jimtoggleJim O’Neill says it’s time to give teachers a break from constant unproductive reform, and he welcomes Kezia Dugdale’s proposal for a federal United Kingdom.


I raised this concern the last time a poor report on Scottish education was published. Now, in the eleventh year of the SNP’s responsibility for our children’s education, the PISA world report from the OECD has shown that our education, particularly in maths, science and reading, has worsened further. We can no longer even say that at least we are better than England.

So, what is John Swinney’s response? That we need even more radical reform! This at a time when teachers are rebelling against the extent of workload engendered by the Curriculum for Excellence – or should it be called the Curriculum for Averageness?

More radical reform is the default position of every education minister, of every party, that I have ever known over 40 years of involvement in education; from Frank McElhone (Lab), to Michael Forsyth (Tory) to the run of short-lived SNP education ministers now including John Swinney. Not one of them has spent time in a classroom, except as a pupil, yet they all think they know what is best for education in Scotland. Maybe they all had teachers they did not like!

Teacher overload impacts directly on the quality of the education they can deliver. If they are continually being told to change the system, usually before the previous system has bedded in, this will lead to confusion and workload issues. I remember, as a teacher in the 1970s, having to teach two different systems at the same time, traditional Highers and Alternative Highers, while trying to respond to the Munn and Dunning Reports which fundamentally changed the system of working from S1-4. This (and the poor pay) was what got me active in teacher unions and I have been calling for time for teachers to breathe and to bed-in new systems ever since.

It doesn’t seem that this is going to happen. While refusing to condemn the failed new ideas brought forward by previous SNP education ministers, Nicola Sturgeon, at First Minister’s Questions, listed all the new proposals that John Swinney will take forward. Whether this is the magic sponge that will revive the once great Scottish education system remains to be seen. For me, I’m not holding my breath.

I am becoming a little tired of those commentators on the so-called left who continue to disparage Scottish Labour and particularly the leadership of Kezia Dugdale. Many of these are people who gave a massive welcome to her election, but as soon as she failed to progress their often narrow agendas, they abandoned her and have also abandoned any hope of the Labour Party in Scotland rising again. However, recently, Kezia has shown that Scottish Labour has something distinctly different to say and can hold the SNP government to account better than any other opposition party.

Over the rail fiascos, it has been Labour who forced an apology from Ms Sturgeon to the much abused passengers of Abellio/Scotrail, who forced the publication of the 247 point improvement plan, and who have now adopted the Co-operative Party/ASLEF plan for a People’s Scotrail. They are also in discussion with their sister party on how this can be adapted to bus services too. In this, Kez has shown real leadership, not least in her performances against Nicola Sturgeon in the chamber.

Now, I am pleased to say, she has adopted a proposal that I and many others have been calling for over many years – a federal structure for Britain. She is arguing that, if neither the Tories nor the SNP want to set up a Constitutional Convention into a project that will disturb their cosy little positions, Labour should set up its own Constitutional Convention.

Of course, this will entail a massive change to the governance of the UK, with extensive devolution to the English regions and the replacement of the House of Lords with a body representative of the countries and regions of our United Kingdom; but surely that is better than the current position, and brings decision making much closer to the people. This would be a real exercise in subsidiarity. We should now all get behind this approach and promote it throughout the party. Well done, Kezia.

Finally, I cannot stop without mentioning Humza Yousaf. Humza has been caught driving his car without insurance, but there seems to have been a collective brushing of this under the carpet. I know what reaction I would get if I said to the judge “Sorry your Honour, it has all been an honest mistake caused by the breakup of my marriage”. The response would be that it is my responsibility to ensure that I am insured at all times. This is a criminal offence and, in a more honourable age, would have been followed by the resignation of the Minister, especially if he was Minister for Transport. Sadly, this is no longer the case, and Humza Yousaf continues to fail the people of Scotland in his post. Grrrr!

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26 thoughts on “Radical reform? Maybe not

  1. Did you forget to raise your concern for the even greater drop in Education standards in Labour controlled Wales?
    It does seem strange to me though that right up until the last report in 2012 Scotland was ahead of the rest of the UK and suddenly for no particular reason it drops quite dramatically while England remains more on less the same.
    Could there be a link between the fact that PISA is run and controlled within the UK by Tories and the unusual drop in standards reported in 2015 which was never evident to this extent in any previous report?
    The 2012 report showed Scotlands standards improving since 2006 so it clearly cant be as a result of the present Government who have been in power since 2007. Perhaps a closer scrutiny of the methodology employed could shed some light on this seemingly one off development.
    We already know how often the Tories and Labour for that matter love to manipulate data and then report it as impartial.
    It kind of goes with the territory that is the UK of GB.

    1. “PISA is run and controlled within the UK by Tories”

      That’ll be news to the OECD.

  2. Its many years since I was at school, but I learned then that not all teachers were equal in attitude, capability or performance. A simple method of assessment would have been those who belted and those who did not. Those who did not, tended to be able teachers who captured the attention of their classes.
    No teacher was ever sacked no matter how bad they were at their job, and it seems little has changed in that regard.
    Modern teachers are all graduates are they not? And yet little in the way of professional responsibilities are expected from them. Or their Heads of Department. Or their Head Teachers. How about the highly paid Directors of Education, are they not expected to keep on top of education in their areas? I have never heard or read of any concern from any senior educationalist as to the performance of any local authority school they are responsible for. Why?

    It is obvious the knives are out for Dugdale. She is being scapegoated for Scottish Labours rapid decline, but it would take a long, long article to finger the culprits in that regard, and most are now out of the game. But Dugdale does appear out of her depth, doesnt look the part, and her constitutional contradictions don’t help.

    Federalism is what I would have voted for if it had been offered in the indyref. It wasn’t, and I have moved on.
    Scottish Labour point blank refused to forward anything like Home Rule when it had the chance ( and Salmond repeatedly offered the opportunity ). The last minute panicky offers have proved post truth nonsense.
    It is too late now. Scottish Labour has little constitutional credibility. It has even less leverage. It is a component of a UK party which is following Scottish Labour into serious decline.
    The Tories can win UK power on the back of English votes. It can (and has) packed the Lords full of cronies.
    The Lib Dumbs are capturing the votes of Remainers down south, a constituency Labour has stupidly spurned.
    UKIP are on the march in Northern England.
    Scotland, far from being an “equal” in the UK, is now a prisoner of southern xenophobia.
    Scottish Labour has to wake up from its dwam, and British Nationalism is NOT the solution!

  3. Gavin,
    You sum up the present state of Labour well “It is too late now. Scottish Labour has little constitutional credibility.”
    A lot has changed since 2011/12 when Salmond offered Labour the chance of a second question on the referendum paper, an offer they steadfastly refused it take it up. The damage the Labour Party has sustained through their belief in doing what was right or their blind stupidity, (delete where applicable), is hard to believe.

    Kezia is quite within her rights to claim ‘Labout saved the union’. Labour did… Had it not been for Scottish Labour flinging the kitchen sink and all associated white goods into Better Together with the Tories, had it not been for Gordon Brown and his last minute vacuous promises, Scotland Im sure would be an independent country now. But the question is, was it worth it?

    I can see a time come maybe soon, when the constitutional questions, Scotland and the UK, UK/EU will become a headache for the SNP and the Tories. The brexit result is going to cause unforseeable problems for all sides, but the question is as I say, was it worth it.

    The SNP lost the referendum but have won all the elections since. They run Scotland at Holyrood. They have 56MPs at Westminster. They have another five years to place their people on all public bodies and positions of influence. Next year they will take control of most of Scotland’s local government. They have all the good jobs. THey have all the power and influence. They are where Labour was.
    The Scottish Tories are now the opposition to the SNP. They are in government at Westminster for what looks like an entirety. They have leaders both at Westminster and Holyrood that are seen by all sides as more than capable. Likeable even.
    Labour on the other hand look done in. Down south they have lost all credibility. Northern England and Wales are lost to UKIP, as is Scotland to the SNP. Their leader is a caricature of what he thinks a north London socialist should be. I do not mean to offend, Jeremy Corbyn is I am sure a decent man, but he is a joke figure in his present position a position he is in by default. He has surrounded himself by a team that cannot be taken seriously even by, no, especially by his own side. In Scotland, the branch office is FUBAR. At a local level Labour’s councillors are about to be washed away. Labour now watch others do what they did, like eunuchs in a harem.
    So I repeat my question, was it worth it? This is not for me to say, but I would be genuinely interested to hear from Labour contributors, was the union worth saving when the cost was the ultimate sacrifice, The Party’s existence?

    1. Thanks Richard. I joined the Labour party in 1965. Its decline and demise has been painful to behold, but its internal contradictions on ” the question of Scotland”, the greed and indolence of its Scottish MP’s made this decline inevitable, only delayed by the biased compliance of “Scotland’s” media. I was a striking miner for a year, Labour abandoned us then, and did NOTHING for mining areas later when they gained power (Westminster and Holyrood). Other people and areas will have their own stories about Scottish Labour. I suspect none of them would be good.
      “Was it worth it” you ask. Well, Brown/Darling et al must think so, ensconced in plush corporate luxury. But that is personal well being. What they think of Scotland’s circumstances beggars belief. That they think a country famous for its engineering skills, discovering a huge oil field off its shores and yet ends up as economically “bankrupt” ( their words), has been well governed is beyond contempt. If Scotland was thriving in the Union, they would have a serious point.
      I have seen nothing to suggest Scottish Labour has changed its spots, regrets anything, or would change their opinions—but the hell of political irrelevance will mend them!

      1. Gavin,
        It is interesting that Scottish Labour are still unable to address the question ‘ was it worth it?’ Until they are able to understand past mistakes and admit to them they will never find a way forward that is unique to Labour.

  4. Richard,

    Do you honestly think so-called Scottish labour has the ability to see beyond their own toes, their position from 9 years back to the present date is like the biggest wake-up call in the universe but they still keep digging down.

    They are presently in third place in Scotland and their figures are still going down and nothing they have tried is putting them up. They go through leaders and policies every five minutes and try to resurrect the same useless crap like their federal/homerule policy’s.

    Today their party just reached the soaring heights of fourth in a bye-election down south, and it looks like Ukip could be the party of choice for the voters in England’s north, but will Scottish labour see the writing on the wall, nae chance, instead they will continue repeatedly to keep walking head-first into it.

    I agree with all of your comment, but I think there is just one small chance left for Scottish labour if they move quick enough.

    Its either Scotland or the tories – CHOOSE , and choose quickly because you have got fuck all else going for you.

    1. Davy,
      I think its already too late. I cannot see a future for Labour in Scotland or down south. Maybe they should stick to their principles and follow them through.
      They a unionist party, They saved the union, so they should take their policies from that. Scottish Labour should stand as the Scottish party that would disestablish the Scottish parliament if elected. They should own up to the mistake they made in devolution and reverse it. They should be honest and tell it for what it is; an unnecessary vanity project.

  5. ii had on the main great teachers at school there was one that I can only describe as a brutal thug but there was another teacher who I saw being kicked between the legs this was in the 70s.my school was not any different fron other schools it had a good record of academic achievement. then they built a new school to cope with the overcrowding . when the new school opened if you lived in the new catchment area and I did you got no choice it was the new school. problems from day 1 ceiling tiles fell in on top of us classrooms closed. staff the rector transferred to the new school most of the experienced teachers remained at the old school. so most of our new teachers came in from teacher training colleges with no teaching experience . I still remember being brought in one at a time to meet us brand new and we knew it. by the way guess who had to carry the furniture along the road from one school to the other maybe that’s why at sixteen I got a job in a furniture shop ha ha. so school life went on after I left both schools did amalgamate I went back there to night school . I was in class when the Berlin wall came down. now our education department had thought of this because our tutor had to read to us a prepared statement . for the purposes of the exam the Berlin wall is still up . that statement was met with laughter and applause. did the wall ever come down for exam purposes I don’t know. but on to today I am in the Labour Party the views I give in comments are mine not the party.to say that this weeks report is some sort of uk hatchet job on the snp does not hold up. the nats would have been all over it .John Swinney on day 1 of this reports release said it was uncomfortable reading. he went on a tour of schools and tv studious . on Thursday at FMQS the FM took responsibility how often does that happen. how do we fix it maybe just let teachers teach.. on a federal Britain I came to that conclusion years ago and I am glad that Kezia Dugdale has had the political courage to put it on the table. and she was the one who got the FM to consider a rail fare freeze nobody else on the government back benches dared to ask

  6. In my local authority (Labour controlled), the second largest education expense after salaries is PFI repayments. The council are currently trying to negotiate with the venture capitalists who own about half of our high schools so they can restructure the deals. What happens after the 25 year lease period is up and the council have first refusal to buy the buildings from the owners remains to be seen.
    The PFI buildings are shoddily built and every maintenance request ends in a fight with the property managers, who are completely averse to spending any money. Heating gets switched off at 11am over the recent cold spell and the buildings are so draughty and badly insulated that they cool down rapidly, leaving kids sitting with their coats on.
    And we wonder why we have attainment issues?

  7. while I am at it will someone please tell me why we have different schools for protestant and catholic kids . my first secondary school was next to the catholic primary. the catholic kids had to travel to a different town to attend their secondary school. we lived in the same street we chased the girls together. did not catch them played football together .although I supported rangers they celtic it was not until I was working in a factory during the ira bombing campaign that I saw bigotary at first hand .a an Irish flag at one side of the factory a Union Jack at the other end. that factory did not survive Maggie .but I have often wondered if we had all gone to the same schools in the same classrooms. same teachers and yes learning about each others faiths and learning to respect each other we might have been able to stop some of the stuff that happened. and today I still say if we don’t have separate schools. we as a society can only prosper. although I have described Protestants and Catholics being taught together I mean all faiths to be taught together.do that break down all taboos and a lot off todays and tomorrows problems will go away. not perfect not my parties ideas just mine .and I have never set my thoughts on this down before .so it is with some trepidation and I know what some of the comments can be like .I have to say bring it on

    1. Spot on David, absolutely spot on.

      The Labour Party currently supports the establishment of increasing numbers of “faith” schools, based on the many different religions currently practised in the UK. Having been to schools in both the west coast of Scotland and different parts of England, it has always struck me as strange that in Glasgow, children who were all “Christians” and lived in the same neighbourhood attended different schools.

      In effect, faith schools are a system of educational apartheid. The Labour Party should encourage all people regardless of gender, race, religion and disability to attend the same local schools, in order to put the heart, soul and unity back into our communities.

      1. Andy/David,
        I agree with all you say, but I don’t think it will ever happen, not in my life time. It is a depressing fact that most people know instinctively that state schools should not be segregated. In France and the USA it is written into their constitutions, but the reality is, our politicians in all parties are just not that brave.

  8. Why not put forward a bill in Scot parliament for a referendum on devo max with the terms set out. SNP could hardly oppose as they wanted a 2nd question. It would likely get an overwhelming YES as most popular option. UK govt couldn’t ignore. Job done! Unless of course this is just politicking and you don’t really want devo max for Scotland ?

    1. if you are talking about what I said about all children attending the same school. this is my view. I have never spoken about it before and it was not for political purposes. I just would like other peoples views .that is why I comment

  9. “Now, in the eleventh year of the SNP’s responsibility for our children’s education…”

    Oh dear. Standards of arithmetic are indeed declining. SNP won power in May 2007 – 9 years and 7 months ago.

    Not quite the eleventh year yet.

  10. Curriculum for Excellence was brought into being by the Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition government. The SNP inherited, and continued with the policy, when they took power in 2007.

    The ideas being the new curriculum are sound but the difficulty has been devising an assessment system that works. There is also the problem that while the secondary sector is held to account for the results they achieve – not only school by school but down to individual teachers – there is no equivalent system in the primary sector and pupils often transfer to secondary schools well behind where they should be.

  11. again these are my views not the Party view. Jeremy deserved what he got from Peter Tatchell and friends over Syrian bombing. how anyone can watch it on ch4 news every night and not be heartbroken must be hard. when I watch it I think these poor people could be me. they cant stop it they are caught in a storm they did not start and no way out .they are living in a world off atrocities. no end in site. are you listening Donald are you listening Vladimir are you listening Iran are you listening militias are you listening Assad. if so what are you listening to . I will tell you its screams . the screams of a country and its people dying and that should shame all of us. suppose something did happen here when was the last time the uk carried out a civil defence exercise. any way on to things closer to home tax avoidance again Tony Banks owner of Balhousie Care operated a shell subsidiary for the sole purpose of collecting a 6 figure sum in vat. had to pay back 173 thousand plus he had to pay a 31 thousand pound fine. moving on to Sir Brian Souter of Stagecoach fame. he moved money from one company to another within his group to create a large loss in one of its businesses. he was trying to reduce its tax bill by 11 million he has had to repay the money. I am a real bundle of fun tonight folks Amazon have a sorting depot in Dunfermline .according to an undercover reporter they have a disciplinary system that sees workers being threatened with the sack if off for 4 days even if they have a doctors line. the reporter was paid 7 pound 35p by an agency that supplied workers. she was left with less than the minimum wage after paying 10 pounds for the agency bus to take her the 40 miles to work from Glasgow . she also reported that some low paid workers are living in tents near the site rather than pay the fare. well folks the following views are not mine they belong to Alex Neil SNP MSP. so lets have some fun . he has stated no Indy ref 2 until after UK election 20 20 .he also says has not been disciplined . also says the polls back him many SNP voters backed brexit oh dear I think that last bit is enough for one night

  12. not to worry folks I am back. watched some of Syria debate half empty chamber no Party Leaders. Amazon Frank Field wants an official investigation into working conditions at the plant. Amazon say they employs over 4 thousand seasonal workers in Dunfermline Keith Brown the Economy Secretary will write to Amazon .he will say he is happy to meet with them over the concerns raised ..the landowner Scottish Enterprise cleared away the workers tents yesterday. staff claimed they have a duty of care to anyone living rough on their land. me I say don’t buy online. Alec Neil day 2 in the paper again today no indy ref until 2020. is this an attempt by the leadership to tell the SNP membership backoff. I don’t see any sign of the results of the so called National Conversation witch they did not have with me. then there is Thursdays Austerity Budget from the so called Anti Austerity Party . we already know local authorities will face more cuts to their budgets

  13. i see some mps and I regret at least 1 was labour complained yesterday. it was during the Syria debate that the former PM lost the vote to join the bombing. are they daft the last thing these poor people need is more bombs and bullets falling on them no matter who is doing it. I don’t know how to stop it .neither do the politicians. in different circumstances that could be you or me. . the Syrian people did not ask for or deserve this. the international community should be ashamed for allowing this. there has got to be a way to stop the fighting. I don’t know how

  14. Scottish Budget day my thoughts not the Labour Party. not going to say to much for now that was only round 1. but I would like to make some observations. some reports were predicting local authority cuts of 350 million or 3.5 per cent. my local authority where labour have just taken control said in the locmade mal paper that local government funding has been cut by 11 per cent since 2010. 73 million since 20 10 11 or 25 per cent. i am 61 ill health retirement pension oxygen medication .i can get out myself on 2 benefits there is nothing in the budget for me. Dereck Mackays delivery was boring but his response to questions a lot better. Ruth Davidson made a mess of it at last weeks FMQS she did it again today .Kezia Dugdale is growing in confidence . she got the FM to consider a rail fare freeze the FM left it to her Finance Minister to slip out a no in his statement. today she got in a question about Dundee SNP councillors joining in the complaints about the budget cuts. but as I say the budget will change because now the haggling starts. to get the budget through deals will have to be done so it will change maybe someone will remember the unemployed. tell us why Scottish unemployment went up while English figures went down. a blue book started to circulate amongst MSPS during the debate. the detail in that book and the behind the scenes dealing that will decide the fate of this budget and us. and can someone tell John Swinney to stop that daft clapping

  15. well folks I am back the only thing I will say about the Scottish Budget is . millions of pounds cut from local authority budgets over the years. not one penny restored on Thursday. what have others got to say. well councils say on Thursday another 300 million was cut from services. Glasgow City Council say they might have to cut 60 million. Fife 30 million. highland 20 million Aberdeen City Council i5 million East Lothian 6 million. and this is just the start as councils start to do the arithmetic. Frank McAveety for Glasgow said Scottish Government kidding on .Eddie McAvoy South Lanark said people will suffer. Richard Thomson co leader of SNP controlled Aberdeen said they will have less money .Dundee SNP councillors did not even wait. who would be a transport secretary. our guy gets caught driving no insurance. his UK counterpart opens a car door and knocked a cyclist of his bike.. well they are in charge of transport enough said

  16. an ex adviser to Alec Salmond Alec Bell has called the Scottish Budget a white flag. says they don’t have the courage of their convictions. and they are cowards one and all. they are having a party at Scotlands expense. is he correct

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