Editorial - Whatever your views, be sure to express them

15th August 2014 at 01:00

Next month's independence referendum is of monumental importance, yet the build-up to it has hardly touched the school and further education sectors.

Education, being largely devolved, has not featured prominently in debates, teaching unions have remained studiously neutral and, at the many conferences covered by TESS over the course of the long referendum campaign, references to possible independence have been mostly fleeting and oblique.

On Sunday, however, with fewer than six weeks until the vote, a Teachers for Yes group joined the fray. At its formal launch, it spelled out why Yes campaigners feel their sector cannot afford to stand back from the debate.

The argument is essentially that, as Scotland and England pursue divergent educational paths, the Scottish approach is hamstrung by Westminster austerity measures. A persistent poverty gap continues to blight Scottish education and, according to Teachers for Yes, only full powers over taxation and welfare can bridge it.

After we tweeted about the launch, one teacher asked whether he and his colleagues were not legally required to remain neutral. Certainly, staff must abide by strict policies and guidelines when discussing the referendum with pupils. But it is too huge an issue for them to remain disengaged from.

As 18 September fast approaches, it is to be hoped that an equivalent teachers' group will emerge to speak up for the No campaign. However the profession votes, its members should at least leave the polling booth knowing that they immersed themselves in the arguments and gave full consideration to all potential pros and cons.

Meanwhile, education secretary Michael Russell was in chipper form when I interviewed him last week. He can be combative but on this occasion he cut a relaxed figure, days after the first National 4 and 5 results had been revealed.

Last year was incredibly difficult for teachers throughout Scotland as they grappled with new qualifications for which they felt under-prepared and, certainly in the earlier stages, very poorly supported. Despite some predictions of doom, however, nothing approached the fiasco of 2000 when a previous qualifications reform was bungled and results for 147,000 candidates had to be rechecked.

Many teachers will now have to get to grips with new Highers. Mr Russell, however, expects few problems this time as differences between the old and new versions are not as great as those between Standard grade and Nationals. Let's hope he's right - no teacher wants the tribulations of 2013-14 all over again.

Interestingly, Mr Russell seemed equally relaxed about the referendum campaign, even though many commentators believe the Yes movement has lost momentum. Was this just the education secretary's natural bullishness on show or does he know something we don't? We'll find out soon enough.



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