What’s wrong with education in Scotland? It’s the funding, stupid

30th June 2017 at 00:00
Thanks to the government’s focus on education, it’s been a year of upheaval for Scottish teachers – so you best use the holidays to get a good breather before we start all over again

It’s over: school is out for summer. Hang up the bunting, cuddle the kids and sniff some sun cream. (This isn’t a new legal high, but a good way to evoke happy memories of sun, sea and sand and get you in the holiday mood.)

What a year it’s been. Isn’t it just hilarious when the government makes education its number one priority?

It was because of this commitment that we started the school year with the deputy first minister, John Swinney, crowned as the new education secretary. And this is the reason why we have since rattled our way through a slew of changes that have left us arriving at the end of June looking like a bedraggled Brit, mid-heatwave.

It hasn’t been all bad, for sure. After all, we now have £120 million of additional funding going straight to schools for pupils claiming free meals, which few could argue with.

But there has also been a lot to get in a lather about: the unit assessment removal (and then not) debacle which led to an overhaul of N5; Scotland’s Pisa results dropped; our own literacy survey results also dipped; a scrap broke out over the prospect of a Scottish version of Teach First; a controversy emerged over the inclusion of zero-hours contracts as a “positive destination” for learners. And that’s just off the top of my head.

All the while the ministers have insisted that all is fine. Which for them it kind of was: if the nation’s results improved they could take the credit; if results went down they would help to build the case for “radical reform of Scotland’s education system”.

Making a difference?

And so it is that in recent days we have found out what this reform is going to look like: more money direct to headteachers; more power for headteachers; councils forced to work together via up to seven “regional improvement collaboratives”; the Scottish College for Educational Leadership subsumed into a bigger and better Education Scotland (remember how everyone was clamouring for that?); the General Teaching Council for Scotland to be transformed into a body that registers a wider range of educational professionals.

But will any of it make a difference?

It’s looking doubtful. Tes Scotland reported back in January on the extent to which councils had reduced the staff needed to support schools – quality improvement officer posts were down by 34 per cent and educational psychology by 13 per cent in a decade.

Indeed, biology teacher Kevin Campbell, of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, describes how things are now so tight that pupils are making do with lab equipment from the 70s and 80s while subject department heads in his council are not being given a budget at all this year.

The government is grasping for ever-more-radical ways to address falling attainment whilst refusing to acknowledge that education in Scotland in recent years has suffered death by a thousand cuts. In other words: it’s the funding, stupid. All the rest feels rather like rearranging deckchairs.

But, honestly, there’s not much you or any teacher can do about the funding shortfall or any of the many other problems facing Scottish education between now and August. So please try to relax. You’re going to need all your energy in the next school year – remember you have the introduction of national testing to look forward to.

Happy holidays.

@Emma_Seith

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