Reforming designs: education and training in Scotland and Higher Still
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This thesis is concerned with the organisation of education and training systems and the extent to which their design may challenge or reinforce social inequalities. In modern societies, people’s life chances are inextricably linked to the education they are able to access and the knowledge and skills (typically manifested through formal qualifications) they acquire, thus how countries organise their education and training systems is of fundamental importance in determining the opportunities available to its citizens and to their life chances. The specific focus of the thesis is on the design and organisation of post compulsory education and training systems - a stage that represents a particular challenge for policy-makers - and within that, on how systems might conceptualise academic and vocational learning in more productive ways. Education systems are not context-free structures: the design of a nation’s education and training system provides a window onto its traditions, its social values and economic stance, and its current preoccupations and ambitions for itself. Thus the thesis uses the example of the Higher Still reform of post compulsory education and training in Scotland (from 1999 onwards) to reflect more generally on education and social inequalities in Scotland and to ask how we should understand the way in which Scotland has approached reform of its education and training provision. It seeks to explicate the reasons for the adoption of the Higher Still reform strategy, to identify the factors that determined its specific design and development and to reflect on how the particular reform strategy embodied by Higher Still relates to certain aspects of the Scottish context and its policy processes. The thesis then examines the institutional response to Higher Still and its impact on the opportunities available to young people. It locates the Higher Still example within the broader field of education policy, considering what the experience of the Higher Still reform reveals about the possibilities of re-designing an education and training system in ways which promote social equality and the scope for manoeuvre that policy-makers, in a specific national context, have in relation to system reform.