Reform - Independent or not, change is looming

6th September 2013 at 01:00
Referendum spells upheaval, tome on Scottish education says

At more than 1,100 pages and weighing nearly 2kg, the definitive tome on education in Scotland will land on desks with a daunting thud.

Due to be launched later this month, the latest edition of Scottish Education reflects on the impact of the curriculum overhaul and new qualifications, as well as looking at the likely impact on schools of the Scottish vote on independence.

The debate around independence has so far seemed peripheral to the devolved matter of education, but this new book underlines the message that significant change is on the cards, whatever the outcome of the referendum.

The Scottish model of comprehensive education, out of step with market-driven approaches elsewhere, will inevitably come under increasing pressure as cash-strapped local authorities seek to make savings, the book's editors predict.

An independent Scotland "might necessitate economies, especially in the short term while the recession continues, and could lead to disputes about budget allocations between different services", the book warns.

The structure of 32 local authorities, meanwhile, "might be deemed unwieldy in an independent Scotland". Councils could amalgamate or education could be removed from local government altogether, the editors speculate, "through the setting up of a regional system of education boards to disburse funds, with much greater responsibility to individual schools".

Overall, a "yes" vote in the September 2014 referendum would mean "lengthy uncertainty" for education, the book says, while a "no" vote would not necessarily spare Scottish schools from upheaval. Scottish Labour has repositioned itself on free public services, so that even if it takes advantage of a "no" vote to become the largest party at the 2015 Scottish Parliament elections, "this might lead to a further tightening of the education budget with inevitable cutbacks in existing provision".

A decisive rejection of independence would be "momentous" for the Scottish National Party and make a split likely, "perhaps leading to a form of populist nationalism", the book says. "This might be characterised by an appeal to ethnic or cultural distinctiveness, which could have some distasteful ramifications if allowed to affect curriculum or schooling to any extent."

Scottish Education aims to act as a reference book but also a source of lively, well-informed and occasionally contentious opinion. This fourth edition, the first since 2008, features 60 new writers, including a greater number of practising teachers and headteachers than previously.

The editors plead for more research in Scotland about the economics of education, and call for a specialist centre to be established, similar to one based at the London School of Economics.

The pace of technological change is another issue that looms large, with failure to adapt potentially leading to "schools becoming viewed as archaic institutions, out of touch with what is happening outside their gates".

By the time of the next edition, perhaps in 2018, Professor Walter Humes, one of the book's editors, predicted that there would be much to say about Curriculum for Excellence. "As with most reforms, I suspect it will be a mixed picture," he said.

He anticipated that Scotland's commitment to free university education will come under unbearable pressure. "I think whatever the result of the next election ... it will be difficult for any government to maintain the current fees position," he said.

BOOK LAUNCH

The formal launch of Scottish Education will take place at the University of Strathclyde's Lord Hope Building on 26 September, from 4.30pm. The main speaker will be Graham Donaldson, formerly Scotland's senior chief inspector of education. All are welcome.

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