Readers' Letters: Education should be about innovative thinking

G Alexander (Letters, 23 April) claims, without evidence, that academic standards in schools have declined greatly under SNP governments. Although I never voted for these, as a retired teacher and lecturer, I disagree. Standards have risen. I could not now pass exams even in subjects I taught.
Three schoolboys at Queen Victoria School, Dunblane, in 1935 - education has changed beyond recognition (Picture: Getty)Three schoolboys at Queen Victoria School, Dunblane, in 1935 - education has changed beyond recognition (Picture: Getty)
Three schoolboys at Queen Victoria School, Dunblane, in 1935 - education has changed beyond recognition (Picture: Getty)

In poorer parts of Glasgow the number of pupils gaining high grades in national exams has increased. International comparisons are irrelevant, These include a few countries which have very different socio-economic/political conditions and school systems.

The Government, anyway, has very limited power over standards. Schools are run by councils which appoint teachers who are trained by universities. Factors such as family background, genes, health, diet, air pollution and housing are crucial. Many homes are far too small for children to engage in private study.

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The focus on standards is misguided – most of what is learned to pass exams used to decide those is soon forgotten. When young people with good degrees are unemployed this approach is clearly mistaken. Far more important are attitudes. Self-respect, confidence, empathy, resilience, imagination, honesty, courtesy, curiosity and the ability to think critically and creatively are what matters. Many adults are lacking in these attributes. How much that is due to their schooling is debatable.

Reform Scotland says the education system needs drastic change and teachers must be given more freedom. I agree, but think pupils also need such. Children, even siblings, differ hugely in their propensities, interests and rates of development. There is no more reason they should all have equal ability levels in numeracy and literacy than in art, music, chess, sports, history, geography or gardening.

Children were not consulted before “closing the attainment gap” was made a key political aim. It has clearly failed and may well have done far more harm than good to many. Yet no party has questioned it. All emphasise education but none show any understanding of the issues or innovative thinking.

John Munro, Buccleuch Street, Glasgow

Missing money

The issues regarding Independence are serious as they will, if enacted, have a long-lasting, negative impact not only on Scotland but on the whole of the UK. There is no doubt SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is an effective communicator, but there are serious questions about her administrative and economic competence. History shows oratory can whip up nationalistic fervour but, in the wrong hands, cause huge damage.

There are many outstanding questions concerning the handling of the economy, the current pandemic, the education of our young, the support of the NHS, the recent reorganisation of the police etc. In a recent public interview, the First Minister was unable to provide any answers to questions as to how the economy would be impacted if Scotland were to become an independent country. This is hardly surprising as, for a start, huge financial support from the rest of the UK would no longer be available. Also, many “projects” which have received substantial government funding, only to result in failure, will leave large financial deficits.

There are several areas of enquiry that have been raised as to what has happened to significant amounts of grant assistance from Westminster. According to the Scottish Auditor General, Stephen Boyle, in his report in February the Scottish Government had received an extra £9.7 billion to deal with Covid-19, of which only £7bn is accounted for. Where is the balance – £2.7bn? Mr Boyle has, in the last three Annual Reports, advised that there should be increased transparency in financial matters. Each year this has been ignored.

Other areas of government responsibility leave many questions which the SNP seem to handle with a cloak of silence! How can so many people support a party that is so clearly untrustworthy? These grave incongruities must be exposed before it is too late.

M Brown, Hayhill Road, Thorntonhall, Glasgow

SNP priorities

While the newspapers are full of stories about Boris and his new curtains, here in Scotland we have an SNP government that has only allocated £7bn of the £9.7bn Covid support funds from Westminster.

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If Boris has funded his refurbishment in return for political favours, then yes, questions should be asked. That however is nothing compared to a government that has withheld funds that would keep businesses afloat and prevent people losing their jobs. This is the greater scandal.

Scotland deserves a government that looks out for its citizens by supporting them to be able to put food on the table and clothes on their backs by keeping them in work. Free bicycles and laptops for all does not help create a thriving economy and greater self-esteem. That comes through having a reason to get up in the morning. It’s better for the country, the economy and the mental health of the nation for people to have a job to go to. Unfortunately the SNP would rather use these funds for their freebies, hoping to get votes in return.

I know which I consider the more immoral of the two events and it’s not Boris Johnson and his decorating.

Jane Lax, Aberlour

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Circling Barnett

I am surprised no one seems to have picked up on the Fraser of Allander Report on “Designing and funding the devolved nations’ policy responses to Covid-19” which highlighted the dangers of relying on the Barnett formula for the devolved nations of the UK.

The first was time-lags between English policy announcements and the confirmation of subsequent Barnett consequentials for the devolved governments. Also, with furlough payments, it was only when London went back into lockdown that these were extended for Scotland, which the authors put down to “luck”.

The report also highlights that the Tory government has established new funding streams including: the Levelling Up Fund, the Community Renewal Fund and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (part-replacement for EU regional development funds). The authors write “funds will ostensibly be allocated on the basis of ‘needs’, but the assessment of what constitutes ‘need’ has been developed by the UK government without consultation with the devolved governments. This approach has been made possible by the Internal Market Act which provides a new means for the UK government to allocate spending in the devolved territories to areas which had previously been thought to be the purview of the devolved governments.” The authors are clear: “The effect is to circumvent not only the Barnett Formula but the devolved governments themselves.”

All the more reason that Scotland’s future is in Scotland’s hands rather than relying on Boris Johnson to decide where Scotland’s priorities lie in dealing with Covid recovery.

Fraser Grant, Warrender Park Road, Edinburgh

Don’t vote, no say

It seems extraordinary to have to point out to Pauline Carruthers (Letters, 29 April) that in our democracy, the views of people who don't vote don't count in elections. And this will remain the case regardless of what voting system is put in place. As for her jibe about my loyalty, we are left to assume that such a quality doesn't figure prominently in her personality.

Gill Turner, Derby Street, Edinburgh

If the Capgemini fits

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Martyn McLaughlin’s assessment of Standard Life Aberdeen’s change of name to “Abrdn” was convincing (Perspective, 28 April).Some years ago, the consulting services firm then known as Cap Gemini Ernst & Young similarly employed branding consultants to determine a new name for the company after the decoupling of Ernst & Young. After some months of deliberation they advised that the new name should be – “Capgemini”. This wasn’t the egregious waste of money that it might seem at first sight. The consultants eschewed fashionable Latinisms like “Consignia” and other invented nonsense and had the courage to propose the simple, obvious answer that preserved the history and reputation of the company.

Ron Mitchell, Lichfield Road, Coventry

Green poodle

Should the Scottish Green Party enter a formal coalition with the SNP if it nearly doubles its seats in Holyrood after next week's poll (your report, 29 April)? It is a quandary. Taking up Cabinet and ministerial positions as the minority partner in a pro-independence administration may enhance its credibility as a relatively young party. On the other hand it could simply lead to a “poodle” image where many of its ideals are sacrificed on the altar of collective cabinet responsibility. Would its own core support be prepared to tolerate compromises on environmental policy? They are inevitable, I should think, as a coalition grapples with various economic problems in the next decade.

For the Scottish Parliament an SNP/Green coalition would be a watershed in its development. It has seen, in the space of 22 years, eight years of Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition, five years of majority SNP administration, and nine years of minority SNP administration. A key aspect of maturity is the willingness to adapt to changing circumstances and experiment with various structures. The Scottish Greens, though, will inevitably want to look at the fortunes of the Liberal Democrats, both south and north of the Border. Coalition seems to have brought them nothing but electoral grief despite the lively demeanour of its Scottish leader Willie Rennie. Scottish Green co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater may well want to consider the case for a well worked out “confidence and supply” agreement with the SNP rather then coalition. The longer term future of their party, and environmental policy generally, may well depend on it.

Bob Taylor, Shiel Court, Glenrothes

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