A dose of disagreement would do us good

6th September 2013 at 01:00

Compared with the free-for-all in England, Scottish education seems almost monolithic. Faith remains in comprehensive schooling, local authorities retain control over what happens in classrooms, and Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), for all its troubles, is guided by a philosophy that few would question.

Disputes exist, but they are more procedural than ideological: "How are we going to get children through these Nationals?"; "Why can't students take more subjects?"; "Can't we get further guidance on how to implement CfE?"

Concern has grown about the ability of research to challenge the orthodoxy in Scotland. The subject came up again last week at the University of Edinburgh (see page 6) when Professor David Raffe, director of the Centre for Educational Sociology, said that, 20-30 years ago, English academics aspired to be part of Scotland's thriving educational research scene. Now, he added, the reverse was more likely to be true.

Education needs dissenting voices and counter-intuitive thinking. The latest edition of the mighty reference text Scottish Education (see page 14) underlines the dangers when this is not evident. Central government, the editors argue, prefers to consult statisticians and economic experts within the civil service "rather than encourage external sources of analysis which might cast doubt on the wisdom of certain policy decisions". In other words, the balance tips towards ideological conviction, not evidence.

It is welcome, then, to hear that an independent evaluation of CfE is likely to take place. As Professor Sally Brown, education committee convenor of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, said last week, without this, how will we ever know if it is working?

But scepticism must remain until more details are revealed: who will carry out the evaluation, how many schools and local authorities will be involved, what aspects of CfE will be examined and how long will it take? Just how objective and far-reaching will it be?

Meanwhile, a conundrum has emerged. TESS investigations have shown that a large majority of post-probationers do not find permanent posts by the start of the school year ("Prospects are mixed for post-probationers", 30 August). So why must some authorities resort to desperate measures to find staff? Aberdeenshire has looked to Canada and Ireland to fill 40 primary and secondary posts, while Aberdeen has offered financial incentives in an attempt to fill more than 50 posts.

The schemes cost roughly the same but, while contracts in Aberdeenshire last a year, Aberdeen has given recruits a reason to stay longer: they get #163;3,000 when they arrive and a further #163;2,000 if they remain for three years.

Aberdeen may be getting more bang for its buck (see page 12), but the city's decision to offer golden hellos can't be popular with other authorities. When schools can barely afford the basics, it would seem a bad time to get into bidding wars over staff.


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