Liz Smith: Consensus is growing that we need change

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SOMETHING very interesting is happening in the world of Scottish education.

It might not have made the headlines yet, but scratch beneath the surface and you will find a discernible change is taking place.

This relates to a growing consensus that we need to change the school structure. There is the New School Action Group: a group of parents in Edinburgh who, in collaboration with teachers and their local community, want to set up their own school. They want to do this because they believe state education can be better if it offers more choice and more opportunity for children, and genuinely considers the children’s emotional, physical and academic needs.

Similarly, in recent months we have seen some of Scotland’s church groups discussing moves to extend choice and make the school system respond better to parental demand, and we have also heard murmurings that, in the future, some of the independent schools might be interested in working with local authorities to help to run academy-type schools. In other words, here are just three examples of how the winds of change are blowing through the school corridors in Scotland.

Some of the credit for these new developments should, undoubtedly, go to Keir Bloomer and the cross-party Commission on School Reform, jointly sponsored by the two independent think-tanks, Centre for Scottish Public Policy and Reform Scotland. The report unanimously concluded that the current school system in Scotland is too hierarchical and provides far too few incentives for schools to break free of the monopoly of the one-size-fits-all approach. As such, the system is unresponsive to the changing needs of pupils and it leaves parents with far too little say in their child’s education.

Why else, Keir Bloomer’s Commission asked, does Scotland have so many good ideas yet fail to see the benefits of most of them? That is a good question and it is exactly the same question which more and more parents are beginning to ask too. They don’t want a system that puts barriers in the way of teachers and headteachers as they seek to provide the best-quality education for our children.

Too often they have heard the voice of central government telling them not to worry; that Scotland doesn’t have failing schools and that the Curriculum for Excellence will set things right. Well, it won’t unless the school system changes and our children’s teachers and headteachers are free from the straitjacket into which they have been locked for too many decades.

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