`Education is too important not to work together'

28th August 2015 at 01:00
New Cosla spokesperson aims to rebuild links with government

When it comes to schools policy, the relationship between the Scottish government and local authorities body Cosla is "lower than a snake's belly", one education director recently told TESS. But the organisation's new education spokeswoman - a former history teacher - is confident that she can put the past behind her.

Dealings between the government and Cosla have been "difficult", says Stephanie Primrose, who became Cosla spokesperson for education, children and young people earlier this year when the previous incumbent, Douglas Chapman, was elected as the SNP MP for Dunfermline and West Fife.

Numbers game

Teacher numbers are the source of the strain. The Scottish government wants to maintain them and Cosla wants councils to be free to determine them locally.

In February, Cosla produced research questioning whether there was a direct link between teacher-pupil ratio and attainment. The organisation also revealed that it had taken legal advice over the government's plans to withhold money from any local authorities that cut teacher numbers.

The body was left out in the cold, however, when the Scottish government succeeded in signing individual deals with all 32 councils to maintain teacher numbers.

Since then, Cosla has complained of a lack of consultation over first minister Nicola Sturgeon's Scottish Attainment Challenge and the wide-ranging Education (Scotland) Bill currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament. A further blow came when four councils walked away from the organisation, including Scotland's largest local authority, Glasgow.

However, Cosla does have something to smile about, Ms Primrose says, as education is now at the centre of the political debate. And although the body's stance on teacher numbers hasn't changed, it is time to "park" the issue, she says. Ms Primrose adds that education secretary Angela Constance was "very friendly" during their introductory meeting and there is "a will to move on".

She continues: "Education is the key issue at the moment - we are not having to promote it - so we are fortunate in that.

"What happened before I came in has been dealt with and what I want to do is move us forward. There is no point in trying to change things you can't change. We need to have a more workable relationship. It has been difficult but I have come in and we are re-establishing links. Education is too important and our young people are too important not to work together."

Ms Primrose is an SNP councillor in East Ayrshire where she is also the spokesperson for skills and learning. She became a councillor in 2012 after being urged to run at the last minute by a friend. She had been working as a history teacher, latterly at Lochgilphead High in Argyll and Bute, but had to give up the post after failing to sell the family home in Fenwick, some two hours away by car. She was on the cusp of arranging supply work when she was elected.

Ms Primrose is passionate about closing the attainment gap and ensuring that teachers are better equipped to deal with the mental health problems faced by many young people today.

She says: "If you have got a 15-year-old child who is deeply unhappy, you cannot even start to break down the barriers to their education. We need to accept the fact that pupils' pastoral care is not just for guidance teachers."

Primrose path

Born: 1968, Elderslie, East Renfrewshire

Education: Paisley Grammar School; graduated from the University of Glasgow with a degree in history in 1991; qualified as a history teacher at Jordanhill College in Glasgow in 2005.

Career: Worked with the homeless in Glasgow and for NHS alcohol services in Shetland; served teaching probation at Loudoun Academy, East Ayrshire; history teacher at Ayr Academy in South Ayrshire and Lochgilphead Academy in Argyll and Bute; became education spokesperson for East Ayrshire Council in 2012; became Cosla education spokesperson in 2015.

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