Brian Boyd writes on The Inclusive Comprehensive School

Along with the National Health Service, inclusive comprehensive schooling is arguably the most significant socialist achievement of any post-War Labour Government. Circular 10/65 set out to remove the pernicious practice of selection and put equality of educational opportunity at the heart of secondary schooling. While an ideological battle waged in England and Wales, the transition was smoother in Scotland. Not only were omnibus schools the norm in many parts Scotland, but the 1947 Advisory Council Report, though never implemented, had proposed a model of comprehensive schooling.

So, where are we now? Are our educational establishments as inclusive as they could be and, if not, what needs to be done?

It is important to state that primary schools have always been comprehensive in their intake and inclusive in their philosophy. But secondary schools struggled from the outset to remove the practice of selection. Far from being abolished, it simply moved from external to internal. The use of setting (by “ability” in individual subject) or streaming (by general “ability”) has become the norm, notwithstanding the absence of any research evidence to support it. It militates against inclusivity.

So, what can be done? Within this 500 word piece I can offer only some headlines which might be returned to later:

  1. All pupils in a catchment area should have their schooling in the local cluster. The impact of placing requests and private schools on local communities should be reviewed as a matter of urgency.
  2. The focus within the secondary school has become attainment, as measured by test scores and exam results. This leads to teaching-to-the-test and an emphasis on “academic” subjects to the detriment of vocational. This needs to change. The present Scottish Government should abandon its plans to introduce National Standardised Testing. Its desire to close the gap and tackle child poverty is admirable, but it refuses to listen to any advice which challenges its misguided policies.
  3. Early years and primary should be equal partners in the inclusive comprehensive project and the cluster (or family) of schools should be seen as the core provider of schooling. Decision-making and budgets should be devolved to the cluster.
  4. Pedagogy, not structures, should be at the heart of improving wider achievement, not just narrow attainment.
  5. Positive action should be taken to support clusters in areas of social and economic disadvantage, including incentivising the best teachers to work there.

Research over the last 50 years shows that schools matter, but we need to recognise that education takes place in many contexts. The role of parents is crucial, and higher and further education, along with business, must play their part.

If we are looking for models, Finland is a good starting point. The comprehensive school, a focus on creativity, partnership with business, intelligent accountability and a trust in teachers are among its key strengths. Curriculum for Excellence sought to embed these principles.

But, we also need the same level of political will which brought us comprehensive schools in the first place.

Background reading

Secondary Education: The Fyfe report (1947)

The organisation of secondary education Circular 10/65 (1965)




Investing in real change early

OECD early start

SEAS sees a set of changes at Early Years to include

  • personalised pathways at early years including opportunity to defer starting age
  • more challenging and enjoyable learning through an emphasis on purposeful play
  • increased investment in early years targeted on care and education in most deprived areas
  • greater collaboration across communities, centres and schools

Across Europe the developed mature education systems of Europe, debate continue in learning’s “bangs for bucks” discussion. Within an education system when is the greatest impact upon learners’ development? Where is investment going to offer the best return? More often, the answer is being found in an “invest to save” preventative agenda within early years.

UNICEF opened its 2017 report on education in the early years with a call to the financial case for investing early.

“The financial case for investing in children’s early moments is strong. The rate of return on investing in early childhood programmes can be about 13.7 per cent. The benefits are reaped in better education and health outcomes, lower crime and higher individual earnings. Investments in children’s early development can lead to better individual adult incomes of up to 25 per cent.” UNICEF (2017) “Early Moments Matter for Every Child”

The SEAS sees the need for the Scottish Labour Party to develop a comprehensive wraparound model of education, care and health from early childhood. Such services should be flexible, accessible, affordable and responsive to community needs with all year round provision and ensure that all children and family services support parents and carers where appropriate in identifying children’s needs and providing them with timeous and appropriate support.

Within such care and learning services we need more flexibility across the starting ages for children with the opportunity for the delay and deferring when schooling starts. In addition we need to shift from schooling to better quality learning. The evidence now from research and neuroscience shows that children develop best through challenging, enjoyable learning. An emphasis on play at the early years is crucial.   We can look to invest more in Early Years. Furthermore we should be targeting resources towards communities facing challenges of poverty and deprivation. A child’s foundation years in early learning and care settings are crucial to future successes.

In Scotland we start with advantages in early years learning due to Curriculum for Excellence. Curriculum for Excellence provides curriculum continuity with its shared set of experiences and outcomes 3-7 years.

When Curriculum for Excellence was starting it was proposed

‘… bring the 3–5 and 5–14 curriculum guidelines together to ensure a smooth transition in what children have learned and also in how they learn. This will mean extending the approaches which are used in pre-school into the early years of primary, emphasising the importance of opportunities for children to learn through purposeful, well-planned play.’

Further investment in early years can build on the flexibility within the framework of Curriculum for Excellence to promote challenging enjoyable and relevant early learning through purposeful play and staggered start dates for children. Like the Senior Phase learning pathways at early stages need to be more varied, diverse and individualised.

The SEAS wants consider greater flexibility in starting ages beyond 5 and greater flexibility in the curriculum to ensure more play and experiential learning across 0-7 years. Many children will benefit from a flexible school start.   It would be better than too-early and too-formal approaches of schooling. (Children in rows, rigid groupings, strict timetables). The SEAS proposes greater flexibility in starting ages evaluated as part of a Curriculum for Excellence review. We need to make schools more ready for children not get children ready for schooling.

The OECD recent report, Starting Stronger supports the idea of more flexible support proposing better quality in early years. It emphasis the benefit of educational interventions at early childhood for those disadvantaged children compared to well-off children.

Again the UNICEF report stated

“If we don’t invest now in the most vulnerable children and families, we will continue to perpetuate intergenerational cycles of disadvantage and inequality. Life by life, missed opportunity by missed opportunity, we are increasing the gap between the haves and the have-nots and undermining our long-term strength and stability.

In terms of tackling poverty it would be helpful to have children living in areas of deprivation to be well supported and targeted in their community through connecting and collaborating between teachers, parents and carers and early learning staff to aim to narrow the early gaps that appear in their learning. They need high-quality teaching and play-based learning.   High-quality early childhood education and care will benefit disadvantaged kids the most, by providing the basis for successful lifelong learning and by fostering their socio-emotional skills.

In addition the need for collaboration among staff at pre-school and primary must be based on reciprocal communication, inclusivity, mutual trust and respect. The SEAS wants more collaboration at this operational level rather than bureaucratic Regional Collaboratives and standardised testing at age 5.

The SEAS sees the need to invest in teachers too and redress the decline in Scottish teachers’ salaries that has occurred under the SNP.  According to OECD teachers’ salaries in Scotland  fell by 10% between 2010 and 2015, leaving our teachers the third worst off across twenty OECD counties.  The SEAS supports improvement in quality of staff and the transition to a qualified, graduate-led workforce, by increasing staff wages and enhancing training opportunities. This will benefit staff, who are among our worst-paid workers, and improve child development.

In his paper for the Jimmy Reid Foundation, Brian Boyd showed how schools could deliver transformational change and put equity at the heart of education

“Thus, investment in early years education, a re-evaluation of the age when formal learning is introduced and a commitment to a shared set of values, where every child is seen as having the potential to be a successful learner, would be a major step towards the achievement to a fairer, more equitable system of schooling.”



UNICEF report (2017) “Early Moments Matter for Every Child”

Labour Manifesto For the Many

Scottish Labour Manifesto Together we’re stronger

A Common Weal Education Brian Boyd Jimmy Reid foundation (2014)

Starting Stronger OECD report 2017

HMI Early Years report Quality Improvement in Scottish education (2016)

5 things SEAS would love to see in Scottish education

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Recently the SEAS met with Anas Sarwar and Richard Leonard the candidates for the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party. We were keen to hear their views for real change in Scottish education after a lost decade under SNP.

The SEAS would like to see a Scottish Labour Party leading an education service that develops the talents of the many, not selective practices for the few. We want to secure improvement for all by investing in our socialised, inclusive, comprehensive school system and extending lifelong learning for all our citizens.

Our five key points were

We must invest in quality early learning with access to staff trained in integrated approaches, improving access to teaching. We should ensure more challenging and enjoyable experiential learning through play within early level of Curriculum for Excellence. No Primary 1 standardised testing. We would want a key focus at Early Level

We want Scotland to aspire to global best practice by being a world leader in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 and its targets and realising children’s rights to inclusive education. We should invest in and foster real inclusion for those with additional support needs and plan for progressive inclusion with a new role for special schools and specialist services to reduce segregated education and support inclusive schools. Schools should embed equality education to challenge stereotyping and reduce bullying against those different, including class, gender, disability, race, sexual orientation religion of belief with greater attention to global citizenship and equality education.

At the Senior Phase collaboration among schools, education authorities, communities, unions and businesses to give greater value to skills for life, learning and work including digital skills, particularly for working class kids. Prepare young people for future careers in worthwhile vocational learning

End inspection of primary schools and promote approaches to self-evaluation reporting and accountability to parents by schools and education authorities. Education Scotland to support self-evaluation and accountability to parents and communities.

Eliminate overly supportive Scottish Government aid and hidden public subsidy to private fee-charging schools. Introduce business rates and end their charitable status. HM inspectors to remove Individual Link inspectors from every private schools and inspect and regulate care and child protection rigorously to reduce child protection and safeguarding weaknesses in private schools.