Letting Glasgow flourish

Screenshot 2019-07-28 at 13.06.51SEAS responds to “An Ambitious Glasgow ” a Glasgow Labour Party Challenge paper on education.  We think Glasgow can  celebrate some of its great achievements over the past decade and flourish in the future with a social justice agenda.

In Scottish terms,  Glasgow has the unique education system. It’s the largest local authority. It has the greatest numbers of children and young people,  schools and centres,  teachers and staff.  Never mind that it also faces unique challenges too.

SEAS notes the progress Glasgow’s students have made in their attainment in the last decade.  In terms of attainment the recent Education Scotland (2019)[1]report focused on attainment.  It noted that over the past 4 years “Glasgow performs consistently better than its virtual comparator but remains below the national figures. It can also be seen that Glasgow is closing the gap with the national figures.”  Glasgow’s own report to councillors noted the major increase since 2007.

The SEAS recognises that under Labour Glasgow’s achievements in the city’s education system in the 21st century have been far wider that attainment progress. By the way, the progress in Glasgow’s education system predated any claims of success from the SNP.

 Wider achievements 

Since 2000, Glasgow and its education system have responded positively to making provision to refugees and asylum seekers. Glasgow has become a city with more languages spoken than ever among its citizens.  Our comprehensive schools have ensured significant progress being made in an inclusive city.  Glasgow’s inclusive and welcoming approach to ethnic minorities has led to this diversity being a real strength.

Now, in Glasgow, the highest attaining groups in the city are girls from ethnic minority backgrounds.  The in-school provision of bilingual support in local schools has benefitted all Glasgow’s children and young people.  In particular the SEAS admires the quality of provision within Glasgow’s primary schools, many of which work together with all the families and  their diverse communities so very successfully. The SEAS would wish such inclusive approaches were extended even further to those with additional support needs and disabilities.

Glasgow as well as being inclusive of its diverse school population has also worked very well to promote equality education through tackling sectarianism in projects such as “Sense Over Sectarianism”.  This project which Glasgow initiated is a model of effective practice for promoting and embedding equality education in Scottish education.

The paper should also note the significant decline in children and young people from Glasgow referred for offending behaviour to the Children’s Hearing System.  In 2006, 2842 children from the Glasgow area were referred and by 2017 this had declined to 441 children[2].   Glasgow’s education services have played their part in such reductions as during the period there has been a significant decline in exclusions from school. There is evidence from the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice[3]that exclusion from school education is one of key factors predicting offending behaviour.

Scottish government under SNP would do well to ensure closer attention to these education successes in Scotland’s largest city.

Glasgow Labour Party’s challenge paper on education Ambitious Glasgow highlights areas where further progress can be made.

Early years

Glasgow’s Labour Party makes early years the key priority for tackling educational disadvantage.

UNICEF’s paper “Early Moments Matter for every child” (2017)[4]placed its number one priority as being

‘Invest urgently in services that give young children, especially the most deprived, the best start life in life.”

The SEAS sees the need to 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 such children seated in rows, rigid groupings based on some notion of “ability” and overly-strict timetabling of the school day.  The SEAS proposes greater flexibility in starting ages.

The OECD recent report, “Starting Strong” (2017)[5]supports the idea of more flexible support proposing better quality in early years. It emphasises the benefit of educational interventions at early childhood for those disadvantaged children compared to well-off children.

We need to make our schools more ready for all our children, not get children ready for schooling.  SEAS supports continued improvement in early child development service to offer high quality learning and care with staffing weighted towards areas facing disadvantage.   We note the challenges faced by the underfunding of early years by Scottish Government as highlighted by Audit Scotland report “Early Learning and child care” (2018)[6], referenced in the SEAS motion passed by Scottish Conference in March 2018[7].

The SEAS is aware that council provision is generally of the highest quality in Scotland.  We recognise the vital role of third sector and other partners at this stage and encourage the Labour Party when in power to work in partnership with other partners to improve the quality of provision in private and voluntary provision.    As a priority, the SEAS supports investment 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.

Schools and attainment

SEAS would encourage Glasgow Labour Party to consider a social justice agenda for our schools raising achievement and not solely focused on attainment.  While Glasgow over the past ten years has improved attainment outcomes as measured by exam performance, the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged remains.   Inclusive education with a focus on social justice would do more to narrow such gaps and raise achievement outcomes for those in our most disadvantaged areas.  The SEAS would welcome moves to ensure teaching of the highest quality taking place in the areas of disadvantage.

Glasgow as the largest local authority can do more to “grow our own educators”, encouraging child development learning, supporting peer educators and establishing Aspiring Educators Groups in every secondary school to mentor young people towards working in learning and education.

We want Scotland to aspire to global best practice by being a world leader in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4[8]and its targets and realising children’s rights to inclusive education.

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 sustainability, global citizenship and equality 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.

Positive destinations, skills and lifelong learning

At the Senior Phase collaboration among schools, education authorities, communities, unions and businesses is needed to give greater value to skills for life, learning and work including digital skills, particularly for working class young people. We can do better in offering personalised pathways to prepare young people for future careers in technical and vocational learning.  Municipal socialism within education at the Senior Phase must involve a collective and collaborative effort across the city to improve outcomes for all our young people.

We call on Glasgow to eliminate any public support or subsidy to private fee-charging schools in Glasgow and seek to phase out private fee-paying schools.  Glasgow schools and young people will benefit from educating all our young citizens in local inclusive comprehensive schools.

The SEAS is concerned at reports of children failing within Gaelic Medium Education in Glasgow and calls for language support particularly at the early years for children aiming to be bilingual in English and Gaelic. The good practice within Glasgow for English as a Second Language support can be successfully extended to support for Gaelic as a Second language. Children make better progress in two languages when their “mother “ tongue is supported too.

SEAS is not aware of evidence to support continued use of rigid inflexible grouping and setting in schools.  Too many schools utilise this approach particularly in the Broad General Education and recent evidence casts doubt on its effectiveness especially for children facing disadvantage (Education Endowment Foundation[9]).  In the Executive Summary p9 the OECD in Equity and Quality in Education (2012)[10]proposes that reducing rigid grouping, stratification and early setting leads to better overall outcomes for schools particularly in disadvantaged areas.

The role of Glasgow City Council in monitoring “Ambitious Glasgow”

Finally, we see these approaches taking place with greater autonomy and flexibility at community level. Schools are to be encouraged to work towards better collaboration within and between schools in their communities and beyond.  Professor Mel Ainscow has set out an agenda for a more equitable education system. [11]In this approach, given greater professional autonomy, the role of the local authority is key in monitoring, supporting and challenging schools.  In our view the local authority ensures schools work towards a more equitable system on a social justice strategy set nationally and secure inclusive education for all our children.


[1]Education Scotland Report on Glasgow City Council  2019

[2] Online statistical Dashboard, Scottish Children’s reporter

[3]  Making school a positive experience  Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice

[4] Early Moments matter for every child   UNICEF 2017

[5] Starting Strong OECD 2017

[6] Early Learning and care report  Audit Scotland  2017

[7]  SEAS motionto Scottish Labour Party Conference 2018

[8] Sustainable Development Goal 4 and its targets, UNESCO

[9] Education Endowment Foundation

[10]Equity and Quality in Education OECD (2012)

[11]“Towards a more equitable system” Fabians Education (2019)


Have we changed the whole concept of education yet?

The SEAS set out its priorities in this month’s  Scottish left Review


Jimmy Reid’s words still echo on education

Jimmy Reid’s rectorial speech of nearly fifty years ago continues to challenge the role of Scottish education. He spoke of the challenge of eradicating poverty, the place of communities and the negative centralising nature of national governments. He set an agenda not yet attained. In terms of the purpose of education, he nailed it: ‘If automation and technology is accompanied as it must be with full employment, then the leisure time available to humanity will be enormously increased. If that is so, then our whole concept of education must change. The whole object must be to educate people for life, not solely for work or a profession’.

Part of the role of the Socialist Educational Association Scotland (SEAS) is to attempt to persuade the Scottish Labour Party to adopt education policies that will respond to that ongoing challenge. Reid used the language of social justice and applied human rights terms to education, saying; ‘I am convinced that the great mass of our people go through life without a glimmer of what they could have contributed to their fellow human beings. This is a personal tragedy. It is a social crime. The flowering of each individual’s personality and talents is the precondition for everyone’s development’.

In 2000, the Scottish Parliament placed into Scots law the human rights version of Reid’s words with the purpose of education provided by local authorities to be for ‘the development of the personality, talents and mental and physical abilities of the child or young person to their fullest potential’. The SEAS argues that the human rights agenda can now go further and not just the individual must benefit through education. Social justice demands that realising the potential of the individual must also be measured by the potential for the benefit to all.

Recently, the SEAS has been active in contributing to Scottish Labour’s policy consultation arguing for better outcomes for all involved in education and for achieving a more socially just and inclusive society in Scotland. This requires collaborative and collective work within communities. Labour must ask: ‘Is Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) changing the whole concept of education? Is Scottish Education educating people for life and the benefit of society, or is it still heading down the cul de sac of passing exams for personal benefit?’

A new form of municipal socialism must position councils at the heart of a social justice agenda working cooperatively throughout local communities. The SEAS recognises the potential of more curricular decisions at schools level and the development of good practice arising from flexibility in CfE. A school’s autonomy needs to be accountable within its community but also through the democratically elected local authority. Holyrood has to avoid bureaucratic and centralised approaches. Jimmy Reid’s view, even decades ago was: ‘The power of local authorities has been and is being systematically undermined. The justification I can see for local government is as a counter-balance to the centralised character of national government’. It is just as bad today.

The SEAS argues for education to provide a platform for change, becoming ‘lifelong learning towards the inclusive society based on values of social justice and challenging disadvantage’, in contrast to a stagnating and struggling education system under the present Scottish Government which is fixated on testing children and attempting to marginalise democratically elected local authorities.
SEAS calls for early investment throughout Scotland in high-quality child development provision to match that already provided in many local authority nursery schools and early years centres. Early childhood development experiences would benefit from disputes around staff structures, education, training and experience being resolved by focusing on the creation of the best provision to meet children’s wrap-around learning needs and care. In the early years, focus should be on learning through play rather than schooling and readiness for school.

The SEAS argues that the social justice agenda must focus on inclusiveness and equality in education. If Scotland is serious about incorporating human rights for children, then children or young people with disabilities or in care cannot continue to be discriminated against. The failure to provide adequate staffing, resources and planning has strengthened the argument against the presumption of mainstreaming. Inclusive education is a vital part of educational change. It will need to be planned for, resourced and implemented much more proactively.

Embedding equality education has allegedly been a priority since 2014, but tackling stereotyping and challenging discrimination through equality education is still not embedded in CfE. SEAS argues for equality issues to be in the mainstream topics of every subject area as with gender stereotyping but also across characteristics of belief, social class, disability, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

Finally, the SEAS is keen to see the end of private schooling. The promotion of inequality and social injustice is buttressed by selective schooling based on social status and money. Private schools have been requesting and receiving support from public bodies, but the SNP Government refuses to own up to the extent of support. The SEAS resolution carried by Scottish Labour’s 2019 conference demands the end of direct subsidy by taxpayers and an end to indirect support by various resources of public bodies and government.

For the SEAS, education is more than school, college or university attainment. We have to provide better than simply a personal meritocratic approach. Education has a role in tackling all forms of inequality but the cause of increasing numbers of children living in poverty is obviously not primarily educational. Rebuilding a fair society can only be carried out by coordinated action at national and local government level focused through community action. However, education has a vital role in the changes that society needs and the SEAS regrets that promoting social justice and tackling inequality is not yet at the centre of the educational purpose for Scottish Labour.

Meetings and discussion on Education with Glasgow Provan CLP and Glasgow Kelvin CLP

SLP policy Education

Discussion with the SEAS at both CLPs considered on two recent Labour Party documents.  Firstly the Party’s First Stage Consultation Papers from the Scottish Policy Forum with a section on education that included culture and the Arts and international development.  Consultation is open till 23rdAugust to contribute views.  Secondly Glasgow Labour Party is issuing a series of policy consultation and their education paper is called “Ambitious Glasgow” and their consultation runs to August too.

SEAS had provided an outline guide to the Policy document and led the discussion with reference to Labour’s vision for lifelong learning towards an inclusive society based on social justice and common decency.

In terms of education there are now significant challenges.  Under SNP, Scottish education is now stagnating and at all levels the system is struggling. The SNP‘s role in passing on Tories austerity cuts underpins this stagnation.

There is now a clear role for investment in education and aiming for coordinated community action to tackle all forms of inequality.   The Policy forum paper set out the range of policy areas across the education service and indicated key developments proposed by Scottish Labour in early years, schools, community learning and development, further education and higher education.

The SEAS also mentioned their advice and priorities as being to invest in early education and  plan and resource inclusive education including learning about equality. A third priority would be to extend the senior phase of Curriculum for Excellence and take forward fully Jimmy Reid’s words about education for a wider purpose.   The SEAS mentioned their recent successful motion to Scottish Conference on ending state support to private schools and also in terms of accountability to move from the present system to one of more local accountability at local levels focusing on tackling inequality.

Across the two recent meetings with CLPs there were many common issues raised by Labour Party members.

At Provan CLP discussion began about the importance of equality education in respect of inclusive learning about LGBT issues and positive support was offered for the TIE campaign in Scotland compared to recent events in England where faith groups challenged equality education in their school.  The SEAS sees the need to ensure the success of diversity through embedding equality education across the protected characteristics.

While at Kelvin CLP, teacher workload opened the discussion and reference was made to work issues linked to assessment practices. The recent debate at the EIS conference about the place of examinations in assessment at different levels in National Qualifications was highlighted.  The SEAS is supportive of assessment approaches that trust our teachers rather than imposing more standardised high stakes tests at any stage of education.

The point was made about the need for resources to focus on class sizes and reducing pupil: teacher ratios to lower levels thus allowing teachers to engage in more active forms of learning throughout schooling. The SEAS is more supportive of more adults working in the classroom as a better form of support than necessarily lower class sizes.

In terms of the policy paper the attention to further education was welcomed, as too often it can be a “Cinderella service”.

Questions were asked about the level of state support to private schooling beyond charitable status and tax relief. Mention was made of further support from public sector through Scottish Government civil servants.

The question of early learning, start of schooling, play and national testing were topics that were considered with agreement that flexible start to school is was better, learning and play rather than schooling and tests.  Schools could better from a more permissive approach about learning and play in early stages.

Changes can take place within schools in terms of organising of classes and making full use of the diversity of population in a school, from each according to ability to each according to their needs is now more in line with educational thinking and evidence-based practice in grouping children and young people.

Further debate occurred on the place of Catholic schooling in modern day Scotland with a range of views expressed.  The point was made that we have a faith-based schooling system rather than a secular system.  At Kalvin the need for a secular system was proposed.

While at Provan CLP mention was made that even in our modern Scotland, aspects of hatred and bigotry against those from an Irish Catholic background are still in evidence on our streets.  A discussion centred on the tension between the role and place of Catholic schooling and their approach to equality education and safeguarding LGBT young people.  Many of the markers of inequality apply to LGBT young people as well as other groups subject to discrimination.

Mention was made of the success of local schools serving challenging areas yet demonstrating very positive outcomes.

Thanks were expressed to SEAS for contributing to a very good meetings and discussions and dialogue on education.  Each CLP indicated their willingness to consider a further submission to the policy forum.


A more economic curriculum

Screenshot 2019-05-24 17.43.00SEAS is of the view that we have to build towards amore relevant Senior Phase broadening out beyond the traditional subject diet towards more technical, practical, vocational education.   In our view a more relevant curriculum is necessary for those who find themselves put of place in a narrow academic curriculum serving those heading for higher education. The curriculum needs to serve all young people. The SEAS has long campaigned that schools need to do better by working class children, too many leave school too early without engaging with curriculum that leads to success in national qualifications.

How do we build towards this starting from early stages of schooling? SEAS member Margaret Houston has some suggestions.

All children should be encouraged to see education as a life-long experience.  Other subject areas like economics and political economy need to be give a higher profile.

As regards economics more needs to feature and be taught at Second level with Curriculum for Excellence in primary school.  This could be done in a practical way.  College of Food Technology  (who trained and employed a UK Master Chef) could send out a chef and an economist to assist in a school fund-raising project.  (N.B.  the Masterchef actually set up kitchens in the most deprived areas of the East End of London to encourage single parents how to cook on a very low budget.  Both women and men who attended, loved the classes).

In primary Sschools a good example of economics could be making and selling tablet (forget about dieticians for the moment!).  The Chef would get them to help him calculate how much tablet they would make, and also how to calculate cots and explain profit!  The Economist would show them how to plot the costs on a Supply and Demand diagram, and explain how equilibrium is reached.

When the children are involved in the production of something and encouraged to ask as many questions as they wish, they will lose any fear of the subject, and more importantly the vocabulary of economics will become part of their every day life!!

(Let’s hope the teachers would enjoy this experience too!)

At primary stages, within the Second level of Curriculum for Excellence, every school should receive visits from Further Education and University Heads of Departments.  The Colleges and Universities should have open days for children at this stage for children to visit and learn about the work of different departments, and what subjects would enable them to  be offered a place when they are old enough to attend.  Both the Glasgow School of Art, as well as the Conservatoire should be included.  There should be absolutely no mystery about attending further or higher education.

Once the pupils reach Secondary School  they can be taught about shifts of both demand and supply curves and what the result would be on prices and or quantity demanded and supplied and also on numbers employed( i.e. shift to right more employed shift to the left fewer employed.)

All Secondary School students could be taught a very basic circular flow diagram which introduces the government into the economy.  In second/third year, they could be taught how Government Taxation and Spending can either increase or decrease the circular flow of income.  This is the point when politics comes into play i.e. high taxation with no government spending can contract the economy and unemployment may begin to rise, but high taxation together with government spending can expand the economy (i.e. more jobs are created the economy).

To develop their understanding of how the above works, they can be introduced to a little economic history by looking at a chart of past increases in employment and conversely increases in unemployment and finding out what caused this to occur and explaining how this affects businesses and households alike.

It should also be explained to them that a lot of UK growth came directly as a result of UK membership of the European Union because businesses from all over the world opened offices in London (and some even opened factories n the UK so that they could trade both with UK and European Union free from tariffs).





SEAS successfully propose Scottish Labour ends all state support for private schools

SEAS Chair, Bill Butler led the debate on education motions at Scottish Labour Conference in Dundee last week.

“SEA Scotland, in proposing this contemporary motion, aims positively to update Scottish Labour’s position regarding state support for private independent schools.  As Labour’s educational affiliate we are fully supportive of inclusive comprehensive schooling in Scotland.  Through this motion we wish to end state support to the privileged forms of schooling that undermine our comprehensive system, and are a blot on society’s landscape.

Private schooling in Scotland is facing crisis.  The number of private schools, and pupils attending them, is in decline.  We must make sure that such a welcome trend continues.

The Scottish National Party has promised to end charitable relief for most private schools in Scotland by April 2020.  We call on our Labour MSPs to ensure that the SNP does not attempt to wriggle out of that commitment – we must strip this form of state support from statute.

We know that the SNP can’t be trusted on this issue.  Just as the Nats were saying they were to remove the charitable status, we had John Swinney, the present Education Minister,  writing to the Finance Minister on behalf of a private school.  He suggested that private schools could ask local councils for extra help and reductions.  You couldn’t make it up!   As Iain Gray said,  “The hypocrisy of this will anger parents and teachers across the country, this looks like another error of judgement from John Swinney”.  Iain you are correct, but far too kind in your phraseology.  This is a prime example of SNP hypocrisy and double dealing – talking left and walking right!

Conference, it’s not just the SEA Scotland that has concerns about private schooling.  School inspectors share our worries.  While we have concerns about privilege bought and paid for, the school inspectors have worries about who teaches in private schools. In 2016 the school inspectorate provided a report on preschool, primary school, secondary school, independent schools, special schools and education in prisons.  In only one sector did the inspectors highlight concerns about the care of learners – independent schools.  The inspectors said:

“We have identified weaknesses in approaches relating to child protection and safeguarding…This included staffing issues such as disciplinary procedures and safe recruitment practices.“

Conference, this is an astonishing and worrying indictment of private schools. Such matters cannot be allowed to go unchecked.

Comrades, the OECD has praised Scotland’s school system for its high levels of diversity in social mix.  This is due to only 4% of children being educated in private schools across Scotland.  The SEAS believes that such a social mix will be enhanced, particularly in our cities, by ending support for private schooling and welcoming more and more children and young people into an inclusive, high-quality, comprehensive system.

Labour’s aim of an egalitarian society in Scotland is compromised by private schools.  Let’s end the privilege, let’s stop the support and let’s hasten the demise of private profit in education.

Conference, I move!”




Deciding on our motion for Conference 2019 in Dundee

SEAS is keen to play its full part in proposing a motion at the Scottish Labour Party’s Annual Conference in Dundee in March.

At our recent meeting we shared and discussed four motions for the Conference. Affiliates like the Socialist Educational Association Scotland are encouraged to submit one motion to conference. The motion has to be one that could not otherwise have been raised through this years policy process.

The SEAS took a close interest in the policy process this year and was part of the Scottish Policy Forum. Given this interest in education though unsuccessful in election we were co-opted onto the Education Commission as a volunteer.

Some of the points below have not featured in the recent policy discussions.

Our four potential motions were as follows:

Age of Criminal Responsibility in Scotland

  1. Conference commits the Scottish Labour Party to raising the age of criminal responsibility for children in Scotland to the age of 16 at the earliest opportunity.

Concerns about cuts to support staff and mainstreaming

  1. Conference notes continued concerns arising from the limited nature of the presumption of mainstreaming and the level of SNP education cuts impacting on support for learning provision. Conference commits the Scottish Labour Party to follow the guidance of the United Nations and implement a human rights approach for inclusive education.  Scottish Labour when in power will develop a funding model that allocates resources and incentives for inclusive educational environments to provide the necessary high quality and specialist support to children and young people with additional support needs. We will have schools and authorities develop their comprehensive Inclusive Education Plan in consultation with young people and other organsiations representing those with disabilities and additional support needs. We will ensure investment in inclusive education.

Embedding equality education

  1. Conference commits to embedding equality education in all schools across Curriculum for Excellence thus eliminating discrimination, advancing equality and fostering good relations among all learners in Scotland and in respect of all of the protected characteristics.

 Ending taxpayers’ support for private schools

  1. Conference notes recent requests from a number of private schools for financial support from the SNP Government.  Conference welcomes the removal of tax relief to private independent schools.  Scottish Labour commits to removing all state subsidies, direct and indirect support to private schools.

As you can imagine we had terrific enjoyment in debating the merits of each of the motions!

In the end we agreed to propose the motion on ending all supports to private school given the recent requests for taxpayers’ money for a number of private schools. We look forward to speaking to our Contemporary Motion should it be accepted for conference.


Arts for all! SEAS views on free music tuition in Scottish education



SEA Scotland welcomes the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skils Committee’s Inquiry into Music Tuition in Schools.  It is heartening to read that the voices of young people, musicians, parents, carers, teachers, trade unions, experts and researchers are being taken into account by the Inquiry.

SEA Scotland draws on these voices and our collective knowledge of the Scottish education system in this submission.  The submissions to date speak of the value, and added value, of music in the curriculum, of playing a musical instrument and the impact ofthis school experience on personal development, qualifications, employment, lifelong learning and a lifelong love of music.

In this submission SEA Scotland will focus particularly on the Principles of Equality of Access, Inclusion and Quality. This submission will also highlight the positive contribution which music makes to Raising Attainment and Achievement in the broadest sense.

Equality of Access

To ensure equality of access, as a point of principle, SEA Scotland submits that Instrumental Music Tuition (IMT) should be offered free for all of Scotland’s children and young people in state schools.  

Education in Scotland’s state schools is free.  Therefore IMT in state schools should be free.  There is evidence from the EIS and others that in local authorities where they have increased charges for IMT, the uptake has fallen and many children have stopped having Instrumental Music Tuition.  Where armslength charitable organisations take responsibility for music tuition, re-designed access models increase numbers but not necessarily quality of experience.   Where there are no charges, the uptake has increased significantly.

What can the Scottish Government learn from the past in terms of equality of access?

In the past, there was an attempt at a ‘universalist’ model of access to music, embedded in initial primary teacher training and in every child’s weekly experience in primary and secondary schools up to S2.  Trainee primary teachers had to learn at least one musical instrument e.g. voice, recorder, piano, as part of their studies which included reading music (ref: Diploma in Primary Education).  This ensured that music was taught to Scottish children as part of a planned, broad and balanced primary curriculum. In addition, all children in Scotland, often from P4 to P7 and S1 and S2, were taught to read music to sing, play the Recorder or another string, wind, keyboard or percussion instrument depending on the skill of the class teacher or the availability of a cluster specialist music teacher and / or an instrumental music tutor linked to the availability of staffing and instruments.  Children with a musical interest could follow a pathway to play musical instruments into secondary education, although access to these opportunities was far from perfect and the selection criteria was not entirely clear to many parents of primary or secondary aged children.  Parents were often asked to make a small financial contribution towards tuition. Children whose parents could afford private tuition outwith the school setting in addition to paying a nominal sum for tuition in school were doubly advantaged, but music was available to all. Music specialists were allocated to a cluster of primaries and a secondary school where a GTC registered music teacher would support primary schools predominantly with notation, singing, choirs and some percussion. Music Tutors would provide tuition to those with an interest or an aptitude in a particular instrument. Music Tutors would also teach secondary school learners in instruments necessary to achieve music qualifications and many would often manage and support a school band, choir or orchestra.

SEA Scotland is concerned that there now appears to be a failure by the UK and Scottish governments to recognise the contribution that IMT can make to raising attainment and achievement for all learners. With continuing cuts to local authority budgets, cutbacks have led to a failure to ensure that learners have quality access to musical instruments and a serious reduction in specialist staffing over the years. Since 2007, there has been a reduction of 350 Instrumental Music Tutors in Scotland’s schools.  There has also been year on year increases in charges for music tuition in many local authorities. Some parents have expressed concerns about value for money e.g. children being offered 20 minute school group lessons in the context of increasing cost of councilcharges almost reaching parity with individual private lessons.  

Budget decisions to introduce charges, or to increase the cost of IMT to parents, may bebecause in the eyes of the decision makers, music may not have parity or equal value when compared to other subjects, such as science.  Science incidentally, has a high cost in terms of expendable materials but learners are not normally charged for science materials.  

SEA Scotland does not consider the Scottish Government can claim there is Equality of Access to all educational opportunities given the variations in charging policy across Scotland. There is also a wide range of concessionary charges across Scotland as children receiving free school meals and / or clothing grants are often offered lessons free of charge but then some authorities charge for instrument hire, which surely undermines the purpose of concessions.  If IMT was free for all interested learners there would be no need for such diversity in charging and concessionary models. Without that, at least a more consistent approach is required to guarantee equality of opportunity.  

As a country, Scotland needs to challenge those decision makers who do not value IMT and see the withdrawal of its free availability as a way of saving money. Indeed, there are some local authorities who have transferred their IMT service to armslength companies whose objective is to raise income. There are fears that this model of service delivery will result in increased group sizes, reduced teaching time in schools and moving Music Tutors to schools with the potential for raising a higher income i.e. schools in affluent areas.

SEA Scotland submits that there is serious inequality across local authority areas and within local authority schools in Scotland. Sadly, it is in some areas of deprivation that music tuition fees are increasing year on year with no clear national rationale or guidance to ensure equality of access to IMT throughout Scotland. Evidence from local authorities reveals that places given up by learners who cannot afford increased charges are taken up by learners from more affluent post codes.

In secondary schools, learners taking a SQA qualification in Music require proficiency in at least two musical instruments, one of which may be voice.  These students therefore require Music Tuition. They may have started learning a musical instrument in primary school to achieve the level of proficiency required at SQA level.  It is essential therefore that having access to Music Tuition is seen as a right to progression throughout schooling whichcan only be guaranteed when those who are tutoring are trained to a high and consistent standard across Scotland.  SEA Scotland urges the Scottish Government to invest in the Continuing Professional Development of music professionals in schools, at tertiary and higher levels in the education system.

Can Scotland learn lessons from the experience of other parts of the UK? The Daily Telegraph, not known for criticising austerity as political choice, recently carried an article headlined Music in State Schools Facing an Existential Crisis. Lord Black, chair of the Royal College of Music, warned that music is literally disappearing from our (i.e. English)schools pointing out that instead of music being ‘the right of all children’ it’s now becomethe preserve of the privileged few at independent schools as it dies in the public sector. He cites the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) that led to music being “downgraded and punished” since secondary schools have no incentive to offer music as aGCSE subject. The result is that one in five schools in England has given up teaching music entirely with a 23% decline in students since 2010 studying GCSE this year, while entries for A level music have declined by 40% since 2011. ‘Those shameful figures are part of a wider picture of music in decline in our schools,” he said.  Sadly, there is a view held by some governments, at all levels, that the utilitarian use of knowledge should be focused only on some subjects which are promoted as being vital for ‘economic progress. The Scottish Government must guard against the narrow and faulty ‘utilitarian approachto music education currently seen in England.

SEA Scotland calls on the Scottish Government to welcome and support themovement which promotes STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) subjects.  This is a balanced approach to education which recognises that the arts, music, literature and the creative industries are equally important to a thriving economy and society and which contribute equally to ‘meaningful employment’ and gross domestic product.  We must guard against attempts at social engineering – creating a school system to meet the needs of a narrow interpretation of ‘the economy at a cost whichdisadvantages the broadest and fullest cognitive and creative potential of our children and denies our young people future employment and fulfilment in the creative industries.  

SEA Scotland regret that music tuition has been down-graded from being central to the music curriculum under Curriculum for Excellence and challenge those in Scottish Education who argue that music tuition should be merely ‘extra-curricular’.Learning to read music and play an instrument is an important educational experience in addition to being a lifeskill which should have a mainstream curriculum entitlement if Scotland is to maintain the quality of our education system.


Children with additional support needs should have opportunities to access musical instruments.  There are many examples of the use of music in contributing to thedevelopment, mental health and wellbeing of vulnerable children and young people.  In addition, it is important that every local authority employs Music Therapists, especially for children with additional support needs, including social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.  

Raising Attainment and Achievement

The Scottish Government should commit to ensuring access to instrumental music tuition as a right for all children as part of a strategy to raise attainment and achievement.  Evidence has been submitted to the Inquiry from young people, who extol the value of music to their own personal development, to their positive mental health, and recognition of the social value of music from their experience of learning and playing in musical groups. A 10year research study in America tracked 25,000 middle and high school students and discovered music-making students, regardless of socio-economic background, got higher marks on standardised tests (sic) than those who have little or nomusic involvement.  A study at British Columbia put to rest the theory that time spent on music tuition is time wasted as it took away from ‘mainstream’ subjects.  The research concluded that music participation benefits students in ways that are directly or indirectly linked to higher academic achievement in general and social development.

The SEA Scotland calls the Scottish Government’s attention to the substantial research of Dr Anita Collins of the University of Canberra in Australia.  Dr Collins is an award-winning educator, neuroscientist, researcher and writer in the field of brain development and music learning.  Following a personal experience in which learning a musical instrument improved her own cognitive learning abilities, she spent her PhD years, and since, doing research into the neurological impact of learning to play a musical instrument. Her analysis of the work of almost 100 research projects across the US, Canada, Europe and Australia lends strength to the arguments for IMT to be an important element in education which increases cognitive development.  She explains that from before birth, music has a profound effect on how the brain learns and grows.  Studies carried out on children found that there was a significant increase in academic attainment for children who played musical instruments.  She found that playing a musical instrument engages practically every area of the brain at the same time. Playing a musical instrument strengthens whole brain activity, activates the left and right side of the brain and enhances memory functions.


The Socialist Educational Association Scotland welcomes this Committee inquiry and hopes that urgent action is recommended to the Scottish Government to recognise the contribution which Instrumental Music Tuition makes towards Raising Attainment and Achievement.  In addition it asks that the committee recognises that insisting on access to Instrument Music Tuition for all interested learners meets the principles of Equity of Access, Quality and Inclusion. In particular, the Socialist Educational Association (Scotland) believes that Instrumental Music Tuition should be free and available as an integral part of Scotland’s curriculum and state

“Social Justice in Austere Times”

Humpty Dumpty

Four perspectives…and a common theme?

Social Justice in Austere Times: University of Glasgow, School of Education

Social justice seems to be dominating the agenda in the field of education and beyond. However, there is growing concern about how the terminology is being used…and misused. Brian Boyd attended a recent University of Glasgow Seminar and comments on for the Socialist Educational Association Scotland. The seminar included four speakers s offering an international, national and local perspective of social justice in austere times. The speakers had a chance to subject “social justice” to some discourse analysis, and found it wanting.

The words of Humpty-Dumpty provide a salutary lesson; “when I use a word, it means exactly what I choose it to mean; neither more nor less.” If social justice is reduced to numbers and league tables as can be seen in some OECD publications, it may actually lead to a diminution in provision for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. It can disempower the very people whom it is purporting to help, those who live in disadvantaged communities, pupils and parents/carers.

When used by politicians, it can be a mask for centralised control of education.  The First Minister promises to close the gap, and it drowns out any opposing argument.  Is the attainment gap the only gap?  Can it be closed by education alone?  Are schools, or even headteachers, responsible for its closure?  And will the criteria used to determine whether it is closing, be reduced to test scores and examination performance?

There is an underlying issue of trust and empowerment here.  Do we trust enough in state comprehensive schooling, managed on a local basis in collaboration with stakeholders, without the narrow focus on examinations, to produce successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens?

Terms like social justice and closing the gap can all too easily become slogans.  Let’s have a national conversation about the kind of fair and just society we want and the role education can play in achieving it.

The seminar

The panel discussion was led by Professor Bob Lingard from the University of Queensland.  His perspective was international and began with the observation that inequality had grown in the 2000s.  As a consequence, the “social justice” had become ubiquitous but, in his view, remained problematic.  He pointed to the growth of large-scale assessment in education across the world which seem to reduce the concept of social justice to that which can be measured by testing, preferably international testing, such as PISA. Social justice is in danger of being redefined and taken over by numbers.

Drawing on Nancy Fraser’s “Fortunes of Feminism”, he argued that PISA was rearticulating social justice as a technical concept and one which led to the over-attribution of school outcomes to school factors rather than wider social issues.  The key question for us is “how is social justice defined in Scotland?  He drew on what was happening in Australia where the NAPLAN policy means that there is testing in every state and every school is measured against 59 other, “similar” schools.  Headteachers are held responsible and social justice is reduced…to numbers. He posed the question, “who collects the data and for what purpose” (as question which might be asked of the most recent OECD Education at a Glance report which focused heavily on social justice).

The next speaker, Dr Sinead Gormally, explored austerity and its impact on local communities. She say blame being shifted onto individuals and a deficit perspective emerging at the same time as youth services were being decimated, especially in England. She pointed to the draft education bill in Scotland as being heavily focused on “attainment” and …tests. She argued strongly that Community Development, not centralised control, should be at the heart of social justice and pointed to the resilience which is present in all communities, perhaps especially those hit hardest by austerity.  But, she warned that there is growing resentment among communities at the sharp end of austerity and that Governments should be empowering, not alienating, them.

Dr. Robert Doherty suggested that the SNP had made social justice a key feature of its mission since 2007 and in so doing had politicised education.  Reducing inequality had become the defining feature of the present SNP administration and the First Minister, by making “closing the gap” the issue on which she wanted to be judged, had merged politics with education. But, just as “social justice” has become a contested term, “closing the gap” has become a synonym for reducing inequality through education.

Dr. Doherty also described how the School of Education at Glasgow University now had a commitment to social justice. Thus, the conduct of the School itself, its staff and student, should be based on principles of social justice. To achieve this goal, the School was engaged in a “search for coherence” across all of its activities and one of the hoped for outcomes was that the priorities of the University itself would be based on social justice.

The final speaker, Dr. Jacquie Purdie, a serving secondary school headteacher, now seconded to the School of Education, claimed that social justice was “not an option”; it was built into the  GTCS Professional Standards of teachers and headteachers. For her, closing the attainment gap was a party political issue and not the most important challenge facing schools.  There are many gaps in education, not simply that of narrow “attainment” linked to poverty. She argued strongly that the money recently given to schools to help close the gap would have been better given to Early Years education, and echoed the sentiments of the previous speaker in suggesting that education had become increasingly politicised.

The Headteacher Charter had, in her view, led to increased pressure on schools, had contributed to the “over-stretching” of heads and, most importantly, was in danger of diminishing the historic role of local authorities.

Unfortunately, the session was scheduled for an hour and, as might be expected, the speakers found it difficult to stick to the allotted time, and so the Q&A session was curtailed somewhat.  It was, however, a stimulating evening.