Take five as the electoral candidates share their views

1st April 2011 at 01:00
The Scottish Parliament has always had a healthy population of teachers. TESS talks to five electoral candidates

They may represent different parties, but these potential MSPs all care passionately about education.

Orkney SNP candidate Donna Heddle is director of the Centre for Nordic Studies at Orkney and Shetland colleges. She believes equal access to education is a "basic human right" and vehemently opposes any charges. She knows students who progressed from access courses to PhDs, and believes they would not have done so if asked to pay.

Dr Heddle, 45, cites the example of Nordic countries, where education has remained free and universities have been trying to close gaps in research funding. A member of the parent council at her 14-year-old son's school, Kirkwall Grammar, she is confident Curriculum for Excellence will work because pupils respond well when subjects such as maths are applied in real life.

Labour's Stuart Clark, principal guidance teacher at Dunoon Grammar, is standing in Renfrewshire. The 30-year-old believes the recent dispute over plans to draft in non-specialists to teach in Renfrewshire primary schools is emblematic of "sustained attacks" on education by the SNP.

Mr Clark, the first member of his family to go to university, says Curriculum for Excellence has become "bogged down" by documentation and, in some areas, is being used to justify budget cuts. The history and modern studies teacher is a champion of extra-curricular clubs, but fears these will suffer if pay and conditions are hit hard. An EIS member, he is still deciding whether to follow the union's advice to support the revised national proposals.

Conservative Stewart Whyte, 40, is standing in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine. The Aboyne Academy history teacher is "alarmed" by the McCormac review and the "unpicking of the McCrone agreement". An EIS member who voted to reject the initial package on pay and conditions, he is also likely to vote against the revised package because he believes it is still "wrong in principle".

Mr Whyte gained some prominence in 1997 as convener of the Teachers Say No No group opposing Scottish devolution, but is now "comfortable" with the Scottish Parliament. He is very concerned, however, about the impact of Curriculum for Excellence on senior secondary pupils, in particular the potential reduction of the number of S4 exam subjects from eight to five. He also opposes plans for the new National 4 exams to be based on internal assessment only.

Scottish Green Moira Crawford, 62, was a drama teacher at Glasgow's Eastbank Academy before retiring. Her contacts in teaching are all "very pro-Curriculum for Excellence", but do not feel well enough informed and are concerned about "rushed" preparation for National 4 and 5 qualifications. The Glasgow list candidate admires the achievements of Finnish education - done, she points out, without inspectors.

She was an EIS representative during the McCrone negotiations and considers "breathing space" crucial for teachers; at the start of her career, "there was no such thing as identified non-contact time". Backtracking on the 2001 agreement would be a "very retrograde step". There remains "a long way to go" in recognising the achievements of pupils who do not excel academically, she believes.

The Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate in Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch is Alan MacRae, 40, who has been a long-term supply teacher in home economics at Portree High for the past eight months after a 15-year break from teaching. He trained as a maths teacher, gaining his initial experience in London and then doing a year's supply in Craigmillar and Castlebrae in Edinburgh. But, disillusioned with teaching, he started the First Coast restaurant in Dalry Road, selling his share last year to allow him to run for Parliament. He detects a lot of unhappiness about implementation of Curriculum for Excellence and feels it may take 10 years for it to become fully established.


Grand designs for education

Stuart Clark, Scottish Labour

Moira Crawford, Scottish Green Party

Donna Heddle, Scottish National Party

Alan MacRae, Scottish Liberal Democrats

Stewart Whyte, Scottish Conservatives.

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