This is a guest post from John McCann, Director of Next Practice at Scotland’s Colleges
I have heard it called a form of insanity. That well known phenomenon of repeating the same action while expecting different consequences. This is in contrast to life’s experiences which suggests strongly that if you do the same thing again it will, indeed, have the same result.
My first memory of this phenomenon came as I developed computer programming skills. Programs require to be submitted to a computer for translation according to a very strict set of rules. Normally the result of submission was an extensive list of those rules which had been broken. I have to admit that on more than one occasion, I resubmitted. There was always hope – maybe the computer wasn’t paying attention the first time; maybe it was having a bad day; maybe the rules would be relaxed; maybe ……
I have also to admit that on every occasion, the result was the same. Surprising that – same action, same consequence.
In my analysis, I have come to the conclusion that this arises through pain-seeking behaviour which seems particularly prevalent in Celtic communities. I have come across it throughout my career. In staff workrooms, for example, where learning from experience, particularly of others, would be regarded as a denial-of-pain situation to be avoided. We have a wonderful collection of reasons not to share. Pain-Seeking-through-Ignoring-Experiences-Syndrome may be our preferred cultural state. I will readily admit to being a sufferer and that, apparently, is the first stage in finding a cure.
I was reminded of this phenomenon preparing for a presentation on ‘Colleges and Quality’ to the implementation partnership of Curriculum for Excellence. It was a welcome opportunity.
I was able to describe to the audience a time and a place where colleges used to be. When the time scale for changing qualifications could be measured in geological time; when teacher centred approaches were prevalent; when the culture was a dependent one and where the needs of external assessment dominated everything. I suggested that members of the audience might recognise such a world in their own space. Judging by the murmurings, it seemed to be the case.
I described a current world where colleges, according to HMIe, have comprehensive quality assurance and improvement systems that enhance the learner experience. And that there were ‘no systemic weaknesses’ in the sector. I suggested that seemed to be a good place to be and the murmurings suggested agreement.
Some of the lessons in that journey were outlined – moderation and quality assurance to be regarded as part of a total quality system, assessment/verification policy with clear aims, quality grounded on professional dialogue, a developmental internal audit regime, retaining the core purpose of improvement and so on. Learning from colleges made available to the system.
We are all aware of the challenges facing schools in taking Curriculum for Excellence forward and, through his TES articles, Don Ledingham has identified the potential for learning from colleges. College experience and interests are well represented in Curriculum for Excellence implementation structures. It feels there is measure of sanity there.
However, we need to work harder. The public funding pressures are such that we need to use ALL the resources of the system. We need to make sure that learning from one part of the system impacts upon another. We need to move so that any part of the system is receptive to learning from another. That would be a real gain of Curriculum for Excellence and help deliver what Graeme Hyslop has described as the first comprehensive learning system in Europe.
In these difficult times, Pain-Seeking-through-Ignoring-Experiences Syndrome is looking more than a little indulgent. Let’s aim for systems sanity.