December 1st 2017

I sometimes worry that I run the risk of alienating people who are concerned that my views on education are irrelevant because I now work in the independent sector. However, eleven members of my extensive family network are qualified teachers, only two of whom work in the independent sector. Of the remaining nine, eight have left the profession. So here goes…

I am rarely surprised by anything politicians do in the name of serving the educational needs of its citizens but this current Scottish Government really makes me wonder…

Let’s take a close look at some of the decisions currently being considered:

The Named Person Scheme:
The Scottish government wants to appoint a “named person” to monitor the welfare of every child in Scotland. This scheme was due to have been rolled-out across Scotland by 31 August 2016 – but that timetable was delayed after the Supreme Court ruled that some of the proposals around information sharing breached the right to privacy and a family life under the European Convention on Human Rights. This week, it has been reported that it will be further delayed because of the disquiet amongst the Parliament’s Education Committee regarding data protection issues. Despite a huge public outcry and fervent opposition by a number of bodies, the Government presses ahead. No doubt it will eventually be dropped, but only after almost 10 years of pilot schemes, litigation through the courts and the spending of an enormous amount of public money. Personally, no one ever asked me if I was willing to be a ‘Named Person’ for the pupils in my school. It was to be enacted as a fait accompli. As I have often said, if you are going to make a person (or now a ‘body’) legally responsible for a child’s welfare then you had better provide the resources required to ensure a pupil’s welfare. Currently, in Edinburgh, there is a 9-month waiting list for CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) so that makes me question how serious this Government is about funding an intrinsic part of that welfare solution. And anyway, I don’t need legislation to act in the best interests of the pupils in my care, nor does any other Head Teacher in the country. The need for legislation does not actually exist. As I say, makes you wonder…

The Plan to Disband the General Teaching Council for Scotland:
So, it has been widely reported that the Scottish Government wishes to transfer the functions of the GTCS to a body whose members would be appointed (I wonder who by?) rather than in part elected by the teaching profession. The EIS calls this ‘unwarranted interference’ on the independent role of the GTCS. The EIS asks the pertinent question: ‘What right does the Scottish Government have to remove the democratic accountability from the profession?’ So what does the Government actually want to do – it proposes to merge the GTCS with the Standards Council for Community Learning and Development for Scotland. This would, in effect, remove the GTCS’ independence. As a result, every agency with an educational responsibility would be directly answerable to the Scottish Government – Local Authorities, Education Scotland, HMIe, The Care Inspectorate and so on. I wonder which body will then be forthright enough to tell the Government that a particular policy or direction is misconstrued? I don’t see much evidence of criticism of Government Policy by any agency at the moment. As I say, makes you wonder…

Introduction of Standardised Testing:
As soon as you introduce a National Framework of Testing you encourage comparison. Indeed, the First Minister wants the data so that she can make comparisons. Comparisons between schools, between local areas and between local authorities. The result will be percentages with winners and losers. Local authorities who fare badly will then heap pressure on schools to improve their results. Heads will heap pressure on their teachers and teachers will start to teach to the test. It is all very well to say that information will not be converted into crude league tables but that will be the result, whether by members of the media or by political parties wishing to make politically-motivated points.
Have we really learned nothing about attainment and how it can be improved? We need inspiring and engaging teachers, the promotion of high levels of self-motivation, alleviating the issues of low income in those areas stifled by poverty, engendering a holistic education, creating welcoming school environments and encouraging strong, autonomous leadership. The truth of the matter is that schools are being strangled by lack of money. Our education system could be of unparalleled high quality but it lacks the money to be so. This ‘age of testing’ is nothing more than a smokescreen to avoid the Government having to say that they can’t properly fund the education system.

In Conclusion:
The rant is nearly over. If you’re still reading, you deserve my congratulations. However, I leave perhaps the most important thing until last. Whether you are involved in State education or in an Independent school, Scotland’s teachers are amongst the finest in the world. There are very few completely incompetent teachers out there. Schools have been inundated with curricular change, examination change, policy directives and guidance that we drown in. Every national agency focuses on teachers. Teachers should not be the focus. We should instead be concentrating on ensuring that our schools enjoy a safe, rewarding and inclusive culture and ethos. If you get the environment right, attainment will soar. Instead we focus on tinkering with curriculum, changing the format of examinations (AGAIN!) and budget cuts which remove classroom assistants, auxiliaries and other intrinsic members of our school communities. Teachers have been, in my view, stressed and hammered by every public body sent in to examine, in the finest detail, our schools. Teachers are not the problem. Makes you wonder who is…

Rod Grant
Clifton Hall School
1st December 2017