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.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today