Is IDL just another Educational initiative?

The education system is notorious for its ‘new initiatives’. Understandably, we repeatedly aim to raise attainment by motivating the less than enthusiastic learner, but instead produce short-term solutions that rarely fulfil this expectation. Each decade or so we find that success in engaging the disengaged continues to elude us. Many documents are written, many person hours engaged and much funding provided to resolve this issue but frequently it is patchy, any success is short lived, and verifiable analysis of the given initiative unclear and lacking in concrete and measurable results.

This is to be expected when mass education has narrow common goals. The common perception that the purpose and aim of education was lots of “good” qualifications and a place at a “good” college or university was perhaps acceptable when life for many was predictable and “good” jobs were secured with such qualifications and social mobility was enhanced. This has not been the case for many years. The document “21st Century Skills” (Trilling and Fadel 2012) highlighted this in 2009. Since then we have become aware that traditional accepted learning and career pathways have been disrupted. We must change too if we are to make education relevant, necessary and engaging. We know what we are aiming for in helping to create a successful 21st century citizen, but so far the route we have travelled is strewn with ambitious but unsuccessful initiatives.

Unlike successful businesses, education is not good at moving and changing quickly. CfE notwithstanding, our schools still use a 19th century structure of teaching in short subject specific periods, and assessment remains a 20th century subject-driven exam system which mostly tests and values memory recall. In my opinion, most ‘raising attainment’ initiatives may give us short-term gains in a league-table obsessed society but are too often doomed to fail.

Sea level rise (melting ice, Greenland’s Southwestern coastline)
Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

If you are reading this, then you are probably in broad agreement with what I’ve written. The bigger question is – how do we work towards making the changes we all want to see? Is IDL just another initiative that will have its moment in the sun and fade away when the document writers move on, targets change or the funding is withdrawn? Fair questions, as many of us who started teaching in the 1990s have seen government and local authority initiatives come and go. I feel no contrition in admitting that I saw my own enthusiasm become jaded as I broached my third or fourth initiative. Like so many others I moved away from the classroom. I felt I could contribute so much more by focusing on one specific aspect of education and there, at least give my best to something I could believe in. So what has given me new hope and brought me back to support IDL in the classroom?

Firstly, IDL is not a government or local authority driven initiative, although it is a CfE context for learning and support is encouraged for this approach. Secondly, its development and delivery have no specific funding, and thirdly it is being driven by enlightened and enthusiastic teachers and educators across Scottish education, not by pre-determined numerical targets in attainment.

Yes, we will still have to work within the prescribed learning outcomes and benchmarks, and by the constraints of subject-dominated SQA exams, but the driver is not ticking boxes to meet targets. The people driving IDL understand that the current education system may often meet required targets but frequently misses the point. By the integrated use of the principles of pillars (discreet learning and teaching within subjects) and lintels (applying the learning in two or more core subjects to solve problems or provide deeper understanding) learning has a real purpose – a purpose which students, their parents and especially teachers can all engage with, implement and fully evaluate.

As we all know, purpose and the ensuing motivation are the real drivers of meaningful learning. If collectively, we can embrace Interdisciplinary learning and allow it to infiltrate and drive current practices, we may eventually succeed in meeting Curriculum for Excellence’s original worthy mission, which is often lost in a plethora of guidelines: successful learners, confident Individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors. If, in the oft-quoted phrase, we can, “measure what is valuable rather than value what is measurable”, then I can look forward to the next generation being better equipped for the 21st century in a curriculum which is driven by motivation to find answers and solve problems rather than just answering questions.


Trilling B and Fadel C (2012) 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in our Times. Jossey-Bass

Featured Image “Factory producing smokes” by Alexander Tsang (Unsplash.com) CC-BY-NC-4.0

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