Reality is ignored by our political masters

7th October 2005 at 01:00
Even in shocking times, one can still be shocked. I was stunned to learn that the drop-out rate among first-year Scottish undergraduates is 10.7 per cent, against a UK average of 7.8 per cent.

But even more worrying is that in Scotland's most deprived areas, 11 per cent of pupils leave school with no qualifications, compared to a nationwide average of 3 per cent. Bear in mind, too, that two out of five 13-year-olds are missing the Executive's literacy and numeracy targets.

It utterly beggars belief that Peter Peacock, now into the third year of his tenure, can express astonishment at the horrifying statistic that one in 10 poor children leaves school without any qualifications and that 26 per cent of all school absences come from areas of deprivation.

Who on earth is advising the Minister? Not currently practising classroom teachers, that's for sure. Otherwise, he would have been told that the present system is not only failing Scotland's poor children, but is preventing armies of all pupils from achieving their potential.

Parents should know that the Scottish Executive's policy on inclusion has bitten hard, with many deserving cases receiving little or no support.

Closing special schools in many places has not led to the freed-up extra resources being directed at mainstream schools. On the contrary, it often seems like much less.

What else is wrong? Examine, for instance, expenditure per secondary school pupil per annum. It's pitifully low, ranging in 2002-03 from South Lanarkshire on pound;4,059 to the Shetland Isles on pound;9,118. Ask any principal teacher about his budget and he will tell you that per capita allocations have not kept pace with inflation over the years of this government's tenure in office. Vital resources are compromised and yet local authorities and the Executive continue to screw schools to the wall as they demand increased attainment. This situation can only get worse as the Executive claws back millions of pounds in savings from councils. There is some terrible irony in the Minister stating: "To date we have not gone far enough to tackle this issue. Too many children are not getting the range of support needed."

The relentless madness of all of this is aptly encapsulated by Jenny Cunningham, a Glasgow paediatrician, who was quoted in The TESS (September 23) as saying: "The reports we get from schools are worse than useless because teachers in Britain can no longer write anything negative about a child. All parents get back are eulogies about their child."

That illustrates the extent to which political dogma has failed Scotland's children so that reality is hijacked in preference to rhetoric. There is an approaching Armageddon with an accompanying day of judgement. Eventually we'll be told, for example, that inclusion is an unworkable idea.

Meanwhile, our children's lives continue to be messed up.

Peter Peacock can wring his hands and throw more resources at needy schools. He can redouble his efforts for a generation and more but, until he confronts the underlying flawed ideology, nothing will change. Strategic planning is now required, not the knee-jerk approach of these recent years.

Think of Christmas turkeys saving for the January sales and you'll appreciate the scale of the problem.

Teachers want to be much more public regarding their views about the state of our education system, but we're all gagged by employment contracts. This is a great pity because the inevitable victims are, of course, the pupils.

The very people who have the practical insight of the coalface are not permitted to broadcast their opinions or they'll get rapped from their employers. Any expression of criticism seems to kindle fears that run very deep. What kind of crazy education system is this that a Labour-dominated Scotland has produced? At best depressing, and at worst downright dangerous.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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