Reform Scotland

Education & the Programme for Government – Keir Bloomer

In 2015, shortly after becoming First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon described education as her ‘defining mission’ and shortly afterwards launched the Scottish Attainment Challenge, designed to eliminate the gap in attainment between disadvantaged and other pupils.  Although progress has been slow and very limited, the aim was a worthy one and there is no reason to doubt her commitment to education.

Eight years on,  in introducing his first programme for government, her successor found space for a passing reference to education beyond half way through his speech.  No policy or action was mentioned at this point.  It is clear that education no longer ranks as a major priority.

Towards the end of the speech a little more detail was provided.  Reform of Education Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority is to proceed.  This is to be done in a manner ‘informed by independent and expert reviews’; a phrase which stops short of a commitment to implement the recommendations of the Hayward Review.  This caution is to be welcomed.

The government is also to carry out a promise made earlier to rejoin two international surveys of educational achievement.  This is a good decision.  These surveys are a vital source of evidence about how our system is functioning.

It is perhaps unkind to mention that reform of Education Scotland and rejoining the surveys have something in common.  They are both intended to reverse mistakes made by this government in the past.  A willingness to admit error – even if only by implication – is surely a welcome sign of maturity.

Although he had little to say about schools, Mr. Yousaf spoke more extensively about early learning and childcare.  This is an area in which the government already has a good record.   There is to be an improved service for two year old children and their families with priority being given to those in  poverty.  This will help in the early discovery of children with developmental problems and allow for early intervention.  At the same time efforts are to be made to make services more flexible and family-friendly.  All this is to be applauded.

There was a strong focus in the speech on business and economic growth.  It is for others who are better informed to judge how far the government’s proposals will contribute effectively to wealth creation.  From an educational perspective, much more could have been said to demonstrate an understanding of the connection between educational and economic success.  Perhaps next year?

Keir Bloomer chairs our Commission on School Reform. He is an education consultant and a  former Director of Education