The more they intervene, the more we go backwards

2nd May 2003 at 01:00
With the election over, The TESScotland talks to teachers and heads in the front line and to education leaders, who all have some forthright messages for the new Scottish Executive

Judith Gillespie, development manager of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council

Despite the new schools, new legislation and lots of money for teachers' salaries, we still seem to be looking for some magic formula that will solve everything - maintain progress in S1 and S2, raise standards, cut teacher workload (will they only be happy when they have 52 weeks' holiday?) and train an efficient workforce for the 21st century. It would seem that the more politicians intervene, the more progress goes backwards.

I have three wishes. First, that politicians genuinely think in the round. In recent years they have focused totally on sending 50 per cent of school-leavers to higher education - often translated as media studies - only to discover a dreadful shortage of plumbers, electricians and brickies.

The next requirement is for politicians to stop looking at education policy in terms of what they can boast about achieving and start looking at it in a more balanced way for what it achieves for youngsters.

The third requirement is quite simply to stop all the comparisons that have destroyed real education, turned it into a "positional good" and made everyone frantic for success by any means - including cheating.

David Eaglesham, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association

The Parliament has done reasonably well and has shown a distinct Scottish dimension to education, including student finance and the McCrone agreement. The whole McCrone process would not have happened in other parts of the United Kingdom.

But I think there is a great deal of work to retrieve McCrone because it is now running into significant difficulties. Our postbag at the moment indicates a great deal of antipathy to local authorities on job-sizing and promoted post restructuring, a lot of which has been done in the name of McCrone - but it's an excuse. Teachers are up in arms at that.

On the curriculum front, there is still no stability and changes are still too piecemeal. We fix one bit and move on to another. But Higher Still reforms are bedding in.

Fraser Sanderson, president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland

There are many concerns about the number of initiatives and the apparent lack of joined-upness. But if you look back to the 1990s, education has benefited from a lot of extra funding. It has been pretty good.

There are still uncertainties in the whole McCrone package and there will be some battles there over the next few years. We need to hold our nerve in management restructuring and the reduction in class time commitment will be a big issue between 2004 and 2006. We also have big questions about teacher supply.

Another key issue will be the special needs agenda. If the Executive is going to drive towards inclusion, it is going to face massive costs.

Mike Doig, president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland

We have had three education ministers and perhaps we have lacked some stability. But we have seen a big increase in funding, although it is uneven across the country.

We have now got our national priorities and we are struggling to address them. We have had the policy and funding to tackle indiscipline but it has not made an impact yet. The Education Act has not helped. We were also promised a reduction in bureaucracy but we have had a modest increase in papers and policies.

On McCrone, there is still a lot of uncertainty and discontent and costs just rise. We hope ministers consolidate and build on the strengths, such as CPD which is very welcome. We need more development of curricular flexibility and a reduction in assessment and the commitment to formative assessment. Ministers should stick to the action plan that followed the national debate.

On standards, we recognise there have been clear improvements and a general rise in attainment overall. But we are keen to focus on achievement as well as attainment and we need to look at ways of recognising the strengths of schools, so long as we do not get league tables of entrepreneurship and so on.

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland

Policy decisions are now taken on a far more inclusive basis. The introduction of the McCrone agreement has given teachers a greater say in decision-making at school and local authority level, with clear benefits for teachers and pupils. The national debate was another example of the more open, consultative approach.

Standards continue to rise and while the introduction of a new examinations system continues to challenge pupils and teachers, Scotland's pupils rate highly in key subjects in recent international studies. The new Parliament could make further improvements by easing the curricular overload and the internal assessment burden on pupils.

However, a radical reduction in maximum class size would be the single greatest improvement.

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