Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Liberal Democrat Pressure Forces Hyslop demotion

Alex Salmond was today forced to demote Cabinet Secretary for Education Fiona Hyslop after the Liberal Democrats signalled their intention to bring a vote of no confidence in her to the Holyrood Parliament this Thursday. The First Minister knew that there was no way MSPs would back Ms Hyslop after her reported threat to nationalise every school in Scotland and her failure to deliver on key SNP manifesto pledges.

“We will reduce class sizes in Primary 1, 2 and 3 to eighteen pupils or less to give children more time with their teacher at this vital stage of their development.”

“We will maintain teacher numbers in the face of falling school rolls to cut class sizes and place greater emphasis on teacher recruitment for the early years, languages and science.”

“We will provide leadership and drive in the Curriculum for Excellence agenda. We will cut over assessment and bureaucracy which gets in the way of quality teaching and learning.”

So said the SNP manifesto in 2007. The reality they’ve managed to deliver is somewhat different. Figures last week showed that there are actually 1348 fewer teachers than there were this time last year and only just over 13.2% of Primary 1-3 children are in class sizes of 18 or less. With 54000 children, my daughter included, due to start Primary 7 under the new Curriculum for Excellence next August, but their teachers are still unclear on the details for exams and testing that they will need to carry out.

Fiona Hyslop’s reaction was to blame the Councils. As a parent, I encourage my child to take responsibility when things go wrong and if there’s a problem, to positively look at ways of finding a solution. It’s not a very good example of leadership to have the people in charge of her education at each other’s throats the whole time.

The already bitter relationship between Ms Hyslop and the Councils reached crisis point over the weekend when reports suggested that she intended to nationalise every school in Scotland. I’m not sure how one minister could possibly take responsibility for the education of nearly 680,000 children. The chaos that would have ensued from even attempting such a move could only have been harmful to the children.

When Liberal Democrat bloggers recently met Tavish Scott in Edinburgh, it was clear that education is his absolute top priority. He sees it as a key to “giving kids from poor backgrounds hope.” On Thursday, the Liberal Democrats will set out a fresh, constructive approach to solve the crisis in education. They will call on the new Cabinet Secretary Mike Russell to repair the breakdown of trust between the Education Department in Edinburgh and Scotland’s Councils. In doing that he needs to listen to the financial pressures that the Councils are under. If he wants to deliver on the SNP’s promises, he’ll have to give the councils what they need to implement that as well as provide books, equipment and safe, dry buildings.

I have to say I’m not hopeful. Alex Salmond might have moved Fiona Hyslop out of the line of fire, but there’s no indication that Mike Russell will do anything different. I don’t see anything in “Schools policy has reached a difficult period with our disagreement with many local authorities about their failure to reduce class sizes” that inspires me with any sort of confidence.


Andrew BOD said...

If the CPPR (Centre for Public Policy Regions) is to be believed, it hasn't mattered who's in power at Holyrood.

According to them...

"The CPPR found that in Northern Ireland the budget last year for each primary school child was £2,544, while in Scotland it was £4,638.
And it found that by combining primary and secondary school budgets, spending on each pupil in Scotland is more than £1,200 higher than in England".


"Looking at the percentage of pupils who pass five or more GCSEs - or their equivalents - Scotland was the top performer in the UK at the turn of the century. By 2007, it had fallen to third place - the only one of the home nations whose performance had actually gone backwards."

Nothing to do with class sizes, teacher to pupil ratios, or any amount of teachers. Much more to do with the QUALITY of teachers, and the EFFECTIVENESS of the curriculum.

A little bit of cool-headed lateral thinking, in place of hot-headed political point scoring, is required. And that goes for all parties including the LD's who were very much part of education policy for 8 years of devolution.

This obsession with numbers of teachers, pupils, schools, and even league tables, is not working. The SNP fell into the same trap when they published manifesto commitments re-above, when everybody knows that this is the domain of local authorities, and when funds are so tight, they will make efficiency savings wherever they can. Education budgets are still budgets.


JPJ2 said...

18 for the lower primary classes just is not possible in the current economic climate-we all know that.

As has been said ,the LibDems did have an 8 year opportunity to strongly influence matters, and it would be very difficult to claim that the position in 2009 is worse than it was in 2007.

A bit less party politicking all round would go a long way.

As I am fully prepared to believe that Tavish is very interested in education, it isn't too much to ask that he now turns his full attention constructively to the issue of getting value for the money spent on education in Scotland.

He has had (he believes) Fiona Hyslop's head-time to engae with the issues rather than just the personalities.

Alister said...

You seem to take great delight in the demotion of Fiona Hyslop. However your post does not in any way deal with the fundamental issue, which is how can any government ensure that its policy is delivered when it has to rely on 32 local councils to implement the policy? Just giving councils more money does not in itself guarantee that this money will be spent on the government's priority. Unless the money is ring fenced and rigorously policed to ensure that it is spent as the government wants. In which case why rely on 32 local councils? Does it not make more sense to have a national service - then we can truly hold the minister responsible.

KL said...

Part of the financial problem which the SNP have singularly failed to grasp is that smaller class sizes isn't as simple as just putting more teachers in place (the mechanism for which was set up through increased numbers of teacher training places by the previous Executive.) It also means ensuring each school has enough classrooms - and since another of the SNP's policies is that kids shouldn't be taught in temporary accommodation, that means building extensions or, in some cases new schools. Because the SNP effectively ended PPP on its election, that means that Councils either had to make provision from this from their capital budgets - affecting expenditure on new teachers, for one thing - or wait for the apparently mythical Scottish Futures Trust. And all this was clear before the credit crunch - the SNP simply couldn't see the impact that one policy would have on so many others.

So what do we have now? Primary 7 classes being taught with 33 pupils. Newly qualified teachers, having completed their probation year, unable to find even supply posts and therefore leaving the profession. And yet the SNP still think it's a good idea to introduce free school meals for all now!

Their only answer then, is to behave like children - "if you're not going to play by my rules then I'll take the ball away." And in response to Alister's point about who's best placed to deliver education, it's clearly best done at a local level. School or class size policy which suits a school in the middle of Glasgow might not be appropriate for one on Skye.

And in terms of qualification, I look at my own local authority's Education & Childrens Services committee to see experience. It has as its members two former secondary principal teachers, a former primary headteacher (who is also a former HMIE inspector), a practising secondary teacher, an FE lecturer, at least two members married to practising teachers, at least three with kids going through the local authority system, and former volunteers with youth organisations like the Boys' Brigade. I'd contend very strongly that there's more experience there than amongst two former businessmen and someone (Mike Russell) who has been involved with politics and the media all his life.


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