Scottish education reform: Of the 59 people in the room, you'll never guess how many are actually practising teachers – Cameron Wyllie

As you may know, education in Scotland, which is not in its finest historical period, is going to be “reformed”.

Scottish education reform should be informed by people with up-to-date experience of a classroom (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Scottish education reform should be informed by people with up-to-date experience of a classroom (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

These will be big reforms, according to the Scottish Government, sweeping away Education Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority, both discredited organisations, and, once again making independent the Inspectorate of Schools – presumably so that it can, in fact, inspect education in Scotland, independently.

Now, let me suggest something to you. Let us imagine the Scottish Government took it upon itself to reform the practice of dentistry in Scotland. Or the manufacture of cheese.

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For the former, one imagines the reform team would consist of some NHS managers, some academics, some dental patients and a shedload of dentists. For cheese, I would suggest supermarket and other retail professionals, health and safety officials, some cheese consumers, bus-loads of dairy farmers, and, for completion’s sake, a couple of cows.

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There’s the cheese committee in one big room at Holyrood, occasionally breaking into small subcommittees – Animal Welfare, Retail Costs, Milk and Cream – and the dentists in another, consulting with their patients and some politicians about the best way forward for the national teeth.

And then in the next room, there’s education where… where what, exactly? In the very big room accommodating the Education Review Board, and its three (rather optimistically titled) ‘delivery boards’, there are 59 people.

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And only three of them are teachers (now think again of dentists and cheesemakers). In fact, these three – all of whom, I’m sure are excellent people – are all headteachers.

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So the central board and its three committees do not, among them, have a single actual current classroom practitioner. But there are 22 civil servants, a host of trade union officials and, in the ‘Qualification Body Delivery Board’, six officials from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (already imaginatively renamed Qualifications Scotland) – that is six people from a body thought so poorly of that it’s deemed necessary, at great expense, to replace it.

This despite the plea by Professor Mel Ainscow in the last report of the Education Committee of the Scottish Parliament that “teaching should be given back to teachers”.

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So, no dentists on the Dental Reform Board, and while we’re at it, no patients, there to describe their actual experience of dental work in Scotland, and no dairy farmers, doing cheese, no cows, there to moo about pay and conditions.

Among these 59 individuals, there are no service users at all. No students, no schoolchildren, no one from the Scottish Youth Parliament. This is despite the fact that the review carried out by Professor Ken Muir, which started the whole shenanigans, is called “Putting Learners at the Centre”, rather than “Putting Learners in the Waiting Room while the Monolith that is Scottish Education meets in a room where, let’s be honest, everybody already knows everybody else, more or less”.

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No practising teachers, no young people and, of course, no parental representatives, because everybody knows that parents don’t have any interest in education!

Of course, there is something going on called the ‘national discussion’, and everybody can contribute to that. We can fill in a survey, are invited to host discussion groups, and write and write and write.

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Then someone, appointed by the big committee, will tell the big committee about this, the civil servants and Scottish Government officials and trade union officials will pick and choose among the ideas and views presented and, lo and behold, we are all involved. I bet.

Look, teachers are quitting in record numbers. They are off with stress in their hundreds. The fabric of school buildings is falling apart.

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No one in their right mind wants to be a headteacher. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says that the Scottish Government's Curriculum for Excellence is great in theory (well, maybe) but isn’t working in practice because no practitioners have had time to think about it.

Education in Scotland is leaderless and rudderless even though the First Minister pledged seven years that it would be their number one priority.

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And now, at this promised moment of real change, the same old souls are being rolled out of local and national government – from the office of Education Scotland, Qualifications Scotland, the Educational Institute of Scotland and various other quangos no teacher has ever actually dealt with or maybe even heard of – to carry out the review process.

It is, in essence, an insult to a beleaguered profession and the process will result, I and others predict, in no significant changes at all, or at least no more significant that the sign-painters scraping “Education Scotland” off the doors of their big headquarters in Livingston and replacing it with what… “Education in Scotland”? “The Scottish Education Service”? “The Seconded Scottish School Leaders Talking Shop and Cafe”?

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I just hope that the first thing Professor Ken Muir does (for he is, inevitably and probably rightly, on this committee) is object to its membership, and plead to get some practitioners on it. Or else at least demand that every one of those 59 people should chair a focus group of actual teachers from actual schools and ask them how we can build an education service in Scotland worthy of our young people and their teachers.

But that, I’m afraid, would require a vision and strategy for some radical change, and, inevitably, an owning up to lots of costly mistakes. I don’t really see the Scottish Government having an appetite for any of that, and so, ten years down the line, things will be much the same and likely a little worse.

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Cameron Wyllie writes a blog called A House in Joppa. His book, Is There A Pigeon in the Room? My Life in Schools, is published by Birlinn

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