Scottish education reforms have 'failed the disadvantaged', says report

Pupil in exam Education systems in other countries are overtaking Scotland, says the report

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Education reforms over 50 years have failed to make a significant improvement to the exam results of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, says a major new report.

An estimated one in five school leavers has few or no qualifications and poor skills in basic literacy and numeracy.

The Commission on School Reform says many changes had an inadequate impact.

Among those are raising the school leaving age, the launch of Standard Grade exams and comprehensive schools.

Responding, Councillor Douglas Chapman, education spokesperson for the umbrella body for local councils, Cosla, said they had a proud record for running schools.

"We are not complacent and we are willing to listen to views on how system can be improved further - but only if they are well thought out.

"Sadly, too many reports like this have in the past treated schools like isolated 'islands of learning', drawing the false conclusion that more school autonomy is the panacea for all the challenges we face.

Top quarter of countries

"Local authorities provide flexibility and autonomy for schools but within an overall framework which supports and challenges schools to continue to improve.

Start Quote

We are not complacent and we are willing to listen to views on how system can be improved further - but only if they are well thought out”

End Quote Douglas Chapman Cosla

"We also have a track record of encouraging innovation in the teaching profession, a point we made during the McCormac review into teacher employment."

The report, "By Diverse Means: Improving Scottish Education", says that Scotland performs well overall, being consistently in the top quarter of countries for education results.

However, it says the trend has been generally downward and Scotland is being overtaken.

In reading, almost half of the countries overtaking Scotland are developing countries where standards would be expected to be lower.

Scotland has not lacked good ideas for reform, it says, but implementation of them has often been weak and slow.

No school in a disadvantaged area has ever matched the performance of a school in a more affluent area, it reveals.

"It is worth noting that this is not true of other countries," says the report.

It highlights rapid improvement in countries such as Poland, Singapore, England and Ontario in Canada.

The report suggests that many children begin to fall behind in early secondary, saying: "This has been apparent for at least 40 years. Yet decisive action has never been taken."

It indicates that educational failure is "a personal disaster" for those concerned but has implications for the rest of society too, as this failure is often linked to unemployment, ill-health and possible involvement in crime.

Weakest track records

"Many who could have made a positive contribution to society become, instead, a drain on its resources," say the commission.

Douglas Chapman Mr Chapman says councils have a track record of encouraging innovation

Since most countries now effectively operate as a global economic unit, competition has increased and countries with the weakest track records for educating its young people are likely to fall behind, raising the prospect of declining living standards and possible social unrest, the report argues.

Calling for better education research, it says some reforms have been weak because they have been based on "informed hunches, wishful thinking and ideology".

The report suggests that reforms have taken a tentative hold because not enough time has been spent sharing objectives with teachers and winning the hearts and minds of the broader public.

A further cause it highlights is that the principle of compromise has sometimes gone too far "to placate opposition, to lessen teacher workload to circumvent practical obstacles".

The launch of Standard Grades was so delayed that the first candidates were the children of the children for whom it was originally intended.

And the new Curriculum for Excellence has taken a decade to reach the point of students sitting related new exams.

The foundation level of the Standard Grade exam is cited as an example of an ineffectual reform because it has been widely perceived to be of little value.

Ambassadors and guides

The commission's report suggests parents may be unaware of disappointing statistics as surveys indicate they are "highly satisfied" with Scotland's schools.

The report recommends:

  • Reducing to zero the number of children without basic skills in reading and writing
  • Vocational education becoming higher priority
  • Better care services before birth to age three.
  • Schools given more control over resources and decision-making.
  • Schools free to differ from each other

Suggesting ways to help future reforms take hold, the commission calls for schools that are enthusiastic about changes to be allowed to go ahead more quickly and become ambassadors and guides for schools adopting reforms at a slower pace.

It also calls for senior school staff to be free to take most decisions as they see fit rather than having to refer decisions back to distant council offices.

The reports says this should ensure more decisions are tailored to the needs of the particular children in the school instead of conforming to an across-the-board policy.

Keir Bloomer, a former council director of education who chaired the commission, indicated that secondary head teachers could, for example, decide to delay an upgrade of computers in order to pay for a teacher to ensure no child finishes first year without sound skills in reading and writing.

Mr Bloomer also suggested that the secondary school system might be more dynamic if it were less uniform.

The commission would like schools to have the freedom to specialise in areas like vocational skills or arts or science.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    32. Tim

    ' ... and yet disruption is at record levels. '

    I'd be interested in the evidence for that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    cj8652 - wow - surely that was news??? BBC what happened?

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Maybe our children's,children will find a lasting solution to the problem....And find the answer as to why past and current generations allowed the problem to develop.
    One thing is for certain.....No Politician will take the blame....No, Political, Party will take the blame.They have to prioritize .Education is way down the list....
    Any old excuse will do....Must work..They get re-elected...

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    A pinch of salt needed here!

    The Bradford reports went a bit too far!

    Scotland's not interested in the bias reports

    34. cj8652 Thanks for the tip in the postal workers union.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    You may vote me down, but I am right. Irredeemable short-sightedness and thickets spewing forth their uninformed opinions, you think that just because you went to school you know how society works and how humans react to poverty and a lack of prospects. When you are treated as nothing, people act out. It's a shame. Your attitudes are the cause of this mess, you can deride me, but again, it's true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    #29, Commrade-Dave I am in my early 50s and left school in 1977 with girls who were single mothers by 17/18 ,grannies by their 30s. They were from families who placed no value on education and have spent their entire lives on benefit, their children and grandchildren are doing the same. Poverty of ambition exists here and is a big problem, I see it every day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    To amplify some of the previous points. I think that a lot of the pupils today place no value on education because their parents hold the same opinion. When I was a boy, in the 60s and 70s education was seen as a ladder out of poverty and my parents pushed hard to get me into a grammar school despite having little education themselves. This is not just about the pupils, the parents need educating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Mr Chapman, costa IS the problem. Too political,,no integrity and all for show. Any badness is buried and the teacher involved removed.Mr Bloomer has intimately been involved in many of these developments for 30 yr and should not be given any credence - he isn't given any by teachers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    7 Obania- you mean Scotland "did" have a good system. In the last few years, it has been failing, with an increasingly politicised curriculum under the SepNatPs Curriculum for mediocrity. My wife teaches, and you should hear her colleagues on the subject of the new, rushed national9ist) exams. Stop making petty party political points and using schools as footballs and admit they need improved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Its not all about education, its about drive and ambition, some of these kids simply have no wish or desire to achive no matter what money is thrown at them, whilst others will excel. PS why no mention of the main postal union voting to support independence on the BBC today . Is there a blanket ban on positive independence stories on the BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    I come from an area which nowadays is considered disadvantaged and deprived. In the area this description is almost worn as a badge of pride, so much so that I've suggested it go on the town sign, i.e. ABC------, "a deprived community". As a consequence loads of money and resource has been thrown at the place. The result? Entrenched views and more deprivation - and more (wasted) money!

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Comrade Dave - I believe that it is more that your arguments show a paucity of thought. Educationally today - kids have never had it potentially so good. Smaller classes than when I was at school in 70s/80s, teacher assistants, more help focused on the educationally needy - and yet disruption is at record levels. Some kids 'don't do' school and disrupt the majority who want to learn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    PosterMeerkat; Since my response to your post was removed, I shall state it again, I am dyslexic (no bearing whatsoever on intelligence), this is why there are occasional spelling and grammatical errors. The very fact that all you have to offer is a weak insult shows the weight of your opinion.

  • Comment number 30.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    queenoffife; There is a poverty of thought in your head.

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Many will have uneducated parents who live on benefits and see this as a good lifestyle for their own children. I see it in my own locality all the time, single mothers in their 30s on living on welfare whose teenagers are now having kids and repeating the cycle. There is poverty of ambition in those families, getting an education doesn't come into it. Why bother when you can live on the social?

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    gordy1965; Whatever mate, you really think that poverty has no effect on education? Incidentally, my mother is a teacher, so I have heard the opinions of the educators, as well as studying in a school in a working class area, I know what it is like. So I can arrive at a well rounded opinion from those facts. Your speaking like these folks are lesser than you, which is a repugnant attitude.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    The new curriculum yes I believe to give opportunity for those more able for the vocational and 'arts' subjects but, both of these areas require a level of discipline, focus, literacy and rational thinking skills, basic skills that all learners should experience through secondary education. My question is why should standards be any 'lower' in less affluent areas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.


    This was not the opinion of my teenage daughter but the opinion of all the parents of decent hard working pupils who want to gain a good education but whose efforts are constantly undermined by the large minority who are hell bent on causing chaos and disruption wherever they go with no interest in an education at all.
    On what facts are you basing your opinions "comrade"


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