Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills John Swinney MSP has officially opened a new Learning Hub at the University of Aberdeen which has been established in partnership with the Northern Alliance regional improvement collaborative.
The Learning Hub has been created to bring together practitioners, academics, researchers and others to share their knowledge and to encourage innovation in children’s learning.
The Northern Alliance and the University have invested more than £100,000 into the new facility in a bid to stimulate collaboration and to share best practice between the University and eight local authorities from Aberdeen to Argyll and Bute.
Speaking at the opening event – which brought together teachers and practitioners across the network both in person and online to benefit from a series of workshops on ‘Breaking Down Barriers: Equity and Education for All’ – Mr Swinney highlighted the importance of collaboration.
He said: “Closing the attainment gap and improving the outcomes of everyone involved in Scottish education and learning is a core principle of the Scottish Government’s plans.
“Collaboration, professional development, co-production and innovation are crucial to achieving that aim, and the opening of the Northern Alliance Learning Hub is a fantastic example of bringing together practitioners, academics, researchers and others, to pool their knowledge and encourage innovation in children’s learning.
“This will be an excellent resource for sharing best practice, strengthening professional learning networks, and for applying evidence and research to improving classroom practice.”
The University of Aberdeen’s School of Education plays an integral role in supporting the area’s learning and teaching, not only in terms of delivering qualified graduate teachers but also offering professional learning opportunities and conducting research which investigates the complexities of education and its underpinning values.
This partnership with the Northern Alliance takes the University’s well-established relationship with local authorities one step farther by encouraging more multi-faceted teaching and learning opportunities delivered by academics, researchers, national specialists and local leaders alike.
David Smith who is Head of the University of Aberdeen’s School of Education commented: “It is a privilege for the School of Education to work with the Northern Alliance on the Learning Hub. As we work together, with our different perspectives, experiences, and understandings, around a common commitment to improving the lives of others, I hope that new research-informed solutions will emerge to the challenges faced by our schools and communities across the Northern Alliance.”
Attendees at the official opening were given the opportunity to choose three of six 45-minute workshop sessions. In a workshop on ‘Transformability’ Dr Kirsten Darling-Mcquistan centred on how fixed ability thinking creates barriers to learning, while a separate session led by Angus MacLennan, Head Teacher of e-Sgoil, explained some of the success his e-learning programmes are having in re-engaging pupils who are unable or unwilling to attend school.
In a session on poverty and attainment university experts took attendees through the Inclusive Pedagogical Approach in Action Framework considering opportunities for probationer teachers to be further supported to promote inclusive practices.
Digital learning expert Susan Sey from Education Scotland who is passionate about building teacher confidence in this area explained the industry standard tools available to teachers online to improve reading comprehension and increase fluency for language learners.
Colleagues Jo Kirby and Scott Calder who are working together from Moray and Aberdeenshire councils to address the poverty-related attainment gap shared the Cost of the School Day Toolkit, discussing the financial barriers to participation at school.
Education Scotland’s Gaelic Moderation lead Maeve MacKinnon gave practitioners across Scotland the chance to join together using e-learning tool Vscene to participate in the moderation process for writing through the medium of Gaelic.
The Northern Alliance covers 58.4% of the landmass of Scotland but represents a much smaller percentage of its population.
Lead officer Helen Budge from Shetland Islands Council explained: “We’re passionate about helping people and about making the delivery of learning and teaching opportunities the best this can be across our urban, suburban and rural communities. This fantastic new shared space at the university promotes joined up thinking among those teaching the teachers, those carrying out important research and those directly involved in learning and teaching in our schools and early years settings."
David Gregory, Senior Regional Advisor for Education Scotland’s Northern Team who work hand-in-hand with colleagues across the Northern Alliance added: “I look forward to continuing to work with colleagues at the University of Aberdeen and the Northern Alliance as we encourage collaboration amongst practitioners and support professional learning through the new Learning Hub.”