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Four months on….

By 30 April 2012No Comments
The result of May’s Scottish parliamentary election has shocked everyone, including it seems the triumphant SNP itself.  No-one believed that the additional member electoral system would ever produce an outright majority for one party but it did and did so spectacularly.
For schools and teachers the SNP has promised first and foremost, stability, with the priority not being innovation but the successful implementation and delivery of Curriculum for Excellence, with its emphasis on literacy and numeracy and more flexible and personalised learning experiences.  New national qualifications will commence in 2013.  The Inspectorate and the national curriculum body, Learning and Teaching Scotland, are close to amalgamation in a partnership which neither side wanted.
A commitment to smaller classes in the early years of primary education and an emphasis on nursery education will be welcomed across the educational spectrum as the precondition of the aim of boosting literacy and numeracy skills.  Educational Maintenance allowances will be maintained.  The extension of free school meals will be considered.  The question which remains however is how such proposals will be financed.
The McCrone agreement, the basis of the conditions of service of Scottish teachers, will be under the spotlight as the McCormac Review seeks to update it.  Scottish teachers will watch that process with more trepidation than hope.  Already the local authorities have made a submission to McCormac which has stunned teachers: ‘the primary role for a teacher should not be to teach children but should be articulated in terms of ensuring the development, well-being, and safety of children.  This is the primary role that teachers should share with other children’s services professionals.’  Such an outlook is seen as an attempt to de-professionalise and de-intellectualise teaching.  For many, it trivialises the unique curricular content and pedagogic skills of the teacher’s art and turns the teacher’s job into a cross between that of a foster-parent and that of social worker – both invaluable but hugely different jobs from teaching.
A review of the relationship between schools, local authorities and central government will occur.  The Schools Consultation Act will be strengthened to make the closure of rural schools more difficult.  Again however, the SNP government will require to tread warily.  Its strongest support is in small towns and rural areas but in cash-strapped circumstances councils cannot ignore the substantial savings which can be generated by reducing the number of small schools.
A norm for language learning based on each child learning two languages in addition to the mother tongue is under consideration, but over the next two parliaments.  Scottish Studies will become a key focus of the secondary school curriculum.
Most of the proposals for schools are well established and introduce little that has not been already well discussed.  The most hard-fought educational issues relate firstly to the finances of local government.  Cut-backs in staff and school closures are high on local authority agendas as the Scottish government reacts to Westminster cut-backs by reducing local allocations in Scotland.  Already Edinburgh has drastically pruned the numbers of Depute Heads and Principal Teachers in secondary schools.  The reaction of the Unions to these cuts and to attacks on professional conditions has been a jockeying for positions with the largest teachers’ Union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, saying it has achieved the best deal it can in these circumstances and the smaller Scottish Secondary Teachers Association taking a harder position and seeking to recruit disillusioned members of the EIS.  There is undoubtedly huge anger and cynicism among teachers but it may well be that the EIS had judged the mood accurately and there is little stomach for industrial action.
The other major educational conflict in the offing is between the Scottish government and the Universities.  The SNP has promised to maintain the concept of free access to Higher Education while the University Vice-Principals are insisting that this will make high quality higher education impossible.  On the one hand this is exacerbating the gulf between public sector provision north and south of the Tweed.  That in itself of course produces no problems for the SNP.  The fear among the Universities that it will lower standards means that this battle will run and run.
The significant result of this election is not in respect of any particular policy area, such as education, over which the devolved parliament has power, but over the very issues of the powers of Scotland’s parliament.  For the next two to three years the Scottish government’s every action will have two purposes: firstly, to prove to the Scottish people that the SNP is the only responsible and effective governing party and that therefore independence is not something to be feared, and secondly, that any problems which Scotland faces emanate essentially from Westminster.  How many languages will be taught or the place of Scottish Studies in the curriculum will take second place to whether or not Scotland remains in the UK.  That may mean that Scottish politics will be action packed but it also means that rhetoric rather will be driving and the pragmatic pursuit of common sense will be in the passenger seat, or perhaps even in the boot.
The above artilce was first published in SecEd on 25 August 2011:;type_uid=1;section=News

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