International Day of Education 2021

Today is the International Day of Education. The Socialist Educational Association Scotland sees today as a chance to record our thanks to educators and learners everywhere and their families in their struggle to prevent and minimise learning loss in young lives as a result of the pandemic.

We recognise that in a public health emergency socialised learning for all in schools needs to be limited to avoid spreading the virus.  However, inequalities already present in our society are only exposed and exacerbated by COVID-19.  

We need to start to consider ways to address such inequalities across Scottish education starting from early learning through adult lifelong learning.   

Today we want to say thanks to the educators at home or in school, online or face to face, for us, all of you are key workers. (Today take the day off!)  

It takes a crisis …


We all had our plans for 2020.   Scottish education had its best-laid schemes in 2020 too.  On 27th April the annual examinations diet, was to begin with the Higher German Reading and Directed Writing paper.  Instead on 19th March, the Cabinet Secretary announced that the exams were to be cancelled and alternative arrangements to be put in place in face of the significant disruption arising from the global pandemic.

Scotland wasn’t alone in its response. UNESCO carried out an analysis that showed 58 out of 84 surveyed countries had postponed or rescheduled exams, 23 introduced alternative methods such as online or home-based testing, 22 maintained exams while in 11 countries, they were cancelled altogether.  Higher Education institutions moved fairly rapidly to no detriment policies of assessment and many operated on formative assessment processes in 2020 with no final exams in examination halls.

Of course, cancelling the exams for schools and colleges for one year raises the question, why have exams at all?

In 1947 in a time, after a previous global crisis the Scottish Advisory Council on secondary education offered a radical approach for assessment. In the pantheon of reports in Scottish education it was fairly scathing about examinations,

“The influence of examinations is three-fold. It affects the treatment of the examinable subjects themselves, tending always to exalt the written above the spoken, to magnify memory and master of fact at the expense of understanding and liveliness of mind. It depresses the status of the non-examinable, so that the aesthetic and creative side of education, with all its possibilities for human satisfaction and cultural enrichment, remains largely undeveloped and poorly esteemed. And lastly, the examination which began as a means, becomes for many the end itself. In the atmosphere created by this preoccupation with examination success, it is difficult to think nobly of education, to see in it the endless quest of man’s preparation for either society or solitude. The cult of the examination has proved all too congenial to the hard practicality of the Scot, and in excessive concern about livelihood, the art of living has tended to be forgotten.”

“It is said that many teachers like working towards examinations. There could be no more urgent reason for getting rid of them”

A point perhaps more graphically echoed in an UNESCO report on accountability in education in 2017.

Screenshot 2020-08-19 at 16.03.04

Across Scotland’s qualifications framework we have already got rid of exams for 20% of the entries across schools and colleges. That’s without questioning the trust placed in teachers and lecturers to accurately assess pass or fail National 2, National 3 and National 4 for one fifth of qualifications.   Some might suggest  exams are only for most young people!

A starting point to consider changes to assessment and certification is to consider inclusive approaches for all learners as they and their teachers certificate their learning over the three years of their senior phase.

In June 2020 UNESCO launched its Global Education Monitoring Report on Inclusion and Education. (Just to share an idea where it was coming from – it compared debates on inclusive education as similar to debating the abolition of slavery or ending apartheid. The Scottish Parliament has debated inclusion three times in the past three years!).  The report in promoting inclusive education for all was critical of “one size fits most” approach.

The GEM Report 2020 included a chapter on Curricula textbooks and assessment subtitled “How can students learn if the system reminds them of their exclusion?”

It looked at assessments from the viewpoint of inclusion and called for the focus to shift away from high-stakes assessments and instead to focus on students’ tasks: how they tackle them, which ones prove difficult and how some aspects can be adapted to enable success. In its view low-stakes formative assessments carried out over the education trajectory were far more fit for the purpose of inclusive education.

This would also mean that the crises of sudden interruptions in education such as pandemics would be less of an issue for ensuring qualifications were unaffected.  Ending external examinations would crisis-proof our education systems!

Changing assessment practices is only one part of the puzzle. While inclusive approaches have implications for curricula and resources such textbooks there are more fundamental issues about the purposes of education and moving away from the sausage factory of latter stages of schooling.

In Scotland and across the UK we have become over-centralised in education and neglected the roles that schools play in their local communities by too often focusing on debates about international comparisons, national standardised assessments and narrowly concerned with one dimensional attainment gaps.  If we are serious about empowering schools and teachers then less centralised approaches are necessary in terms of curriculum, assessment and accountability.



After the Lockdown: the future of our Schools

After the lockdown: the future of our Schools

Scottish Labour Party  and its series After the Lockdown moved on to education and held a Zoom session on The Future of our Schools.

The meeting was chaired by Richard Leonard MSP  and included

Iain Gray MSP (Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills)

Cllr Shamin Akhtar (Cabinet Spokesperson for Education & Children’s Services, East Lothian Council)

Kay Sillars (Unison)

Barrington Reeves (Black Lives Matter Scotland)

David Watt Socialist Educational Association Scotland) 



Rebuilding better for all

F21928F8-B938-4861-A9BF-3F6858D1FA18What next?

What are the opportunities coming out of COVID’s education crisis  to promote a more socialist agenda for Scottish education? Our what next answers.

  • Early years deschooled
  • Embed equality education throughout inclusive practices
  • End separate development
  • Localise, localise, localise
  • Education: framed in terms of social justice


Please do check out our blog and our Twitter feed @SocialistEdAS

After the Lockdown: what next?


(Image from OECD reopening plans after lockdown)

We all had plans for 2020.

Yet from 30th January with the notice from the World Health Organisation of a public health emergency of international concern, plans were eliminated and our world changed. The planet entered a series of crisis. As the virus spread we experienced crisis in health, thousands dying; an economic crisis, millions furloughed.  A pandemic transmitted through processes of globalisation led to a globalised education crisis.

By end of April over 185 countries had closed schools; by start of May it was estimated that over 1.5 billion children and young people were out of school. In India alone over 1.5 million schools were closed.  With over 63 million primary and secondary teachers trying to ensure teaching and learning online, where ICT infrastructure and reliable internet connection exist, or through other ways, such as the radio, television texting and other means.

In Scotland, after 20th March, close to 1 million children and young people were not in schools or early learning centres.  National external exams were cancelled and arrangements made for awards based on teacher judgement followed by statistical adjustment.  Colleges and universities shut, quickly moving lectures and essays and exams online.  Hubs were set up for vulnerable or those at risk and the children of key workers.  Rapidly but in a piecemeal fashion learning moved from school and classroom to home and online.  Now, parents and carers always the first educators of children, were lockdowned into trying to offer schooling too.

Inequalities pre-COVID

From our perspective before discussing the effects and the new normal it is crucial to admit that pre-crisis, Scottish school education had long-standing structural and institutional inequalities, never fully engaged with.  Under COVID such inequalities are being amplified and will continue to get worse if we are only going to aim to get back to some form of pre-COVID normal!

The inequalities are in part underpinned by the view that in Scotland “it’s who you are” not which school you go to. The range of inequalities present include a lack of a positive strategy for schools in areas of greatest deprivation including declining attendance among children in greatest deprived areas. An educational system with endemic poorer outcomes for white working-class boys, care experienced youngsters.   Children and young people with disabilities segregated with their right to inclusive education opined by MSPs as laudable intentions.   That other form of separate development in education, the continued support of the state for private schools was extended.  Allowances were granted for private schools to continue to continue to employ unqualified teachers and their tax breaks were extended once more.  We oppose all state support for private schools.

Such structural inequalities play out in the curriculum too. We continue to over-value  the domination of the academic curriculum across our education system. At early years the curriculum needs to be deschooled, with teaching and learning continuing to move towards challenging and enjoyable learning rather than too overly formal schooling with rigid ability grouping, seating by rows.

Ideas reaffirmed

In the midst of crisis some socialist ideas about schools and education were reaffirmed while other processes were questioned.

Across the globe the effects of COVID reaffirmed that our schools operate as part of a state’s social services.  The example of early years of a wraparound service offering education, care and health was one mark of this. Learning hubs offered services to at risk children and children of key workers. Parents and carers value  their schools and teachers  to educate, look after and care for their children too.

Schools are about people and relationships and not just for knowledge transmission or exam factories. Everyone missed (to some degree) the sets of relationships occurring in schools even more so than the work of the classroom.

Health and wellbeing is the responsibility of all.  Our schools are to provide an environment where children (and staff too!)  make progress in their social and emotional wellbeing.   We all feel that children and young people shouldn’t be asked to socially isolate. All the recent brain research has us as social learners. We learn best together.  On returning to schools they will be placing Maslow before Bloom, even if just in terms of appropriate distancing and respect for social space. .

When schools return not all children will return straight away and not all will want to be there again.  We may well face more children less engaged with the ideas of school education – an additional COVID-cohort.

It seemed during the lockdown that some teachers were discovering that there is something called blended learning. Online learning has its place but it can only be is only supplementary.  During COVID the best practice internationally was through the use of multi-platforms – TV, radio, mobile, Whatsapp, online. Thus minimising any digital divide. For the future we need to move beyond a narrow awareness of blended learning to an understanding of the universal design approach to teaching and learning across all media – word, text, screen.

What next?

What are the opportunities coming out of COVID’s education crisis  to promote a more socialist agenda for Scottish education? Our what next answers.

  • Early years deschooled
  • Embed equality education throughout inclusive practices
  • End separate development
  • Localise, localise, localise
  • Education: framed in terms of social justice

Early years deschooled

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.  We want more investment and quality teaching and learning in nurseries and early learning centres in disadvantaged areas

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.

Embed equality education throughout inclusive practices

SEAS is supportive of reviewing Curriculum for Excellence to secure continued improvement in a curriculum that is focused on children and young people.  Curriculum for Excellence should seek to embed global citizenship education as well as equality education.  Diversity needs to be valued as part of an inclusive curriculum.  SEAS sees the need extensively develop equality education throughout Curriculum for Excellence. There have been only a few developments here with some LGBTI curricular inserts, some work in gender stereotyping regarding STEM subjects and a nod towards considering Scotland’s history regarding slavery and colonisation.  More can be done by considering all aspects of equality and engaging with decolonisation of the curriculum.  SNP have failed to take forward the embedding of equality education in the curriculum. It is even unlikely to feature in the OECD review.

At the later stages of secondary more needs to be done to broaden senior phase, by continuing to develop technical and vocational aspects for all in a way that values a wider range of learning beyond the exam factory. Such an approach complements building capacity in communities on a shared education agenda.

End separate development

As well the curriculum being more inclusive of difference our schools need to be accessible to all. Inclusive education has never yet been planned for resourced to ensure children’s rights to inclusive education are delivered.  SEAS calls for repeal of Section 15 of 2000 Act and instead legislation brought to ensure those with disabilities and other differences are successfully included. Such an approach needs to be planned for and resourced nationally, locally, in communities and across schools and classrooms.  Special schools and centres should be redesigned to support placements in inclusive schools.

SEAS welcomes Scottish Labour Party’s policy on ending all support and subsidy direct and indirect to private schools.

Localise, localise, localise

Finally the contribution of the SNP centralising policies such as the International Council of Education Advisers and Regional Improvement Collaboratives has been at very best close to zero. Our support staff, teachers, schools and councils delivered during lockdown. It would be a quiet night if people were asked to clap for the international advisers!

Education needs to rebalanced towards councils, schools and communities – all forms of collaboration should be led at more localised levels.  Building capacity at a local level will mean more tailored curriculum in schools formed locally with community participation. And why not end high stakes externally imposed inspections and ask a community to co-investigate, evaluate and improve their schools. Something proposed by Paolo Freire back in the day.

Councils and local communities including schools and broadly in terms of education should held more accountable for social justice outcomes. Accountability can be framed in terms of social justice and schools co-evaluate provision with council, community and schools teachers and pupils. End high stakes inspections.

Education: framed in terms of social justice

In short we see schools as places and agents of social change; as part of education as a socialised service, a more localised service which has a global outlook but community-based framed in terms of social justice and seeking to build more inclusive communities and society in Scotland.

After the Lockdown: The Future of Our Schools

Screenshot 2020-06-27 at 12.30.02

Join in the discussion on Monday 29th June at 6pm on the education crisis in Scottish education. Speakers include Richard Leonard and Iain Gray. Hear  a great panel discuss  the impact of COVID in Scottish schools and the mismanagement by the SNP before and during the pandemic. Views also about how we  don’t just aim for a new normal but build back better given the stagnation in education under SNP.

Sign up here



SEAS warned in March 2019, SNP wriggling out of legislation to end tax relief for private schools?


SEAS was quoted in the national media about the SNP stepping back from ending charitable status of private schools. So while they get tax relief the private sector will also be getting further taxpayers’ support in this time of COVID crisis. In March 2019, at Scottish Labour ‘s national conference Bill Butler, SEAS convenor (see excerpt from Bill’s speech above), warned that SNP may well wriggle out of this scheme. We need to ensure this delay isn’t another attempt to kick the can down the road!

A New Normal

Niamh DonaldWhen will we get back to normal?  A question asked as we face the global pandemic and its unfolding nightmares.  Across our public sector and other key services, the value of essential workers has been celebrated by weekly clapping and for some a true understanding of their worth.

In education the essential elements have been highlighted in the response of governments across the globe.  UNESCO considered the need for facts and emphasised “what is really important at the time of an existential crisis, are qualities of our human connections. Things like solidarity, empathy, and kindness.”

The OECD collated actions from 330 responses across 98 education jurisdictions among its members. They added the views of unexpected positive educational results from the responses.  The top five positives were

  • Introduction of technologies and other innovative solutions
  • Increased autonomy of students to manage their own learning
  • Strengthened involvement and cooperation of parents
  • Improvement in multi-sectorial coordination (Education-health etc)
  • Increased pedagogical autonomy of teachers

For the SEAS these unexpected positives may well be clues to a new normal.  As we have seen schools become centres for ensuring the wellbeing of children of essential workers and then finding new ways to promote learning at home.

In the journal of the British Educational Researcher Association researchers have proposed that five educational myths shattered by the virus. These elements of the old normal include

  • Teacher and leader efficacy can provide the solutions to children’s academic failure
  • School leaders matter more than teachers and support staff
  • Schools and those who work in them must be continuously surveilled
  • Transferring power from the local authority towards autonomous “leaders” makes a positive difference to children’s learning
  • Education ought to be understood structured and delivered around the interests of the individual

So, what might a new normal look like in Scotland. It would seem to mean significant changes to Scottish Government approaches.  Moves towards local solutions are a key feature of responses within education to COVID-19.  Scottish Government and Education Scotland did not go to Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RIC) to deliver what was necessary in times of crisis.  Of course, neither did they convene their panel of international advisers.

“Education Scotland has changed how it is working to provide tailored support to local authorities, schools, children and young people in response to the closure of schools during the Covid-19 pandemic. This collective approach, drawing on the wide-ranging skills and expertise available in the agency, allows Education Scotland to provide national advice and support. This will have greatest effect when done in close partnership with schools and local authorities.”

Support for a local response is best.  Something that is being taken forward with a much more grounded approach through the potential of Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland.   The new normal needs to see concerted action across council services at community level with a focus on the achievement of children.  Such approaches need to have a focus on promoting social justice rather than the faltering one-dimensional attainment gap approach.

The SEAS sees the need for this model of local collective action rather than the siloed RICs.  All of those agencies working for children and young people in collaboration can deliver more than the sum of their parts.  Schools have their place as shared social spaces for children and their friends beyond what online learning offers.

The nature of learning may well move away from schools being exam factories and teachers working to push young people through the high-stakes hurdle of external examinations. In our view the advice from the SQA for assessment, moderation and quality assurance is a starting point for the teachers and students to engage in dialogue and feedback about assessment of their work.  Implicit in this approach is a high degree of trust in the teaching profession to deliver fair, reliable assessments of the young people they work with.  In our view the relationship between teacher and learner may continue to change towards a partnership of equals in achieving effective teaching learning rather than continuing to exacerbate the mental well-being of both through the pressurised timetable of high-stakes external examinations.

And what about the classroom, the lecture hall, the school or schooling? Online learning will be a common mode across Higher, Further and school education over the next months/terms/years. What will a new normal look like then? Might it be a Senior Phase with fewer lessons in the school building? A greater sense of teacher responsibility for resources with a similar level of student responsibility for their learning and its assessment?

The upcoming review of Curriculum for Excellence will have the opportunity to consider necessary improvements to the curriculum.  Is it a chance to rename it – A Curriculum for the New Normal?


BERA five education myths that COVID-19 shatters

Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland

OECD A frame work to guide an education response to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020

Scottish Government Coronavirus (COVID-19): supporting pupils, parents and teachers – learning during term 4

SQA National Courses – Delivering Results in 2020