Working-class children have one option, and it's not good

26th April 2013 at 01:00
The state school system is in a dire state. It should not come as a surprise, but it has

Several recent reports have shocked Scots still deluding themselves that they continue to have an education system second to none.

One says that police officers have been posted in some Scottish schools to help keep order. How the mighty have fallen. Scottish teachers used to look askance at the dire situation in some schools in the United States, where armed police patrol the corridors to keep students and staff safe.

I was less surprised by another report comparing the performance in maths of Scottish students unfavourably with that of students from countries such as China.

The most revealing report, however, comes from the Commission on School Reform, which confesses that 50 years of sweeping changes in Scottish schools have failed the disadvantaged they were designed to help. Yet it goes on to recommend more devastating doses of the same, backing the troublesome Curriculum for Excellence and calling for a radical approach to school administration, giving more independence to headteachers.

This is just another round of tinkering with the problem without really getting to grips with the underlying fault.

Our state school system is a mess, with constantly lowering standards and shifting goalposts to try to hide a deteriorating situation. Working-class children have no option but to accept what is on offer. The children of the wealthy, however, can opt out and enjoy a superior private education.

It seems strange that our reformers have failed to notice the better results the private establishments achieve than our state schools. They follow the same curriculum and use the same teaching methods as Scottish state schools once followed. Is there no lesson for our reformers there?

One teacher's submission to the Commission on School Reform describes the alarm felt at the "cosy consensus" in Scottish education that everything is sound. Another says: "This report is no surprise. My faith in the quality of education my kids are getting diminishes every year."

In my grandparents', my parents' and my day, the sky was the limit for working-class children (which we were) to work hard and succeed, while the majority of Scottish children had such a sound grasp of the basics that they could stand comparison in their education with any children from any nation or class. That window of opportunity is now all but closed.

It gives me no satisfaction to say that nearly 50 years ago, in these pages, I warned against the sad outcome confronting us today. Scottish education, RIP.

George McMillan was assistant headteacher at Perth Academy.

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number


The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now