Let’s Just Shut Education Scotland Tomorrow

So at last an announcement has been made about the future of the Scottish Qualifications Authority and Education Scotland. They are to be turned into three organisations by once again separating the Schools Inspectorate from ES, something which various political parties, and all people of good sense, including the inspectors themselves have been seeking ; school inspectors are battle-hardened and shrewd – they recognise the absurdity of being asked to inspect education in Scotland when they are staff of Education Scotland. Independently, they can then scrutinise and comment on the work of the new organisation, assuming it does any.

Personally, I have at least a shred of sympathy for the SQA, which has a horrible job to do and has at least, in a manner of speaking, done it in difficult times while beleaguered by politicians. It seems that, in a vast leap of  imagination, the Scottish Qualifications Authority is to be renamed Qualifications Scotland; I imagine that a graphic designer somewhere, no doubt on a healthy retainer paid for from the budget for Scotland’s schoolchildren, is working on the rebranding just now. I suggest a duck with a confused look on its face, holding a banner in its beak that says ‘Exams’. Since Shirley-Anne Somerville has declared (extraordinarily) that neither organisation will compel redundancies, I imagine – just guessing here – that the new QS will be quite similar to the old SQA, and will plod on.

But, my goodness, Education Scotland! Now, ordinarily I like a wee rant, and am grateful to any periodical that prints them. This time, though, I decided to be a more responsible retired Head Teacher/journalist, and I enlisted the advice of a dozen people working in state schools – primary and secondary – in Scotland. A few of them are close friends, but most are people I know less well, say as the spouse of someone I know, or the child of a friend. Anyway – I asked these professionals who range from the Head of a state secondary school, through two deputes, to a range of classroom teachers, including a probationer and a teaching student, three questions: 1) what does Education Scotland do? 2) What, if anything, has Education Scotland done in the past twelve months to improve things for you as a teacher and/or your school? and 3) Without looking it up how many people work for Education Scotland and how much did it cost last year?

To be honest, I felt a bit guilty, taking up the time of these colleagues, as they worked through their long days from the Borders to the Highlands. In retrospect, though, having seen their responses, I think I provided a therapeutic safety valve, because steam was certainly let off! Across the piece, not one of these people held a positive view of Education Scotland.

‘Without wanting to sound facetious, what the hell do they do?’ remarked the Deputy Head of a fine state primary school. ‘Who bloody knows?’ contributed a highly experienced secondary classroom teacher from a tough urban environment. Plenty of colleagues understood the theory – ‘To provide guidance and support on how best to facilitate the education of future generations of the Scottish people’. Well, fine – that’s what they are, more or less, supposed to be doing.

However, there then followed a litany of complaint and despair – it transpired that Education Scotland had – in the view of these teachers, including a Head and two deputes, one primary, one secondary – done nothing at all of any value in the past twelve months, at a time when teachers throughout Scotland needed all the support they could get. ‘I can’t think when I have thought of them at all this year.’ ‘Nothing which has directly improved me or my school’. ‘They were nowhere to be seen.’ ‘They are so out of touch’. ‘I have no idea.’ ‘Absolutely nothing’. But wait! One particularly kind, clever, thoughtful colleague did say that they had provided guidance in her subject – guidance which was ‘vague…came too late…frustrating’ and which ‘provided an incoherent learning experience for pupils across the country’. That was – I kid you not – the most positive reply. One recalls the pigs in ‘Animal Farm’ who, while the other animals toil in the fields, sit producing documentation which, at the end of the day, is tossed in the furnace. 

Ms Somerville is proposing to ‘reform’ Education Scotland. Well, I suggest binning it in its entirety, as from the beginning of next week. Shut it down. Completely. No one will be any the worse off, except of course, the people who work for it, most of whom, at some point in the vague past were actual teachers, doing an actual job. They can go back to that, those of them who can hack it, after the office-bound days and ready availability of fruit and doughnuts. Save the money: oh yes, that was the last question, which almost none of my contacts came close to. In the last financial year Education Scotland cost just over £40 million – the equivalent of nearly a thousand teachers, desperately needed in our schools, and 378 people worked for it of whom 80 were inspectors. Take the inspectors out and that’s 300 people, many paid very well, doing WHAT exactly? Shut it now.

My friendly Head Teacher thought it had 100 staff and a budget of £5 million. He thought that was bad. Let’s leave the last words to him:

‘My main concern is that we have created an entire industry of professionals who no longer work in schools, some for 20 years. Most ES staff have not held senior positions in schools – yet increasingly offer advice to school leaders on how to lead schools. The organisation is completely detached from the realities in schools’.

Put simply, it’s a failed organisation. Bin it tomorrow.


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