CfE has an edge on independence, academic claims

Curriculum can do more to rectify inequalities than a Yes outcome in 2014 ballot, he argues

Emma Seith

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Curriculum for Excellence will have more of an impact on Scotland's ability to improve its education system than winning independence in a referendum, according to a leading academic.

David Raffe, professor of sociology of education at the University of Edinburgh, made his comments in response to a recent publication by academics from the London School of Economics (LSE).

In their report Education in a Devolved Scotland: A Quantitative Analysis, the LSE researchers conclude that devolution has not significantly improved education in Scotland: while the system is quite different when compared with other parts of the UK, performance remains on a par with them, they say.

They go on to claim that independence, and the greater control it would give Scotland over its own finances, might allow the country to tackle one of its greatest problems: educational inequality.

"While Scotland is in charge of its education system, it is unable to raise taxes or alter many other aspects of fiscal policy, which somewhat limits the level and distribution of spending on education," they note. "Perhaps with independence, Scotland would be better able to tackle the inequalities in its education system."

But inequalities in education are a reflection of wider society and too deeply rooted for money to be able to do much more than tinker round the edges, Professor Raffe said.

"How money is spent does make a difference, but when it comes to inequalities it can only make a difference at the margins," he added. "There are more important factors driving inequalities - the class system, peer pressure, the way people perceive opportunities."

The Nordic countries and the Netherlands had reduced inequalities and an independent Scotland could conceivably "go down the Nordic route in terms of social policy", which would have a knock-on effect for education, Professor Raffe said. But whether the Scottish government would choose to take that path - or be able to - was "a big if", he said.

Curriculum for Excellence was more likely to influence educational outcomes in Scotland than independence, he said.

He added: "The extent to which Scotland does or does not reduce inequalities, increase participation and so on is going to depend more on Curriculum for Excellence and how it plays out."

A Yes Scotland spokesman said: "Independence presents a real opportunity to tackle inequality, not only in education but also in narrowing the gap between the richest and poorest in our society and addressing other social ills."


In Education in a Devolved Scotland: A Quantitative Analysis, academics examine Scotland's performance in education to help voters to decide if they want to opt for independence in next year's referendum.

Gill Wyness, Stephen Machin and Sandra McNally from the London School of Economics looked at evidence from national statistics and international surveys and found that all four UK nations held similar positions relative to the international community, despite key differences between their education systems.

"This is perhaps unsurprising, given the history of education in the UK, as well as the cultural similarities and shared labour markets," they say in a blog on the LSE website. "It suggests that these factors may be more important for educational outcomes than the types of institutional arrangements that countries adopt or their policies on school autonomy, centralisation and pupil testing.

"The results also suggest that continued devolution - at least in education and conditional on funding - should not result in a change in outcomes in Scotland relative to the rest of the UK."

But they add that if Scotland were able to wield greater influence over the level and distribution of education spending, it might be better able to tackle the inequalities in its education system.

See: http:bit.ly15zR3CB.

Photo credit: Getty

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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