarely on the importance of the individual. “What skills do I need?” is a key question that pupils are required to ask of themselves in relation to fulfilling their career aspirations. The focus on learning intentions and success criteria gives them a route to becoming a confident individual and successful learner whilst the literacy across the curriculum encourages everyone to be an effective contributor.

But what does it mean to be a responsible citizen? The role of pupils who have all the advantages that money, a secure home with established personal connections and many extra curricula opportunities easily available needs to be addressed if we are to establish equity. We are never going to equalise disadvantage but we can encourage a less economically market led ethos. Pupils should not see group work as just a way to demonstrate they can lead a team in a future UCAS personal statement but as a central component in building a better world. They should be encouraged to take responsibility for their actions not just to avoid the discipline system but because we are all interdependent and every action has a consequence.

Although the relationship between pupils and their teachers is said to be supportive in the majority of cases the OECD report says: “Scottish adolescents are less likely to report liking school than students in many countries, and liking drops sharply in secondary school”[5]. This mismatch of viewpoints indicates an issue that requires significant further enquiry.

The more positive actions that can be done for their own sake rather than for certificates, awards and nominations, the less society will faction into winning and losing individuals. Focusing upon the importance of every individual not for what they can do or for what they own but just for existing is the only way equity really stands a chance. Meeting pupils’ needs cannot be just about trying to overcome disadvantage but encouraging a sense of self-worth and rightful place in society, not just in the future but now.

About the Author

Mandy Davidson first came to Scotland from the south coast of England as a fresh-faced undergraduate at the University of Stirling. After graduating with degrees in Education and Religious Studies with a diploma in Education, she spent her probation on the Isle of Wight before returning to Scotland at the start of 1990. Mandy resumed her studies at Stirling  completing a part time MEd in 1995.  She has taught Religious and Moral Education and Personal and Social in secondary schools, been an RME staff tutor in an advisory service, lectured on the initial teacher training courses at the University of Strathclyde and was part of the Higher Still RMPS development and training teams for the SQA. Currently in an acting PT role, Mandy is the SSTA union rep on the Scottish Joint Committee on RME and their rep on Interfaith Scotland.

[1] Scottish Government (2016) Delivering Excellence and Equity in Scottish Education: A Delivery Plan for Scotland URL: http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2016/06/3853/2

[2] Scottish Executive Education Department (2007) Executive Summary: OECD Review of the Quality and Equity of Education Outcomes in Scotland: Diagnostic Report URL: http://www.oecd.org/edu/school/40328315.pdf

[3] Scottish Government (2016) Ibid.

[4] Education Scotland (2015) Religious and moral education: Assessing progress and achievement in significant aspects of learning URL: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/learningandteaching/assessment/progressandachievement/significantaspectsoflearning/curriculum/rme/rme/progress.asp

[5] OECD (2015) Improving Schools in Scotland: An OECD Perspective, p15, URL: https://www.oecd.org/education/school/Improving-Schools-in-Scotland-An-OECD-Perspective.pdf

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