So where did it all go wrong, John? The Cabinet Secretary was to be the safe pair of hands for education, a detail man, good on numbers. However, it looks like the SNP team has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in terms of Scottish education. Their governance changes are evidence-free. Over the past ten years their changes to data collection and opting out of independent statistics on education means they do not know some key aspects of Scottish education. John Swinney could not tell you which is the best performing education authority in the country nor could he say which performs least well. He is unsure about Glasgow’s successes with the children from most deprived backgrounds, unwilling to recognise and validate them. He does not value Glasgow’s successes with immigrants and ethnic minorities and celebrates such work even less. Most worryingly given the level of ignorance he is embarking on system reform dismantling successful structures and relationships instead of system improvement based on strengths and development needs.
It is nearly 20 years since the start of the new Scottish Parliament, approaching 25 years since the last local government reorganisation and 30 years since the introduction of School Boards. The Socialist Education Association Scotland (SEAS) thinks it is an appropriate time for a more open and independent review about the future governance arrangements across Scottish education and linked public services.
SEAS views our locally accountable community schools – both primary and secondary – as successful and popular expressions of our Scottish values and Scotland’s belief in the positive difference socially-organised learning and schooling makes to our children, young people and communities.
In Scotland, at the present time, our main emphasis in education should be on the need to continue to build on the successes and strengths of Scotland’s democratic and comprehensive system within the public sector. A Scottish Government must avoid changes to Scotland’s education system which increases reliance on “charity schools”, free schools, marketisation and privatisation, which divide communities and increase inequality. It is important for Scotland to ensure that any changes in governance arrangements do not undermine the commitment to inclusion and equity in education.
However, given the failures of the SNP to build on and improve comprehensive schooling, SEAS is unconvinced that their management of governance changes will benefit Scotland’s children and families.
There are two key areas that mark out SNP’s unwillingness in their governance drift to ensure democratically accountable education working in a comprehensive system. The two areas are the nature of comprehensive schooling within coherent public services and the role of education authorities in supporting school improvement.
Firstly, after stating that education was “the priority on which they were to be judged” and having tried to manage schools and education centrally since 2007, the SNP Scottish Government have exacerbated a series of failures by neglecting previous good practice developed within Scottish education. It seems that the work and the recommendations of the recent Christie Commission are to be similarly neglected. The future plans of the SNP Scottish Government are to place education in a centrally controlled ‘silo’ similar to Police Scotland or the much-reduced Scottish College system. The conclusion was that this leads to poor governance but also curbs local councils’ ability to tackle the impact of poverty. Christie opened with the following comment
“As a whole, the system can be ‘top down’ and unresponsive to the needs of individuals and communities. It lacks accountability and is often characterised by a short-termism that makes it difficult to prioritise preventative approaches.
Addressing these systemic defects will require a fundamental overhaul of the relationships within and between those institutions and agencies – public, third sector and private – responsible for designing and delivering public services.”
Our local authorities are best placed to lead coherent initiatives to ensure preventative approaches that will require systemic changes and thinking outside the boxes.
Secondly the role and place of education authorities will be undermined by SNP plans. In 2007 the first OECD report into Scottish education recommended “Greater school autonomy in a local government framework”. It also stated that changes in governance at a local level would be best managed by negotiation between local authority and school. A decade on the SNP struggles to lead and manage socialised public services and now draws from a Tory playbook on education management. The plan is to dismantle the role of education authorities followed by approaches that defund, discredit, demoralise, disperse and dissipate the ability of a democratically elected authority which might challenge the SNP on their failures as a Scottish Government.
SNP’s decade with responsibility for Scottish education as one of our key public services has been ten years of wasted opportunity, failure and neglect. Education outcomes are stagnating and in decline compared to other European countries. The SNP Scottish Government’s proposals for governance seek to dismantle the strengths of our education authorities, reduce democratic accountability and centralise more resources, and must be vigorously resisted.
Join us in the fight.
Socialist Education Association Scotland