John Swinney: Scotland can improve education faster without a Bill

Education Secretary John Swinney says he will listen to ideas on how to improve education, no matter who suggests them. (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
Education Secretary John Swinney says he will listen to ideas on how to improve education, no matter who suggests them. (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
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As summer draws to a close and our schools return to life, it is hard to believe it was only a few short weeks ago the previous term ended and parliament went in to recess.

I hope all of our hardworking teachers and education staff enjoyed some well-deserved rest and are looking forward to the year ahead. We have a lot to achieve and I hope you are all as eager to get started as I am.

Last term ended on a high with the landmark agreement to fast-track the reform of education in Scotland. And the beginning of the new school year brings even more opportunity to improve things for our young people.

Reform has been badged as the most radical change to the way schools are run since devolution.

I cannot think of a more exciting time to work within the profession and help shape the future of generations of young people to come.

The crucial point is that whatever shape those education reforms may take, whatever political party is in local or national government, the people who truly have the power to change lives are the parents and teachers that our young people learn from and look up to.

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Nobody thinks we should do less for our children. We are all in agreement that we must do more to improve attainment and make sure all young people are given the opportunity to live up to their full potential.

Where there is disagreement is on how we achieve this.

A lot has been said about whether or not legislation is necessary to empower education within Scotland.

Legislation would set out clear and consistent standards for every local authority in Scotland and make it a legal requirement for these to be met. There is definitely merit in this approach.

However, after listening to stakeholders, it is clear that we can achieve the same results faster, with fewer distractions.

That should be welcomed by everyone with a sincere interest in delivering the best possible outcomes for our young people.

Questions have also been asked about what happens next. Let me be clear.

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Work to progress reform has never stopped. National and local government have been working throughout the summer to take forward the changes that will improve our education system.

That work will continue with pace, bringing in more key stakeholders, as the new academic year begins.

Anyone who claims “what happens next is unclear” is wrong, or hasn’t been asking the right questions.

It is my firm belief that raising standards for all of Scotland’s young people is a shared ambition, regardless of political persuasion.

We should all welcome the fact that we live in a society where ensuring our schools are the best they possibly can be is such a huge priority.

And, as Education Secretary, I am always happy to hear views on how we make this happen, regardless of who they come from.

The Education Bill is a prime example of how the conversation on improving education is working. Stakeholders agreed with our ambition but told me they didn’t need legislation, they just wanted to get on and do it. So that is what is happening.

Every new school year brings the opportunity for a fresh start, this one more so than ever.

John Swinney is Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary