Statements on Scottish education from Monica Lennon and Anas Sarwar

As part of the election for Leader of the Scottish Labour party we asked the candidates, Anas Sarwar and Monica Lennon to share their views on Scottish education. Here are the candidates’ statements, previously shared with SEAS members ahead of the election. SEAS members voted to nominate Monica Lennon MSP as Leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

Statement from Monica Lennon MSP 

As a working-class girl growing up in Lanarkshire, it never crossed my mind that one day I would be seeking to lead the Scottish Labour Party. I am proud to be asking for the support of SEAS.

My family and community shaped my politics. I learned about the value of lifelong learning and the workplace from my dad. He got a second chance at education and worked his way up to be a health and safety manager within the local council. He cared about people having dignity at work and for their physical and mental well-being, when stress and mental health was rarely discussed. 

My dad had his own battles, mainly with alcohol, and he had to stop working aged 50. He died from alcohol-related illnesses at 60. It broke my heart, however, it made me determined to fight for better opportunities and support for people before they reach a crisis. 

The Labour Party was created to give opportunities to working people and to enable them to make a better life for themselves. That starts with the early years and education. Ending the poverty-related attainment gap must be our mission, so that all of Scotland’s young people get the best start in life.

It is a scandal that your postcode so often continues to determine your outcomes in life. Never again can we allow a situation like the SQA results scandal of 2020. Our politics should be about getting things done and delivering results – real positive change that will improve people’s lives.  First as a councillor, where I was a member of the Education Committee, and now as an MSP and Party health and social care spokesperson, my politics has always been rooted in making life better for working people and ending poverty.  

In my first term in Parliament, I delivered the world-leading Period Products Bill, working with trade unions and with campaigners and activists in communities all over Scotland and beyond. And I worked with Labour councillors and education staff on the introduction of free period products in schools, colleges and universities long before the Bill was even passed. As leader, my ambition will be to take forward with SEAS our shared ambition to resource and deliver world-leading education services.

The last decade of devolution has in many ways been a disappointment. The SNP’s record is not one to be proud of and the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the health and wealth inequalities that existed before COVID-19.  

The Scottish Labour Party that I lead will face the country as it is today.  The next Parliament must be focused on COVID-19 recovery. As leader, I will work with all our members and affiliates to ensure it is a people’s recovery. 

  • Learning loss under COVID is under-recognised and it will fall most upon those with the least resources. I will prioritise targeting more resources to the learners and schools experiencing the most disadvantage, including access to our brightest and best teachers.
  • We need more targeted support to disadvantaged schools. That’s why supporting local councils is so important and they need more support from Education Scotland. Instead of private schools getting individual time from HM Inspectors,  this should go to schools in disadvantaged areas.
  • We need to regenerate the role of local communities and local authorities in schools and the curriculum.  More learning can take place outdoors beyond classroom walls, and this will help our recovery from the isolating and emotional toll of the pandemic.
  • We must improve outcomes for learners who are not fulfilling their potential, including white working-class boys, disabled children and young gypsy/travellers. I helped to organise support for the Time for Inclusive campaign on LGBT+ inclusive education and want to expand on this equalities work, working with you, our experts in the field.
  • We also need to improve the outcomes for young BAME people, who still meet to many barriers into employment.
  • Our curriculum needs to be reviewed and feature more aspects of diversity, inclusive education and social justice.

I was recently contacted by my former Modern Studies teacher who had some lovely words of praise for the type of pupil I was and the politician I am aspiring to be. She inspired me when I didn’t have a lot of self-belief. She helped me achieve my goals and I owe my teachers everything for my place at university, aged just 16. It breaks my heart that in the same school today there are children who can’t concentrate on learning because of hunger, insecurity, lack of resources and lack of role models.

I’m in politics to win for working people. The people who juggled home-schooling and work; the people who kept shelves stocked and the country connected; the people who saved lives every day while risking their own. Too many people in Scotland are undervalued and too many have nothing at all. That’s why I’m not prepared to sit on the side-lines.  

As Scottish Labour leader, I will provide a new generation of leadership while staying true to our values.  I will fight every day for radical social and economic change.

Statement from Anas Sarwar MSP 

Scotland needs to be far more radical to reach our ambition to have an education system which provides excellence and equity for all.

Over the past decade, we have seen savage cuts within classrooms across the country, fewer staff in schools, resources stripped away, the inequality and attainment gaps growing. Teachers’ workload has increased and all too often – particularly this year – they are not supported by Government or the agencies who should be stepping up. 

These cuts have let down staff and pupils. And pupils with additional support needs are an immediate priority to ensure that all our young people are supported to access an excellent education. We cannot afford to wait.

Scotland has continued to fall behind in some international league tables and has withdrawn altogether from others. Our curriculum, particularly in the senior phase, has narrowed with poorer pupils losing out the most.

The SQA shambles of last August has shown the inequality that is baked into our system, with pupils’ grades downgraded not based on their performance, but their postcode. It was the poorest pupils who were most impacted, through no fault of their own but due to a decision of John Swinney. I’m proud of the reaction of Scotland’s pupils, they fought hard and overturned this system. 

But we must ensure that inequality is always challenged and never accepted. We can’t leave it to pupils and teachers. Labour has to be at their side too.

And because we know educational inequality isn’t created within the four-walls of the classroom, to truly address the extent of our large and stubborn attainment gap, we must tackle social and economic inequality in our communities. 

That’s why I’m clear the next Parliament has to be a COVID recovery Parliament. We need a period of healing, to bring the country together, to build back better, to protect jobs, to fix our education system and deliver an NHS that never again has to choose between treating a virus or treating cancer.

With your support, I will ensure Scottish Labour becomes the credible and trusted opposition I know we can be. I’ll do this by working with people like you – key workers, trades unions, experts and business leaders across Scotland to build a platform that looks to the future.

With your support, I will champion voices from across Scotland and our movement. I will work hard to bring all of us together, so we can rebuild our party, and rebuild Scotland.

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