Informed Scotland Learning & Skills Hottest Topics 2020

We’re delighted to present the eighth annual list of Learning & Skills ‘Hot Topics’ that made it onto the cover of Informed Scotland over the past year:

1. COVID-19 impact & response (NEW)

2. Online, remote & technology enhanced learning & teaching (NEW)

3. Digital skills & inclusion (1 in 2019)

4. Youth employment & the young workforce (–)

=5. Apprenticeships (=8)

=5. Future education, skills & work (=4)

=5. International collaboration, comparisons & perceptions (–)

=5. National Qualifications – exams & results (=4)

=5. Skills shortages – upskilling, reskilling & training (–)

A year ago, no one could have predicted that the hottest topic of 2020 would be the impact and response to a pandemic. Or that ‘online, remote & technology enhanced learning & teaching’ would have jumped from nowhere to second place because of a devastating virus.

‘Digital skills’ has maintained its status as the only issue to have been in the top three every year since 2013. In 2020 the focus on digital inclusion reached new levels of importance.

Two topics have made every annual list except one: ‘apprenticeships’ and ‘skills shortages’. This year the latter was more about the need for rapid upskilling, reskilling and retraining than the prediction of longer term skills gaps.

‘Widening & fair access’ dropped out of the list for the first time ever, although we expect it to return in 2021. Also just outside the top nine were ‘mental health & wellbeing’, ‘additional support for learning’ and ‘graduate recruitment & employment’, alongside ‘surveys’ and ‘student experience & perspective’.

What are your predictions for 2021? Tweet us @InformedScot and we’ll compare notes!

Make it your New Year’s resolution to be better informed about what’s happening across learning & skills in business, schools, further & higher education, community & adult learning, and government & wider society. Contact [email protected] to receive the latest copy and find out how to subscribe here.

Reflecting on a year like no other

Work has been a haven to escape to at times, and for that, I’d particularly like to thank clients, associates, coworkers and contacts. I’ve been fortunate that AJ Enterprises’ projects have been able to continue throughout 2020.

Informed Scotland subscribers have been kept up to date about learning & skills as usual. Since March, this has included the pandemic – its impact, the response and the support available across the landscape. In May I published a COVID-19 Response & Support Extra, available free to all.

The eighth annual Organisations & People Special was published as normal in September, now with links to almost 400 organisations, over twice as many as in the first edition in 2013.

Many thanks to our subscribers for your continued interest, feedback and for spreading the word about the benefits of being kept well informed. We were pleased to welcome some new subscribers, but sad to lose a few others in these tough times.

We’ve kept a wider audience regularly updated via social media – @InformedScot now has over 4,200 followers on Twitter and over 700 on Instagram. Thanks to all our engaged followers.

The Learning & Skills Events Calendar has been in limbo since the first lockdown, when all face-to-face events were cancelled or moved online. I’m considering when and how to restart it – either for major online events, or if and when face-to-face events can resume. In the meantime, thanks to Larisa at Media Bloom for updating it before lockdown and her maternity leave (and congratulations on the beautiful baby boy!).

In March, London-based associate Elaine Hendry and I were delighted that Northern Ireland’s Department for the Economy chose to renew our contract to produce their quarterly Skills Research Digest for a further three years. Thanks to Nicola Laverty and colleagues for their continued faith in our work.

I’ve enjoyed providing research, copyediting and proofreading services to clients old and new. In March, the Society for Editors & Proofreaders became the Chartered Institute of Editing & Proofreading (CIEP), making me a proud Advanced Professional Member of CIEP. Thanks to Edinburgh group members, and coordinators Margaret and Sarah, for your support and connections online throughout the year.

Working from home after coworking for a number of years proved quite an adjustment. I miss my lovely Evergreen Studio desk and coworkers. Zoom, WhatsApp and occasional walks are keeping us connected until it’s safe to return. In the meantime, I’ve been hugely grateful to Isla McCrone for the online coworking sessions she’s been running since the spring. Thanks to Isla, her Pomodoro timer and the wonderful virtual coworkers for keeping me focused among all the distractions!

Finally, I’d like to pay personal tribute to the hard work, ingenuity, generosity of spirit and collaboration of individuals and organisations at this time of crisis, in addition to all those who are risking their own health and lives to support others – it is both awe-inspiring and heart-warming.

The annual Informed Scotland Hottest Topics in Scottish Learning & Skills will be shared here in January – see what made the list this year – no prizes for guessing what will be top…

Email [email protected] for more information about any of the above, to subscribe to Informed Scotland, or to discuss how we could support your work in 2021.

Informed Scotland November 2020 – Fundamental changes in learning & skills

Issue 86, sent to subscribers on 10 December, includes key announcements and guidance up to 9 December – including the decision to cancel Higher and Advanced Higher exams.

Sufficient time has elapsed since the first COVID-19 lockdown for more detailed data on its impact on learning & skills to be recorded and studied, and for more meaningful reflections to emerge.

At the risk of sounding rather dramatic, as the dust settles, the devastation it covers is perhaps even more stark than feared.

For example, the latest quarterly SDS report on apprenticeships states: ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the context in which [they] are delivered’. This is echoed by the Scottish Parliament Economy, Energy & Fair Work Committee, whose investigation raises concerns for the ‘severe impact’ of the pandemic on apprenticeships.

Also take a look at reports examining the specific impact on race inequality in the workforce by Carnegie UK Trust and on taught postgraduate students by Advance HE.

It’s not all doom and gloom however. A plethora of new initiatives is aiming to combat the damage, including to apprenticeships. And reports such as Learning & Work Institute’s annual Adult Participation in Learning Survey make for encouraging reading, showing the increase in ‘learning through lockdown’ in Scotland and across the UK.

The speed at which new initiatives are having to hit the ground running unfortunately means blink and you may miss them. The time to prepare and respond to consultations, to apply for funding and to express interest in participation is tighter than ever. Some opportunities came and went between Informed issues, such as YouthLink Scotland’s call for applications for the new £2m COVID-19 Residential Outdoor Education Centre Recovery Fund, which opened on 20 November and closed on 11 December. Look out for Making Scotland’s Future: A recovery plan for manufacturing – Draft for consultation which closes on 15 January.

The next issue will be the Dec/Jan edition out at the start of February 2021, however in January we’ll be taking our seventh annual stocktake of Learning & Skills ‘Hottest Topics’ from Informed covers in 2020. No prizes for guessing what will be at the top…

Want to keep on top of all the developments? Become an Informed Scotland subscriber. Email [email protected] to request a sample copy.

Informed Scotland October 2020 – College & university futures

The impact of the pandemic continues to dominate learning & skills, including increasing the pace and extent of change being considered by organisations across the landscape.

In October the focus was on the future for further and higher education.

Phase one of the Scottish Funding Council’s three-phase review of colleges and universities, and the UK-wide final report of the Independent Commission into the College of the Future were both published. (A Scotland-specific report from the Commission is due by the end of the year.) The Higher Education Policy Institute published a report considering the likely Demand for Higher Education to 2035. And separate reports by partners led by College Development Network and Jisc encourage colleges and universities respectively to take a longer-term strategic look at the use of digital technology.

In other developments, look out for:

Thanks to one of our subscribers for this great feedback: ‘With so much information and news circulating now more than ever, I am always grateful when I receive this publication….clear and concise’ – Natalie Phillips, Clyde Gateway

Want to keep on top of all the developments? Become an Informed Scotland subscriber. Email [email protected] to request a sample copy.

Informed Scotland September 2020 – Exams, mental health & the student perspective

This busy edition includes key announcements and guidance up to and including 9 October.

The keenly awaited decisions on the 2020/21 National Qualifications exams were announced on 7 October, alongside initial guidance and support from the SQA and publication of Prof Mark Priestley’s Rapid Review of the 2020 experience. A summary of each, including all nine review recommendations, are provided for our readers.

The return of students to colleges and universities saw the hybrid or blended learning model adopted by many institutions tilted firmly (and in some cases solely) towards online rather than face-to-face sessions. It is therefore important to see reports from the student perspective, including:

For obvious reasons, in a departure from what we’ve become used to, the new Scottish Government annual programme doesn’t explicitly name education as a priority, beyond ‘ensur[ing] that school closures do not go on for a minute longer than necessary’. However there are plenty of learning & skills related plans for the new parliamentary session, and not all directly connected to the pandemic. For example, a framework for school age childcare, implementing recommendations from the review of additional support for learning, and developing a lifelong learning strategy.

Mental health and wellbeing is a hot topic right across the landscape – we highlight a number of new support initiatives, including for teachers, pupils, students and youth workers. Expect to see more focus on this in the months ahead.

Want to keep on top of all the developments? Become an Informed Scotland subscriber. Email [email protected] to request a sample copy.