Building a new blueprint for Scotland's education system

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Tom Hunter wants to know why poorer pupils in Scotland do badly and what can be done to improve results. Here he shares his conclusion as part of a BBC investigation.

Breaking news… Scotland's education is, well how do you put this - average, middling, compared to the rest of the world.

In fact we don't even make it into the OECD top 20 nations and by some measures we are going back the way.

Is this what we really want for our young people? It was that question, and a desire to find the answer to how we change this for the better, that led me to dive in to this with both feet and tag a BBC documentary crew along with me.

It was an illuminating journey and as a businessman I was intrigued to know if our education system was doing its job in preparing young people for the world of work.

That's an interesting question when you consider it's believed 65% of young people joining primary school today will end up in jobs not yet invented.

Image caption Sir Tom Hunter put his points to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

I wandered into this with an open mind and, to be honest, changed my views as I learnt more.

I was encouraged, humbled and inspired in equal measure, meeting some wonderful educational leaders and, sadly, a few dinosaurs resistant to change even in this ever-changing world.

But there were no dinosaurs in New Cumnock Primary, St Andrew's Carntyne, Castleview Primary and Dunblane High - only true leaders and inspirational teachers. If only that could be the norm for Scotland.

What's irrevocably unquestionable? A great teacher can change the world for our young people, regardless of socio-economic background.

Poverty does not, as some would have us believe, equal NEET(not in education employment or training) though with poor teaching and a lack of leadership it very well might.

Innovation and an ability to enable education through the lens of engagement with our young people is key - as the saying goes, education is not a spectator sport.

Remarkably, to prove that point I visited King Solomon Academy in London. Their statistics speak for themselves - the most deprived catchment area in London, the highest performing non-selective school in England.

More than 50% of their teachers were from Teach First, proving beyond doubt the value of taking high achieving graduates into the teaching profession.

The EIS are resolutely opposed to such an innovation - why one wonders? I asked our own first minister about this initiative and she candidly and openly said this: "If something can be proven to work we should try it."

Let me say this, I have no political allegiance but if Nicola Sturgeon is to be taken at her word I applaud her and her government for putting education front and centre of their ambitions.

A great education is the ultimate leveller. But we must make it fit-for-purpose. Our young people are not all the same, therefore one size does not fit all.

Our education system must be dynamic, flexible and fundamentally engaging for our young people - particularly when 20% of those young people are checking out as it is irrelevant to them.

And here again is the rub. Jim McColl's Newlands Junior College has been set up to engage those the system doesn't seem to cater for - those highly likely to become NEET or, worse still, involved in the criminal justice system.

The deal is it costs £7,000 more per pupil for a year - too expensive? Each pupil is guaranteed a job or a positive destination.

The human and economic cost of NEET? Tens of thousands of pounds - and, by the way, we don't even sniff at funding university education at £9,000 per annum for four years for the largely middle class pupils ending up there.

Injustice? You bet. Of the 11 schools in the catchment area for Newlands, a number will not engage. That could be your kid being disadvantaged. Are these people myopic or so attached to the past they can't grasp the future?

But let's be clear, I agree with the first minister - Newlands should be embedded in the system, not outwith it.

I believe we can build a blueprint for Scotland's education system that will again allow us to lead the world. What will it take? Collaboration, open minds, leadership and a willingness to embrace change.

Check your prejudices at the door and agree to one sole focus - exceptional education, tailored to suit all our exceptional young people.

Scotland needs this and if we deliver we all win.

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