6 Mar 2013

Every pupil deserves the best

I believe we have a duty to drive up educational opportunities for every pupil in Scotland.

A major new report "By Diverse Means: Improving Scottish Education" makes an important contribution to the on-going debate about Scottish education. It’s right to challenge the complacency about our international reputation and I welcome the recognition of the profound and lasting consequences of social and economic disadvantage. No-one can argue with the devolution of more responsibility to schools, but the big issue is one of effective leadership at a school and departmental level. Quality leadership can transform a school, while ineffective leadership can drag a school down, so it’s not just about transferring responsibility to schools. This report reminds us that we have a duty to boost educational chances for all of Scotland’s pupils. To do that we need to invest in all of Scottish education, in support staff and resources as well as teachers, but with a far greater commitment to areas of deprivation. This report is yet another wake up call. What we need is both consensus and commitment to give every Scottish pupil the best possible start in life.

• The report, by the Commission on School Reform, says that Scotland performs well overall, being consistently in the top quarter of countries for education results. However, it says the trend has been generally downward and Scotland is being overtaken. It says almost half of the countries overtaking Scotland are developing countries where standards would be expected to be lower. Scotland has not lacked good ideas for reform, it says, but implementation of them has often been weak and slow.

• No school in a disadvantaged area has ever matched the performance of a school in a more affluent area, it reveals. "It is worth noting that this is not true of other countries," says the report. It highlights rapid improvement in countries such as Poland, Singapore, England and Ontario in Canada. The report suggests that many children begin to fall behind in early secondary, saying: "This has been apparent for at least 40 years. Yet decisive action has never been taken." It indicates that educational failure is "a personal disaster" for those concerned but has implications for the rest of society too, as this failure is often linked to unemployment, ill-health and possible involvement in crime.

• "Many who could have made a positive contribution to society become, instead, a drain on its resources," say the commission. Since most countries now effectively operate as a global economic unit, competition has increased and countries with the weakest track records for educating its young people are likely to fall behind, raising the prospect of declining living standards and possible social unrest, the report argues.

Calling for better education research, it says some reforms have been weak because they have been based on "informed hunches, wishful thinking and ideology". The report suggests that reforms have taken a tentative hold because not enough

The report recommends:

• Reducing to zero the number of children without basic skills in reading and writing

• Vocational education becoming higher priority

• Better care services before birth to age three.

• Schools given more control over resources and decision-making.

• Schools free to differ from each other

Suggesting ways to help future reforms take hold, the commission calls for schools that are enthusiastic about changes to be allowed to go ahead more quickly and become ambassadors and guides for schools adopting reforms at a slower pace. For more on this see the link - http://www.cspp.org.uk/images/bydiversemeans.pdf