Letters ‘disappointed at the tone of the Election debate’ on Education

Dear Orkney News,

As a former teacher of 40 years experience I am disappointed at the tone of the Election debate by three of the Parties contesting the Scottish Parliament Elections on 6 th May.

The teachers I speak to and hear from have worked very hard, in difficult circumstances, over the past 12 months. Some, particularly in secondary schools, have admitted to working 50 to 60 hour weeks to try to cater for the needs of their pupils, doing everything possible to ensure their success. It must be particularly galling for teachers and pupils being constantly attacked and undermined by Douglas Ross, the aggressive Tory Leader & Libdem Leader Willie Rennie who tends to overhype issues to gain attention. 

The Attainment Gap has been around for over 50 years and will not go away in the middle of a Covid Pandemic and the devastating outcomes of Hard Tory Brexit. Many of the factors are well known, involving poverty, low incomes, Tory austerity in the 1980s and since 2008 and poor housing.  Many of these issues will require a substantial investment, hopefully a green lead economic recovery with Political Parties working together.

The school leaving age was raised to 14, in 1901, to 15 in the late 1940s, to 16 in 1973 and is now effectively 18 for many students, some attending colleges.

Curriculum for Excellence was started over 20 Years ago by the Labour –Libdem Scottish Executive with full SNP support. The Tories always opposed it. CfE continued under the SNP, Government, with cross party support. It was implemented from 2010 but is still being tweaked and improved. We need to build on this, not reinvent the wheel again.

Many CfE ideas came from close studies of Finland, which has the best performing educational system, in Europe and other Nordic Countries, encouraging outdoor experiences.  It depends on having a highly trained professional teaching workforce, with full backing of Councils, education authorities and Schools.

Much that is good happens, every day, in every Scottish school, at all levels.

Pupils are encouraged to think for themselves, form evidence based opinions, while expressing these with confidence. Knowledge and Understanding is the easy bit, while problem solving and analysis are much more difficult, and are harder to teach.

Pupil attainment in Higher and Advanced Higher has been rising across many subjects in recent years while achievements in music, art, drama and sport are now, in many schools, excellent.

In the so called good old days of Scottish Education, only some aspects were good. Bullying by both boys and girls was widespread, while teachers belting and legally beating children, in particular, boys, was widespread. Those of us who could sprint away from violence or bullying suffered a bit less than others.

Relatively small numbers of students overcame the many hurdles to proceed to University or College. Grants to encourage low income background students were essential.

I also came across many compassionate, caring teachers who treated children as young adults rather than trouble or a nuisance. Today’s generation of teachers and pupils work and achieve as well as ever.

Scholar, online Heriot Watt led Courses, in Higher and Advanced Higher Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Maths, French and German have been helping raise pupil attainment for 20 years. Nowadays, there are many more online resources in both primary and secondary education.

Good quality broadband has been as important in education as in business and working from home, over the past year. It is possible to build on the many success stories.

A return to a more consensual approach by SNP, Labour, Libdems & Greens would help pupils, teachers and schools recover from the ravages of Covid and Brexit.

The Tories will no doubt continue to criticise and undermine educational achievement.

There are some real issues of poverty, low income levels, poor housing quality.

More help directed towards underachieving schools, families and areas is needed. 

Scotland is surrounded by a number of prosperous, well governed, democratic, Independent Countries from Ireland to Iceland, Norway, Denmark  / Faroes and Finland from which we can learn. Their success is due to hard work, focus, with good economic and educational management. Even within the confines of limited Devolution, Scotland can still make progress. The negative effects of Tory Brexit and the Covid emergency have sharpened the present debate.

John Mowat , Orkney


1 reply »

  1. Morning John, thought you were talking about my mum, dad and sis all teachers but many years ago. My mum was asked to go back to teaching in 1946 due to acute shortage due to so many of the men folk lost during WW2 or still to return to civvy life, aye and tell those who moan they taught classes of up to 50 per class. In my own case I attended a small Primary in Gourock and my class consisted of Primaries 6A, 6B, 7A & 7B – 54 in total, in my group of 15, 11 went on to Uni, 3 went into nursing and one went to sea as a Cadet with J.J. Denholm. My father by this time a Headmaster used to bring work home and would be still working come midnight, dedicated Teachers have always in my experience gone way beyond their ‘contracted hours’ to help their pupils. My sister a Special Needs teacher who covered a number of schools in the Glasgow area used to set out for work before 07:00 hrs every morning, getting home about 17:00 hrs looking after her family then doing more school work after her family were cared for. No, John as you well know teachers being hard pressed is not new.
    Something that privately educated Tories never knew anything about.

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