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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 Future

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 of others
  • 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 educational parameters:

  • 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:

  • Increasing pupil choice

By reviewing the school curriculum to suit 21st century needs and also by reducing substantially the current overload in the 5-14 curriculum.

  • 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 necessary.

  • 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.

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Further Information


Further information and copies of the Briefing Pack can be found on:


The full Discussion Paper for the Inquiry into the Purposes of Scottish Education can be found on the following site: