Tam's Tales

- Scottish Education - A Failing Brand?

School Bus
Missed The Bus?

A Failing Brand?
Ever heard of someone by the name of Iain Gray? Iain Gray should be one of Scotland's most important people in Scotland and for all I know he is. No disgrace in not being able to answer this little brain teaser, because, for such a senior chap, his profile is low. Well, verging on the subterranean really.

Mr Gray is the leader or the Labour group of Members of the Scottish Parliament and I don't think I am being too unkind in stating that to date his performance at Holyrood has not set the heather on fire. In fact, until recently the heaths were hardly warmed at all.

Last week was an exception. In the Scottish Parliament Mr Gray taunted Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Party and Scotland's First Minister, to some effect. The issue was Salmond's election promise that the class sizes of the first three years of primary school would be capped at a maximum of 18 pupils (do we really have to describe the tinies as 'students'?)

The election pledge has not been kept and there is no prospect of it being honoured in the foreseeable future. Mr Gray put in a creditable performance and scorn was duly poured over Mr Salmond. Alex Salmond tried to blame it on Labour educational authorities in the various cities and regions, but the riposte looked pretty feeble.

Minister Demoted

This happened shortly after the Education Minister, Fiona Hyslop, was replaced by one Mike Russell. It is possible that Ms Hyslop was unwilling in supporting the election pledge which would have been costly to implement. However whatever the ins and outs of the pledge, Ms Hyslop failed to inspire and her demotion has been largely unmourned.

What is really serious about Scottish education is not the current brouhaha, it is the facts that since devolution came about in 1999, spending per pupil has doubled but the results have been static.

A lot of cash has been expended and the results have not followed. Of course, when you reflect on anything Scottish the knee jerk reaction is to look to England and here, horror of horrors, they are doing better. So the much vaunted Scottish educational system is lagging England's. Oh dear.

It is an appalling state of affairs and does not really get much media attention. The knockabout political stuff gets yards of coverage but statistics, however vital, do not.

A Question for Ministers
So, come the next election for Holyrood in 2011, I will not be asking how much cash has been put into the system, but rather what the plans are to get more value out of it. Failing a satisfactory explanation, I will ask why the authorities should not adopt English educational methods, lock, stock and flipping barrel? At the moment they work better. Possibly this occurs because in England they seek out best practice in other countries, whereas in Scotland if something has been adopted in England there is a resistance to it.

As for Mike Russell, who appears affable, confident and competent, I wish him well. I will be interested to see also if Iain Gray can build on his success. Alex Salmond might not be everyone's cup of tea, but he is a heavyweight politician, a so-called 'big beast in the jungle.' Iain Gray has demonstrated that Salmond has his vulnerabilities and if this process encourages the Scottish Government to sharpen its act, so much the better.

December 2009

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