Sir Tom Hunter: Education reform needs 'open mind'

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Media captionSir Tom Hunter has been delving into the reason for Dunblane High School's success

Philanthropist and businessman Sir Tom Hunter has warned against a "one size fits all" approach to education.

Sir Tom said leadership and open minds were needed to allow Scotland's schools to become the best in the world.

In a BBC Scotland documentary, Sir Tom visited an academy school in London outside local authority control.

The academy model has been resisted by teaching unions in Scotland, where only one state secondary is run independently of a local council.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the BBC programme that ideology should not stand in the way of education reform.

Image copyright Scottish Parliament
Image caption Sir Tom Hunter says the education system in Scotland should be open to new ideas

Ms Sturgeon told Sir Tom: "If something can be proven to work, we should try it.

"In fact we should be prepared to try things to see if they work rather than sitting back passively and waiting to see if other people can do it so there's no ideological closing of doors."

"Making sure that our young folk get the best education is the only thing that matters to me and if something can be shown to work in doing that or if something's worth trying to do that, then I'll certainly be in the market for it."

Image caption Sir Tom Hunter (L) spoke to Max Haimendorf, headteacher of an academy school in London

Sir Tom, who grew up in the mining village of New Cumnock in Ayrshire, was declared to be Scotland's first home-grown billionaire in 2007.

He has given away much of his fortune to educational projects.

For the BBC documentary, Sir Tom travelled around the UK to see how the "attainment gap" could be eliminated in schools.

Image caption Sir Tom investigated how schools could avoid the "attainment gap" where children from poorer areas achieve less academically

The attainment gap is where children from poorer neighbourhoods do worse at school than those from better off areas.

He found that good leadership and innovation were two key areas to tackling this problem.

Sir Tom said: "We have the ability to go and find out what's best and shine a light on best practice and therefore make it available throughout the whole of Scotland. Why would you not do that?"

The businessman visited King Solomon Academy in London - a school which serves a poor area, but has achieved the best GCSE results of any non-selective school in England.

The headteacher, Max Haimendorf, told BBC Scotland much of that success was down to being independent of local authority control.

Image caption The academy model has proved successful for some schools in England

He said: "The governors, the people who work sort of behind the school, very ambitious people, both successful in business, and they wanted to kind of make something happen for this community and in education."

"That led to a level of ambition and that doesn't necessarily mean just replicating what has happened before. It means doing things differently."

In England, one in five schools is either a free school or an academy, but there are none in Scotland.

Sir Tom added: "I think the key things that have struck me is one size doesn't fit all. So are we measuring the right things and are we adjusting our education system when it's not working, or are we afraid to take these steps?

"I would say we'd be doing Scotland's children a disservice if we were afraid."

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