Scotland’s education system needs reform – but not the reform John Swinney has in mind

danieljohnsonShadow Education Minister Daniel Johnson says John Swinney’s education reforms, as ever with the SNP, are about where power lies not how best to use those powers to improve the system.


In December, a respected worldwide education survey was released which had bad news for Scotland. Across the core measures of reading, maths and science, Scotland has gone from being one of the best countries to being barely average. The children studied had spent their whole school lives under the SNP government.

That’s bad news because the quality of our education system tells us a lot about where we are going as a country. Levels of education determines the future not just for those children, but for our country.

It should come as no surprise that the SNP’s plan for fixing education involves changing who has power in the system. John Swinney’s plan involves changing who makes the decisions, rather than what different decisions need to be taken.

Whether it is on independence or education, you can count on the SNP to care more about where power lies than how to use those powers for the good of the country.

One key reason that the Deputy First Minister might be pursuing this line of logic is to spare his own blushes. Unfortunately for him, spending on education has fallen in recent years – over the same time period when standards have fallen. But given his previous job as Finance Secretary, as the architect of the budgets that slashed education, he can hardly turn round now and say the problem is a lack of finance.

The legacy of the SNP government is cuts to education: 4,000 fewer teachers, the largest average primary class sizes since they came to power, 1,000 fewer support staff in our schools. Reversing those trends will require investment, and is surely a big part of fixing our education system.

Another part is repairing the relationship between the government agencies who run education and Scotland’s teachers. A survey conducted by the cross-party education committee found that only 20% of teachers trust the SQA to ‘get it right’. The majority expressed criticism of Education Scotland’s guidance and support. More than half expressed reservations about the independence of the inspection system.

These are agencies which have already had high profile failures – like the exams in Higher Maths in 2015 and Geography last year, a fall in school inspections, a new exam system which has led to a collapse in the numbers of people taking Higher Modern Languages, and just this week serious concerns were raised regarding the Curriculum for Excellence management board who take many of the most important decisions around learning.

One has to ask – is John Swinney reforming the right bit of the education system? Should he not be looking at his own agencies like the SQA and Education Scotland?

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18 thoughts on “Scotland’s education system needs reform – but not the reform John Swinney has in mind

  1. UK politics is nothing but policy “reforms” Every opposition in the 300 year plus history of the UK has said everything needs to be “Reformed” over and over and over.
    So what do they mean when they talk about “Reforms”?
    The term “Reforms” is just political speak for changing ideology.
    So When Red Tory Labour talk about “Reform” what they mean is converting a status quo into a more right wing Conservative version of that Status Quo. A Privatised version of a public service for example.
    Be it Education Health welfare Defence Devolved or reserved the term “Reform” should never be mistaken for an intent to make things better only an intent to make things more Ideologically acceptable to the party proposing the “Reform”.

    Isnt that right Shadow Minister?

    1. So, Mike, how would independence make a difference to education when it has been under our control since 1707? Westminster can’t be blamed for the failings of the system even by hardline nationalists.

      1. Same difference having Full fiscal autonomy makes to funding any service relative to trying to fund it with less than full fiscal autonomy.

        Its not rocket science.

        BTW its only been under “SCOTTISH” political control since 2007. Before that everything from 1707 till 2007 has all been run from London Westminster.
        If any of the London controlled UK political parties gains control over the Scottish Parliament it will once again be run from London.
        In effect NO Devolution at all.

        I don’t know why you people insist on bare faced lying when its so in your face blatant and stupid.

      2. Dave, independence wouldnt make a blind bit of difference, if we carried on exactly as we are just now.
        Huge sums of money spent on Trident—-overwhelmingly on jobs outside Scotland.
        Sending money out of Scotland for irrelevent cultural, social, sporting, news and political radio and TV programming.
        Vastly expensive infrastructure spending outside Scotland.
        We could, I suppose utilise that money to grow our economy, aleviate poverty and hence improve our education outcomes.

      1. Im talking about every Red Tory Corbyn has refused to purge from the party. That will be his cabinet and the Scottish Parliament shadow cabinet of the Shadow cabinet and all those Red Tory wankers in Edinburgh South.

  2. When ring fencing was removed from Local authorities there is evidence that education was one of the areas of spending which suffered. There is no scrutiny of those who actually run education in Scotland and no criticism of Directors of Education or Education Boards who are responsible for the day to day running of schools, hiring and firing ( though that never seems to happen) of staff, staffing levels etc.
    So Swinney has decided to by pass incompetent council control and empower those at educations coal face. Good for him.
    Labour actually started the ball rolling on this in England, but of course, Scottish Labour are just sock puppets doing what the Unions tell them.

    1. I had thought Flee’in Gray was Labour Education Shadow Minister. Perhaps he took a wrong turn somewhere. Into a sandwich shop.

  3. Not one constructive suggestion to be found. You are aware that funding comes from the wider economy, I hope.
    Oh and by the way levels of education DETERMINE the future, shadow education minister.

  4. It doesn’t only need to be reformed it needs to be funded to provide more teachers and resources. I don’t think the Reform I mean and what Swinney means bear any similarities. I mean more teachers and early years assistants class sizes of minus 18 schools where pupils are not permitted to cause disruption during lessons were those who choose to behave inappropriately are not rewarded by excluding them to. Become the illiterate of the future. Prison fodder drug addicts anti social behaviourist of the future. They should be put in locked classrooms with staff able to deal with them who can impose appropriate sanctions on them for inappropriate behaviour.

    1. Putting kids in locked classrooms never thought I would hear that. At age 8 in 1963 I was locked by my teachers in my classroom during break. My crime I was from Glasgow. The teachers were trying to help me. The classroom had a large window that faced onto the playground. I was the only one locked in . I still remember all those faces pressed against the window looking at me. It was like being in a zoo. I only wanted to be accepted. I have never told anyone of this before. I did not tell my parents but I remember it like it was yesterday.. I am getting upset even writing this

    2. Wow Douglas, what great modern educational ideas. Why don’t we just beat them as well?

  5. “John Swinney’s plan involves changing who makes the decisions, rather than what different decisions need to be taken.”

    Changing who makes the decisions logically leads to different decisions, People who’s sole focus is the performance of a school & the education of the children in it will make different decisions from Councils who’s priorities change with the political climate & where education of children is just one of many items on the table.

    1. Well…all I can say is that you can’t know many senior education managers. A more homogenous and self-selecting group you would be hard pressed to find, particularly after the flattening of school management systems in the wake of the McCrone Agreement.

  6. You see to forget that the SNP government had to force local authorities to agree to protect teacher numbers as part of the price of them receiving central government funding. This was done to try to prevent Labour councils cutting the numbers of teachers and support staff as they had don’t in previous years.

    Despite this, you seem to have concluded that “The legacy of the SNP government is cuts to education: 4,000 fewer teachers, the largest average primary class sizes since they came to power, 1,000 fewer support staff in our schools.”

  7. Isn’t it so appropriate that Scottish Labour’s Education Minister was educated at Bonaly Primary School and Daniel Stewart’s and Melville College. Kinda fits in well with their new Red Morningside heartlands.

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