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Education Transparency: Why is Scot Govt under fire?

The Scottish Government has announced that Scotland will re-join international league tables on education after withdrawing from them a decade ago.


Openness about the performance of the country’s education record has been welcomed across the board… but why is the Scottish Government under so much criticism?


It’s hard to read between the lines these days in politics. Certainly in Scotland anyway.


There is, perceivably, so much on the line in terms of whether public opinion will swing towards separating from the union… it seems the Scottish Government is determined to ringfence as much damaging-to-the-cause information as they can and, likewise, there is often opposition for opposition’s sake on every argument, move or word spoken by advocates for independence.


The former can be seen in Nicola Sturgeon’s determination to press ahead with the Deposit Return Scheme despite fears amongst SMEs that it isn’t ready. Perhaps she didn’t want to appear weak or have another project deemed a failure.


Even senior SNP members, like the, then, soon-to-be First Minister, immediately declared opposition to its go-ahead as soon as ‘Humza for Scotland’ began. His choice to delay the scheme is one of his first acts in the new role, one that was welcomed by all 3 leadership candidates.


The latter could be seen in, for instance, the deliberate politicisation of the same DRS scheme by opposition benches… the Conservatives moaned about delays to its introduction to then only encourage businesses across Scotland to boycott it close to its now-delayed launch date.


Alongside noise within the Scottish Parliament, Ross Greer talks about a new power of ‘veto’ taken up by the UK Government that’s also emerged since Brexit… from the Internal Market Act forcing Scotland to go cap in hand on devolved policies to deliberate “sabotage” and delay to policies such as DRS making clarity on things like VAT impossible.


That is even despite its benefits in fighting climate action, an imminent danger, and a similar framework being delivered by the UK in the months to come.


There is an emotive blight on political order.


This pattern is obvious in all facets of the Scottish Parliament’s responsibilities… but one that bothered me the most is the flippant statements about the health of Scotland’s education system.


It bothers me because I know good people doing unbelievable work in the education field. It’s a shame that the heavily toxic nature of digital platforms like Twitter means I’m unable to disclose these people and boast about the work that they’re doing out of personal pride… but that’s the world we live in today.


I did do some digging though. I was sick of flippant statements about our education system by folk with little to no credibility. How bad is Scotland’s education crisis? Is it a crisis?


I noticed the coverage of Jenny Gilruth’s statement yesterday for a needed overhaul in education led to more coverage about potential strikes and worried parents… not only is this lazy journalism, but it’s also a gross mischaracterisation of the genuine concerns shared amongst the teaching community. Pupils are struggling and petty politics isn't helping.


And although the word ‘crises’ is oversubscribed on digital platforms to talk about any given problem the Government faces… the short answer is, aye. There is currently intense difficulty in the management of our schools.


Unlike politicians, or certainly the coverage of what the politicians are saying, I’m not going to spout statistics about the heavily disputed attainment gap and how it should be interpreted. You’re more than welcome to read about that elsewhere. I’m going to lay out what I’ve found by talking to people within the sector… so here goes:


The weakest part of the Scottish Government’s handling of education can be seen with ‘inclusion’ – the support is simply not there for kids needing specialised assistance.


Why? A lot of special needs schools have been shut down. Incidentally, the nearest one to myself is currently in the process of being pulled down to build flats.


An influx of high-tariff additional support pupils is now flooding into mainstream schools and teachers aren’t properly equipped to deal with them. The days of these kids having a specialised support assistant with focussed help are long gone for many schools & not only are mainstream classrooms an unsuitable environment for them, but they can also cause their classmates disruption.


There is also a huge revamp in the Curriculum for Excellence programme, and nobody knows what it’s going to look like in terms of system structure and taught syllabus. This is deeply unsettling for teachers.


Out of the two Government-run bodies, SQA and Education Scotland, the latter’s role has been questioned due to a notable absence during Covid. Little was done to fulfil their role of supporting quality and improvement of education and their whole existence has been called into question.

Will there be calls for a more holistic style of learning? Are the days of bread and butter exams, the writing, the slog, the unbearable pain through your fingers gone now? Suggestions of ‘interdisciplinary learning,’ having a bunch of subjects like History, English and Maths all bunched in together, perhaps written up in your foreign language, have cropped up amongst the conversation between teachers. It would see subjects looked at in a much broader fashion rather than individually. My feeling is that this is what Gilruth means when talking about the vision of radical change.


If so, how are we going to fund this? The coordination, the planning, the re-training of teachers, how it’s delivered, how it’s assessed…. this isn’t a small-scale project by any stretch.


And yet the textbook days are deteriorating. If you ask a young kid to sit down and write about current affairs for their Modern Studies exam for 2 hours straight… they just can’t do it. As soon as they wake up they’re on a screen, as soon as they get to school they’re on a screen and then their downtime after school is sat in front of a screen. Everything is typed and made easy for them.


The impact that also has on social interaction and the physical well-being of kids is a whole other conversation… and one I’ll be delving into soon rest assured.


But speaking of restricted learning, kids these days have had a fraction of necessary schooling because of Covid.


If you take Biology for instance… kids would normally be expected to be able to do basic dissections by Higher level exams (or whatever it’s called these days)… yet Covid restrictions have meant they haven’t done nearly that level of practice in Scientific experiments. Similar skills deficits can be found in expressive subjects like art, drama and music.


Or if you look at those going into their Standard Grades in their 3rd and 4th year (again, I’m not down with the latest lingo), these kids haven’t had the necessary groundwork at the start of senior school that gets them ready for their exam years.


Adding to that pressure is the need to really press on… education bodies are assuming schools will be caught up from the pre-Covid syllabus diet as of next year.


During, let’s call it, the ‘pandemic years,’ the SQA were happy for coursework to be ‘covered if not examined’… but there is a discrepancy between teachers across Scotland toeing the line and those taking the initiative to cover examined-only content. The knowledge and skills deficit is apparent in both scenarios.


With a perfect storm coming at once, kids are also incredibly anxious. The requirement for special support has sky-rocketed and this means more resources are needed; if you think about pupils suffering severe anxiety that now require an extra room and an extra invigilator for each exam, imagine this multiplied right across the country.


And all this adds up to is money, money and money. The Scottish Government is of course constrained in what it can do to provide funds for Education but it could be equally said that accountability for spending must also be addressed. They wanted to make everything equitable so local authorities aren’t disadvantaged by postcode… but millions, even billions, are being handed over without a trace of where it’s going. There’s a lack of management and scrutiny here.


As of this morning, I’ve sent in a Freedom of Information request, so I’ll let you know how I get on.


How much of the crises is the Scottish Government’s ‘fault’ is up for debate… Are these problems specific to Scotland? No. Has the pandemic been an unprecedented impact that these bodies couldn’t possibly have been prepared for? Of course. Could bodies such as Education Scotland do more anyway? It seems so.


But I’m sick of gutter politics. The pressing issues of today’s society mean there’s no time to look back and wonder what if. That isn’t a worthwhile conversation.


Saying that… if we are to ‘assume’ schools are caught up from Covid by next year… I think it’s right to also assume the citation of the pandemic is equally as deadweight in conversations going forward. We know that was horrific, let’s draw a line under the sand and judge our representatives how they handle recovery. What are we doing NOW?


How do we deal with faltering mental health amongst increasing numbers of kids? How do we modernise the way subjects are taught? How much is it going to cost? What are we spending our money on as we speak?


One thing is certain, the Education Minister has some job on her hands.

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