What is ‘Education Scotland’ actually for?

So the dust is settling after a Scottish election in which, truth to tell, not very much happened. Maybe the time will come now to focus on education which, by any standards, is not in a very good place in Scotland. In times past, a really enjoyable part of my job as Head of an independent school in Edinburgh was hearing families arriving from other countries – including England – telling me how pleased they were to be coming to Scotland because of the reputation of its education system. Where are we now?

Well, we need change and that change requires leadership and vision: where is that going to come from? Some years ago, Michael Gove opined that the people of this country had ‘had enough of experts’. I don’t agree with that – in the last month alone I’ve benefited from expert epidemiologists, expert nurses, an expert dentist (goodbye, old molar) and expert chocolatiers – some of you may see a connection there. Anyway, if we’re going to have real change in Scottish education, we need some expertise. Where does it lie? It seems a reasonable assumption that some of it might lie in Education Scotland, the ‘executive agency of the Scottish Government’, whose website proudly declares it to be ‘for Scotland’s learners, with Scotland’s educators.’ In self-punishing mode I have read Education Scotland’s annual report for 2019-20, which, including the accounts (by far the most interesting bit) runs to 129 pages. OK, I am retired, ok, I worked in independent schools but, those things given, I still don’t really understand what Education Scotland does, plus I just have a sneaking feeling that very few of Scotland 53,000 teachers would really be able to help me.

So, I thought, well maybe I could apply for a job and join the 385 staff that Education Scotland already has. There are quite a number of jobs going there; maybe not surprising given, according to the Annual Report, some staff haven’t been very enthusiastic:

‘Following disappointing People survey results in previous years, this has been
an area of key focus for Education Scotland with a significant amount of
work undertaken to address the risk of poor staff engagement, centred primarily around health and wellbeing of staff and connectedness.’

I thought maybe an enthusiastic, cheerful fellow like myself might make a difference so I thought I might apply for a role as a “Lead Specialist”, a post to be based in Glasgow, Livingston, Dundee or Aberdeen (hey, ho, a change is as good as a rest, I thought) necessitating working for 37 hours a week – about 60% of what the average teacher works in practice. But what would I be doing? The only lead specialists I ever knew worked on the roofs of historic buildings. So here’s the first paragraph of the Education Scotland job description:

‘The Lead Specialists support the Senior Lead Specialists and the Head of Professional Learning and Leadership in the development of the Professional Learning and Leadership Directorate within Education Scotland as a portal for leadership and professional learning in Scotland as well as the phased development of the suite of programmes, opportunities and networks that Professional Learning and Leadership Directorate provide.’

Well, there you go. I felt little the wiser, except that it was clear there was a route for promotion; if I worked hard at my lead specialism, I could advance to senior lead specialist. Pretty good, given that the salary range for Lead Specialist is £49420 – £61617 which is more than some Head Teachers make in Scotland today, actual professionals in actual schools, working long hours dealing with children and parents and budgets and supporting stressed colleagues at the chalk face with big classes often including individual children who require highly personalised care, teachers whose own starting salaries are around £28,000. 

So, having not a clue what I’d be doing as a Lead Specialist, I ventured on – I could be an Inspector! Now that’s something I understand. In my experience inspectors are helpful, interested parties, constructive and often insightful. And, of course, the job of scrutinising Scottish education couldn’t be more important; holding the government and Education Scotland to task…..but, of course, it’s Education Scotland who are in the business of recruiting inspectors, to inspect themselves! Let me suggest a way forward on drugs policy – another area of concern in Scotland. Maybe we could have a meeting of all the main drug suppliers and get them to appoint the police force.

Sigh. It would almost be funny if the impact wasn’t so devastating on so many of our young people, our ‘learners’. It’s a cliché, of course, but it all has a taint of ‘Animal Farm’ –

‘There was endless work in the supervision and organisation of the farm. Much of this was of a kind that the other animals were too ignorant to understand.’

That’s me – just too stupid these days to understand the importance of the work of ‘Lead Specialists’ and so old-fashioned that I still believe in independent school inspection. Oh – and back at the Annual Report. Education Scotland spent 38 million pounds last year; that’s 6 million more than the previous year. 38 million is enough for over a thousand new teachers. If the new government is ‘for Scotland’s learners, with Scotland’s educators’ it needs, as part of a radical rethink, to imagine what could be done with a shedload of cash like that. Please, Scotland’s wonderful teachers, speak up – we know where actual expertise lies, and it’s with you!


1 Comment

  1. Cameron

    I have been enjoying your posts, and especially the most recent one. So much of what you say in many of your posts resonates with me and is being voiced by tutors, clients and people who contact me.

    You might be interested in my most recent post (which is on our web-site and Facebook page – and copied below)

    Warm regards

    George Hawkins

    >>> Step Ahead has carried on regardless, albeit electronically, despite the past year of Covid. >>> >>> The preparation, for whatever target, has not been affected and we continue to provide quality services. >>> >>> We trust that pupils and parents out there who are not Step Ahead tutees have not been fooled in to believing that there are no exams, and therefore do not need to prepare and work. >>> >>> The truth, despite what the Government might be telling the public, is that our ever put-upon teachers are having to carry an even heavier burden with the full responsibility of assessment firmly on their shoulders. >>> >>> >>> Our Director, George Hawkins MBE, has been working with and helping advise families who have been unable to afford fees for private tuition during the pandemic. >>> >>> Over issues that mean much to him, especially as he has worked, for the past 57 years, with youngsters from all backgrounds, George writes passionately, “It is no wonder that there is ever-increasing emphasis on closing the attainment gap which was, prior to Covid, 18-months between advantaged and disadvantaged at S4 level.

    >>> The gap has already widened due to lockdown and nearly 1,000,000,000 days of school has been lost. There couldn’t possibly be a worse time to be lowering our expectations for what disadvantaged students can and should be achieving, particularly for basic skills such as literacy. >> >> Government figures show the number of children struggling with literacy has risen by 30,000 over the past year because of COVID-19 lockdowns. More than 200,000 will be arriving at secondary schools this August unable to read and write properly. >> >> Nine million adults in the UK are functionally illiterate, meaning they don’t have the reading and writing skills to manage daily tasks that need you to read beyond a basic level. Illiteracy costs opportunities and money : employers value literacy and numeracy skills as one of the most important factors they look for when recruiting school and college leavers, but only around half of the employers are satisfied with young people’s literacy and numeracy skills. Poor literacy is estimated to cost the UK economy around £2.5 billion each year. >> >> I was shocked to read that Hull University has decided that marking students down for poor grammar and spelling was ‘elitist’ because it discourages disadvantaged students such as those from poor performing schools. Hull’s argument is that good English is a “North European, white male, elite” thing. The lowering of standards, which is dressed up as an attempt to be more ‘inclusive’ is, in reality, a shoddy cover for the fact that education, as it currently stands, massively fails the least advantaged students. >> >> As far as I am aware, we do not have low expectations for children from ‘well off’ backgrounds. Should we have them for children who are disadvantaged or from poor

    Sent from my iPad


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