SEAS contribution to Labour’s Scottish Policy Forum

SPF

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.

Policy proposals

  • 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

Schools

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.

Policy proposals

  • 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.

Letting Glasgow flourish

Screenshot 2019-07-28 at 13.06.51SEAS responds to “An Ambitious Glasgow ” a Glasgow Labour Party Challenge paper on education.  We think Glasgow can  celebrate some of its great achievements over the past decade and flourish in the future with a social justice agenda.

In Scottish terms,  Glasgow has the unique education system. It’s the largest local authority. It has the greatest numbers of children and young people,  schools and centres,  teachers and staff.  Never mind that it also faces unique challenges too.

SEAS notes the progress Glasgow’s students have made in their attainment in the last decade.  In terms of attainment the recent Education Scotland (2019)[1]report focused on attainment.  It noted that over the past 4 years “Glasgow performs consistently better than its virtual comparator but remains below the national figures. It can also be seen that Glasgow is closing the gap with the national figures.”  Glasgow’s own report to councillors noted the major increase since 2007.

The SEAS recognises that under Labour Glasgow’s achievements in the city’s education system in the 21st century have been far wider that attainment progress. By the way, the progress in Glasgow’s education system predated any claims of success from the SNP.

 Wider achievements 

Since 2000, Glasgow and its education system have responded positively to making provision to refugees and asylum seekers. Glasgow has become a city with more languages spoken than ever among its citizens.  Our comprehensive schools have ensured significant progress being made in an inclusive city.  Glasgow’s inclusive and welcoming approach to ethnic minorities has led to this diversity being a real strength.

Now, in Glasgow, the highest attaining groups in the city are girls from ethnic minority backgrounds.  The in-school provision of bilingual support in local schools has benefitted all Glasgow’s children and young people.  In particular the SEAS admires the quality of provision within Glasgow’s primary schools, many of which work together with all the families and  their diverse communities so very successfully. The SEAS would wish such inclusive approaches were extended even further to those with additional support needs and disabilities.

Glasgow as well as being inclusive of its diverse school population has also worked very well to promote equality education through tackling sectarianism in projects such as “Sense Over Sectarianism”.  This project which Glasgow initiated is a model of effective practice for promoting and embedding equality education in Scottish education.

The paper should also note the significant decline in children and young people from Glasgow referred for offending behaviour to the Children’s Hearing System.  In 2006, 2842 children from the Glasgow area were referred and by 2017 this had declined to 441 children[2].   Glasgow’s education services have played their part in such reductions as during the period there has been a significant decline in exclusions from school. There is evidence from the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice[3]that exclusion from school education is one of key factors predicting offending behaviour.

Scottish government under SNP would do well to ensure closer attention to these education successes in Scotland’s largest city.

Glasgow Labour Party’s challenge paper on education Ambitious Glasgow highlights areas where further progress can be made.

Early years

Glasgow’s Labour Party makes early years the key priority for tackling educational disadvantage.

UNICEF’s paper “Early Moments Matter for every child” (2017)[4]placed its number one priority as being

‘Invest urgently in services that give young children, especially the most deprived, the best start life in life.”

The SEAS sees the need to consider greater flexibility in starting ages beyond 5 and greater flexibility in the curriculum to ensure more play and experiential learning across 0-7 years.  Many children will benefit from a flexible school start.   It would be better than too-early and too-formal approaches of schooling such children seated in rows, rigid groupings based on some notion of “ability” and overly-strict timetabling of the school day.  The SEAS proposes greater flexibility in starting ages.

The OECD recent report, “Starting Strong” (2017)[5]supports the idea of more flexible support proposing better quality in early years. It emphasises the benefit of educational interventions at early childhood for those disadvantaged children compared to well-off children.

We need to make our schools more ready for all our children, not get children ready for schooling.  SEAS supports continued improvement in early child development service to offer high quality learning and care with staffing weighted towards areas facing disadvantage.   We note the challenges faced by the underfunding of early years by Scottish Government as highlighted by Audit Scotland report “Early Learning and child care” (2018)[6], referenced in the SEAS motion passed by Scottish Conference in March 2018[7].

The SEAS is aware that council provision is generally of the highest quality in Scotland.  We recognise the vital role of third sector and other partners at this stage and encourage the Labour Party when in power to work in partnership with other partners to improve the quality of provision in private and voluntary provision.    As a priority, the SEAS supports investment in quality early learning with access to staff trained in integrated approaches, improving access to teaching. We should ensure more challenging and enjoyable experiential learning through play within early level of Curriculum for Excellence.

Schools and attainment

SEAS would encourage Glasgow Labour Party to consider a social justice agenda for our schools raising achievement and not solely focused on attainment.  While Glasgow over the past ten years has improved attainment outcomes as measured by exam performance, the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged remains.   Inclusive education with a focus on social justice would do more to narrow such gaps and raise achievement outcomes for those in our most disadvantaged areas.  The SEAS would welcome moves to ensure teaching of the highest quality taking place in the areas of disadvantage.

Glasgow as the largest local authority can do more to “grow our own educators”, encouraging child development learning, supporting peer educators and establishing Aspiring Educators Groups in every secondary school to mentor young people towards working in learning and education.

We want Scotland to aspire to global best practice by being a world leader in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4[8]and its targets and realising children’s rights to inclusive education.

Schools should embed equality education to challenge stereotyping and reduce bullying against those different, including class, gender, disability, race, sexual orientation religion of belief with greater attention to sustainability, global citizenship and equality education.

We should invest in and foster real inclusion for those with additional support needs and plan for progressive inclusion with a new role for special schools and specialist services to reduce segregated education and support inclusive schools.

Positive destinations, skills and lifelong learning

At the Senior Phase collaboration among schools, education authorities, communities, unions and businesses is needed to give greater value to skills for life, learning and work including digital skills, particularly for working class young people. We can do better in offering personalised pathways to prepare young people for future careers in technical and vocational learning.  Municipal socialism within education at the Senior Phase must involve a collective and collaborative effort across the city to improve outcomes for all our young people.

We call on Glasgow to eliminate any public support or subsidy to private fee-charging schools in Glasgow and seek to phase out private fee-paying schools.  Glasgow schools and young people will benefit from educating all our young citizens in local inclusive comprehensive schools.

The SEAS is concerned at reports of children failing within Gaelic Medium Education in Glasgow and calls for language support particularly at the early years for children aiming to be bilingual in English and Gaelic. The good practice within Glasgow for English as a Second Language support can be successfully extended to support for Gaelic as a Second language. Children make better progress in two languages when their “mother “ tongue is supported too.

SEAS is not aware of evidence to support continued use of rigid inflexible grouping and setting in schools.  Too many schools utilise this approach particularly in the Broad General Education and recent evidence casts doubt on its effectiveness especially for children facing disadvantage (Education Endowment Foundation[9]).  In the Executive Summary p9 the OECD in Equity and Quality in Education (2012)[10]proposes that reducing rigid grouping, stratification and early setting leads to better overall outcomes for schools particularly in disadvantaged areas.

The role of Glasgow City Council in monitoring “Ambitious Glasgow”

Finally, we see these approaches taking place with greater autonomy and flexibility at community level. Schools are to be encouraged to work towards better collaboration within and between schools in their communities and beyond.  Professor Mel Ainscow has set out an agenda for a more equitable education system. [11]In this approach, given greater professional autonomy, the role of the local authority is key in monitoring, supporting and challenging schools.  In our view the local authority ensures schools work towards a more equitable system on a social justice strategy set nationally and secure inclusive education for all our children.

References

[1]Education Scotland Report on Glasgow City Council  2019

[2] Online statistical Dashboard, Scottish Children’s reporter

[3]  Making school a positive experience  Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice

[4] Early Moments matter for every child   UNICEF 2017

[5] Starting Strong OECD 2017

[6] Early Learning and care report  Audit Scotland  2017

[7]  SEAS motionto Scottish Labour Party Conference 2018

[8] Sustainable Development Goal 4 and its targets, UNESCO

[9] Education Endowment Foundation

[10]Equity and Quality in Education OECD (2012)

[11]“Towards a more equitable system” Fabians Education (2019)