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.

 

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.

We Need to Talk About Private Schools

Seems now we just can’t keep those exclusive private schools out of the glare of poor publicity. Given the present context, the SEAS supports the call for a consideration of the governance and safeguarding issues in the private fee-paying sector in Scotland. Maybe even ask the question do we really need them?

We do need to be mindful that schools in the private sector, face a context of significant challenges. Their challenges include decade-long declining numbers, continual concerns about safeguarding in independent schools yet a softly, softly approach from the SNP Government and Her Majesty’s Inspectors to Scotland’s elitist autonomous schools.

Firstly let’s be open and honest about private schools. They are in decline. They are unable to reverse a decade-long decrease in numbers and most worrying for them this is marked at the primary stages with about a 10% fall since 2007. Scottish parents have continued growing confidence in the state system’s very good inclusive primary schools to deliver the capacities of a broad general education better than the private sector.

We know from basic economics that decreasing demand for commodities like private schooling leads to price reductions. Now in Scotland we have the introduction of “no frills” education. It will be interesting to see how numbers shake-up in the private sector. The “no frills “ approach of the recent potential new entrant to private schooling in Scotland was welcomed by the Tories education spokesperson as something ”imaginative and creative.” While Tories and SNP cut education budgets and support private schooling the Labour Party would reverse such cuts and invest in inclusive approaches.

Secondly, recent concerns about safeguarding in private schools are not one offs or individual attacks launched on a school as the principal of one of Edinburgh’s schools viewed complaints. In 2017, HM Inspectors published their review of the Scottish education system from 2012-2016. There was only one sector among primary, secondary, special schools and prison education where concerns about care and safeguarding were expressed. It was stated in the sector report on independent schools that

“inspectors identified weaknesses in approaches relating to child protection and safeguarding in a few schools. This included staffing issues such as disciplinary procedures and safe recruitment practices.”

During this period one private school Hamilton School in Aberdeen was closed by Scottish Government’s registrar of independent schools. According to the BBC report, the now unavailable HMI report stated

“Due to the extreme and serious management failings, along with the endemic, negative ethos within the school, HM Inspectors are not confident that children at the Hamilton School and Nursery are safe.”

Others schools outwith the state system, like Merchiston Castle or Donaldson’s School have had reports highlighting weaknesses in care and welfare and safeguarding of children. The SCIS annual report for 2016 managed to skip over such concerns. The SEAS wonders if care and safeguarding are accounted for in the new imaginative, creative no frills private sector.

The third factor compounding all this is Scottish Government’s and Education Scotland’s over-supportive and positive acclamation of this divisive sector. John Swinney this year was a key speaker at the council of independent schools and wanted independent schools to collaborate more with state schools. It seems the shared agenda would be around governance (backing SNP moves away from accountability of local councils) and testing.

Due to cuts in numbers of inspectors, Scottish schools in general across the state sector are less inspected than previously. However it looks like there is a deliberate policy of not inspecting and over supporting the independent sector. Over a four-year period only 10 private schools were inspected but 25 had support visits.

Under SNP, in addition every private school is supported by one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors who acts as the Link Inspector for that school. No local authority receives such a high level of support.   This softly softly approach seems to be very well received by the private schools. The SEAS believes no charge is made for such civil service time.

This level of backing is before we discuss tax avoidance and their charitable status. The SEAS fully supports the Scottish Labour Party ending their charitable status and tax exemption from VAT. We’d like to see them lose the charitable treatment from the SNP and HMI too.

SEAS sees private schooling as only reinforcing inequality. Indeed there is no better representation of the impact of inequity in education than that of private schooling. It highlights a divide in society and a marked difference in how Scottish Government is too willing to support not the many but the few.