The SEAS was very pleased to have caught up with Michael Marra, Scottish Labour’s new education spokesperson to hear from him of the national mission to reclaim hope for the transformative power of Scottish education across all stages and sectors. Michael shares his view of the transformative power of Scottish education and its impact on generations of his family. He speaks with a passion about improving experiences and outcomes for the least privileged of our children not just in Scotland but those marginalised through the negatives of globalisation across the globe. We even hear a positive mention for Dundee FC!
When the Scottish Parliament rises officially on 4th May 2021, Iain Gray will be retiring as an MSP. Iain is one of the class of ’99 the group of MSPs who were elected for the first session of the new Scottish Parliament. He has had a range of experiences as a teacher in Scotland pre-devolution and Mozambique post-revolution. As well as a MSP and Scottish Labour Party Leader Iain has served as Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning and shadow education spokesperson during his participation in the Parliament.
The SEAS caught up with Iain before his retirement to discuss his career in teaching as well as his view of progress in education in Scotland. Iain is a politician with a hinterland as he talks us through his contribution as teacher, cabinet minister and education spokesperson. Iain gives us his view of the successes and impact of resource issues in Scottish education in recent years.
We did manage to tackle on his work with the Hibs Community Foundation on building collaboration to tackle food poverty and mental wellbeing through football. All in all a fascinating journey described by Iain which we are sure you will enjoy.
This is our first video and I did manage to get round to clicking the active speaker view after a while. And, yes, Iain’s dog did let us know that his mid-morning walk was being delayed due to the recording! Enjoy!
Today is the International Day of Education. The Socialist Educational Association Scotland sees today as a chance to record our thanks to educators and learners everywhere and their families in their struggle to prevent and minimise learning loss in young lives as a result of the pandemic.
We recognise that in a public health emergency socialised learning for all in schools needs to be limited to avoid spreading the virus. However, inequalities already present in our society are only exposed and exacerbated by COVID-19.
We need to start to consider ways to address such inequalities across Scottish education starting from early learning through adult lifelong learning.
Today we want to say thanks to the educators at home or in school, online or face to face, for us, all of you are key workers. (Today take the day off!)
In the last week of June, Gordon Brown spoke at the launch of the 2020 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report which has the theme of Inclusion and Education. In leading the launch with #AllMeansAll Gordon stated “Never was the theme inclusion for all more important. We need a campaign to save our future built around this report. We have to hold to the dream that in the next 10 years that every single child in the world has the chance of an education. We have to develop all of the potential of all of our children.”
Include all learners
The importance of inclusive education is shared by the SEAS and we continue to promote inclusive education across Scotland. The GEM Report includes its easy read version as well as a series of short videos and cartoons. You also have the chance to vote for your own personal choice of key message in a poll on the Report. Last checked over a third of respondents selected the statement “Widen the understanding of inclusive education: it should include all learners, no matter their identity, background or ability”.
The Report is well worth reading. It opens in its introduction with the challenging statement, particularly in the UK setting.
“It notes that debating the benefits of inclusive education can be seen as tantamount to debating the benefits of the abolition of slavery, or indeed of apartheid.”
In Scotland we have had three debates in the Scottish Parliament in the last three years. The debates about mainstreaming have tended not to be framed in terms of the abolition of slavery or the separate development aspects of apartheid!
Layers of exclusion
Emboldened and challenging statements do not just stop there. Inclusive education is placed within the struggle to tackle all inequalities
“All over the world, discrimination is based on gender, remoteness, wealth, disability, ethnicity, language, migration, displacement, incarceration, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion and other beliefs and attitudes; the Covid-19 pandemic has added new layers of exclusion.”
The Report considers that funding for inclusion has been inadequate
“Equity and inclusion will not be achieved without adequate funding reaching schools and students according to need.”
Challenges in bring about inclusive education
As UNESCO says the gem Report highlights the challenges in bringing about inclusion, many of which still continue to apply to Scotland.
“These include differing understandings of the word inclusion, lack of teacher support, absence of data on those excluded from education, inappropriate infrastructure, persistence of parallel systems and special schools, lack of political will and community support, untargeted finance, uncoordinated governance, multiple but inconsistent laws, and policies that are not being followed through.”
Scottish Labour’s response
In the Scottish Labour Party’s Education draft policy paper some, but not all , of the themes from the GEM Report can be found. The Policy Forum on education proposes
“We see the need for our schools to work in collaboration with their community to achieve better outcomes for our children and contribute towards achieving a more socially just and inclusive society in Scotland.”; and
“We will require every school to publish an annual plan to improve inclusive practices so that no child misses out. The Scottish Government and each education authority should have an inclusion strategy in line with the UN Disability Inclusion Strategy.” and in terms of an inclusive curricula
“We will ensure a zero-tolerance approach to violence, bullying and discrimination based on sexuality and gender in Scottish society. Labour supports the aims of the TIE campaign to develop LGBTI inclusive education in Scotland’s schools”
Scotland’s approach to LGBTI inclusive education within the curriculum is one of the few mentions of Scottish education within the GEM Report (p136). That lack of attention to Scotland and its self-proclaimed inclusiveness should lead some to question just how inclusive we are as a nation in terms of equity and inclusion.
Embedding equality education in curriculum, textbooks and teaching
At the recent Scottish Labour Party #After The Lockdown event on 29th June the SEAS emphasised the importance of embedding equality education throughout the curriculum. Barrington Reeves #BlackLivesMatter thought it essential that at the core the curriculum we should be
“teaching about anti-racism. I think that is something we need to actually teach to future generations… this country will only be stronger if we are all united and understand each other”
The GEM report devotes a chapter to curriculum, textbooks and assessment and their view of embedding equality education. This involves children and young people having an inclusive learning experience which requires an inclusive curriculum, textbooks and assessment practices. Barrington’s words were matched by the GEM report
“Curricula exclude when they do not cater to learners’ diverse needs and do not respect human and citizenship rights.”
The GEM report considered three concepts in the curriculum chapter that places inclusion as an exercise in democracy.
First, there are political tensions regarding the kind of society people aspire to achieve through education, for inclusion is an exercise in democracy. Second, there are practical challenges in ensuring flexibility in order to serve diverse contexts and needs without segregating learners. Third, there are technical challenges in ensuring that the curriculum serves equity by being relevant and in creating bridges that do not cut off some learners.
Call to Action
SEAS encourages you to read the Report and consider are we going to continue debating inclusion in Scotland or are going follow the report’s call to action
“Inclusion is not just a choice for policymakers. Imposed from above it will never work. So, the question you, as readers, are asked in the report is whether you are ready to challenge the current mindset and ready to decide that education is for everyone and must strive to be inclusive of all.”
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.
- 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.
- 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.
SEAS is keen to play its full part in proposing a motion at the Scottish Labour Party’s Annual Conference in Dundee in March.
At our recent meeting we shared and discussed four motions for the Conference. Affiliates like the Socialist Educational Association Scotland are encouraged to submit one motion to conference. The motion has to be one that could not otherwise have been raised through this years policy process.
The SEAS took a close interest in the policy process this year and was part of the Scottish Policy Forum. Given this interest in education though unsuccessful in election we were co-opted onto the Education Commission as a volunteer.
Some of the points below have not featured in the recent policy discussions.
Our four potential motions were as follows:
Age of Criminal Responsibility in Scotland
- Conference commits the Scottish Labour Party to raising the age of criminal responsibility for children in Scotland to the age of 16 at the earliest opportunity.
Concerns about cuts to support staff and mainstreaming
- Conference notes continued concerns arising from the limited nature of the presumption of mainstreaming and the level of SNP education cuts impacting on support for learning provision. Conference commits the Scottish Labour Party to follow the guidance of the United Nations and implement a human rights approach for inclusive education. Scottish Labour when in power will develop a funding model that allocates resources and incentives for inclusive educational environments to provide the necessary high quality and specialist support to children and young people with additional support needs. We will have schools and authorities develop their comprehensive Inclusive Education Plan in consultation with young people and other organsiations representing those with disabilities and additional support needs. We will ensure investment in inclusive education.
Embedding equality education
- Conference commits to embedding equality education in all schools across Curriculum for Excellence thus eliminating discrimination, advancing equality and fostering good relations among all learners in Scotland and in respect of all of the protected characteristics.
Ending taxpayers’ support for private schools
- Conference notes recent requests from a number of private schools for financial support from the SNP Government. Conference welcomes the removal of tax relief to private independent schools. Scottish Labour commits to removing all state subsidies, direct and indirect support to private schools.
As you can imagine we had terrific enjoyment in debating the merits of each of the motions!
In the end we agreed to propose the motion on ending all supports to private school given the recent requests for taxpayers’ money for a number of private schools. We look forward to speaking to our Contemporary Motion should it be accepted for conference.
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.
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.
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.