Is gender inequality at the root of primary’s SEC exclusion?

It is hard to see the justification for the government treating the primary and secondary sectors so differently

Emma Seith

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Do we value secondary education more than primary? It would seem that the government does. Its new Scottish Education Council – set up recently to improve Scottish education – does not include Scotland’s national primary headteachers’ organisation among its members.

An email from the education secretary, John Swinney, to the school leaders’ body the AHDS makes it clear this is not just an embarrassing oversight. Responding to a request from AHDS general secretary, Greg Dempster, for a place at the table, Mr Swinney says that a number of important organisations were excluded, including AHDS, “to keep the council manageable”. He points out that AHDS will be represented on other groups that will “work closely” with the council.

Interestingly, Jim Thewliss, the general secretary of secondary headteachers’ organisation School Leaders Scotland, has a seat – as do 19 others.

Mr Swinney envisages that Mr Thewliss will “bring a comprehensive leadership perspective to…discussions”. Yet it is impossible to imagine primary headteachers being charged in this way with speaking on behalf of secondary school leaders. It is also hard to see the justification for treating the two sectors so differently.

Mr Swinney’s take is that the EIS teaching union and the leaders of the improvement collaboratives – the six new regional groupings of local authorities – are “well placed to contribute on primary and nursery matters”. But the obvious flaw in this argument is that these two groups have an equally rich knowledge of secondary education, so why is SLS at the table?

Primary heads need convincing

If you were being generous, you could argue that the need to get the new national qualifications right has led to secondary headteachers being represented, while primary headteachers are excluded. But one of the key pillars of the government’s reform agenda is its plan to devolve more power and money to headteachers. There are more primary heads than secondary leaders and the impression is that they are the ones Mr Swinney needs to convince.

Mr Dempster’s suggestion that the decision is evidence of a bias in favour of secondaries rings true. In his correspondence with Mr Swinney, Mr Dempster says the move “continues to offer the impression that, as a system, we value primary and nursery education less than the secondary sector”.

Expanding on this in Tes Scotland today, Mr Dempster points to the fact that secondaries receive more funding, have larger management teams and government groups are often dominated by secondary issues.

Secondary was also awarded additional in-service days for implementation of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) – primary inspections were only reduced.

Could it also be that primary education is undervalued because jobs dominated by women tend to be? In Scotland, 90 per cent of primary teachers are women, as compared with 63 per cent of secondary teachers. We know generally that if a job is done by women, it commands a lower salary and is regarded as requiring less skill, so why not primary teaching? Pay is the same for unpromoted primary and secondary teachers in Scotland, but is the prestige?

The Scottish government insists that it values the sectors equally, but the best way to demonstrate that would be to treat the sectors equally.

That hasn’t happened here.


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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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