SEAS Chair, Bill Butler led the debate on education motions at Scottish Labour Conference in Dundee last week.
“SEA Scotland, in proposing this contemporary motion, aims positively to update Scottish Labour’s position regarding state support for private independent schools. As Labour’s educational affiliate we are fully supportive of inclusive comprehensive schooling in Scotland. Through this motion we wish to end state support to the privileged forms of schooling that undermine our comprehensive system, and are a blot on society’s landscape.
Private schooling in Scotland is facing crisis. The number of private schools, and pupils attending them, is in decline. We must make sure that such a welcome trend continues.
The Scottish National Party has promised to end charitable relief for most private schools in Scotland by April 2020. We call on our Labour MSPs to ensure that the SNP does not attempt to wriggle out of that commitment – we must strip this form of state support from statute.
We know that the SNP can’t be trusted on this issue. Just as the Nats were saying they were to remove the charitable status, we had John Swinney, the present Education Minister, writing to the Finance Minister on behalf of a private school. He suggested that private schools could ask local councils for extra help and reductions. You couldn’t make it up! As Iain Gray said, “The hypocrisy of this will anger parents and teachers across the country, this looks like another error of judgement from John Swinney”. Iain you are correct, but far too kind in your phraseology. This is a prime example of SNP hypocrisy and double dealing – talking left and walking right!
Conference, it’s not just the SEA Scotland that has concerns about private schooling. School inspectors share our worries. While we have concerns about privilege bought and paid for, the school inspectors have worries about who teaches in private schools. In 2016 the school inspectorate provided a report on preschool, primary school, secondary school, independent schools, special schools and education in prisons. In only one sector did the inspectors highlight concerns about the care of learners – independent schools. The inspectors said:
“We have identified weaknesses in approaches relating to child protection and safeguarding…This included staffing issues such as disciplinary procedures and safe recruitment practices.“
Conference, this is an astonishing and worrying indictment of private schools. Such matters cannot be allowed to go unchecked.
Comrades, the OECD has praised Scotland’s school system for its high levels of diversity in social mix. This is due to only 4% of children being educated in private schools across Scotland. The SEAS believes that such a social mix will be enhanced, particularly in our cities, by ending support for private schooling and welcoming more and more children and young people into an inclusive, high-quality, comprehensive system.
Labour’s aim of an egalitarian society in Scotland is compromised by private schools. Let’s end the privilege, let’s stop the support and let’s hasten the demise of private profit in education.
Conference, I move!”
SEAS is keen to play its full part in proposing a motion at the Scottish Labour Party’s Annual Conference in Dundee in March.
At our recent meeting we shared and discussed four motions for the Conference. Affiliates like the Socialist Educational Association Scotland are encouraged to submit one motion to conference. The motion has to be one that could not otherwise have been raised through this years policy process.
The SEAS took a close interest in the policy process this year and was part of the Scottish Policy Forum. Given this interest in education though unsuccessful in election we were co-opted onto the Education Commission as a volunteer.
Some of the points below have not featured in the recent policy discussions.
Our four potential motions were as follows:
Age of Criminal Responsibility in Scotland
- Conference commits the Scottish Labour Party to raising the age of criminal responsibility for children in Scotland to the age of 16 at the earliest opportunity.
Concerns about cuts to support staff and mainstreaming
- Conference notes continued concerns arising from the limited nature of the presumption of mainstreaming and the level of SNP education cuts impacting on support for learning provision. Conference commits the Scottish Labour Party to follow the guidance of the United Nations and implement a human rights approach for inclusive education. Scottish Labour when in power will develop a funding model that allocates resources and incentives for inclusive educational environments to provide the necessary high quality and specialist support to children and young people with additional support needs. We will have schools and authorities develop their comprehensive Inclusive Education Plan in consultation with young people and other organsiations representing those with disabilities and additional support needs. We will ensure investment in inclusive education.
Embedding equality education
- Conference commits to embedding equality education in all schools across Curriculum for Excellence thus eliminating discrimination, advancing equality and fostering good relations among all learners in Scotland and in respect of all of the protected characteristics.
Ending taxpayers’ support for private schools
- Conference notes recent requests from a number of private schools for financial support from the SNP Government. Conference welcomes the removal of tax relief to private independent schools. Scottish Labour commits to removing all state subsidies, direct and indirect support to private schools.
As you can imagine we had terrific enjoyment in debating the merits of each of the motions!
In the end we agreed to propose the motion on ending all supports to private school given the recent requests for taxpayers’ money for a number of private schools. We look forward to speaking to our Contemporary Motion should it be accepted for conference.
MUSIC TUITION IN SCHOOLS
SEA Scotland welcomes the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skils Committee’s Inquiry into Music Tuition in Schools. It is heartening to read that the voices of young people, musicians, parents, carers, teachers, trade unions, experts and researchers are being taken into account by the Inquiry.
SEA Scotland draws on these voices and our collective knowledge of the Scottish education system in this submission. The submissions to date speak of the value, and added value, of music in the curriculum, of playing a musical instrument and the impact ofthis school experience on personal development, qualifications, employment, lifelong learning and a lifelong love of music.
In this submission SEA Scotland will focus particularly on the Principles of Equality of Access, Inclusion and Quality. This submission will also highlight the positive contribution which music makes to Raising Attainment and Achievement in the broadest sense.
Equality of Access
To ensure equality of access, as a point of principle, SEA Scotland submits that Instrumental Music Tuition (IMT) should be offered free for all of Scotland’s children and young people in state schools.
Education in Scotland’s state schools is free. Therefore IMT in state schools should be free. There is evidence from the EIS and others that in local authorities where they have increased charges for IMT, the uptake has fallen and many children have stopped having Instrumental Music Tuition. Where arms–length charitable organisations take responsibility for music tuition, re-designed access models increase numbers but not necessarily quality of experience. Where there are no charges, the uptake has increased significantly.
What can the Scottish Government learn from the past in terms of equality of access?
In the past, there was an attempt at a ‘universalist’ model of access to music, embedded in initial primary teacher training and in every child’s weekly experience in primary and secondary schools up to S2. Trainee primary teachers had to learn at least one musical instrument e.g. voice, recorder, piano, as part of their studies which included reading music (ref: Diploma in Primary Education). This ensured that music was taught to Scottish children as part of a planned, broad and balanced primary curriculum. In addition, all children in Scotland, often from P4 to P7 and S1 and S2, were taught to read music to sing, play the Recorder or another string, wind, keyboard or percussion instrument depending on the skill of the class teacher or the availability of a cluster specialist music teacher and / or an instrumental music tutor linked to the availability of staffing and instruments. Children with a musical interest could follow a pathway to play musical instruments into secondary education, although access to these opportunities was far from perfect and the selection criteria was not entirely clear to many parents of primary or secondary aged children. Parents were often asked to make a small financial contribution towards tuition. Children whose parents could afford private tuition out–with the school setting in addition to paying a nominal sum for tuition in school were doubly advantaged, but music was available to all. Music specialists were allocated to a cluster of primaries and a secondary school where a GTC registered music teacher would support primary schools predominantly with notation, singing, choirs and some percussion. Music Tutors would provide tuition to those with an interest or an aptitude in a particular instrument. Music Tutors would also teach secondary school learners in instruments necessary to achieve music qualifications and many would often manage and support a school band, choir or orchestra.
SEA Scotland is concerned that there now appears to be a failure by the UK and Scottish governments to recognise the contribution that IMT can make to raising attainment and achievement for all learners. With continuing cuts to local authority budgets, cutbacks have led to a failure to ensure that learners have quality access to musical instruments and a serious reduction in specialist staffing over the years. Since 2007, there has been a reduction of 350 Instrumental Music Tutors in Scotland’s schools. There has also been year on year increases in charges for music tuition in many local authorities. Some parents have expressed concerns about value for money e.g. children being offered 20 minute school group lessons in the context of increasing cost of councilcharges almost reaching parity with individual private lessons.
Budget decisions to introduce charges, or to increase the cost of IMT to parents, may bebecause in the eyes of the decision makers, music may not have parity or equal value when compared to other subjects, such as science. Science incidentally, has a high cost in terms of expendable materials but learners are not normally charged for science materials.
SEA Scotland does not consider the Scottish Government can claim there is Equality of Access to all educational opportunities given the variations in charging policy across Scotland. There is also a wide range of concessionary charges across Scotland as children receiving free school meals and / or clothing grants are often offered lessons free of charge but then some authorities charge for instrument hire, which surely undermines the purpose of concessions. If IMT was free for all interested learners there would be no need for such diversity in charging and concessionary models. Without that, at least a more consistent approach is required to guarantee equality of opportunity.
As a country, Scotland needs to challenge those decision makers who do not value IMT and see the withdrawal of its free availability as a way of saving money. Indeed, there are some local authorities who have transferred their IMT service to arms–length companies whose objective is to raise income. There are fears that this model of service delivery will result in increased group sizes, reduced teaching time in schools and moving Music Tutors to schools with the potential for raising a higher income i.e. schools in affluent areas.
SEA Scotland submits that there is serious inequality across local authority areas and within local authority schools in Scotland. Sadly, it is in some areas of deprivation that music tuition fees are increasing year on year with no clear national rationale or guidance to ensure equality of access to IMT throughout Scotland. Evidence from local authorities reveals that places given up by learners who cannot afford increased charges are taken up by learners from more affluent post codes.
In secondary schools, learners taking a SQA qualification in Music require proficiency in at least two musical instruments, one of which may be voice. These students therefore require Music Tuition. They may have started learning a musical instrument in primary school to achieve the level of proficiency required at SQA level. It is essential therefore that having access to Music Tuition is seen as a right to progression throughout schooling whichcan only be guaranteed when those who are tutoring are trained to a high and consistent standard across Scotland. SEA Scotland urges the Scottish Government to invest in the Continuing Professional Development of music professionals in schools, at tertiary and higher levels in the education system.
Can Scotland learn lessons from the experience of other parts of the UK? The Daily Telegraph, not known for criticising austerity as political choice, recently carried an article headlined “Music in State Schools Facing an Existential Crisis”. Lord Black, chair of the Royal College of Music, warned that “music is literally disappearing from our (i.e. English)schools” pointing out that instead of music being ‘the right of all children’ it’s now becomethe preserve of the privileged few at independent schools as it dies in the public sector. He cites the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) that led to music being “downgraded and punished” since secondary schools have no incentive to offer music as aGCSE subject. The result is that one in five schools in England has given up teaching music entirely with a 23% decline in students since 2010 studying GCSE this year, while entries for A level music have declined by 40% since 2011. ‘Those shameful figures are part of a wider picture of music in decline in our schools,” he said. Sadly, there is a view held by some governments, at all levels, that the utilitarian use of knowledge should be focused only on some subjects which are promoted as being vital for ‘economic progress’. The Scottish Government must guard against the narrow and faulty ‘utilitarian approach’to music education currently seen in England.
SEA Scotland calls on the Scottish Government to welcome and support themovement which promotes STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) subjects. This is a balanced approach to education which recognises that the arts, music, literature and the creative industries are equally important to a thriving economy and society and which contribute equally to ‘meaningful employment’ and gross domestic product. We must guard against attempts at social engineering – creating a school system to meet the needs of a narrow interpretation of ‘the economy’ at a cost whichdisadvantages the broadest and fullest cognitive and creative potential of our children and denies our young people future employment and fulfilment in the creative industries.
SEA Scotland regret that music tuition has been down-graded from being central to the music curriculum under Curriculum for Excellence and challenge those in Scottish Education who argue that music tuition should be merely ‘extra-curricular’.Learning to read music and play an instrument is an important educational experience in addition to being a life–skill which should have a mainstream curriculum entitlement if Scotland is to maintain the quality of our education system.
Children with additional support needs should have opportunities to access musical instruments. There are many examples of the use of music in contributing to thedevelopment, mental health and wellbeing of vulnerable children and young people. In addition, it is important that every local authority employs Music Therapists, especially for children with additional support needs, including social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.
Raising Attainment and Achievement
The Scottish Government should commit to ensuring access to instrumental music tuition as a right for all children as part of a strategy to raise attainment and achievement. Evidence has been submitted to the Inquiry from young people, who extol the value of music to their own personal development, to their positive mental health, and recognition of the social value of music from their experience of learning and playing in musical groups. A 10–year research study in America tracked 25,000 middle and high school students and discovered music-making students, regardless of socio-economic background, got higher marks on standardised tests (sic) than those who have little or nomusic involvement. A study at British Columbia put to rest the theory that time spent on music tuition is time wasted as it took away from ‘mainstream’ subjects. The research concluded that music participation benefits students in ways that are directly or indirectly linked to higher academic achievement in general and social development.
The SEA Scotland calls the Scottish Government’s attention to the substantial research of Dr Anita Collins of the University of Canberra in Australia. Dr Collins is an award-winning educator, neuroscientist, researcher and writer in the field of brain development and music learning. Following a personal experience in which learning a musical instrument improved her own cognitive learning abilities, she spent her PhD years, and since, doing research into the neurological impact of learning to play a musical instrument. Her analysis of the work of almost 100 research projects across the US, Canada, Europe and Australia lends strength to the arguments for IMT to be an important element in education which increases cognitive development. She explains that from before birth, music has a profound effect on how the brain learns and grows. Studies carried out on children found that there was a significant increase in academic attainment for children who played musical instruments. She found that playing a musical instrument engages practically every area of the brain at the same time. Playing a musical instrument strengthens whole brain activity, activates the left and right side of the brain and enhances memory functions.
The Socialist Educational Association Scotland welcomes this Committee inquiry and hopes that urgent action is recommended to the Scottish Government to recognise the contribution which Instrumental Music Tuition makes towards Raising Attainment and Achievement. In addition it asks that the committee recognises that insisting on access to Instrument Music Tuition for all interested learners meets the principles of Equity of Access, Quality and Inclusion. In particular, the Socialist Educational Association (Scotland) believes that Instrumental Music Tuition should be free and available as an integral part of Scotland’s curriculum and state
Four perspectives…and a common theme?
Social Justice in Austere Times: University of Glasgow, School of Education
Social justice seems to be dominating the agenda in the field of education and beyond. However, there is growing concern about how the terminology is being used…and misused. Brian Boyd attended a recent University of Glasgow Seminar and comments on for the Socialist Educational Association Scotland. The seminar included four speakers s offering an international, national and local perspective of social justice in austere times. The speakers had a chance to subject “social justice” to some discourse analysis, and found it wanting.
The words of Humpty-Dumpty provide a salutary lesson; “when I use a word, it means exactly what I choose it to mean; neither more nor less.” If social justice is reduced to numbers and league tables as can be seen in some OECD publications, it may actually lead to a diminution in provision for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. It can disempower the very people whom it is purporting to help, those who live in disadvantaged communities, pupils and parents/carers.
When used by politicians, it can be a mask for centralised control of education. The First Minister promises to close the gap, and it drowns out any opposing argument. Is the attainment gap the only gap? Can it be closed by education alone? Are schools, or even headteachers, responsible for its closure? And will the criteria used to determine whether it is closing, be reduced to test scores and examination performance?
There is an underlying issue of trust and empowerment here. Do we trust enough in state comprehensive schooling, managed on a local basis in collaboration with stakeholders, without the narrow focus on examinations, to produce successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens?
Terms like social justice and closing the gap can all too easily become slogans. Let’s have a national conversation about the kind of fair and just society we want and the role education can play in achieving it.
The panel discussion was led by Professor Bob Lingard from the University of Queensland. His perspective was international and began with the observation that inequality had grown in the 2000s. As a consequence, the “social justice” had become ubiquitous but, in his view, remained problematic. He pointed to the growth of large-scale assessment in education across the world which seem to reduce the concept of social justice to that which can be measured by testing, preferably international testing, such as PISA. Social justice is in danger of being redefined and taken over by numbers.
Drawing on Nancy Fraser’s “Fortunes of Feminism”, he argued that PISA was rearticulating social justice as a technical concept and one which led to the over-attribution of school outcomes to school factors rather than wider social issues. The key question for us is “how is social justice defined in Scotland? He drew on what was happening in Australia where the NAPLAN policy means that there is testing in every state and every school is measured against 59 other, “similar” schools. Headteachers are held responsible and social justice is reduced…to numbers. He posed the question, “who collects the data and for what purpose” (as question which might be asked of the most recent OECD Education at a Glance report which focused heavily on social justice).
The next speaker, Dr Sinead Gormally, explored austerity and its impact on local communities. She say blame being shifted onto individuals and a deficit perspective emerging at the same time as youth services were being decimated, especially in England. She pointed to the draft education bill in Scotland as being heavily focused on “attainment” and …tests. She argued strongly that Community Development, not centralised control, should be at the heart of social justice and pointed to the resilience which is present in all communities, perhaps especially those hit hardest by austerity. But, she warned that there is growing resentment among communities at the sharp end of austerity and that Governments should be empowering, not alienating, them.
Dr. Robert Doherty suggested that the SNP had made social justice a key feature of its mission since 2007 and in so doing had politicised education. Reducing inequality had become the defining feature of the present SNP administration and the First Minister, by making “closing the gap” the issue on which she wanted to be judged, had merged politics with education. But, just as “social justice” has become a contested term, “closing the gap” has become a synonym for reducing inequality through education.
Dr. Doherty also described how the School of Education at Glasgow University now had a commitment to social justice. Thus, the conduct of the School itself, its staff and student, should be based on principles of social justice. To achieve this goal, the School was engaged in a “search for coherence” across all of its activities and one of the hoped for outcomes was that the priorities of the University itself would be based on social justice.
The final speaker, Dr. Jacquie Purdie, a serving secondary school headteacher, now seconded to the School of Education, claimed that social justice was “not an option”; it was built into the GTCS Professional Standards of teachers and headteachers. For her, closing the attainment gap was a party political issue and not the most important challenge facing schools. There are many gaps in education, not simply that of narrow “attainment” linked to poverty. She argued strongly that the money recently given to schools to help close the gap would have been better given to Early Years education, and echoed the sentiments of the previous speaker in suggesting that education had become increasingly politicised.
The Headteacher Charter had, in her view, led to increased pressure on schools, had contributed to the “over-stretching” of heads and, most importantly, was in danger of diminishing the historic role of local authorities.
Unfortunately, the session was scheduled for an hour and, as might be expected, the speakers found it difficult to stick to the allotted time, and so the Q&A session was curtailed somewhat. It was, however, a stimulating evening.
It came as no surprise to the SEAS to see questions raised about the SNP’s tax avoidance advice for private schools. We had already raised the issue about the Scottish Government deploying public resources to support private education in a previous blog “We need to talk about private schools” .
The antics of SNP Cabinet ministers working on behalf of private schools while state schools are under their austerity measures is only the most recent example of SNP’s unwillingness to support and invest in our schools.
We had highlighted John Swinney attending the Scottish Council Of Independent Schools as their keynote speaker urging sharing between private schools and state schools.
The SNP are clearly not fully committed to inclusive equitable education in Scotland. It is still part of their party’s policy for all schools to be given charitable status and in their eyes this would resolve the 96% anomaly whereby 4% of schools have charitable status yet 96% don’t. The SNP would rather push all state schools further outwith public service towards trust and charitable status. The rates relief idea is part of the devolution of irresponsibility by Scottish government bent on “reforming” education rather than seeking to promote progressive development and improvement.
The SEAS would be interested in finding out the extent of continued SNP state aid and hidden subsidy of fee-paying schooling, particularly where it contrasts with cuts and austerity to our schools. For instance, in one SNP run council last week (it was Glasgow), one of the private schools was phoning round secondary schools asking for places for a group of their students to undertake a course in the state school. How many other state schools are offering courses to private schools students? Are councils supportive of this subsidy of private schooling by state schools?
We have also mentioned the support HM Inspectors give private schools. Every private school gets free advice, support and backing from their own linked Inspector. Private schools are inspected less often even though their child protection policies are poor. They receive quality support visits from groups of our civil servants.
It is clear that the SNP, like the Tories, are For the Few, Not the Many!
SEAS worked with members of Falkirk West CLP consider “All Things Socialist Education“ in the Labour club in Camelon. The session was interesting, informative and thought provoking.
Firstly the session considered the key markers of a socialist education system with CLP members highlighting that the curriculum should feature a broader view of equality education with greater attention to social history including the labour movement and women’s movements. At the Senior Phase there is the need for more relevant and flexible approaches to learning within a 3-year period rather than being pressurised or shoe-horned into the certification system. . Members also called for our system to be well-resourced and to see an end of segregation by private fee-paying schools and secular with all faiths and religions being respected but not by faith-based schooling.
The SEAS highlighted their key markers as our socialist education system should be promoting a learning society with lifelong provision to the highest standard across Scotland. Its aim is to develop the full potential of each individual through an inclusive comprehensive education service with equality of opportunity and equity in outcome with state education being free, well-resourced and publicly accountable.
Some surprise was expressed that not only did just 4% of children in Scotland attend private schools but that that this number has been in decline over a number of years. The strengths of the comprehensive system were it operated to educate everyone in the local area. Research such as The Spirit Level highlights the poorer outcomes for societies that are less equal. Jimmy Reid had it right in 1972 when he said “The flowering of each individual’s personality and talents is the pre-condition for everyone’s development… our whole concept of education must change. The whole object must be to equip and educate people for life, not solely for work or a profession.”
Since then our comprehensive school shave succeeded in gaining more and more young people more and more successes in exam passes in more and more subjects. In 1965 125 of young people gained three plus Highers, by 1980s 22% gained 3+ awards at Higher grade and by 2013 37% were achieving 3+ awards at Higher through what is described as “downward credentialism” carried out by schools and teachers driving such system improvement. However it was agreed that a narrow focus on attainment is not sufficient in 21stcentury Scotland. Members spoke of the need for a flexible system at Senior Phase with broader sets of experiences linked broader experiences such as community involvement.
The SEAS concluded by highlighting some significant gaps now appearing present SNP educational policy and our sims for socialist education under Labour. Investment in early years rather than austerity-led promises, ending standardised tests “of hummingbird’s beaks” to rely on trust in teachers and classroom-led assessment, investment in support for inclusive practices, locally accountability rather then centralised control, coherent public services at the local level to tackle poverty instead of expecting schools to solve social issues by themselves and leadership throughout the school rather residing power solely with headteachers.
Members saw such approaches as ways to attract voters to a socialist agenda for educational change. Both SEAS and members of Falkirk West CLP found the debate and discussion more than useful in setting forward such an agenda.
In 2007-8 the SNP majority government began a programme of the most wide ranging and devastating changes to Scotland’s Further and Higher education colleges in living memory. The reasons for the changes were well rehearsed at the time and continue to be reiterated: we needed to cut our cloth in response to the UK Conservative government’s austerity agenda; Scottish education had to better respond to the changing needs of business, communities and learners; College estates were crumbling and a more long-term, cost effective strategy was essential to create learning environments fit for the 21st century; too much resource was being wasted on repetition, duplication and low quality, non-certificated and by inference, sometimes frivolous activities. The message was clear; Scotland’s Colleges were a basket case and the SNP was going to sort it out.
Lost in the halcyon predictions of a bright new future were the inconvenient facts that under the Labour led administration of 2002-07 there had been a real terms increase in College funding, significant improvements to estates and a raising of student achievement and retention.
Student feedback told us that local access to high quality part-time as well as full-time vocational and access courses was an important offer to those who had to work while studying, those with caring or parental responsibilities and older learners who wanted to upskill or change direction.
During the period 2007-2015 funding was cut by 20%, colleges merged from 37 to 20, staff numbers were reduced by over 9% and student enrolments slashed by 152,000. This impacted more on women than men and discriminated against older people and those whose need was for a longer or more tailored learning journey because of social disadvantage, family circumstance, poverty, illness or disability.
Amongst the provisions that were severely cut or axed were: British Sign Language; discrete provision for students with a visual impairment, and those with learning difficulties; outreach, including with mental health agencies; ESOL for those whose first language is not English; Access to Higher Education for older students and “exceptional entry” for under 16’s. It is clear that those cuts where they occurred affected groups whose rights should have been protected by Equalities legislation, staff as well as students. There has been row-back in some of these areas, but there is no evidence that any formal Equalities Risk Assessment was done at a national level, nor that government issued any more than the bare minimum advice to Colleges that restructures should be mindful of their impact on protected groups.
You may agree that the SNP restructure of Scotland’s Colleges was a travesty but also think, ruefully, that the clock can’t be turned back and it’s all water under the bridge; and in any case, how can fewer colleges with smaller capacities now be expanded to accommodate all of those lost 152,000 student places? You might also ask if there is sufficient justification to return to arguments of the past when there are so many current and emerging challenges for Scottish Labour in our present?
The SNP certainly believe they still need to defend and even extol their policies in this area. As recently as January 2018, they posted a bulletin on the party website propagandising about the health of Scotland’s Colleges under their guardianship.
- “In 2018-19, the colleges budget will increase in real terms.”
They don’t say that just over half of that 5% increase is on one single capital project or that the underlying financial health of Scotland’s colleges is deteriorating with four facing particular challenges to their sustainability. In addition, National Bargaining, a SNP manifesto commitment from 2011, has still not happened and could cost £80m over the next 3 years.
- “Almost 95% of college leavers go into further study, training or work.”
They don’t say that student retention and achievement is down and is lower for full-time than part-time students. Many leave for employment before their course ends because they can’t afford to stay.
- “12,000 more students are on full-time courses.”
That is the total number between 2008 and 2016 and accounts for a mere 1.2% average annual increase. They don’t say that all enrolments are now decreasing with part-time enrolments going down at an even faster rate, or that, due to changing demographics, most of those reductions have been in the 16-24 age group, the stated priority cohort. They also don’t say that younger learners are failing to meet their learning targets at a growing rate.
In August 2017 John Swinney pressurised Audit Scotland to delete a reference to a 41% drop in college student headcount since 2007-08.
Colleges can’t meet demand for places. In 2007, 36% of applicants failed to gain a place. We have no national statistic for unsuccessful applicants today because, we are told, there isn’t a national system in place to measure it. With 152,000 lost places and a 41% drop in headcount it would be reasonable to assume a significantly greater percentage now than then want to go to their local college and are sent away with nothing.
Where our colleges are concerned, the Scottish Government has never ceased defending the indefensible.
Since at least 2015, the SNP administration has been investigating aspects of the College experience, arguably so it could mitigate some of its more negative aspects. For instance, the First Minister is known to be considering a relaxation of the targets for full-time college enrolments to allow more part-time. They have also commissioned an Independent Review of Student Financial Support in Scotland which produced its report in November 2017.
The Review outlined the current funding models for students which is heavily weighted in favour of those on full-time Higher Education courses, broadly HNC and above, who have access to the full range of student loans or grants. Students on National Certificate Further Education courses or part-time learners do not have access to the same funds, and those they can apply for are of smaller monetary value and yet are more stringently monitored. They may apply to a college means-tested Discretionary Fund which often stipulates a 95% attendance rate or lose a month’s money. If they are 16-19 they might qualify for the Education Maintenance Allowance which gives means-tested students £30 a week for 100% attendance. In stark contrast to their HE peers, FE students have only those two sources of support they might qualify for. FE and part-time students still have rent to pay, food and clothes to buy and may have children or other caring responsibilities. They may also have a disability that means they need specialist or adaptive equipment for studying, but they are barred from applying for a Disabled Student Allowance.
Amongst the findings of the Independent Review were the following:
- Too many people have to leave FE to find a job because they can’t afford to stay.
- 40% of students felt the financial support available did not meet their needs.
- 70% had to work more than the recommended maximum 10 hours per week to cover their outgoings.
- 14% borrowed to top up their income, some with pay-day loans and credit card advances.
- Work placements were often not funded to cover additional travel costs, clothing requirements and equipment.
- Students from the lowest income backgrounds leave with the most debt.
- Care experienced students needed summer support which was not available.
The UK Conservative government reforms to social security benefits illustrate the contempt in which that party hold our poorest, most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens who apparently aren’t to be trusted with tax payers’ money and whose access to funds must be guarded behind multiple barriers with any failure to comply resulting in draconian punishment. This class-based disdain is also at play in our inferior funding for FE as opposed to HE students and, sad to say, it has represented the status quo in post school education for more than a generation.
The Independent Review offered a solution to this inequity by proposing a minimum student income of £8,100 for all FE and HE students, plus means-tested bursaries for the poorest students. They suggest ways to partly cost this which is worthy of forensic exploration elsewhere but for now let’s rest where the review suggests a fundamental rebalance to rectify the inequality and class discrimination that currently exist in the contrasts between FE and HE students.
So far, there has been little or no public discourse around this review but this government has a history of paying for advice and ignoring it when it doesn’t suit and if it is too timid to air the Review’s findings and recommendations perhaps Scottish Labour should.
The “Poverty Tsar”, Naomi Eisenstadt, has written of the “fundamental unfairness” in Scotland where the life chances of youngsters depend on the wealth and social class of their parents. With damning understatement she spoke of how the potential for the college sector to reduce socio-economic inequality has been “under-explored” and that “the overall picture suggest that the universities sector has had greater protection from hard financial times than FE and the College sector.” Ms Eisenstadt speaks of clear class discrimination.
Elsewhere, in the excellent Industrial Strategy for Scotland, produced by Scottish Labour under Richard Leonard’s new leadership, the importance of a skilled workforce is a stated priority and Universities Scotland is named as a key partner. Scotland’s College sector, however, is not explicitly mentioned. It should have been.
Our local colleges absolutely underpin our local economies, adapting and responding to the needs of industry, commerce and services in a dynamic way. They support Retail, IT, Administration, Care, Social Services, Leisure, Construction, Catering, Engineering, Rural and Agricultural sectors. They sit in the heart of our communities and play an important role in lifelong learning and social inclusion agendas. Currently hobbled by a 20% reduction in funding and 152,000 fewer places, an iniquitous student funding model and a government shackled to its own failing model, this is the time for Scottish Labour to be a champion for Scotland’s Colleges. This should be our bailiwick.
formerly Head of Access and Progression
Forth Valley College
A report from the Anti-Trump Protest Meeting held on the 14th of February 2018 in Glasgow.
The new Leader of Scottish Labour, Richard Leonard MSP, has a long history of campaigning against inequalities. It therefore came as little surprise, to those who know him that he would seek to facilitate a meeting to ‘commence organising for a united response by those who believe Mr Trump should not receive the “red carpet treatment” of a state visit’. Held on Valentine’s Day the meeting was a positive show of love over hate.
I represented the Socialist Educational Association Scotland at this meeting, convened in Unite the Union’s offices in Glasgow, hosted by Regional Secretary Pat Rafferty. There were many organisations representing Civic Scotland present, alongside MSP Patrick Harvie and others active in politics and the Labour movement. Many others had sent apologies but were keen to be involved.
Following introductions the room quickly got down to business with agreement that we would need to organise a series of events leading up to any visit, State or otherwise. It was noted that Stand Up to Racism were hosting a Scotland March and Rally on UN Anti – Racism Day in Glasgow on Saturday 17th March 2018. This seemed a good starting point to build momentum against any visit.
After a lot of discussion from those present we came up with a name for the new organisation- Scotland against Trump. There was also discussion about how we could coordinate this. The suggestion was that the STUC could be requested to lead on this campaign. A Facebook page would be set up and groups would contribute material and share content. It was also important to reach out to US Citizens already domiciled in Scotland to ensure their support. We need to build a grassroots campaign with geographic spread, in readiness for whenever he visits.
In discussing how we celebrate Scotland’s diversity, there was a strong feeling from representatives of the Muslim community present that Islamophobia must be spoken about in any anti Trump movement – as one member stated, ‘he is welcome to come with a message of love but not one of hate’. A sentiment shared by those in the room.
The next meeting will focus on Communications, fundraising, engaging existing networks and building momentum with local activists identified to manage logistics and organising. We would also need to look at materials and agree roles and responsibilities of each member of the organisation. A mobilisation plan will be key to all of this.
It felt good to be part of such a positive meeting and growing movement against hate.