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 https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/five-education-myths-that-covid-19-shatters

Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland https://childrensneighbourhoods.scot

OECD A frame work to guide an education response to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020   https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/view/?ref=126_126988-t63lxosohs&title=A-framework-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


UNESCO https://en.unesco.org/news/interview-azra-aksamija-what-matters-most-time-crisis-are-qualities-our-human-connections




SEAS contribution to Labour’s Scottish Policy Forum


SEAS has been taking part in the Education Commission of the Scottish Labour Party’s Policy Forum as a volunteer member.  We recently submitted additional comment about the vision for our education service end comments on early learning and schools.  Our submission is reproduced below.

Socialist Educational Association Scotland is the only educational affiliate of the Scottish Labour Party.   In the past two years SEAS has been particularly active across the Labour Party.  We have proposed motions at Scottish Party conference.  We have met with MSPs, councillors and CLPs to discuss key issues in Scottish education.

We have successfully proposed two motions to Scottish conference.  In 2018 we proposed a contemporary motion on early learning and child care. In 2019 we proposed ending all state subsidies and support for private schooling. In 2019 motion 16 from East Lothian to end standardised national assessments at P1 was agreed by conference.  SEAS would like to see the terms of the Conference policy-making influence and feature prominently in the work of the Education Policy Forum.

Our vision and values

 We endorse the statement of our vision and values as “lifelong learning towards an inclusive society based on values of social justice and common decency”. SEAS believes that only the Scottish Labour Party aspires for social justice through education. 

Early learning and childcare

 We support party policy as set out in the contemporary motion agreed by conference in 2019 on early learning and child care  and the motion 15 in 2019 from East Lothian CLP on ending standardising testing in P1.  We support reviewing all of Curriculum for Excellence including early years to promote and ensure learning that is challenging and enjoyable, relevant and personalised. We do not support a discrete and distinctive Kindergarten stage. The OECD (2018) places a great importance on curriculum alignment to avoid the problem of piecemeal change.

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

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

In Scotland we start with advantages in early years learning due to Curriculum for Excellence. Curriculum for Excellence provides curriculum continuity with its shared set of experiences and outcomes 3-7 years. Many children will benefit from a flexible school start.   It would be better than too-early and too-formal approaches of schooling. (Children in rows, rigid groupings, strict timetables). The SEAS proposes greater flexibility in starting ages evaluated as part of a Curriculum for Excellence review. We need to make schools more ready for children not get children ready for schooling.

Policy proposals

  • Review Curriculum for Excellence to secure more play-based learning in early years.
  • Offer flexibility in starting ages
  • Invest in nurseries and early learning centres in disadvantaged areas


SEAS is supportive of reviewing Curriculum for Excellence to secure continued improvement in a curriculum that is focused on children and young people.

Similar to early years all learning across 3-18 should be challenging and enjoyable, relevant and personalised.  All children are entitled to a broad general education and a personalised Senior Phase.  Schools can be encouraged to offer a broader set of options in partnership with communities, businesses to deliver a broader extended senior phase.

Curriculum for Excellence should seek to embed education for sustainability as well as equality education.  Diversity needs to be valued as part of an inclusive curriculum.

Our schools need to be more inclusive too. 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.  Scotland can aspire to be world leading inclusive education.  Staff and resources in special schools can be shared and provide valuable support to inclusive education.  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. All private schools work in a supportive partnership with Education Scotland and every private school gets support from a linked HMI.  Private schools also receive supportive quality improvement visits rather than inspection report.

The SEAS is unconvinced by the mixed results from Scottish Attainment Fund.  SEAS is concerned at the fall in attendance in schools receiving additional money direct from Scottish Government. We oppose this centralised funding and call for distribution of resources to local councils. We would end the bureaucratic Regional Improvement Collaboratives.   Councils need to offer greater autonomy to schools and for them to be accountable for delivering a social justice agenda in education. They can  improve outcomes in disadvantage area, meeting the needs of disabled children and offering inclusive approaches for LGBTI young people too.

Policy proposals

  • Review Curriculum for Excellence
  • Broaden Senior Phase
  • Plan for and resource inclusive education
  • Embed equality education
  • End all state subsidy and indirect and direct support for private schools
  • Councils and local communities more accountable for social justice outcomes.

Improving Social Justice in Scottish education II

As is widely recognised, secondary education in its current form does not suit all young people and in some cases is not the best way for a young person to achieve their future aspirations.

I was one of those young people.

Throughout my time in mainstream education I struggled in the large educational setting and with all the distractions that came with it. If by the end of a school day I had managed to remain in all my classes, it had been a good day regardless of the amount of work I had or hadn’t completed.

It wasn’t until I left mainstream education to attend Newlands Junior College (NJC) that I understood just how much I struggled in areas such as maintaining concentration, motor skills and what teachers perceived to be a lack of willingness and interest to learn. I would agree that for most young people, secondary schools get it right, however there are still far too many young people who slip through the cracks.

Personally I never aspired to go to university, however if I had remained at school I wouldn’t have even had the choice. The chances are I would have left with little or no qualifications and would have went through life with no hope of ever having a successful future. This was also the case for a majority of the 108 other pupils who attended Newlands Junior College over the four full years it was open, 92% of whom that either left once they turned 16 or remained at NJC until their graduation went onto a “positive destination”. Every one of these young people were disengaged with their education and in many cases had stopped attending school all together.

Take, for example, my friend John.

John was suspended from school multiple times and in the end gave up attending school completely, for a period of around 16 months.   John started his time at NJC at the same time as I did. He achieved 100% attendance in the two years he spent there, achieving qualifications from college in Engineering, Construction, Light Vehicle Mechanics and Business administration as well as in his academic subjects.  Now John has just begun an apprenticeship as an electrical engineer.

Upon reflection of my time in the conventional senior phase of education I realise that this setting was exasperating the issues that I previously mentioned I was experiencing on a daily basis. My parents had raised concern to every primary and most secondary teachers however no additional support was put in place nor was I ever referred to an educational psychologist.  Whilst teachers agreed that I was fidgeting and getting distracted very easily, not one ever highlighted the fact I was showing signs of having additional support needs.

When my new teachers did raise these concerns with myself and my parents everything began to make sense.

The first two or three months of my time in this different model of education had a massive effect on me, my self-confidence grew rapidly, and my academic abilities flourished. I began to contribute to society outside of education. I joined a political party and began to get involved with youth organisations and groups which eventually led to me being elected as a member of both the Scottish and UK Youth Parliaments. It didn’t take long in our transition before the new pupils including myself became eager about our learning and began to enjoy our education, whereas before it felt like an uphill battle or an impossible chore.

So, what actually was Newlands Junior College?

In this model of education teachers had the freedom to personalise lessons to suit each pupils needs and abilities. It also allowed young people who were not pursuing a university place to focus on vocational subjects alongside their academic studies that would benefit their future careers. These additional vocational subjects were provided by working in partnership with the cities established Further Education facilities and training centres such as City of Glasgow College, Arnold Clarks GTG Training and regular work experience.

This way of learning shows how young people who do not enjoy the academic subjects at school can flourish when given the choice to study subjects suited to their interests and ones they believe will actually prepare them for the careers they were perusing

Had most of these young people maintained their course through the conventional education system they would never have gained access to Further Education courses or have had the chance to gain experience in trades before applying for apprenticeships or continuing their further educational courses.

Schools were asked to nominate students just about to finish their 2ndor 3rdyear in their senior phase of education who did not seem to be getting the best out of their education however still showed signs of potential. The college was designed to help those furthest from employment, young people lost from the education system, destined to end up unemployed at 16, without hope for a positive future. Students were more likely to end up in the care of the justice system than at college, university, or in an apprenticeship.

Newlands prepared them for jobs and college through a vocationally focused educational experience, aimed at developing their confidence, skills and talents.Whilst NJC did not positively discriminate towards any key characteristics, each year around 70% of students came from homes within SIMD1 highlighting the direct correlation between attainment and social class. Additionally a significant number of students were care experienced.
If local authorities across Scotland were to create their own junior colleges, similar to the model of NJC not only would they be an outstanding resource for young people across Scotland but it would also save money in other areas such as social work, criminal justice and other interventions currently in place that are not having the desired impact on the young people they were setup to support.

Two years ago this month, I was just about to start my journey in a new learning environment, I had no belief in myself or my future. My future prospects did not look great. I had become disenfranchised from my education, peers and even my family.

Two years later having completed my time in this innovative style of education I’m a completely different person, In employment on the career path to the job of my dreams and whilst no, I did not achieve the coveted five Highers, NJC was not designed for that and nor was I.

Just because this model of education does not top some journalist’s school league table it does not mean this form of education should be disregarded. Without fresh bold ideas a significant number of young people will continue to fall through the cracks for years to come.

Ross McArthur was speaking in personal capacity about his successful experience following an innovative personalised curriculum at Newlands Junior College. NJC closed its doors at the start of 2019. It existed in a partnership model with direct Scottish Government funding, funding from Glasgow City council and private money. HMI inspected the College not long after it opened. 

Click to access newlandsjnrcollegeins271015.pdf

News reports https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-47094231

SEAS is supportive of innovative personalised Senior Phase with schools and authorities working across communities. Like Ross we think that  schools, employers and colleges working together can offer better Senior Phase provision.  


Improving Social Justice in Scottish education I

Screenshot 2019-08-20 at 16.13.17

It was a pleasure to be asked to speak at the SEAS Improving Social Justice in Scottish Education event on Saturday 17th August. Thanks to all who came along and spent their Saturday morning listening and engaging with some of my research into subject choice. Thanks particularly to Bill Butler, SEAS Convenor,  for having me along and to Ross McArthur, who gave a fantastic presentation on his experience within a ‘different kind of senior phase’.
My presentation focused upon senior phase subject choices and how these have changed under the Curriculum for Excellence, why the number of subject choices available has narrowed and some of the opportunities that have also arisen as a result of the reforms.
The subject choices process is incredibly important for a plethora of reasons. Firstly, it begins to streamline the opportunities that will be available to young people upon leaving school. They allow specialisation in pursuit of a certain pathway for young people – whether that be an apprenticeship, a certain job or career or a course in further or higher education. Further, each stage of choices also potentially limits the next set, which means that each stage of subject selection carries profound importance to the person making their learning decisions. Perhaps most importantly, the choices process should allow for a young person to have a balanced curriculum with adequate breadth and depth to allow them to fulfil their potential and become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors as the Curriculum for Excellence succinctly describes.
There is a decent literature concerning choices and what influences young people going through the process. Broadly these are –
  • Social Influence of teachers, peers and parents
  • Motivations – the balance between what subjects young people find useful, enjoyable and  difficult
  • Perceptions of the self, and the schools’ perception of the pupils
  • Governance and Policy – what actual choices are available is dictated by policy at all levels
Though it is important to note that all four themes are heavily influenced by socio-economic background of the individual pupil and the school that they attend. My presentation at the event focused primarily upon governance and policy in Scotland. I thought I would take the opportunity to share the presentation, which can be accessed here – http://www.tiny.cc/bbseas.
Perhaps of particular interest is new research which shows the correlation
between average entries to SQA qualifications and Free School Meals in the Greater Glasgow region.
I have written about the other influences here – www.tinyurl.com/BBTESSC.
Thanks again to SEAS for having me along and I would be delighted to hear your thoughts on anything mentioned. You can get me by email at b.black.1@research.gla.ac.uk or on Twitter @BarryBlackNE.

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.