The heavens opened - and it rained stushies

22nd December 2000 at 00:00
Judith Gillespie revisits the year that's nearly awa'

Y2K begins

IT was anticipated that Y2K would begin with computer meltdown. In fact it came in with nary an ICT blip but that did not stop it turning into the Year of the Stushie in education terms.

Stushie 1 - Section 28

First up was Clause 28, aka Section 2A of the 1986 Local Government Act. This prevented schools from "promoting homosexuality" - but as they never could or would do any such thing, the clause was deemed to be redundant and discriminatory.

The Scottish Executive therefore proposed to repeal it and had managed to run a non-contentious consultation until the religious right, politicians and a bus owner got hold of it. Cunningly the campaign then roped in the Scottish School Board Association, helping to buy the word "parents" for tabloid headlines.

The first signs of a storm appeared just before Christmas, but it broke for real in January with the launch of the Keep the Clause campaign, attended by SSBA luminaries. From then on there was no holding it. The tabloids gave it big licks under headlines which usually heralded an exotic mix of "parents", "gay", "sex lessons" and "five-year-olds".

The Executive was caught off guard and attempts to get the issue back under control by the usual mechanism of setting up a working party to review sex education proved inadequate. The matter had to go through the whole range of parliamentary procedures - committee inquiries, debate and legislation - before legislative repeal finally snuffed the life out of it.

The fall-out was a tightening of the guidance on sex education through the new education Act, and a raft of new leaflets to schools and parents. The other outcome was an ongoing rammy within a chastened SSBA over its role in the affair. One victim was David Hutchison, the association's president, who was defeated in elections to the SSBA executive.

Stushie 2 - Higher Still

A more serious issue blew up in the summer over the publication - or, more correctly, incomplete publication - of the first results of the new Higher Still exams. The programme had had many crises before, had been delayed twice and nearly stopped altogether by teacher action in December 1998. However, by January 2000, the first year was well under way in most subjects at Higher level.

Continuing grumbles, particularly with regard to assessment and English, surprised no one. Even evidence that the new computer system was leading to registration problems didn't cause too much panic as everyone had got used to the idea that "problems" were an inevitable part of new systems. There were further warning signs when it became apparent that students were failing the first unit assessments in surprisingly large numbers.

In May, Ron Tuck, chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority, gave public assurances that the SQA was on top of the problems but this did not prevent rumours seeping out that publication of results would be delayed.

Come the time and he had to confess that well, yes, some of the results would not be correct, after which he did the decent thing (as, later, did the SQA's chairman and the entire board). In the end it turned out that some 16,000 pupils were affected by incorrect results. Investigationitis then broke out - internal, independent and parliamentary (two) not to mention an ongoing review of the whole implementation of Higher Still and a specific one on internal assessment, all shortly to be joined by the Executive's quinquennial review which will consider the question: "Who needs the SQA?"

Gradually students got corrected certificates, FE colleges and universities operated flexible and compassionate entry procedures and the raft of inquiries meant that there was sufficient airing of the problems to ensure that all the "villains", were exposed. These were variously deemed to be the SQA board, Ron Tuck, data-

handling procedures, the complexity of Higher Still, the Inspectorate for its role in developing Higher Still and Sam Galbraith for being the Education Minister at the time. Action has been taken to sort the problems but mostly everyone has their fingers firmly crossed, hoping that nothing goes wrong this year.

However, schools have no doubt welcomed the appearance of silver linings, as the SQA affair has led to less focus on school targets based on examination results. Publication of school "league tables" has been delayed and the Executive has been so distracted it hasn't had time to issue the usual avalanche of consultations.

Education Act

These controversies diverted attention from what the Executive had hoped would be the centrepiece of Scottish education in Y2K - the first truly Scottish education Act. This was meant to address the current mantra of raising standards and to introduce a set of nationally agreed priorities.

But it was also a very wide-ranging measure which ended the much disliked Tory opting-out legislation, clipped the wings of school boards, placed pre-school education under the control of local authorities, promised children with special needs better access to mainstream schools, strengthened Gaelic teaching, remodelled the General Teaching Council, introduced inspections of local authorities and put an end to the statutory Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee for teachers' pay. Despite this, it never rated even half the tabloid coverage of Section 28.

Teacher pay

As for teachers' pay - this has been "McCroned" all year. Y2K began with the McCrone committee taking evidence on teachers' pay. In May, the hefty McCrone report came out offering comfort to all and a reasonable pay rise to teachers. The year has ended with the McCrone report being considered in detail by five specially convened committees. And what did teachers get for 12 months of hot air? They got a miserly 2.5 per cent for the current year, which was a great comfort to local authority budgets.


On the money front, there was the usual dispute about how much money there really was in the system. There were frequent announcements by the Executive and Chancellor of extra monies for schools, but local authorities still had the temerity to complain about cuts to their core funding for education.

In September, Aberdeen put some figures on this, claiming that the Executive's pound;1.1m grant to Aberdeen schools had to be set against pound;940,000 in cuts. Perhaps the Executive should be less enthusiastic about making numeracy one of the five core skills.

School buildings

The year ended with a mega Christmas present for schools in the form of pound;17.2 million for immediate distribution for minor repairs, maintenance and equipment. Moreover, this came at the end of a good year for school buildings. Upgrades and repairs had frequently appeared among the priorities for extra funding.

Meanwhile, a growing number of authorities - Glasgow, Edinburgh, Highland, Renfrewshire, Angus, Argyll and Bute, and Dumfries and Galloway - started to look at public private partnership schemes. They met with varying degrees of enthusiasm . However, if some buildings were being repaired, others had a shortage of pupils and school closures were back on the agenda, particularly in Glasgow and rural areas.

The greatest controversy came in Argyll and Bute. Parents of children at Toward primary took a petition against closure to the parliamentary education committee. Its subsequent inquiry criticised the authority's consultation process and forced a delay.


There was a serious but little noticed report that pupil numbers, which had declined by a third since the 1960s, would continue to fall. It was predicted that by 2010 the drop in numbers would be the equivalent of cutting a whole year group from rolls. Closures will remain on the agenda.


On the people front the most dramatic changes were at the national level. Donald Dewar's sudden death caused a major reshuffle of ministers. Henry McLeish became the new First Minister thus vacating the number one slot at Enterprise and Lifelong Learning. His place was taken by Wendy Alexander with Alasdair Morrison as the sole depute.

Sam Galbraith, whose tenacity throughout the Section 2A debate was almost as admirable as his refusal to budge during the exams fiasco, finally moved, as did his depute Peter Peacock. The newcomers were Jack McConnell, the fourth Education Minister in as many years, aided by Nicol Stephen who joined from the Lifelong Learning ministry.

Meanwhile, there are signs that the education committee is going to be as transitory a posting as that of Education Minister with five of the original appointees no longer in post and Mary Mulligan, the convener, on the move.

At local government level there has also been considerable change in those responsible for education. In Aberdeenshire, Hamish Vernal has replaced Michael White as director of education. In Perth and Kinross, social worker Bill Frew took over that role from Bob McKay, while in Moray Donald Duncan succeeded Kevin Gavin.

East Dunbartonshire has seen a reorganisation of its services. Sue Bruce, "strategic director of community", now has education within her remit and Ian Mills, the previous director of education, was made redundant. Finally, in Clackmannanshire Keir Bloomer vacated education for the post of chief executive.

At the General Teaching Council for Scotland, Ivor Sutherland has announced his retirement and is to be replaced by Matt MacIver, his depute. At the SQA, Bill Morton and John Ward have taken over as interim chief executive and chairman from Ron Tuck and David Miller. The newly formed Learning and Teaching Scotland has Mike Baughan as chief executive and Tom Wilson as chairman. John MacBeath, director of the Quality in Education Centre, has moved to Cambridge and left a vacancy in the guru category rapidly being filled by Lindsay Paterson, professor of just about everything at Edinburgh University.


It was a good and a bad year for Her Majesty's Inspectors. Under the education Act their powers were extended to inspections of local authorities. Highland was the first to come under scrutiny. Their writ also runs now in teacher education institutions.

However, the same Act somewhat limited HMI's powers by requiring a code of conduct for school inspections. Meanwhile the Inspectorate's policy responsibilities came under sustained attacked from the unions, directors of education and through the various reviews of Higher Still.

Both Douglas Osler, senior chief HMI, and Sam Galbraith, when minister, frequently insisted that HMIs only gave advice. It was ministers who decided. However, when Jack McConnell took over the ministerial reins, one of his first acts was to remove HMI's policy-making role - the one that supposedly did not exist.

Social inclusion

Social inclusion continued as Labour's Big Idea. It was the driving principle behind a range of initiatives including new community schools and access programmes to encourage those from deprived areas to go to university. Unfortunately, a review of the Executive's social justice targets in November showed that most of the education aspirations - such as closing the gap between the bottom performing 20 per cent in Standard grade and the average - had yet to be met. Schools are clearly not alone in missing their targets.

Sagas old

and new

Among the ongoing sagas were the review of the 5-14 programme, attempts to find a more reliable system of assessment at that stage and HMI's routine reports of problems in S1 and S2.

Newcomers to the education scheme were children - yes, you did read that right. There was a sudden new focus on consulting children and they were invited to give evidence to the parliamentary education committee. Indeed, there is now a requirement on schools to set up pupil councils and involve them in discussions on development plans. There was also a welcome focus on vulnerable children, whether those with special educational needs, children in care or children who are carers.

Another new development was the Executive's frequent desire to praise teachers as in "teachers delivered Higher Still". This was new. The big question now is whether teachers can convert this praise into hard cash in the pay negotiations.


As one would expect, ICT matters loomed large in Y2K. The Executive started by announcing an increase both in the number of computers in schools and in the funding for ICT and that set the tone for much that was to follow. In September, Parent Zone, a website specifically designed for parents, came on line.

In October, a conference heard that new technologies are a means for "repopulation of remote areas" - which raises some interesting questions about the nature of sex education in these parts. Finally, in November there was the first glimpse of every real teacher's nightmare - a virtual school. It was set up to cater for children who were too ill or disruptive to attend normal school. But, is it also the future?

Maths Year 2000

Appropriately, Y2K was designated "Maths Year 2000" - an initiative designed to promote numeracy in schools. However, its launch prompted John MacBeath of the Quality in Education Centre to confound convention and suggest that mathematics should not be a compulsory subject beyond secondary two.

Modern languages

With a gestation period that puts a whale to shame, a modern languages action group set up to counter problems with languages in primary and secondary schools finally published its report in December. It proposes a long term strategy which depends heavily on ICT but, wisely, sets no targets.


Y2K saw one of the most successful Olympics ever, but for school sport it was a more chequered experience. Researchers found that the much-claimed links between sport and academic attainment did not exist; neither did sport help to counter the unemployment figures.

However, the need to redress the couch potato tendencies of modern youngsters were a high priority and ensured that sporting activities continued to be supported by lottery funding at primary and secondary level.

Further and higher education

Scottish colleges began to emerge from a black period with their funding on a more secure footing, while students in both further and higher education benefited from the Cubie proposals for their personal funding.

This is in contrast to the staff whose pay and conditions remained problem areas in both sectors. For university students, Y2K proved a real bonus with fees scrapped to be replaced next year with a legislative requirement to pay into an endowment fund aimed at supporting disadvantaged students. That just leaves them with debt for living costs to cope with.

Holyrood's scrutineers

It may have been a mixed year on most fronts, but it has ended with the authority of the Parliament's education and lifelong learning committees considerably enhanced as a result of their various deliberations, not least the education Act, Section 28, sport, special needs, student finance and - most crucially - the failure of the 2000 Higher

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