MSPs get a lesson on values

David Henderson

THE Scottish Parliament's education committee, in deep philosophical demeanour, sought to shine light on the purposes of education in its contribution to the national debate. It ended the first session on its consultation on Tuesday by discovering that there is no light at all between teacher unions, headteachers, education directors and parents.

In a remarkable fusion of opinion, all agreed that despite significant progress in raising achieve-ment over the past 10 years, there is too much emphasis on certificates at the cost of personal development and the rounded individual. Today's pupils will not be well served in tomorrow's workplace by a narrow focus on attainment.

Shelagh Rae, director in Renfrewshire, said there was an over-emphasis on subjects as the prin-cipal means of developing skills. "Young people need to develop the qualities of self-discipline, initiative, motivation, caring and compassion and an appreciation of cultural and recreational experiences that are important to all of us in life," Mrs Rae said.

"At the moment, because of the emphasis on measurement, we appear to be valuing a particularly narrow set of skills and abilities around literacy and numeracy. It's the old adage that people start to value what they measure."

Gordon Jeyes, director of children's services in Stirling, said that important activities were being squeezed, such as raising money for charity or outdoor education which tested young people in different ways, offering risk and failure. "Perhaps we are getting more A passes, but then what? Are they effective learners?" Mr Jeyes asked.

Parents echoed the concerns. Judith Gillespie, development manager at the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, told MSPs: "We need a better balance that allows more diversity. At present, there is a single pattern directed by league tables and targets."

Mrs Gillespie said Wales and Northern Ireland had dropped tables because of the pressures they created on the system and Scotland should follow.

She supported efforts in Glasgow to run more vocational courses for hundreds of S3 and S4 pupils but unfortunately the national system of accountability overlooked the value of vocational qualifications.

John Tierney, president of the Scottish School Board Association, said:

"There is still a perception in Glasgow that those particular skills are second class to university skills."

Mike Doig, vice-president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, agreed the focus had been on attainment and results. "Administering results is not all we are about in schools," Mr Doig said.

But there was not a lot of space in a well-defined curriculum to allow teachers to work on self-confidence, motivation and free-thinking. Schools were not turning out young people with entrepreneurial vision.

George MacBride, education convener of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said schools had gone through a difficult decade of financial cuts but that was now easing. He criticised media perceptions of education for their nega-tivity when repeated surveys of parents showed they had confidence in schools and teachers.

Bullying and violence were overplayed issues, but Mr MacBride revealed:

"I'm recovering from serious bruising as a result of a girl kicking me."

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David Henderson

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