Tina Woolnough: City leaders need schooling on where priorities must lie

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Regardless of the make-up of the next council administration, Tina Woolnough says education must be its main focus

Children and young people are the most important asset we have. It may be a cliché, but they do represent the future. Investing time, money, care and effort in children and young people should be our top priority, for moral, societal and even selfish reasons. One day, if we get this right, our children and young people will work, earn and pay tax to fund our old age, our pensions, our health and social care.

Effective parenting, with support for families who need it, and high-quality education are clearly critical to equipping children and young people properly for life, and for their future responsibilities. Our adult aspirations for the next generation should be high – but they should also be flexible, creative and responsive to the needs and wishes of young people.

As the Edinburgh representative of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, and as the parent council chair of an Edinburgh high school, I have been living a strangely dual life for the last few years. At national level, exciting changes have been on the agenda. Meaningful parental involvement, with increasing opportunities for the parental voice to be heard, has sat alongside the development of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), with its imperative (and common sense) focus on meeting the needs of children and young people.

But at local level, in Edinburgh, education has been having an unsettling time with year after year of budget cuts, a morale-sapping two-year restructure of management in secondary schools, and the restructuring of pupil support still to come. For parent council chairs and school management teams, it has been a wearying distraction from the important business of improving learning.

Alongside these budgetary-driven changes, the roll out of CfE, billed as the biggest change in Scottish education for a generation, has been ongoing. The delivery of CfE, intended to refresh and inspire teaching and learning, should have been an exciting time of challenge and improvement, of enhanced parental involvement. However, it has been toiling in this negative context. It would be a wonderful transformation if we could talk more about children, and talk less about money, in the next five years.

What do I wish for from the next administration for education in Edinburgh? A clear, unwavering focus on positive experiences and outcomes for children and young people, with a strong understanding that parents/carers are essential partners in this.

Complacency should be challenged; aspirations should be high; improvements for young people should top the agenda. CfE states that all teachers are responsible for literacy, numeracy and wellbeing, across all subjects. This needs to be fully implemented, with training, so that all teachers have a deeper understanding of how to support pupils. The school offering needs to be broadened to be truly inclusive. Which subjects, and what ways of learning engage young people?

I believe that if all schools got learning support for struggling pupils right from the outset, and worked to provide wider learning opportunities with other partners, then there would be rapid improvement for the significant percentage of pupils who do not thrive in school.

Like many parents, I dislike the politicisation of education. I would like to see changes to the council’s consultative committee with parents (CCWP), which is chaired by a politician. Often the effectiveness of the CCWP is determined by the personality of that politician. The equivalent bodies in other local authorities are chaired by an elected parent and the director of education, in rotation.

I would also like to see parent and pupil representation on the council’s education committee. Churches, unions, teachers, political parties and laypeople all have a seat and a vote, but parents and pupils do not. The National Parent Forum is asking all Scottish councils to consider this, with success to date in Aberdeen and in West Lothian.

Our children deserve the best. By ensuring that all teachers are excellent and their skills are fit for purpose, by creating the most inspiring learning opportunities possible, by properly resourcing schools and by seriously funding support for those with learning difficulties, the next council administration could make all the difference to the lives of a generation of children and young people.

• Although the views expressed above are her own, Tina Woolnough is chairwoman of the Royal High School Parent Council, is a member of the consultative committee with parents and is the Edinburgh representative on the National Parent Forum of Scotland

What parents Want to see

• Proper funding for city schools

• Training and support for teachers implementing the Curriculum for Excellence

• Extra support for pupils with learning difficulties

• A bigger voice for parents and less politics