National Debate on Education
Educating For Excellence briefing
The Scottish Executive launched the National Debate on Education
in March 2002 and published its response entitled 'Educating for
Excellence, Choice and Opportunity' in January 2003. The National
Debate on Education generated a wide-ranging response from everyone
involved in education in Scotland, including teachers, parents
and school children. Over 1,500 responses were sent in as a result
of at least 800 organised meetings and events and over 20,000
people took a direct part in the Debate.
National Debate on Education – What people said
The responses to the National Debate on Education showed that
the majority of people were cautious about the present education
system, seeing lots of good things in the current system and not
wanting to risk those by changing too much too quickly. The present
system of comprehensive schools, which were freely available to
all and provided a good standard of education, had widespread
support from Scots as had the quality and professionalism of the
teaching force. However, there were criticisms and concerns also.
Many were frustrated at the production-line style of schooling,
which people felt was overly obsessed with exams and which preferred
to feed knowledge to pupils rather than teaching them to think
for themselves. Although many aspects of the curriculum were praised,
it was suggested that it should offer more flexibility and scope
for learning "soft skills" like citizenship and communication.
Concerns were also raised about the pace of change, the level
of resources for schools and the effects of indiscipline.
National Debate on Education – The Executive's Vision for
The Executive shared the view which was expressed by the majority
of people who responded to the National Debate about the purposes
of school education, believing that children and young people
should have a broad education and develop the skills to be active
citizens of a modern Scotland. The Executive believed that Scots
children should leave school ready for the world of work, training,
college or university:
- Literate and numerate
- Creative and skilled at solving problems
- Responsible and active members of society and considerate
- Ambitious, enterprising and confident
- Able to succeed in a world where they value others and are
valued for themselves
- Motivated to continue learning throughout life.
The Scottish Executive's Next Steps
In 'Educating for Excellence, Choice and Opportunity' the Executive
details those areas, which it considers, are in need of immediate
action, and those areas where further development with parents,
local communities, teachers and young people will take place.
The areas outlined for immediate action fall within the following
- Learning and Teaching
- Pupils, Parents and Community
- Working Together
- Modern Schools
Summary of Key Priorities
In addition to outlining the above broad areas for change within
school education the document also contains the Executive's blueprint
for change in Scottish schools which it will oversee in the next
10 years to ensure that school education in Scotland is able to
meet children's needs. These key priorities are stated as:
By reviewing the school curriculum to suit 21st century needs
and also by reducing substantially the current overload in the
- Reducing the amount of assessment
To cut down the number of tests and exams and the amount of time
spent on them including looking at the option of only sitting
exams when pupils leave school instead of every year from S4.
- Reduce class sizes and improve pupil/teacher ratios
At critical stages such as P7, S1 and S2, particularly in Maths
and English, and have more learning in small groups.
- Tackling discipline problems and bullying
By fully implementing the recommendations of the Discipline Task
Group, reviewing their impact and taking further action where
- Improving school buildings
To create a school estate in which all schools have the right
facilities, are well designed, well built and provide a flexible
environment, which continues to meet future needs.
- Giving more control over budgets to headteachers
So that the people closest to the children can decide how best
to use resources. Introduce greater flexibility for schools and
education authorities through local agreements for excellence.
- Having teachers work across primary and secondary schools.
Acting to make sure this flexibility is being used help pupils
make the transition from primary to secondary.
- Involving parents more in their children's education
By providing new national guidelines giving parents access and
by reviewing and reforming the role of School Boards and
Parent Teacher Associations.
- Strengthening the role of inspection
By delivering clearer and more frequent reports to parents and
focusing more directly on schools which need to improve.
Issues for UNISON Scotland
UNISON Scotland broadly welcomes the Executive's proposals to
ensure that the outcomes of education in Scotland are the best
possible for each and every child. However, in our response to
the National Debate UNISON Scotland raised several issues, which
we considered were important to both our own members and to the
future of education in Scotland. It is disappointing therefore
that the Executive's response to the National Debate fails to
consider the following factors:
PPP/PFI – Fails to benefit pupils, teachers, janitors
and cleaners in our schools. The only winners with PFI are the
contractors, lawyers and bankers
Schools Support Staff – Do not see their value recognised
in status terms, salary and conditions and in equality of access
to training and development.