Jim Swift lives in Newton Mearns, is one of three Conservative Councillors elected for the Newton Mearns South & Eaglesham ward, and is a professional health economist. Education is one of many interests pursued by Cllr Swift, and he has written a guest article for our website on the Scottish Government’s proposals to centralise control over our schools.
The Scottish Government has proposed to bring East Renfrewshire’s schools under a new regional education centre and it is to happen by June 2018. This will include all the schools in the West of Scotland.
The current education authority is the Council, where we have a long tradition of delivering improving performance. Whilst the Conservatives have been in opposition on East Renfrewshire Council, we have however supported the Administration in its prioritisation of education in every budget and in every education committee meeting.
The changes risk the quality of local schooling and the high flying performance that our schools and most importantly our young people have enjoyed. In stark contrast to the high quality of local levels of educational attainment, we have the Scottish Government’s woeful record.
Scottish education was the envy of the world. Other countries regarded our system of education as amongst the foremost in the world.
International tests looking at literacy and numeracy show we have slipped down the international league tables and our place in the world has diminished. It is bad that we have been overtaken by England, Wales and Northern Ireland, even by Slovenia, which was in the midst of a civil war only a generation ago. In all 3 areas; reading, maths and science we have recorded our worst scores ever.
Our own internal Scottish tests of numeracy and literacy have shown such a substantial decline over the last 6 years that the Scottish Government has cancelled doing them.
You read that correctly, just in case you doubted it.
Just because the SNP has stopped measuring the extent to which things are deteriorating does not mean that things have stopped getting worse, it just means less bad headlines.
Given their record on burying bad news and being less than straight with the public, should we stand idly by while they try to wrest control of education from a successful Council?
We believe that more control needs to be given to head teachers and that element of the proposed reforms makes sense, but the rest of it is nonsensical. There is now a proposed imbalance of responsibility and accountability, the Council is responsible for hiring and the HR and facilities management, but not the actual school management. Lastly, the democratic deficit, we spend proportionately more on education than other Councils and that is a democratic decision. We care here, this is our community and have worked hard to deliver great educational attainment. Furthermore sacrifices have been made in other areas to deliver the resourcing of that. The new regional education centres will be managed by ministerial appointees not local people.
Who will replace the high quality team of professionals who uniquely measure every aspect of a child’s performance and ensure teachers are aware of any slippage, so teachers can act before children fall behind? Who will replace those that fill the void of Curriculum for Excellence with meaningful content? What will replace the ethos of the schools, the working together but healthily competing environment?
A regime led by Scottish Government place people. If the fiasco that was the Scottish Police Authority is an example, then we will get more people questioning the finer points of the uniforms for Police, now read school children and missing the big stuff, like the huge financial hole (£21Million), which went un-noticed. I would contend that an organisation that refused to take advice from England because they had a system that worked for paying farmers and we still don’t, i.e. an organisation that fails to learn and is worse than that, unwilling to learn is not the kind the kind of organisation we want controlling our children’s education.
The proposals to take the controls over schools in East Renfrewshire out of the hands of the Council and put them in the hands of SNP place people in regional education centres should concern not just parents with children at our schools, but everyone.
It should concern us, not just because the SNP’s record on education is pretty awful, but because by contrast, our local record is good and is accelerating away from the rest of Scottish school attainment.
(Part two of this article to follow soon)