No change in direction for education, vows Swinney

Scottish government's focus will remain on closing the poverty-related attainment gap, says the education secretary

Emma Seith

Closing the attainment gap: There will be no change in direction for education, vows John Swinney

The need to constantly change direction is the “classic weakness of politicians”, Scottish education secretary John Swinney has admitted.

However, he has vowed to stay the course and keep the focus of the Scottish education system on closing the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils.

Mr Swinney made his promise at the annual conference of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES) in Cumbernauld.

Background: Keep calm and carry on, say government advisers

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Mr Swinney, who also used his address to hit out at the culture of negativity that surrounds Scottish education, said that the advice he had received from his International Council of Education Advisers (ICEA) – which includes well-known figures such as Professor Andy Hargreaves, Professor Pasi Sahlberg and Professor Graham Donaldson – was to maintain “the constancy of director of Scottish education”.

Closing the attainment gap

That, therefore, was what he planned to do, he said at the conference last week.

He added: “Their strong advice to me was: ‘You are making progress on that agenda [closing the gap] – do not depart from that,’ because, of course, the classic weakness of politicians is that after a wee while things get a wee bit familiar and we decide to go off and do something else. Well, I’m here today to tell you that will not be happening. We are going to stick with it because this is the right agenda to be on and the education system is making progress in advancing that agenda.

“Another significant reason why we will stay that course is there has to be a recognition that the issues we are wrestling with here are not issues that are just going to be sorted out and addressed in a relatively short space of time.

"We have to recognise that the agenda we are pursuing in trying to close the poverty-related attainment gap is a long-term agenda which will need sustained attention.”

Earlier this year, ICEA member Professor Carol Campbell told Tes Scotland that the council’s advice to the Scottish government would be “stay the course” and “consolidate and go deeper” with key policies such as Curriculum for Excellence and the drive to close the "poverty-related attainment gap"

According to Professor Campbell, a leadership and educational change expert based in Canada, the extension of the funding to close the attainment gap until "at least 2022" – announced by first minister Nicola Sturgeon in the Programme for Government earlier this month – was “extremely important” given that “every country has a history of short-term initiatives”.

Professor Campbell added that, based on the data the ICEA had seen over the course of its latest two-day visit, there was evidence that the attainment gap was starting to close. However, it was “a long-term task”.

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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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