Scotland’s independent think tank
Scotland’s independent think tank

Nurturing the Four Capacities – Euan Mackie


In my previous blog, I argued that it is institutional bureaucracy which hinders the development of the Curriculum for Excellence and the Four Capacities:

  • successful learners
  • confident individuals
  • responsible citizens
  • effective contributors

In this article I will suggest how the Four Capacities may be nurtured in schools.                  

To realise the Four Capacities, we need to appreciate the importance of  the motivation of pupils  and the way teachers  (and parents) may assist this. Success of schools in the Far East rely on the high regard and value placed on education by families and hence students are very motivated.

Motivation is self-generated and comes from an inner energy of value and of hope for the future, nurtured by parents, teachers and peers. This is not the daily exhortation of  telling pupils what to do, in every detail, and hence removing  their self drive.

How can we strengthen that sense of value of the individual pupil and let them feel motivated ?  I would suggest that we need to have time in the school and curriculum, for pupils to exert more choice, feel a sense of value and receive personal feedback.   This is the path to nurture our future citizens – a building out of their sense of ownership and hence their personality.

One homeless young person who received counselling recently remarked:

“It made me feel good because I know the counsellor is not asking for what she wants to know. She is interested in what I want to talk about. Normally people just ask you lots of questions, like you are in a police station.”

At a very basic level many young people feel not valued,  by families and by school and lack the motivation to engage fully with life- the opposite of being an active citizen.

I recall visiting a 23 year old sociology student on her third week of teaching practice. I noticed that she had made observations of each one of her Primary 4 pupils in her personal folder: a short paragraph about each one, in terms of interests and personality. I saw in her early teaching style, the way she fed back to them her knowledge and value of each individual, and I saw how the pupils responded. The pupils were happy and felt secure in knowing an adult knew them well.

I contrasted this experience with watching another student teacher assiduously using different methodologies and timings, learning outcomes and success criteria, but did not once address a pupil by name. The experience was efficient but soulless.

On another occasion, I observed a Swedish teacher of 9 year olds, discuss with a class when best to go together to the school cafeteria to have their school lunch. They weighed up the pros and cons together. (Later we accompanied the class and sat down beside them for their meal). During the afternoon, the teacher took time to stop work, and to encourage the pupils to support the resolution of a personal problem of a member of their class. She asked her classmates,” how can we help Mia?”.

Such an approach builds a sense of value of young people, assisted by the mature  modelling of teachers of individual and collective choice and of solving personal problems at classroom level.

 Monica (name changed) is a fine young 14 year old currently struggling in Scottish Education.  She longs to know who her father is, and her mother has disowned her for her wild behaviour. She is wilful, passionate and challenges adults, hence she is frequently expelled from schools. In seeking attention she goes to parties with older men and she acknowledges that she is engaged in totally inappropriate behaviour. She seems to be beyond the capacity of school or social worker to protect her.

However Monica responds positively in a special project of supervised work experience, linking vulnerable teenagers  with  vulnerable young nursery children on a one to one basis. Monica  positively glows with the feedback she receives about her value in empathising with her young nursery child, and is supported by the resilience of the facilitators (not teachers)  who acknowledge and handle her challenges. She is now trying to engage with education from a place of more internal personal worth.

Many of those working in schools appreciate the prime importance of relationships. However many  Scottish young people are left to survive in school, without any adult at home or in the institution knowing them in a personal way. These are young people not favoured by natural aptitude or support at home. When they leave school there is no fanfare or participation in a prize winning assembly. They just disappear.

 How can we seriously expect them to buy into personal attainment and good mental health?

I would suggest we need to give more emphasis on the experiential level of pastoral care in classrooms, and give more focus on mentoring and coaching of every young person, encouraging the involvement of parents who themselves are also isolated from value.

The time consuming and hierarchical systems of paperwork, quality assurance, inspection, and school development planning will not deliver the Four Capacities. These processes should be rationalised in favour of an emphasis on dialogue based coaching, and mentoring to strengthen relationships and pastoral care in our classrooms, particularly in secondary education.

Euan Mackie  writes in an independent capacity while acting as an educational coach and an area officer of the Association of Head Teachers and Deputes in Scotland.