A lot of focus on war, not political interventions

22nd April 2011 at 01:00
In our latest pre-election interview with parties' education spokespeople, Henry Hepburn meets the Scottish Greens' Alison Johnstone

Many teachers complain it is difficult to tell parties' education policies apart. What makes the Greens stand out?

Too many other parties see subjects like arts and music as added extras, something we can dispense with when times are tough. They should be part of the normal, standard curriculum.

You would keep higher education free, like most other parties. How realistic is this, and does anything mark out your policy?

This is fully costed; we would not build an additional Forth Road Bridge and we'd introduce a land-value tax to replace council tax. We have a strong, consistent track record on tuition fees. Labour brought in fees; the Lib Dems and Tories trebled them down south; the SNP reneged on their promise to eradicate student debt.

Your party would require schools to establish `peace initiatives'. What does this mean?

There has been some good work in schools encouraging pupils to engage in conflict resolution, in a way applicable in all situations from the playground to how we deal with wars, but they are too often one-offs; we would like to embed this more firmly in the curriculum. In the history curriculum there is a lot of focus on war but not on different political interventions; we could do a lot more about the United Nations and peace-keeping forces.

Why should global citizenship have `enhanced status' in Curriculum for Excellence over other aspects of education, as your manifesto states?

Education on that front is far too limited. Children should know why it's important that we make our planet more sustainable, so they can deal with climate change and other crucial international issues. Citizenship can be a bit dull and worthy but George Watson's College, in Edinburgh, has a "UN conference" every year, where pupils from different schools represent countries and discuss their problems; there is a huge buzz in the school.

What is your party's stance on denominational education?

We want to see equal access to education for all. In the fullness of time, the closer we can get to a non- denominational model, the better. There are instances where we are seeing more shared campuses, and there are a lot of non-Catholic children attending faith schools - I think the situation with regards to mutual tolerance and sharing of resources and so on is improving. We would like to see children learning about all religions in all of our schools, to build mutual understanding, respect and tolerance.

Would you give heads the power to hire and fire?

We probably believe headteachers have that power at the moment; I'm sure any recruitment panel would very much respect the opinion of a headteacher, and I'm sure heads receive support from local authorities if they have concerns about a staff member. Headteachers maybe should have more control over devolved budgets - for things like energy conservation, far too much is controlled centrally.

What is your stance on running schools outwith local authority control?

We would resist that most strenuously. I would be very concerned that resources would be removed from the local authority. Privatised schools are more likely to be subject to the beliefs of those funding them.

Can you guarantee to protect the key elements of the McCrone agreement?

Absolutely. When it comes to the budget, we would not support anything that impacted on that. It's interesting that people are saying: "Let's have a look at this now" - when times are tough.

Would you fight to ensure the survival of the chartered teacher programme?

Yes. It becomes even more important when local authorities seem hellbent on the faculty model. With the lack of PT posts, there is real frustration from class teachers thinking: "How can I further my career?" We have ambitious, talented people who want to see some sort of progression; we might lose them to other professions if we don't have PTs and chartered teachers.

How would you ensure there are jobs for post-probationers and out-of-work teachers?

We have to ensure local and national government are honest with each other about things like how many classes an authority is likely to have, or how many schools they are likely to close, because these are going to have quite an impact on the number of teachers we train. Even if it's an idea on the backburner, not yet brought to council, there could be quite a different picture if that information is not available at Government level.

Supply teachers feel they have come off badly in recent negotiations about pay and conditions. What support would you offer?

The way they have been treated is simply appalling. Why should supply teachers, with the same capacity and same ability as other teachers, be paid less?

Which single proposal by the Scottish Greens would make the biggest difference to education in Scotland?

Our emphasis on early intervention, so that issues are picked up long before children arrive at nursery.


- free university education;

- free nursery education for children aged three and over;

- prioritisation of early intervention;

- entitlement for pre-school and primary pupils to have at least two hours of outdoor education a week;

- requirement for "peace initiatives" in schools;

- "enhanced status" for global citizenship in Curriculum for Excellence;

- each local authority to produce a "comprehensive school estate improvement programme", to find savings through maintenance and energy efficiency;

- introduction of "school grounds enhancement fund".

Original headline: `There is a lot of focus on war, but not on different political interventions''

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