An appeal for renewed focus on Scotland’s Colleges

In 2007-8 the SNP majority government began a programme of the most wide ranging and devastating changes to Scotland’s Further and Higher education colleges in living memory. The reasons for the changes were well rehearsed at the time and continue to be reiterated: we needed to cut our cloth in response to the UK Conservative government’s austerity agenda; Scottish education had to better respond to the changing needs of business, communities and learners; College estates were crumbling and a more long-term, cost effective strategy was essential to create learning environments fit for the 21st century; too much resource was being wasted on repetition, duplication and low quality, non-certificated and by inference, sometimes frivolous activities. The message was clear; Scotland’s Colleges were a basket case and the SNP was going to sort it out.

Lost in the halcyon predictions of a bright new future were the inconvenient facts that under the Labour led administration of 2002-07 there had been a real terms increase in College funding, significant improvements to estates and a raising of student achievement and retention.

Student feedback told us that local access to high quality part-time as well as full-time vocational and access courses was an important offer to those who had to work while studying, those with caring or parental responsibilities and older learners who wanted to upskill or change direction.

During the period 2007-2015 funding was cut by 20%, colleges merged from 37 to 20, staff numbers were reduced by over 9% and student enrolments slashed by 152,000. This impacted more on women than men and discriminated against older people and those whose need was for a longer or more tailored learning journey because of social disadvantage, family circumstance, poverty, illness or disability.

Amongst the provisions that were severely cut or axed were: British Sign Language; discrete provision for students with a visual impairment, and those with learning difficulties; outreach, including with mental health agencies; ESOL for those whose first language is not English; Access to Higher Education for older students and “exceptional entry” for under 16’s. It is clear that those cuts where they occurred affected groups whose rights should have been protected by Equalities legislation, staff as well as students. There has been row-back in some of these areas, but there is no evidence that any formal Equalities Risk Assessment was done at a national level, nor that government issued any more than the bare minimum advice to Colleges that restructures should be mindful of their impact on protected groups.

You may agree that the SNP restructure of Scotland’s Colleges was a travesty but also think, ruefully, that the clock can’t be turned back and it’s all water under the bridge; and in any case, how can fewer colleges with smaller capacities now be expanded to accommodate all of those lost 152,000 student places? You might also ask if there is sufficient justification to return to arguments of the past when there are so many current and emerging challenges for Scottish Labour in our present?

The SNP certainly believe they still need to defend and even extol their policies in this area. As recently as January 2018, they posted a bulletin on the party website propagandising about the health of Scotland’s Colleges under their guardianship.

They say:

  • “In 2018-19, the colleges budget will increase in real terms.”

 They don’t say that just over half of that 5% increase is on one single capital project or that the underlying financial health of Scotland’s colleges is deteriorating with four facing particular challenges to their sustainability. In addition, National Bargaining, a SNP manifesto commitment from 2011, has still not happened and could cost £80m over the next 3 years.

  • “Almost 95% of college leavers go into further study, training or work.”

They don’t say that student retention and achievement is down and is lower for full-time than part-time students. Many leave for employment before their course ends because they can’t afford to stay.

  • “12,000 more students are on full-time courses.”

That is the total number between 2008 and 2016 and accounts for a mere 1.2% average annual increase. They don’t say that all enrolments are now decreasing with part-time enrolments going down at an even faster rate, or that, due to changing demographics, most of those reductions have been in the 16-24 age group, the stated priority cohort. They also don’t say that younger learners are failing to meet their learning targets at a growing rate.

In August 2017 John Swinney pressurised Audit Scotland to delete a reference to a 41% drop in college student headcount since 2007-08.

 Colleges can’t meet demand for places. In 2007, 36% of applicants failed to gain a place. We have no national statistic for unsuccessful applicants today because, we are told, there isn’t a national system in place to measure it. With 152,000 lost places and a 41% drop in headcount it would be reasonable to assume a significantly greater percentage now than then want to go to their local college and are sent away with nothing.

 Where our colleges are concerned, the Scottish Government has never ceased defending the indefensible.

Since at least 2015, the SNP administration has been investigating aspects of the College experience, arguably so it could mitigate some of its more negative aspects. For instance, the First Minister is known to be considering a relaxation of the targets for full-time college enrolments to allow more part-time. They have also commissioned an Independent Review of Student Financial Support in Scotland which produced its report in November 2017.

The Review outlined the current funding models for students which is heavily weighted in favour of those on full-time Higher Education courses, broadly HNC and above, who have access to the full range of student loans or grants. Students on National Certificate Further Education courses or part-time learners do not have access to the same funds, and those they can apply for are of smaller monetary value and yet are more stringently monitored. They may apply to a college means-tested Discretionary Fund which often stipulates a 95% attendance rate or lose a month’s money. If they are 16-19 they might qualify for the Education Maintenance Allowance which gives means-tested students £30 a week for 100% attendance. In stark contrast to their HE peers, FE students have only those two sources of support they might qualify for. FE and part-time students still have rent to pay, food and clothes to buy and may have children or other caring responsibilities. They may also have a disability that means they need specialist or adaptive equipment for studying, but they are barred from applying for a Disabled Student Allowance.

Amongst the findings of the Independent Review were the following:

  • Too many people have to leave FE to find a job because they can’t afford to stay.
  • 40% of students felt the financial support available did not meet their needs.
  • 70% had to work more than the recommended maximum 10 hours per week to cover their outgoings.
  • 14% borrowed to top up their income, some with pay-day loans and credit card advances.
  • Work placements were often not funded to cover additional travel costs, clothing requirements and equipment.
  • Students from the lowest income backgrounds leave with the most debt.
  • Care experienced students needed summer support which was not available.

The UK Conservative government reforms to social security benefits illustrate the contempt in which that party hold our poorest, most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens who apparently aren’t to be trusted with tax payers’ money and whose access to funds must be guarded behind multiple barriers with any failure to comply resulting in draconian punishment. This class-based disdain is also at play in our inferior funding for FE as opposed to HE students and, sad to say, it has represented the status quo in post school education for more than a generation.

The Independent Review offered a solution to this inequity by proposing a minimum student income of £8,100 for all FE and HE students, plus means-tested bursaries for the poorest students. They suggest ways to partly cost this which is worthy of forensic exploration elsewhere but for now let’s rest where the review suggests a fundamental rebalance to rectify the inequality and class discrimination that currently exist in the contrasts between FE and HE students.

So far, there has been little or no public discourse around this review but this government has a history of paying for advice and ignoring it when it doesn’t suit and if it is too timid to air the Review’s findings and recommendations perhaps Scottish Labour should.

The “Poverty Tsar”, Naomi Eisenstadt, has written of the “fundamental unfairness” in Scotland where the life chances of youngsters depend on the wealth and social class of their parents. With damning understatement she spoke of how the potential for the college sector to reduce socio-economic inequality has been “under-explored” and that “the overall picture suggest that the universities sector has had greater protection from hard financial times than FE and the College sector.” Ms Eisenstadt speaks of clear class discrimination.

Elsewhere, in the excellent Industrial Strategy for Scotland, produced by Scottish Labour under Richard Leonard’s new leadership, the importance of a skilled workforce is a stated priority and Universities Scotland is named as a key partner. Scotland’s College sector, however, is not explicitly mentioned. It should have been.

Our local colleges absolutely underpin our local economies, adapting and responding to the needs of industry, commerce and services in a dynamic way. They support Retail, IT, Administration, Care, Social Services, Leisure, Construction, Catering, Engineering, Rural and Agricultural sectors. They sit in the heart of our communities and play an important role in lifelong learning and social inclusion agendas. Currently hobbled by a 20% reduction in funding and 152,000 fewer places, an iniquitous student funding model and a government shackled to its own failing model, this is the time for Scottish Labour to be a champion for Scotland’s Colleges. This should be our bailiwick.

Linda Craw

formerly Head of Access and Progression

Forth Valley College






Scotland against Trump

A report from the Anti-Trump Protest Meeting held on the 14th of February 2018 in Glasgow.

The new Leader of Scottish Labour, Richard Leonard MSP, has a long history of campaigning against inequalities. It therefore came as little surprise, to those who know him that he would seek to facilitate a meeting to ‘commence organising for a united response by those who believe Mr Trump should not receive the “red carpet treatment” of a state visit’. Held on Valentine’s Day the meeting was a positive show of love over hate.

I represented the Socialist Educational Association Scotland at this meeting, convened in Unite the Union’s offices in Glasgow, hosted by Regional Secretary Pat Rafferty. There were many organisations representing Civic Scotland present, alongside MSP Patrick Harvie and others active in politics and the Labour movement.   Many others had sent apologies but were keen to be involved.

Following introductions the room quickly got down to business with agreement that we would need to organise a series of events leading up to any visit, State or otherwise. It was noted that Stand Up to Racism were hosting a Scotland March and Rally on UN Anti – Racism Day in Glasgow on Saturday 17th March 2018. This seemed a good starting point to build momentum against any visit.

After a lot of discussion from those present we came up with a name for the new organisation- Scotland against Trump. There was also discussion about how we could coordinate this. The suggestion was that the STUC could be requested to lead on this campaign. A Facebook page would be set up and groups would contribute material and share content. It was also important to reach out to US Citizens already domiciled in Scotland to ensure their support. We need to build a grassroots campaign with geographic spread, in readiness for whenever he visits.

In discussing how we celebrate Scotland’s diversity, there was a strong feeling from representatives of the Muslim community present that Islamophobia must be spoken about in any anti Trump movement – as one member stated, ‘he is welcome to come with a message of love but not one of hate’.   A sentiment shared by those in the room.

The next meeting will focus on Communications, fundraising, engaging existing networks and building momentum with local activists identified to manage logistics and organising. We would also need to look at materials and agree roles and responsibilities of each member of the organisation.   A mobilisation plan will be key to all of this.

It felt good to be part of such a positive meeting and growing movement against hate.

In Solidarity

Siobhan McCready

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


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


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