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!
On 11th March Iain Gray MSP made his final final speech in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament having served as leader of the Scottish Labour Party but also as the key Scottish Labour Party figure in education in that time. He spoke to the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill. In his speech he reviewed the parliament over his 22 years as MSP and offered a vision of the work of the Scottish Parliament needing to shine light on darkness! We share his speech and share our view that he will be missed.
Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab): Thank you, Presiding Officer. I speak in support of the bill, which finally promises some redress for people whom we collectively let down so badly for so long. As children, they looked to us for care and we delivered them up to hurt, terror and torture, sometimes for years. Then, as the cabinet secretary said, for decades we refused to listen to them, but, in their courage, they would not be silenced. The bill has taken too long to achieve, and it could have been better. I wish that we had removed the waiver on rights to civil justice, but the bill is a substantive acknowledgement—at last—of survivors’ suffering and our responsibility for it.
As Jamie Greene indicated, this is my final speech. He will be too young to know that it is actually not the first time that I have made a final speech in the Parliament. The difference is that, the last time, I did not know that it was my final one. [Laughter.] It is better to make that decision ourselves than to have the electorate make it for us. I am glad that my final speech is about righting a wrong of the past.
I am privileged to be one of the class of ’99, as I believe that, over 22 years, we have put right many such wrongs. I helped to take through the very first act of this Parliament—the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000—which supported families who had been stymied in their care for loved ones by cruel incapacity laws, some of which were 400 years old. We abolished a feudal system that, for 1,000 years, had excluded the people of this country from vast swathes of their own land, and we opened it up to all. We closed down the long-stay hospitals in which our brothers and sisters with learning disabilities had been imprisoned for generations. It has been a privilege to be just a small part of all of that and of so much more that the Parliament has done when it has been at its best.
On that unforgettable opening day in 1999, Donald Dewar said that the Scottish Parliament is about “how we carry ourselves”. I do not believe that he meant how we strut on the world stage or swagger along the corridors of power. He meant how closely we are willing to walk alongside those who need us most and how willing we are to stand with those who are hungry, who are hurting or who have no hope—not craving the limelight, but rather braving the darkness that it is our duty to try to dispel. We have not always succeeded, of course.
There are plenty of present-day wrongs that I will be looking to those members who come back in May to put right. After all, we opened up access to our land, but it is still owned by a tiny, wealthy, powerful elite. We liberated people with learning disabilities from long-stay hospitals, but into a social care system that fails them again and again. There were precious few food banks back in 1999. What were we doing that so many came to depend on them? Child poverty is rising. Drug deaths are Scotland’s shame.
The Parliament’s best days are the days when we refuse to accept that we cannot change those things and we believe in our power to do that. The Parliament that I leave is not the one that I entered 20 years ago. Following the Smith commission, on which I had the privilege of serving, it is one of the most powerful devolved legislatures anywhere. I know that many members will continue to argue for its sovereignty, and that is their right. However, I sincerely believe that the pandemic has demonstrated the power of devolution, taking our own decisions here—some of which I agree with, others which I do not—about public health measures, schools, the national health service and how we support business. However, we do so while we are underpinned by being part of a bigger economy with a broader tax base, more borrowing power, greater research funding and greater purchasing power for vaccines and personal protective equipment. In any case—pandemic or not—our daily obligation is to use every power that we have, with all the urgency that we can muster, to right those wrongs of poverty and injustice.
I turn to that Donald Dewar speech again:“A Scottish Parliament. Not an end: a means to greater ends. ”A noble end—like today: a measure of justice at last for survivors of abuse. It has been a privilege to be part of that. It has been an especial privilege to represent East Lothian for the past 14 years, so let me place on record for the last time that East Lothian is the best constituency, the best county and the best part of Scotland in which to live or work. [Laughter.]
I could not have be part of any of that without the support of so many staff in Parliament, the Labour researchers and the staff in my local office—currently Chris, Ryan and John, but many others over the years, not least Pat and Simon, whom we miss. Above all, my thanks go to my family, especially to my wife, Gil. I would never have been here without her encouragement nor have survived without her holding my hand through the ups and downs. This bill is an up. It is a good bill—some light in a terrible darkness. We will support it this evening, and that will be me loused. Thank you. [Applause.]
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 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.