SEAS successfully moves equitable education motion at Scottish Labour Women’s Conference 2021

Maragret Houston successfull proposes our equitable SEAS motion

Margaret Houston our SEAS delegate successfully proposes our equitable education for girls motion

Conference notes the recommendations and concerns of the United Nations about the lack of an inclusive strategy, financed and time-lined for education and the corresponding failure of Scottish education to make progress with Sustainable Development Goal 4 for high quality inclusive and equitable education.

Sustainable Development Goal 4.5 Gender equality and inclusion in education

In Scotland girls do well in narrow achievement outcomes in secondary schools in most subjects however there are gender disparities in STEM subjects.  Gender stereotyping remains an issue as equality education has not been embedded in Curriculum for Excellence . Girls’ attendance continues to drop in secondary schools.  A more inclusive and equitable education system is necessary for all and further work is needed to narrow instances of gender disparity in our school system.  We believe every learner matters and matters equally.  Conference regrets the joint position of SNP and the Tories in opposing inclusive education in motions in the Scottish Parliament. In addition, Scottish education continues to lack a strategy to embed equality education throughout the education system.  

As part of an inclusive strategy Conference calls on the Scottish Labour Party to increase efforts to promote high quality inclusive and equitable education, to make greater progress to achieve  SDG Target 4.5,  and to work at all levels of the Party to campaign for the elimination of gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities and children in vulnerable situations.  

In speaking today I think we would want to note the achievements of girls through education

Malala from Afghanistan who was shot in the face for wanting to go to school. Greta Thunberg did not go to school but has inspired girls across the globe to challenge climate change and also last month supported the Glasgow bin workers strike. Last year Erin Bleakleyfrom the east end of Glasgow led the demonstrations against Scottish government imposition of the unjust algorithm in the SNP’s exam debacle.

“SEAS also wishes to express our thanks to Monica Lennon’s persistence with her work on the period products in Parliament. Girl students, particularly those affected by poverty, in schools colleges and universities will be well served by her work

Within SDG 4 there are commitments to eliminating gender disparities in education, promoting knowledge and skills for gender equality and ensuring educational facitlies are gender sensitive  providing safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all as well as gender balance in the education workforce. 

In our view there is insufficient attention in Scottish education to ensuring all learners acquire such knowledge and such skills to be able to promote human rights and gender equality. Gender stereotyping from the earliest stages in children’s lives limit their ambitions and horizons.  

These areas should be explicitly included in national education policies, curricula, teacher education, and student assessment. In particular, human rights education provides an important opportunity to include the rights of persons with disabilities. 

SEAS strongly believes more needs to be done to embed equality education throughout the curriculum in our schools from 3-18. Tackling discrimination and negative attitudes can contribute towards end gender discrimination and teach our boys to be more responsible too.

Paulo Freire: critical pedagogue

Today is the 100th anniversary of Paulo Freire’s birth. It remains the case that the one book to read on critical thinking in teaching and learning is his “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”. In this seminal text he shares key ideas such problem-posing, the idea that learning is shared among its participants where the teacher becomes student and the students teachers. His critique of banking education where the teacher deposits bits of knowledge to learners then assessed in disconnected contexts remains pertinent today post-pandemic.

Here’s a short video with a bit of biography about Paulo Freire.

New Lanark: Robert Owen’s educational legacy

New Lanark Trust will be hosting a special anniversary conference marking three important milestones in the World Heritage Site’s history:

• The 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Owen, the site’s most famous advocate;
• The 20th anniversary of UNESCO World Heritage Site inscription,
• The completion of the restoration of the former millworkers’ housing in the village.

Join virtually or in-person from 12th-14th October 2021 to celebrate New Lanark’s remarkable journey, from Robert Owen to World Heritage and beyond: legacies of social reform and heritage-led regeneration. SEAS are contributing to Tuesday morning session on Owen’s educational legacy to Scottish education, considering how good was his socialism and to what extent was he a transformative educator?

Further details and conference programme available here.

R F MacKenzie: the last word on education

As part of a series about radical educationalists in Scotland the SEAS offers a guest blog to Ros Kane who writes about R F MacKenzie – the unbowed head. Ros is seeking to form a RF MacKenzie Society and her contact details are at the end of the blog. Enjoy!

‘If you are going to create a new society, it is in the schools that you must begin.’ So wrote Bob Mackenzie. Have the man and his work and his books been forgotten in the world of education? As the years go by, that is more and more likely, which is why it is high time to set up an R F Mackenzie Society to preserve his legacy and use it to inspire and influence anyone anywhere, of any age, any profession or walk of life, with an interest in the all-round well-being of young people.

In case you know little about him, here are the bare bones. He was born in 1910 in the Aberdeenshire countryside; his mother had been quite adventurous when young;  his father, a station master, put a high premium on independent thought. There was a warm sense of local community. After getting an English degree at Aberdeen, he embarked with his friend on an extraordinary six-month journey across Europe, some of which was fast becoming fascist. The two set out in winter on pushbikes with a typewriter and big bag of oatmeal. At times they travelled together; at others, separately. They recorded their dramatic experiences in the book Road Fortune.  One highlight was a visit to Mackenzie’s hero, H G Wells, in the south of France.

Mackenzie wondered about becoming a journalist, but felt no pressure to conform or settle down. Somehow he spent time at a small eccentric forest school in Hampshire run by the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry. Here he learnt about education in nature and an alternative way to treat and be with children. ‘I became a child again.’ Then the war came. He served as a bomber commander, but not before he had travelled to South Africa, the US and Canada for the training, experiences which matured him and opened his eyes to other social classes and cultures.

During the war he met Diana; they married. Realising a family man needed a secure income, he decided to train as a secondary teacher. His first job was teaching English and history at a school in the Borders, then principal teacher of English in a Glenrothes school.  The go-ahead head teacher with a belief in outdoor education had a huge influence on Mackenzie. Before long he became head of Braehead junior secondary modern school in Buckhaven, Fife, a golden opportunity to apply his ideas because it was a new school. He has written in detail what happened there.  The main themes: his attempts to outlaw corporal punishment, to develop Inverlair Lodge in the Highlands as a residential place for students and staff, and his opposition to exams and rigid timetables. I remember visiting Braehead: Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds being played in assembly instead of hymns, the open office door of the friendly, welcoming young school secretary, and a teacher who had moved from Nottingham to Buckhaven in order to teach there. The distinguished mountaineer Hamish Brown for years took groups of students on ambitious Highland treks. Mackenzie had a particular interest in the ’underdog.’  This was no ordinary school.

It might come as no surprise that he was squeezed out of his job. Half the staff opposed his methods, and he admitted himself that he didn’t take the parents along with him. Given the controversy in the media, he was amazed to be offered the headship of Summerhill Academy in Aberdeen. The powers-that-be wanted to look progressive by appointing a chap like him. The school’s name is ironic as Mackenzie was a devotee of A S Neill who wrote: ‘I admire your sticking to the State system. I ran awa’ frae it.’

But disaster was at hand. There were similar problems as before and he was suspended on full pay at the age of 64. Some students went on strike in protest. He spent the rest of his life writing, lecturing and broadcasting about education, and died of stomach cancer in 1987.

Mackenzie believed in the innate goodness of children, strengthened by the arrival of two sons and a daughter. He saw the dire effects not only of parental treatment but of the threadbare quality of  society and of the hierarchies and the traditional, adult-centred nature of secondary education. He knew his methods could help prevent delinquency, but, as he said after being sacked, ‘they wouldn’t let us.’

His excellent books outlive him: 

Road Fortune 1935

A Question of Living 1963

Escape from the Classroom 1965

The Sins of the Children 1967

State School 1970

The Unbowed Head 1976 (about Summerhill Academy)

A Search for Scotland (pub 1989.)

His last book, Manifesto for the Educational Revolution, 1980, was rejected by publishers – too radical. But you can read it online. 

In Scotland there have been reunions and a symposium in his memory, and some of his Braehead former students run an informative website: Peter Murphy who taught at Summerhill wrote a biography, The Life of R F Mackenzie: A Prophet without Honour.  I know that teacher training courses have included his work in their curriculum but I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t any longer.

It seems to me that he developed his philosophy not only because of his childhood and countryside background but also through such wide experiences in Europe, Hampshire, the war and fatherhood. This was no young teacher with a sheltered life. He brought enormous amounts of understanding, compassion and reflection, and his life work was a passionate, exhausting attempt to use what he knew to enrich – in fact, transform – the lives of young people who were being fed a diet of impoverishment on all sides. 

Mackenzie was in a line of libertarian educationalists, most of whom came to grief in the state system, such as Michael Duane, Gerry German and Chris Searle.  His wife said, ‘He got more and more radical the older he got.’ Given what is going on in our schools these days, his practice needs to be promoted throughout the UK. A Society about it seems the most likely way to do this. If you might be interested in joining, please contact me at 15 Matcham Road, London E11 3LE. Tel 0208 555 5248

Education or Enforcement? The Challenge of Islamophobia in 2021

I attended the online launch on 29th June 2021 of the Report of the work of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Islamophobia chaired by Anas Sarwar MSP, now Labour Party Leader in Scotland. I would recommend SEAS members and supporters obtain a copy of at least the Executive Summary, which was received by SEA Scotland. It is a report that is based on evidence presentations and a widespread survey and shines a light deep into the bruised heart of our fellow Scots who come from the Muslim community. It should concern all who seek fairness and equality in all aspects of Scottish society. It did however also raise some concerns in parts, which I will attempt to address.

In his opening remarks Anas outlined his aspirations for tackling the increasing problem, leading with a statement I suggest would resonate with SEAS members and supporters.

  1. The solution needs to start in school – Education is the key
  2. The need for Equality in Police and the State bureaucracy in Scotland
  3. Workplaces need to be welcoming and protective environments
  4. Any approach must look at the Gender factor as more women are victims of Islamophobia

The three official Rapporteurs from the Muslim community stressed various aspects of the report. One who identified as a Primary School Teacher stressed the very real Anti Muslim prejudice in the Scottish Educational environment where Teacher Training does not make a serious attempt to train teachers to deal with the evidence of prejudice or instances of Islamophobia in schools. Also a lack of members of school leadership teams from Muslim, or indeed non-white ethnicities. A second speaker was critical of the increased tension caused by the UK Government’s PREVENT programme and identified bureaucratic racism in the areas of Housing and Health services, requiring new rules and protocols. A third speaker related an incident of direct anti-Muslim abuse where a non Muslim woman intervened to protect the victim. She posed the question ‘Where Do People Get Prejudice?’ and suggested a lack of contact with the Muslim community made it difficult to get people to move beyond the ‘Scottish Exception’ myth that Scots are not racist or prejudiced. Evidence shows that prejudice and Islamophobia are prevalent institutionally.

During comments from online attendees, one well known and respected Trainer felt strongly that many acts were clearly racist in intent and that there were people in Scotland who held Anti Muslim racist views. She still agreed to support the use of the term Islamophobia, but also stressed the need to focus on the inter-sex impact and for the perpetrators of racist behaviours to be faced up to in ‘that uncomfortable space’. There was strong overall support for the recommendations contained in the Executive Summary.

As the SEAS representative I attended the evidence sessions of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Islamophobia and heard evidence of the full gamut of behaviour, from unacceptable to racist, in the presence of, or actually aimed at, members of the Muslim community in Scotland. The evidence was that 75% of Muslim respondents, and 82% in Glasgow thought that Islamophobia is getting worse. A worrying fact is that 45% of Muslims under 29 years of age had suffered from or seen incidents of Islamophobia in Scottish schools, during the time of a devolved Government in Scotland.

During those evidence sessions I had also heard details of ongoing initiatives by educators aimed at overcoming the ignorance and social apartheid that has created the environment for prejudiced and openly racist behaviour against Muslims and others who are designated ‘not like us’ in Scotland. The SEAS views Education as route to enlightenment and positive behavioural change so failure to mention examples from those initiatives in the Executive Summary causes it to appear imbalanced.

The level of justified grievance of members of the Muslim faith and culture in Scotland obviously set the tone of the Executive Summary that opened with the definition of Islamophobia adopted by the APPG in 2017, with the key statement ‘Islamophobia is rooted in racism’. I would argue that each act or vocalising of an anti Muslim nature, however slight, is unacceptable and must be challenged. However, I worry that the implication overall is that each incident should be treated as being derived from the same motivation as a deliberate violent act or openly anti-Muslim racist activity.

It is disappointing that in the section on Education and Schools the 12 recommendations were referred to as Educational but the tone of at least 50% of the recommendations are for ‘social enforcement’ rather than educational initiatives. It was confusing to read recommendations for ‘integrating an understanding of Islamophobia’ and ‘compulsory training to counter Islamophobia’ without any recommendations that educators at all institutions should learn and teach an understanding of Islam and Muslim communities.

The dictionary definition of a ‘phobia’ is ‘An extreme fear of, or an aversion to’ a presence or situation. The eradication of a phobia relies on positive interventions. There is scope for Education to offer those positive interventions that would succeed for all but the truly vile racist group in Scottish society. Educational efforts may not be assisted by defining behaviour by those who are ‘unaware’ that their behaviour is incorrect in such hard terms that it may cause them to refuse to engage.

It is to be hoped that the finalised report by Peter Hopkins of Newcastle University will reconnect all the aspects of both the unacceptable and racist behaviour to the positive initiatives and programmes, so giving hope to those who still hold firm to the view that Education has a great deal to contribute to building a society based on Fairness and Equality.

NOTE: The facts in this blog are taken from the Executive summary of the report and my notes from the online meeting. Any personal assessments and opinions are entirely mine.

Michael Connarty

5 things we love, 5 things we don’t care for at all about Curriculum for Excellence

Next week, the OECD review on Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is being launched by OECD and Scottish Government from Paris.

You can register here

Its initial release date was delayed and postponed before the election thereby introducing a degree of political news management. In reviewing the curriculum contributions from a wider political perspective than the Education and Skills Committee was not welcomed. We can safely it’s nothing to do with us.

If asked, we would have highlighted our 5 Good 5 Bad about CfE.

5 Good things

1. Democratic making of a country’s curriculum

Back in the day the new Scottish Parliament set out aiming to involve Scottish civil society in its politics. Curriculum for Excellence was its great success in democratic policy-making. Thousands of Scots contributed to the National Debate. It identified an agenda for change for Scottish education. We believe democracy matters in our education system.

We do wonder if the OECD Review commissioned by the Scottish Government will be measuring the system’s success in implementing the aspirations of the Scottish people from 2002.

2. A common curriculum 3-18

A socialist curriculum should be one that permits a parity of participation across its plans for the learning of children and young people. CfE is a permissive curriculum defined as it is by a broad general education in which learners gain experiences throughout the experiences and outcome of the curricular framework. Experiential learning is a universal strand of all human development. It’s a curriculum for everyone.

3. The totality of all

The curriculum is not only about subjects or organised knowledge yet encompasses interdisciplinary learning, the life of the school as a community and chances for children and young people’s personal achievement. When being developed for all learners the curriculum was to be about knowledge plus achievement and softer elements of schooling and other experiences. Such an approach was supported by literacy numeracy and health and well being as being the responsibility of all. Post-COVID social emotional and mental wellbeing is a priority and safe to say the responsibility of all.

4. New principles of design

The flexible permissive nature of the curriculum was elaborated through a set of principles that extended the scope of a curriculum. However, schools and teachers have not yet fully utilised these principles. At the early stage relevant and challenging and enjoyable learning hasn’t always featured. While at the Senior Phase, learning designed through relevance personalisation and choice has not always been served by exam diet subjects in secondary schools.

5. The child at the centre

All those graphics from initial development onwards featured the learner at the centre surrounded by the curricular framework. The best developments in the curriculum have focused on children’s needs and personalised approaches whether play-based pedagogy at early stages or engaged beyond the school at senior phase.

5 Bad things

1. Built on a narrow set of values

Whoever inscribed four values on the Mace of the Scottish Parliament did not do Scottish education a favour. Wisdom, justice, integrity and compassion may be of benefit to our politicians. However, even the OECD recognised how limited they are in a recent document about an inclusive curriculum. Their six values linked to equity include cultural diversity, equity, equality, inclusion and fairness. Its one out of six for Scotland.

2. A missing capacity

The four capacities were gateways aspect for developing many schools’ curriculum and teachers’ classroom practice from the start. But critical thinking skills were missing. Their omission becomes more obvious in the early decades of the 21st century in dealing with social media and fake news. Learners need to be engaged in their learning with critical thinking leading to transformative action whether considering inequalities from the past, climate change or global citizenship and curricular injustices. The OECD (2020) has already identified the curricular injustice arising in experiences of intercultural learning between young people aged 15 from schools in adavantaged areas and those from disadvantaged areas. We doubt this will make Review report.

3. Embedding equality education

This actually became a recommendation in developing the young workforce, From the start CfE did not pay sufficient attention to curricular injustice either as a content issue in terms of decolonising past content or considerations to challenge social class barriers in curricular form. As a result of the TIE campaign a more inclusive curriculum was promoted through their work in challenging MSPs to promote change. But why only LGBTQI? .

4. Limited Senior Phase

A more socialist curriculum would engage in a balanced way with community and neighbourhood learning whether linked to work, community or wider achievement. The opportunity to challenge ideas of academic learning as the gold standard and moving away from “it’s only 5 Highers that count”. Models of neighbourhoods and schools linking together to offer learning have still not yet fully been implemented and supported. A 21st century curriculum needs to balance out learning locally/ and learning as a global citizen. More of Jimmy Reid’s education for life rather than education for work or career.

5. Digital learning nd technological change

The timing of the introduction of CfE at the start of 21st century was on the edge of more rapid developments in digital technology. Compared to developments in Wales, for example, digital learning didn’t extensively feature. After COVID the changes that online learning have begun will have a permanent impact on teaching and learning. While needing to support changes we can continue to ensure the curriculum definitely includes the ethos and life of the school as a community. Less pressure from high stakes exams and more about social and emotional wellbeing.

Alienation in a neo-liberal world: radical overhaul needed

Recently, the Jimmy Reid Foundation (JRF) published its paper on Scottish education re-culturing and recalibrating “Liberal education in a neo-liberal world”.   The JRF paper offers a critical summary of policy developments in Scottish education over the past 60 years. For socialists its timely publication offers comparison with a small book on new perspectives on policy and practice “Democratic socialism and education” from Neil Hopkins in England published in 2019.  In reviewing these texts we also reference Jimmy Reid’s Alienation speech at University of Glasgow as it provides the baseline and a backdrop to both text.  In April 1972 Jimmy gave his famed rectorial address as capitalism morphed from its state-managed form into the neo-liberal world.

Both JRF and Hopkins place current education and its recent developments within that neo-liberal world; JRF for Scotland and Hopkins perhaps with greater relevance for England. Marketisation and privatisation are prevalent globally across education systems, perhaps even more so after COVID.  JRF offers an extensive critique of such developments within Scotland particularly at Further Education and Higher Education sectors.  JRF hits the mark with a system-wide policy review identifying and addressing past failures in Scotland across the learners’ journey early years to FE and HE.  Hopkins is more concerned with what a socialist education system could be in the 21st century.   He has a more thematic approach considering pedagogy, curriculum and governance and their similarities and differences within a liberal education and a democratic socialist system    

In the Hopkins small book, he sets out the potential for a democratic socialist set of policies and practice. In doing so he offers the chance to question whether Scottish education is moving towards a more socialist system or is it locked into practices tied to the neo-liberal age.  Is the fragmented and atomised system in England to be our future?

Hopkins’ paper suggests that a common curriculum is necessary much like aspects of Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence. One of the Scottish curriculum’s strengths, underplayed in JRF, is its universal design. A design that involves a common inclusive nature framed as experiences and outcomes, applicable to every learner in school education from 3-18 years.  Hopkins accepts that a liberal education and a democratic socialist curriculum may be aligned in content. However he sees the need for more associative and communal curriculum making through negotiation in the system with no one agent or agency predominating.    

In Scotland Curriculum for Excellence started with a national debate. Arising from this consideration is the idea that we don’t require another OECD review in Scotland but a renegotiation with civil society in a renewed national debate, especially after COVID.  In Scotland our young people in school education are part of the electorate of the Parliament. Their engagement in re-making the curriculum could be part of engaging our communities and neighbourhoods more effectively in our schools.  For Hopkins the steps towards a more democratic curriculum needs to involve a wider group of curriculum makers. 

Hopkins emphasises democratic participation in pedagogy and seeks ways to balance out attention to individualist, community and collective approaches within both liberal education and a democratic socialist form.  For Scotland, its pedagogical injustices are highlighted by JRF in the continued unsupported use of organising learners through setting and streaming within 21st century classrooms. 

To be positive about the future the Scottish system the esteemed writers of JRF state that scottish education does have aspects that challenge neo-liberalism and constitute steps towards a more socialist system. Some markers are our common, comprehensive schools (apart from 4% private and 2% special), a common curriculum 3-18 framed in terms of an entitlement to a broad general education gained experientially and democratic participation at council level through elected education authorities that have the capacity to balance out centralisation. 

Both the JRF paper and the Hopkins book offer clear steps to move from liberal education in a neo-liberal world towards a democratic socialist approach that recognises, represents and redistributes through inclusive, equitable lifelong learning. 

To return to Jimmy Reid, both papers reflect his broader purpose of education for life not just for work.  Jimmy also placed an emphasis on social crimes in education which again complements the analysis in both text. As Jimmy Reid stated  liberal education commits social crimes against too many of our children and young people. Perhaps we all need to be tough on social crime and tough on the causes of social crime!  For him the “flowering of each individual personality and talents is the pre-condition of everyone’s development”.   Such a communal purpose and collective ideal is the next step to challenge liberal education in the neo-liberal world. 

Key references 

Boyd B. Kelly J. Maitles H. Liberal Education in a Neo-Liberal World: Re-Culturing and Recalibrating Jimmy Reid Foundation (2021)

Hopkins N. Democratic Socialism and Education: New Perspectives on Policy and Practice Springer (2019) 

Reid J. Alienation University of Glasgow (1972) 

Michael Marra chats with SEAS: transformative education and hope

The SEAS was very pleased to have caught up with Michael Marra, Scottish Labour’s new education spokesperson to hear from him of the national mission to reclaim hope for the transformative power of Scottish education across all stages and sectors. Michael shares his view of the transformative power of Scottish education and its impact on generations of his family. He speaks with a passion about improving experiences and outcomes for the least privileged of our children not just in Scotland but those marginalised through the negatives of globalisation across the globe. We even hear a positive mention for Dundee FC!