Tries hard, but could do better

9th May 2008 at 01:00
After a year in power, how well has Scotland's first SNP Government performed in education? We asked a cross-section of people to deliver their end-of-year report card
After a year in power, how well has Scotland's first SNP Government performed in education? We asked a cross-section of people to deliver their end-of-year report card

James Alexander, president, National Union of Students Scotland

Based on their performance so far, I would give them half marks because they have given students half of what they promised they would in their manifesto before the election. Once they give us everything they promised, and once they make sure the education system is as accessible to everyone that wants to go to university, then, and only then, will we give them full marks. We welcome the abolition of the graduate endowment and the work done for part-time students, but massive problems with student hardship remain. We were promised pound;236 million for students at the time of the election. But rather than spending it on graduates, we want it targeted on current and future students.

Ronnie Smith, general secretary, Educational Institute of Scotland

My overall impression of what they have been doing in education is "steady as she goes". There has been a degree of continuity, particularly in A Curriculum for Excellence, which teachers would approve of. I think they have made good noises around some issues, for example their commitment to class size reduction and strengthening nursery education. However, the big issue, which is an unanswered question for us, is the concordat with local government. Where they seemed to have substantial promises which teachers quite liked, the delivery is being entrusted at arm's length to a third party, and we are unsure whether these 32 third parties share the Scottish Government's commitment to class size reductions.

Judith Gillespie, development manager, Scottish Parent Teacher Council

The major change in education is not so much about the policy innovations of the SNP Government but its concordat agreement with local authorities for funding and the level of that funding. The concordat has removed the concept of service-specific funds, and left authorities to determine how they use the money to meet their statutory obligations, a change welcomed by them. However, the general impact has been to take money out of many schools, and we are no longer talking of cuts to per capita allocations; we are talking major cuts which impact on staff levels. Forget new policies; there ain't money to implement them.

Brian Cooklin, president, Headteachers' Association of Scotland

It has been a promising start in terms of early intervention in the early years sector, given the commitment to reducing class size and resourcing developments in that area. Likewise, there have been some bold and striking proposals for the senior school in terms of assessment and curriculum. But, it is too early to make a judgment about the successes of either, given that these plans have not been implemented. However, the negative impact of efficiency savings may prevent the vision being realised.

Lindsay Paterson, professor of educational policy, Edinburgh University

The SNP, like other significant parties, is constrained by the National Debate consensus. This does encourage durable, evidence-based policies. The class size reductions will gradually happen and work: teachers, parents, and rigorous research support them. Universal free school meals and the ending of the graduate endowment come under the same pragmatism, as perhaps may the school examination proposals. But the consensus is balefully anti-intellectual. A Curriculum for Excellence, veneration of the vocational, and a disregard for the achievements of liberal education will be challenged only by rather daring leadership. None of the parties yet provide that.

Bronwen Cohen, chief executive, Children in Scotland

There is some welcome continuity with the previous administration in the recognition of the need for better integrated services and a whole child approach, rolling out A Curriculum for Excellence, paying attention to Getting it Right for Every Child and exploring workforce reform. Continuity is important because good policy is achieved over more than one administration. They should also be applauded for recognising the need to protect rural schools. Expectations are still high for how they can challenge the fragmentation of early years services - this must be a higher priority than small class sizes. The jury is out on whether they can deliver, but it's a promising start.

Greg Dempster, general secretary, Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland

A year may be a very long time in politics, but it's not so long if you are trying to change frontline services. So the short answer is that it is too soon to tell. We welcome the SNP Government's ambitions for, and focus on, pre-school education and the early years of primary. This is where the research tells us we can make the biggest impact on the life chances of our children. So far, the Government has maintained this focus, recently evidenced by the early years framework consultation. However, the detail is where we are now focused - a commitment to "access to a nursery teacher for all nursery-age children" is not well supported by an early years framework consultation which makes no mention of teachers. Combine this with the Government's unwillingness to define "access to a nursery teacher" and uncertainty is a certainty.

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