Brian Monteith: Don’t be a dunce, Mr Swinney..look south

John Swinney has announced another review of Scottish Education. Picture: John Devlin
John Swinney has announced another review of Scottish Education. Picture: John Devlin
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The new Education Secretary, John Swinney, has decided to have yet another review of Scottish Education – with the intention of giving more power to schools and reducing the control of local authorities.

This has been sold as yet another listening exercise, another consultation – but the truth is that John Swinney is struggling to find any good ideas he can call his own. Unfortunately for him, as a Scottish nationalist, all the good ideas have been introduced in England and its pupils’ results are powering ahead of Scotland’s. When Michael Forsyth, a great educational reformer in the 80s, finished as Secretary of State for Scotland in 1997 the number of pupils getting five or more Highers was ten per cent greater than the equivalent in A levels in England. Now, nearly 20 years later, there are ten per cent more English getting their equivalent A Levels than Scots getting five Highers.

You would therefore think John Swinney might ask what is England doing that Scotland is not? Is there anything that Scotland can learn from the reforms introduced in England to encourage independently managed state schools like the Academies and Free Schools?

The status of Scottish education cannot have been lower than it is now. We know, because there are people who crunch the numbers to find out, that the attainment rates of our pupils relative to other countries is poor, that we are falling down the international league tables and that there is a growing problem with poor literacy and numeracy.

This is all a modern problem for Scotland; it never used to be this way. In the not too distant past Scotland was seen as the best place in the British Isles to go to school – irrespective of your upbringing or class. It was always a matter of pride that our schools gave pupils a good education and were considered better than 
English schools.

Now that position has reversed. The decline in Scottish education has got worse since our Scottish Parliament took responsibility for education policy in 1999. It immediately went on an ideological crusade to remove all the reforms that had given parents more of a say and headteachers greater control.

Tests that showed parents how their sons and daughters were faring were abolished, making it harder to identify problems early on and take remedial action. The publishing of school exam results so parents could see how their schools were performing was abolished. The ability of state schools to be independent of local authorities was restricted and schools of excellence like St Mary’s Primary handed over to Stirling Council in an example of nothing other than sheer spite. School boards, which had become practically universal in secondaries and existed in the majority of primaries, were replaced and made toothless. The curriculum was changed so that it is unrecognisable from the past and impossible for many parents to comprehend.

While Scotland was regressing by centralising control in the hands of Education Secretaries who passed through the government’s revolving door England devolved power away from Whitehall and the town halls by introducing countless specilalist schools, trust schools, science academies, university technical schools and many other choices for pupils.

How ironic that the great devolution experiment has resulted in greater Scottish centralisiation to Edinburgh politicians while England has taken power away from government and passed it on to schools.

Now England is to consider allowing more grammar schools to be opened so that bright pupils from poor homes can get a good education on merit and not because their parents bought a house in the right catchment area.

If John Swinney wants to lose his Dunce’s Cap he should bury his political revulsion for how England runs its schools and ask for a guided tour from his English counterpart, Justine Greening. He owes it to our children to consider every possible avenue of reform, no matter where it is practised.

Bake Off switch doesn’t take biscuit for me

I have to admit, I have never been a great fan of the Great British Bake Off.

Despite my rotund and porcine figure I have never been a lover of cakes, buns and scones. My dad worked in a biscuit factory, I occasionally bake my own bread and I would make a long journey for a piece of my mum’s malt loaf – but I have always found it possible to say no to a slice of Gateau. So it does not trouble me at all that the BBC has lost its baking behemoth to Channel 4. Nothing compares to it ending of Top of the Pops. Now that was a disaster. Until TOTP comes back the BBC will always be in my bad books.

Get Andy Murray signed up at Easter Road

Jason Cummings is certainly slotting in the goals for Hibs these days, and we all know what that means. Sometime, from somewhere, will come a bid from another club that is too big for the Hibees to resist. It’s a fact of life for Scottish clubs and I’ve seen it so often at Easter Road I’ve lost count of the strikers heading south.

Never mind, at least we can enjoy his goals while he’s scoring and relax in the knowledge that Hibs can always turn to Andy Murray instead. The video of Murray scoring a corker in a five-a-side game (pictured) has gone viral – maybe the club could get him doing some half-time demonstrations of his skill for the Sick Kids Hospital fund?

Timetable is elastic

Politicians have a way with words. We are being told the new Forth bridge is on time – to be opened during the new target of May 2017. That’s rather like the Borders Railway was on time – for its revised delivery date of 2015, four years behind schedule. And as for the trams, now don’t get me started…