SEAS at Scottish Labour Party Conference, Dundee 2018

Bill Butler SEAS Chair successfully moves our motion at conference

After a successful Fringe meeting on Saturday morning at 9:15 (!) where Iain Gray outlined the historical successes led by Labour in Scottish education.  Bill Butler moved our motion on early learning and child care. Overall the SEAS had a successful conference with an exhibition stall where our blog articles went like hot cakes, a well attended fringe meeting – perhaps we should hold al our meetings at 9:15 on a Saturday morning and our successful motion.  It was good to see so many SEAS members around the Caird Hall.  Richard Leonard made an excellent speech to Conference.

Bill’s speech to Conference

Bill Butler, Chairperson of Socialist Educational Association Scotland  moving our motion on early learning and care and calling the SNP to account on their underfunded, boatsful ambitions for Scotland’s early learning and care. When the inspector called from Audit Scotland, the report flagged up “significant risks” in the way the SNP were trying to operate their policy of increasing hours in the early years.

Their report included warnings like “no measure of success” a “lack of agreed evidence” for the benefit to children and parents and no attempt to look at other ways to reach their targets. The empty boasts of the SNP were highlighted by inspectors who surveyed the parents. They said the changes had a limited impact on their ability to get to work. Auditors do like their data and numbers, their report included a measure of value the SNP place on increasing hours in early learning. Our councils valued the cost needed to fund the SNP boasts at £1Billion while the SNP were only prepared to give £840 million. It seems we have the SNP exchange rate for the value of our youngest learners – for every £1 needed, we will only give you 84p. It looks like SNP cant even be accused of running a Poundland service at the early years as they underfund and cut, cut, cut. At the last General Election our manifesto was fully costed and funded. It’s a pity the SNP can’t and won’t follow suit.

 

Scottish Labour will invest in the quality of early learning and care. The Socialist Educational Association Scotland   would like to see our Early Learning and care be among the world’s best. We want to see an inclusive comprehensive wraparound model of education, care and health for our children, their parents and carers. It’s not just a quantity, a number of hours, high-quality services are vital.

 

We are committed to having an emphasis on purposeful play. The latest research on the developing brains of our children makes the connections between challenging and enjoyable learning leading to high-quality outcomes. We want to offer child-centred pathways through early learning that can involve deferred entry sand children starting formal schooling at a later age.

 

While the quality of learning is vital, the quality of teaching is crucial. Our aspiration for high quality learning and care at the early ages with be achieved by continued improvement in the quality of staff, by enhanced training opportunities and by investment in the pay of our   educators and teachers.   Our sense of society can be measured by the value we place on public sector workers whether in our National Health Service or our national education service in Scotland. Our education workforce, the support assistants, nursery nurses, auxiliary staff and our teachers have seen their wages decline in value. Ten years of the SNP have seen our teachers now become the 3rd worst off across 20 OECD countries. The SNP undervalue and underfund early years services and undervalue and underpay our teachers and educators. Scottish Labour will review teachers’ pay, workload and career structure to re-establish the teaching profession as attractive and worthwhile career.

 

The impact of fully funded early learning and care will be greatest in those areas facing the challenge of poverty and deprivation. The SEAS supports greater focused investment with targeting additional staffing towards those communities facing greatest pressures. We do not accept poverty as an excuse for failure and we want to use learning and care to support children and families out of poverty.

 

That’s a real ambition backed by real investment. Our policy of wraparound services, with high quality, fostered by real investment. Such policies from Scottish Labour offer transformational change – not for the few not just a discounted 84%, but for all of Scotland’s children.

SNP exchange rate – for every £ you need you get 84p

DWYy0_MX4AAVY9LSEAS has placed the following contemporary motion with the annual conference of the Scottish Labour Party.  The motion is focussed on the critical report from the Auditor general towards the ambitious target set by the SNP fo really learning and care.   The auditors highlighted the gap between what is needed by councils up and down Scotland and what the SNP are giving to councils to implement their ambitions.

SEAS motion

Conference notes the Audit Scotland report of February 2018 on the SNP Government’s policy of increasing hours in early learning and childcare. Conference shares the concerns of the auditors that the SNP Government failed to plan in detail with councils or provide sufficient funding for councils in the development and implementation of the policy. Conference notes also that the SNP did not consider the cost of alternative ways of expanding early learning and care to achieve the aims of improving outcomes for children and parents.

Conference recognises the need for investment in education in early childhood to promote challenging, enjoyable and relevant early learning through purposeful play and staggered start dates for children. In addition the need for collaboration and quality staff development among staff across services in early childhood settings and primary must be based on reciprocal communication, inclusivity, mutual trust and respect. Conference sees the importance of more collaboration in this way rather than bureaucratic Regional Improvement Collaboratives. Furthermore we should be targeting resources towards communities facing challenges of poverty and deprivation.

Conference commits the Scottish Labour Party to develop a comprehensive wraparound model of education, care and health from early childhood recognising partnership working with parents and carers. Such services should be flexible, accessible, affordable and responsive to community needs with extended day and all year round provision. Scottish Labour will ensure that all children and family services support parents and carers where appropriate in identifying children’s needs and providing them with quality, timeous and appropriate support.

 

 

All Things Socialist Education 2

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The Socialist Educational Association Scotland (SEAS) aims to energise debate and discussion about Scottish education. We see the need to extend the influence of the ideas underpinning a socialised comprehensive education system. The case for socialised inclusive comprehensive education tackling inequalities is being made not just by the SEAS but now across policy communities.  In our view there is now a clear “policy gap” between such ideas and the educational policies of the SNP, more and more often drawn from a Tory playbook supported by Tories in Holyrood.

Recently we met with councillors from Midlothian (Margot Russell, Jim Muirhead and John Hackett) to discuss with them their approach to a forward-looking agenda for education. Our “all things socialist education” follows a similar meeting with Springburn and Maryhill CLP.

SEAS opened the meeting with sharing key points from our policy paper and highlighted our five key priorities: –

  • idea of community-based collaboration exemplified by early years wrap round provision;
  • inclusive comprehensive schools based on children’s rights;
  • at senior phase collaboration leading to positive outcomes and destinations including development of quality vocational learning;
  • ensure more varied approaches to accountability and review end inspections of primary schools and promote self evaluation; and
  • eliminate overly supportive Government aid and hidden public subsidy to private schools

Within the meeting we

  • identified key challenges facing Labour Councillors in relation to education including the impact of cuts
  • talked about drawing on good practice in local education authorities with a view to shaping SEAS policy
  • shared views on Scottish Government proposals for education as outlined in Empowering Schools: A Consultation on the Provisions of the Education (Scotland) Bill.

In a wide-ranging engagement the following themes were touched upon:

  • aspects of good practice in Midlothian Education Services – continuous improvement in educational attainment; strong LA management team; engagement of parents and community e.g. Money Advice; targeted intervention with support and resources to areas of greatest need; very good early years provision;
  • concerns regarding SNP’s Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RIC) and Scottish Government’s agenda in disempowering local authorities and centralising control. With RICs there are particular issues for smaller authorities due to time officers are spending on RIC which could be spent on front line support; failure of Government to recognise that collaboration has always taken place across authorities to share good practice; pressure on headteachers and the associated administrative burden etc.
  • concerns re need for greater collaboration across Labour Councillors in Scotland (SEAS outlined proposal for a conference to share good practice).   Reflections on the leading role COSLA took in the past in terms of strategic thinking and promoting the sharing of good practice through Portfolio holders and senior officers.
  • Scottish Labour should share information based on a skills audit of elected members and Party members. The Party’s Socialist Societies have a key role in sharing socialist perspectives on services that goes beyond the producers’ perspective yet can engage workers, consumers and users.
  • challenges of financing of local government: raising council tax; engaging parents and communities and explaining the challenges to them through community consultation; engagement of Party members in the budget process.
  • opportunities presented by shared campuses as community campuses: several examples of good practice shared. Agreed that Case Studies would be helpful. SEAS to reconsider challenges inherent with private schools, segregated special schools and faith schools and open debate and dialogue in these areas.

SEAS remains keen to engage further with CLP, council groups, party members on pushing forward with a socialist education agenda based on community collaboration.

 

SNP’s 3 presumptions of failure in inclusive education

Socialist Educational Association Scotland highlights the failures of the SNP Government to make a success of inclusive education in our schools. Over the past 10 years they have failed to plan or fund high-quality inclusive education. The result has been that some children are struggling to be included. Our schools and authorities are facing cuts where they should be supported to invest in inclusive practices.

After 10 years of SNP rule, Scotland has not built upon past successes in inclusion. The SNP have now locked us into a system that doesn’t meet criteria set out internationally or meet the needs of some children and their families. The world has moved on as Scotland stands still.

In September 2017, the United Nations expressed their concerns about the lack of progress with inclusive education in Scotland. Largely unreported by the Scottish media, they were concerned that “the education system is not equipped to respond the requirements for high-quality inclusive education” and “the fact that the education and training of teachers in inclusion competences does not reflect the requirements of inclusive education”.  In addition they were concerned with the “persistenceof a dual education system that segregates children with disabilities in special schools”. For the UN it was a human rights issue and Scotland was out of line with the UN’s view on inclusive education (See UNCRPD General Comment No.4).

The UN were clear on their recommendations. The government should “adopt and implement a coherent and adequately financed strategy, with concrete timelines and measurable goals, on increasing and improving inclusive education.”

So pretty clear as far as the United Nations goes regarding the human rights of disabled children. So what do we get? The Government re-issued in a revised format the guidance for presumption of mainstreaming from 2000 and consulted on its presumption of mainstream that falls short on a commitment to inclusive education. The consultation paper lacked any acknowledgement that the UN had concerns and offered no response to the UN recommendations. The General Comment issued in 2016 by the United Nations provides a framework for inclusive education – and you guessed it –  this helpful framework was ignored.

It’s as if we have learned nothing in the interim. No reference to Curriculum for Excellence nothing about children’s entitlements within their learning. The SEAS believes that every child is entitled to personal support to help them meet their needs. It’s an aspirational agenda for an inclusive society. The SNP are consulting on three ways to fail. No strategy is offered for inclusive education. At heart of the document no mention of the rights of disabled children to inclusive education and nothing to say about the success in inclusive practices across Scotland.

The SEAS rejects the presumption of failure in the three exemptions approach. We need to implement the United Nations recommendations. Scotland can build on the successes of inclusion. Successes that include the social mix of our inclusive comprehensive schools especially at primary stages, the successes in including and promoting achievement of children from ethnic minorities and the successes in the range of bases units and classes within mainstream schools that assist and promote successful inclusion.

We think Scotland can be a more inclusive society and are schools can be inclusive of all through a strategy to deliver inclusive education that will include all children to attend local schools.  international advice and guidance would be helpful drawing on United nations advice and recent guidance from UNESCO on the how of inclusion and equity. It would involve the move by special schools  towards being resource centres and support services for inclusive practices as happens in many European countries. It needs to include funding mechanisms that take account of successes in inclusive practices. All of this is best done through  well-resourced inclusive comprehensive schools. We need to invest and foster real inclusion rather than reduce staff, cut services and offer excuses and exemptions from inclusive practices and children’s human rights.

Guidance on the presumption of mainstreaming 

UN General Comment No. 4 on inclusive education (2016)

A guide to inclusion and equity UNESCO (2017) 

 

 

SEAS critical of SNP plans to reduce democratic accountability in education

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Empowering Schools is the misnomer headlining the SNP’s consultation ahead of their next tinkering with successful structures and approaches in Scottish education. A more accurate title would be Disempowering Local Government. The document sets out  proposals that will reduce the influence and scope of education authorities, pass powers and duties to headteachers without due accountability and impose centralised distant bureaucracies onto the system.

The SEAS is concerned that the SNP are drawing from failed Tory policies in England and are seeking to dismantle the range of roles whereby local authorities lead and manage in across the 32 councils. By pushing towards education “siloed out” of local authority leadership these proposals do nothing to tackle the criticism from the Christie Commission which spoke of a system:-

“As a whole, the system can be ‘top down’ and unresponsive to the needs of individuals and communities. It lacks accountability and is often characterised by a short-termism that makes it difficult to prioritise preventative approaches.

Addressing these systemic defects will require a fundamental overhaul of the relationships within and between those institutions and agencies – public, third sector and private – responsible for designing and delivering public services.”

Tackling poverty and attainment gaps cannot be successfully carried out by schools themselves or primarily by empowering headteachers. The proposals for a Headteachers Charter seek to dismantle the strengths of our education authorities and reduce democratic accountability. Headteachers are best placed to be given additional powers within a local council.

The SEAS supports more local decision-making at school level to ensure a dynamic flexible approach to the curriculum and teaching and learning. SEAS would want Headteachers to be accountable to deliver on the “principles of democracy and social justice through fair, transparent, inclusive and sustainable policies and practices in relation to: age, disability, gender and gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion and belief and sexual orientation. “ (GTCS 2012)

Schools should be collaborating more at community and classroom level. These plans do nothing to support further development of Curriculum for Excellence as a 3-18 project.

Schools, authorities need to collaborate to fulfil this approach that includes aims of –

  • developing a comprehensive wraparound model of education, care and health from early childhood 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
  • developing a single, broad and inclusive framework for the curriculum from early childhood to adult learning. This should include personalisation and choice, depth, breadth, relevance, challenge and enjoyment and progression and value what learners know and can do so that all learners can be proud of their achievements.

The Regional Improvement Collaboratives are an answer to a question no one has asked and conflict with aims of services across the public, private and third sector working together in line with Christie recommendations.

We note the recent evidence from schools in the Northern Alliance collaborative area who told the Education and Skills Committee that they had not heard of the Northern Alliance. They shared their “scepticism about the effectiveness of a Collaborative on the scale of the Northern Alliance. It was felt that people ‘on the ground’ were best placed to know the community. Teachers wanted support from someone who knew the area they were in”

We agree with the teachers in their evidence to the Education Committee, the six RICs are too distant from the local communities and classrooms. The SEAS is strongly opposed to the bureaucratic structural change of the Regional Improvement Collaboratives.

 

In terms of pupil participation the document is light on encouraging the widest possible forms of pupil participation too often pupil participation is selected from a narrow group of pupils. Our schools should be encouraging the participation of all.

On the proposals for setting up a Workforce Council and attacking the GTCS SEAS feels they lack a clear rationale and seems confused about who are educational professionals, para-professional and other education staff.  Many reports on Scottish education ascribe substantial strengths to the locus and role of GTCS. The proposals fail to set out why this needs to change.

The SEAS was concerned with the consultation, questions were on occasion unclear and unhelpful. We welcome the opportunity to contribute but have no confidence that the SNP will be listening to communities, teachers and parents across Scotland.  The SNP cannot continue to cut budgets to local authorities and not take responsibility for problems and challenges that our authorities and schools encounter. We need real investment in education not distant bureaucracies or more unaccountable officials.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conferring on children’s rights

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Three recent conferences considered responses in Scotland to United Nations Sustainable Goals and Conventions of Rights.   In November the Melting Pot in Rose Street hosted the Rights of the Child UK Annual Conference while Edinburgh’s City Chambers held Learning for Sustainability Scotland’s exploration of how schools and communities embed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into their work. In December Glasgow’s Hilton convened the National Participation Event reflecting on human rights in Scotland after four years of the Scottish National Action Plan (SNAP).

The most notable feature across the events was the very wide range of participants from across Scotland’s civil society. Concern for human rights and improving Scotland’s response was consistently demonstrated as a passion among those joining in these events. Overall there maybe needed to be a joined up response across sustainability goals and human rights conventions within a human rights model across Scotland.

The Rights of the Child Conference had an UK focus with participants from Ireland too. This led to different perspectives and strategies on children’s rights. Presentations were academic-led in the main though Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People shared his views on discussions.   Many in the audience seemed unaware of concerns and recommendations from the UN for Scotland’s education system in securing inclusive education as a human right for disabled children.   Overall the research base offered an update on strengths and weaknesses in Scotland’s approach to the rights of children with scope for improvement through incorporating the UNCRC into Scots law – something for Scottish Labour to consider?

The Learning for Sustainability event linked schools and communities together to focus on the Sustainable Development Goals. It was a handy introduction to the 17 SDGs and their coverage across planet, people, profit. The conference was enhanced with short snappy presentations about practical examples carrying out work with the SDGs across Scotland. Such presentations concentrated on sustainability aspects like food and environmental education. More could have been directed to SDG4 and its Equity target when discussing how Scottish education can take forward its role with SDG4 which is “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.     This was a good event for anyone wanting to get up to speed with practical ways to support sustainability through schools and communities.

The major conference event of the three would be the SNAP one in Glasgow in December. Around 150 people attended an event designed to give an overview of Scotland National Action Plan for human rights. The Chair of the Scottish Parliament’s Equality and human Rights committee spoke of the cross-party support in the Parliament then made a party political about how the UN commented on disability rights in Scotland. No questions were taken from the floor and the event was over-managed with all interactions mediated through chairs or floor observers. Even the panel discussion at the end was panel members’ observations only. However this was an over all positive event that updated those involved in what has made Scotland’s national action plan a success. Again recent criticisms from the UN were, apart from their selective positive use, ignored. The one event where questions and discussion points were permitted from participants was a Scottish Youth Parliament event during lunch where members of the Youth Parliament outlined their recent work in promoting the rights of young people through their Right Here, Right Now campaign.   Young people expressed interest in the UNCRPD’s Concluding Observations and General Comment No. 4 about disabled children’s right to inclusive education. We shall see.

Taking the three events overall, there is a healthy level of participation across civil society in Scotland. This needs to be marked by recognising progress but also being aware of where there is more to do. The levels of participation have made good impact in some areas such as the engagement for the national plan. What needs to happen further would be linking SDGs within a human rights approach across Scotland and also being aware of the impact across protected characteristics to ensure that the rights of some are not neglected or marginalised.

Rights of the Child Annual conference November 2017

Taking action on the UN Sustainable Goals across communities and schools, November 2017

SNAP conference – National Participation Event, December 2017

 

SEAS welcomes (re-) appointment of Iain Gray MSP as education spokesperson

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SEAS welcomes Iain Gray’s appointment as Education Skills and Science spokesperson for Labour in the Scottish Parliament.  The SEAS are pleased to welcome Iain’s  continued leadership in this area to challenge the unwelcome, regressive changes of SNP and to build an agenda for real change in education that will deliver for our schools and children and young people. Indeed we remember that back in the day the SEAS were one of the first groups in the Labour Party to support his nomination as MSP (back in the last century!).

 

 

 

“All things socialist education”

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Maryhill and Springburn CLP invited the Socialist Educational Association Scotland to one of their meetings in Possilpark, Glasgow to share a discussion on “All Things Socialist Education” this week.

SEAS opened the discussion seeking members’ views on the key principles of a socialist education system.

CLP members outlined a series of essential characteristics of our socialist education system and areas for continued progressive development. All children and young people should be assessed on their potential, truly assessment for all. Concomitant with this would be a highly qualified workforce, continuing raising the standard of our teaching profession.   In general the SEAS values our teachers and we can further develop our trust in their qualities, serving within public education.

Members were convinced of the need to treat children and young people as individuals and take account of and support those with differences such as children with autism. People with conditions such as dyslexia, autism or other additional support needs should not be seen as a problem as they were in the past. Members’ personal experiences of large class sizes in secondary and setting and streaming were raised. Speakers spoke of that feeling of being sorted out and devalued by a system that can seem just to reproduce and reinforce inequalities.   Children and young people are now identified with their support needs. Yet SNP cuts in education, particularly to support for learning teachers and classroom assistants, means many children with support needs do not get the support they are entitled to or that they need to benefit from school education. In some schools there is clearly a level of disengagement of working class young people at secondary stages.

Aligned to this were cited the words of Jimmy Reid

“Look at these housing estates and high-rise flats – look at all the windows. Behind every one of these windows is somebody who might be a horse-jumping champion, a formula one racing champion, a yachtsman of great degree, but he’ll never know because he’ll never step on a yacht or formula one car – he’ll never get the chance.”

Small changes taken forward with effective leadership can make significant differences to schools and push forward in a positive fashion schools, that had a poor profile previously among their community. There is value in supporting the early years more as well as a breadth of experiences across music, arts and sport.

The factory system of schooling should be ended and ways found through shared approaches and mentoring schemes to address the disparity in social and cultural capital between middle- and working-class communities.

The SEAS spoke to their five point agenda of investment in early years, the promotion of play and personalised pathways with children being able to start school at 5, 6 or 7.

Inclusive education can address the sorting and streaming of children by ensuring support for difference whether social class, gender, additional support or disability, ethnic minority or sexual orientation. Instead of cuts we need to invest more and consider changes to school organisation.

The SEAS recognises the need to promote successes in vocational approaches ending the academic/vocational divide and equipping young people with the skills for life and work.

The SEAS would also like to see the end of all state support for private fee-paying schools and centres. They should not receive any public support either indirectly as charities or free support from Scottish Government and education Scotland. Even though their numbers are declining we want that decline to continue.

Finally the SEAS is clear that accountability needs to be reshaped to ensure greater accountability to communities whether in school or around a school.  Accountability needs to be broader than high-stakes inspection.  The SNP are reducing democratic accountability by removing responsibilities from local councils to bureaucratic regional collaboratives and taking away teacher democracy through removing elections to the General Teaching Council of Scotland.

Bill Butler, chair of SEAS summed up the views and set an agenda that takes account of the strengths of Scottish education yet identifies where we need to do better. He challenged the SNP to retract their cuts in education. He noted the SNP seems to be no friend of accountability and democracy in Scottish education.