New booklet launched calling for radical reform of education system

4 Nov 2014


SNP Ministers have ducked the challenge of carrying out radical reform of our education system, leaving Scotland trailing the rest of the world.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has accused the Scottish Government of defaulting to a position of “Scottish exceptionalism” in the introduction of a new book, “First Class”, offering fresh ideas to help improve the country’s schools and university sector.

Ruth argues that SNP Ministers need to refocus their attention away from the referendum and back onto neglected areas of policy like education.

She said that while reforms on promoting choice, decentralisation and diversity of provision have been driven forward in in countries such as New Zealand, Poland and the US to improve the life chances of pupils, such changes have been blocked by successive governments in Scotland.

In the Scottish Conservative publication, some of the country’s leading education experts, journalists and politicians have come together to propose numerous reforms and changes to the current education system.

Keir Bloomer, the former director of education at Clackmannanshire council, criticises Scottish Ministers for their “self-congratulation” over secondary school results which, he notes, have worsened over the last decade.

Professor Lindsay Paterson, Professor of Education Policy at Edinburgh University, urges changes to Curriculum for Excellence which, he says, has ignored the value of tradition in education.

John Low, an award winning headteacher at two Scottish secondary schools, argues that the new exam system has been an “missed opportunity” and  calls for heads to be “set free” to ensure they are fully accountable for their own work.

Most of the contributors to the book have come from outside the Conservative party and were chosen to add their weight to calls for a fresh and urgent debate on the future direction of Scottish education.

It comes after the Scottish Conservatives revealed last week that children in Scotland’s poorest areas are more than three times less likely to achieve Standard Grade credit qualifications than their wealthier counterparts, depriving many of a place at university.

The party is calling for a complete overhaul of Scotland’s one-size-fits-all education system, with more autonomy given to individual schools, more freedom to set up schools, and more choice available to parents on which school they want for their child.

This means looking at other education models from around the world.

This includes New Zealand, where schools have boards of trustees appointed by parents; charter schools in America, where the state issues a licence to a provider who operates a school, and free schools in Sweden.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson MSP writes:

“The independence referendum debate was necessary and invigorating – but a relentless focus on the constitution has crowded out debate on other crucial parts of public policy.

“This imbalance must now be righted.

“Nowhere is that more necessary than in the field of education.

“The Scottish Government has complete control over every step of our children’s path from nursery to university.

“Yet, all too rarely do we hear a vigorous and passionate debate about the direction of their policy.

“It is time for us to reset the compass – no more backward glances from government on a referendum whose question was asked and answered, rather a focus on the crucial task policy makers have in directing change today.”

She adds:

“The Scottish Conservatives are clear.

“While Scottish administrations since devolution have held the power to chart a bold new course for our nation’s schools, they have ducked this challenge.

“In place of long overdue reform, they have too often retreated into a ‘Scottish exceptionalism’ which closes its eyes to the transformational change that has swept through the delivery of education across much of the world.

“And Scotland’s education system is the poorer for it.”

Notes to editors:

A copy of the booklet is here

The book is published today in an effort to kick-start a more focused debate on education in Scotland as the country moves on from the independence referendum.

This is the full list of contributors:

Lindsay Paterson, Professor of Education Policy at Edinburgh University

Keir Bloomer, independent education consultant

Alison Payne, Research Director, Reform Scotland

Sophie Sandor, Edinburgh University student

Chris Deerin, journalist

Alex Massie, freelance journalist and writer for The Spectator

Sue Pinder OBE, Former Principal of James Watt College

Professor Pete Downes, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Dundee University

Sophie Pilgrim, Director of Kindred Scotland

John Low, Former rector of Breadalbane Academy and head of Perth Grammar School

Liz Smith MSP, Scottish Conservative young people spokeswoman

Poorer children’s hopes of going to university crushed as exam figures reveal education gap: