Martin Hannan: Schools chiefs must do better

The improvement of schools and teaching is at the very heart of what Education Scotland is supposed to do. Picture: Getty
The improvement of schools and teaching is at the very heart of what Education Scotland is supposed to do. Picture: Getty
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Who guards the guards? Last week I voiced my doubts about Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority’s weakness in dealing with the national force. This week I have to question the way that Education Scotland is working, or not, as the case might be.

When Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS) was merged with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education back in 2011, I know I was not alone in being concerned that having a single body responsible for the regulation and promotion of schools in Scotland was a possible recipe for disaster.

I have to conclude that disasters came there none, but lately I have been hearing all sorts of rumblings from the classroom, and on Monday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the new £100 million Attainment Scotland Fund to boost schools in deprived areas.

My first point is this: if Education Scotland had been doing its job properly in the last four years, then there would be no need for this new initiative, welcome though it is.

The improvement of schools and teaching is at the very heart of what Education Scotland is supposed to do, and with around 280 staff led by chief executive Dr Bill Maxwell, who by all accounts is a decent hard-working chap, you would think that they already have the weapons to tackle inequalities in Scottish education.

Make no mistake, inequality is the root of the problem of failing pupils in failing schools in our areas of multiple deprivation. Ask any headteacher in one of this city’s sink estates about the biggest single problem they face and they will tell you it’s all down to a lack of resources.

They simply haven’t got the budgets to throw teachers at the many serious problems faced in these schools, such as pupils with no sense of discipline whatsoever.

In more middle-class areas where parent power is scary, schools tend to get what they want as councillors and MSPs don’t want angry mums and dads at their surgeries. That’s not a problem in deprived areas, where schools can be closed seemingly at the whim of a senior education officer – Castlebrae, for instance, and to prove my point, it only stayed open once parent power came into play.

It has been proven time and again that teacher numbers and teacher quality is the key to rescuing pupils from failure in school and in life. Yet Education Scotland has done such a “good job” in improving teaching quality that we now have to have an extra £100m spent on “improvements on educational outcomes in Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities”, to quote the Scottish Government statement.

It may well be that Education Scotland was involved in setting up the Attainment Fund. If so, that was a very good way of covering its track record of underachievement.

And why isn’t Education Scotland going very public and very loud in condemning those councils who have quietly and surreptitiously cut the number of teachers they employ? Name and shame them, Dr Maxwell, that’s what I say.

The former Education Minister, Mike Russell, brought many good ideas to fruition, the Curriculum for Excellence being one. But I don’t think Mike or his successor Angela Constance have really got to grips with Education Scotland.

The Attainment Fund is proof that the agency isn’t working.

Forgotten financiers

Nice speech from the woman who collected the BAFTA award for BBC Films. Christine Langan thanked everybody and anybody, but forgot the most important BBC people of all – the licence payers.

Spitting feathers over Cockatoo

I have written before about the plight of The Cockatoo restaurant at Millerhill, owned by my friends the Glass family. What Network Rail and Transport Scotland have done to this once-thriving business thanks to the Borders Railway is nothing short of criminal.

The facts are simple – the roads around The Cockatoo, which depends on passing trade, were closed on March 3 last year, supposedly for 22 weeks, ie. reopening no later than August 4.

Then it was November. Then February and now Network Rail say the end of March – more than a year after closure.

That is a diabolical way to treat a business employing local people.

The Cockatoo is still open and serving great food. No thanks to Network Rail.

Decision time for city budget

On Thursday we will know for sure what is going to happen in terms of council budgets cuts, not to mention whether the Meadowbank Stadium rebuilding plans are to go ahead.

The Labour-SNP coalition has already worried a great deal about what to do. The principle they should adopt on Thursday is simple – remember who elected you, and why.

There have to be cuts, but both parties were elected to defend the poor and act in the best interests of all the citizens of Edinburgh.

That means spending on priorities, and raising cash from rich companies, not ordinary citizens.

Staff at Infirmary a credit to the NHS

MY warmest thanks go to the staff of the Medical Day Case and Coronary Care Units at the Royal Infirmary.

I had to have a wee heart procedure, a cardioversion, on Friday and it was both painless and successful.

The staff were all a credit to the NHS, and I have another reason to defend the service always.