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Scottish Education - from Good to Great. 27th March 2013

Robert Owen Centre , Glasgow University -= 27th March 2013 

Thank you Anton for that kind introduction and for the grace and hospitality you have shown in hosting this event.

Ladies and gentlemen. It is a great pleasure to be able to be able to speak to so many this evening who have such an influence on education in Scotland.

Today, the 27th of March, is the anniversary of the death of James VI and I.

James might be seen by some as the patron saint of the “better together” campaign – but, as ever, history is more complex than that.

It was James’s ambition that drove him to be the first monarch of the united kingdoms of Scotland and England but he was a monarch who lived with two parliaments even if he wanted something different. And those two parliaments outlived not just him but also his son and two grandsons - though in the midst of it all there was a “rough wooing” under the Cromwellian occupation.

Those facts might lead us to the unusual perspective that the existence of a single Parliament or single state within these islands has been a less long lasting model than the diversity of more than one Parliament and more than one state.

James also had the wisdom to grant this University a new charter, though he was only 11 when he did so. That “Nova Erectio” re-founded the University and helped put it on a sound financial footing, with important rights to raise and retain rents.

These days, of course, this university finds other ways to raise and generate income, and is firmly established as one of our nation’s success stories.

Survey after survey has confirmed the university’s reputation for excellence in research, education and innovation – and, it has now consolidated its position among the top 40 institutions in Europe.

It is a great credit to your leadership, Anton and to all the staff and students that Glasgow occupies the place it does at the leading edge of European universities and plays a global role as well. I know that the Scottish Government can and will continue to support such activity.

Good not good enough

Of course excellence and high achievement can be found throughout education in Scotland – in our schools, colleges and universities.

Our higher education sector in particular is not just good, but great. That is not only true in national but in international terms. Only Switzerland has more world class universities per head than Scotland.

Yet three weeks ago the Independent Commission on School Reform concluded that good though our schools were good they could not presently be called great.

I think my job as the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning is to ensure that what is good becomes great. Not for reasons of machismo or pride, but in the interests of every child in our country. Not so that we can bask in the glory of how others see us, but so we can be satisfied when we look in the mirror and see ourselves.

I am convinced that independence will help us achieve that aim. Help us to make the good into great, and the best even better.

Tonight I want to talk in more detail about our school system, and how we tackle the progress from good to great for every school age child. That should be of relevance to everyone here for everyone here needs Scotland schools to do their very best. What they provide is the foundation for further progress in college, university and employment. The school system is the bedrock of our nation’s future success.

Later in the year I will return to the topic of education and our constitutional future in a lecture that will look at universities and colleges and my colleague Aileen Campbell will do the same on the issue of families and parenting. I have also asked Angela Constance to address youth employment issues and the constitution at a similar event.

That series of contributions to the great national debate we are now embarked on - that great national journey towards the 18th of September 2014 and beyond will emphasise that what we have in education, training, parenting, skills development and lifelong learning in Scotland is worth having, worth investing in and worth protecting. But they will also demonstrate how we could do even better. How we could and should move from good to great.

In part our current successes have been are a result of education being almost completely devolved . The significant progress and changes of the last decade are because we have a Scottish Parliament.

Curriculum for Excellence could not have been devised and implemented without the Scottish Parliament for it was that Parliament in its early years which took a hard look at Scotland's supposed educational primacy and accepted - difficult as it was - that much of the gilt had worn off our so called “world beating” system.

And then that Scottish Parliament - across the parties - created the impetus and the space for an enormously important educational innovation and has, in the most part, resisted the temptation to use it as a political weapon .

It is important that this consensus holds. It concerns me that there are signs it might not. The old SNP membership card used to have two objectives on it. The first was of course independence. But the second was described as “the furtherance of all Scottish interests”. Educational reform and educational progress is about furthering Scottish interests. It is worthy of support from those who do not believe in independence. And it should be debated in that way.

Of course I believe that a fully independent Scotland could and would do more for children. We would be the best country to grow up in.

For a start the right to education should be enshrined in a written constitution. Free education, provided out of general taxation, as a societal good.

And the allocation of resources to education would be much better undertaken when the size of the cake is larger and the division of it is not prescribed by spending patterns and priorities beyond our borders.

Better too in the context - the Scottish context - of seeing Education as an investment, not a cost , as an opportunity for all, and not a privilege for those who can afford it.

Independence for education is about independence of choice regarding priorities and independence of action. It shouldn’t be constrained by bad decisions made elsewhere.

Bad decisions also in areas which directly affect educational outcomes.

Two weeks ago the Deputy First Minister made a speech about child poverty. The Parliament also debated the issue.

It is undeniable as we know from the work of Harry Burns and others, that cognitive abilities are set early and are adversely affected by poverty.

The Early Years Collaborative is focused on the readiness to learn which is a connected issue.

So many elements can interfere with the potential of even the youngest child even before they start school and hold that child back throughout their school education.

But it doesn't have to be like that. Let us not for a second believe that we cannot afford the best for our young people.

Our national balance sheet is strong and independence would make it stronger.

• Over the past five years Scotland has been in a relatively stronger fiscal position than the UK - equivalent to £12.6 billion over the period. That means we could have used that £12.6 billion to increase spending, cut taxes or borrow less

• Last year, oil and gas production in Scottish waters generated £10.6 billion in tax revenue. The second highest annual amount for 25 years.

• And, latest estimates suggest that £1.5 trillion of oil remains in the North Sea – more than half the total reserves.

But being better off isn’t just about money. It is also about living in a society where the right decisions are made and the right national priorities set.

With control of the tax, benefits and welfare systems we would be able to co-ordinate links with key public services like education.

We would be free to create an even better education system, in which everyone would have a stake, and which would be seen to be central to how our society progresses.

It is therefore not only a continuing, but an absolutely unnecessary scar on our society and our future that welfare changes are hitting 700,000 working Scots. In fact, by 2015, Westminster welfare cuts will take £4.5 billion from the purses and wallets of ordinary, hard-working people right across Scotland who can least afford it.

Earlier this year, a further 15,000 Scottish children were pushed into poverty as a result of a one per cent uprating of working-age benefits.

Speaking in Edinburgh today, Ian Duncan Smith tried hard to provide a good reason for these austerity-driven cuts. But they are beyond justification.

They are bad in themselves and they are also bad because of their effect on other matters, such as education.

A child in poverty is a child that has yet one more barrier to learning. A hungry child can’t do his or her best. And a child that worries about the very future of their family, is a child that is distracted from fulfilling their potential.

In Scotland, we are doing all that we can to cushion our education system from the impact of Westminster’s decisions. We will go on doing so.

Yet children are feeling the impact.

And, the tighter the squeeze becomes, the more difficult it is to ensure that children and young people arrive at school motivated and ready to learn.

The equation is clear.

Westminster controls benefits policy.

Scotland controls education policy.

And, one is undermining the other.

So, until we have control of welfare and other powers, we will continue to swim against the tide in our journey toward greater equity and academic success.

It is no accident that those countries – like Finland – that are best at delivering equity and academic success in equal measure are already independent.

Finland has the full range of levers at its disposal.

That is necessary condition. But it is not sufficient for educational greatness.

Finland also has a long-term educational plan which is bought into by all sections of society. Put simply a fair and progressive education system is regarding as central to a fair and progressive society.

In January, the OECD published a PISA in Focus document which stated in the clearest possible terms that “education systems don’t have to choose between equity and opportunity and high performance”.

They don’t. And we should never believe those who design or promote educational systems based on that fallacy.

I am certain that it is with independence - only with independence - that we will be able to realise our educational ambitions in full. Only independence will deliver real equality and equity in our society. And delivering such equality and equity within a great educational system is my responsibility, working in partnership with you all.

Of course many good things are happening.

In our schools, you will see ambition and achievement in the buildings, the results and in the pupils themselves. You will see dynamic and excellent teachers working with creativity and passion for their subjects. And, you will see well-equipped classrooms with pupils who are being inspired in their learning.

In our colleges, you will see a sector that is delivering improvements on the back of the first major reform since incorporation 20 years ago. And, as I have said, in universities like this one you will see excellence in teaching and research.

I am particularly encouraged by the widening access programmes that are being developed here in Glasgow and in our other universities. It is to this university’s great credit that nearly a quarter of its Scottish-domiciled students now come from the 40% most deprived areas in Scotland – and that, through the Access to Professions scheme, 40% of those studying medicine come from the most disadvantaged postcodes

In fact, Glasgow has the highest rate of participation from disadvantaged areas to be found in any of Scotland’s ancient universities – and, I’m keen that we see even more progress.

Much much of this educational progress has been underpinned by some of the important decisions this government has taken over the last 6 years.

• It has been this government which restored the principle of free higher education – benefiting 125,000 students, and saving students around £27,000 compared with the cost of studying in England

• It has been this government that has built or refurbished 403 schools;

• It has been this government that has expanded free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds and looked after 2 year olds by 45% since 2007 – benefiting 120,000 children around Scotland.

And it has been this government which has taken forward the most significant improvement to school education for a generation.

Curriculum for Excellence is inspiring young Scots and providing them with the tools and the confidence to make their way in the world.

The outcome of Curriculum for Excellence is not learning itself, but the capacity and desire to learn. Not only knowledge, but also empowerment.

To invoke Yeats for a moment, “education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire” – and, with Curriculum for Excellence, Scottish children are being given the spark for a lifetime of curiosity and enquiry.

Curriculum for Excellence is, to put it simply, how we now do education in Scotland. And as a result Scottish education is getting better. But it is not good enough.

For we are not yet meeting the needs of all of Scotland’s children all of the time.

Scotland still has a long-standing attainment problem. We have a lack of equity in our schools.

Generally, school leavers from the 20% most disadvantaged areas have a tariff score that is less than half that of that of leavers from the 20% most affluent areas. That gap is greater than most of the developed nations against which we measure ourselves.

Importantly other nations like Norway which have very similar policies on inclusion have much narrower gaps in attainment between rich and poor.

And, alongside this, we have a situation where some schools working with children and young people in very similar circumstances and areas perform very differently.

It is a compelling fact that, when it comes to educational attainment, for some children where you live in Scotland still determines your prospects more than your abilities or even your hard work.

There are some very effective schools in disadvantaged areas – but, none has ever matched the performance of schools in our more affluent areas.

There is a problem here. To be the nation we want to be, we have to tackle it.

And to be fair, all administrations since devolution have tried.

But such problems take a long time to solve. They are deeply engrained in our society and education system.

I was very struck by words from Peter Peacock - the longest serving Education Minister since devolution - about this matter in an article last week:

Peter said: I am but one of a succession of past Scottish education ministers who has been well aware of this while in office. One of a succession of education ministers who tried to do their bit toward turning this around –

Peter worked hard on the issue as did Sam Galbraith, Jack MacConnell, Cathy Jamieson, Hugh Henry and Fiona Hyslop - all the post devolution Education Ministers. They made a difference. But more needs to be done and I want to do more.

I do think Independence will make a difference and the biggest difference will come when the benefit and tax system is integrated with the education system,.

But I also know that we can make a difference now if we focus as a Parliament and as a Government on the key statistics and try, using evidence based policy making, to devise solutions.

Fortunately we have some good tools to hand.

Firstly – and, let us not forget this basic, but essential, fact - Scotland is a country which values education.

Education is in our DNA. It is woven through our history and our sense of ourselves. We are a learning nation.

Secondly, we have a long term stable plan for success. That plan is Curriculum for Excellence.

It has been the best part of a decade in the making and it commands wide spread support.

Thirdly we already know that the success of any country's education system is dependent upon the quality of its teachers and the excellence of educational leadership. High quality people achieve high quality outcomes for children and we have taken and are taking many steps to further enhance the excellence that exists in our teaching profession.

John Steinbeck memorably referred to teaching as an art form since, in his wonderful phrase, “the medium is the human mind and spirit.” Finland recognised that a long time ago and invested heavily in its teachers That is what we are doing too.

Undoubtedly, these are tough times, in terms of pay and settlement, for the whole of the public sector in Scotland. Teachers are not exempt.

Yet, I am convinced that the professionalism of the teaching workforce will carry us through.

For teachers , Curriculum for Excellence is, about professionalism. It is about creating time for teaching. It was never about making more time for paperwork and it must never be allowed to become that.

Curriculum for Excellence frees our teachers to teach. We must resist any imposition that restrict and hamper that freedom.

With these advantages - with a strong passion for education, with a clear plan for education, and with a great workforce for education - we are, I believe, ready for the move from good to great.

But to make the final step we have to ensure that our system is based on equity.

Why it’s imperative - education changes lives

We need to do that because education changes lives and should change and enhance every life.

Benjamin Franklin once remarked that an investment in knowledge pays the best interest. We need to invest in the future of our country in a way that pays the maximum interest on all our human capital. It is the only way we can realise the full potential of who we are and where we are.

I’d like to pause briefly to illuminate that fundamental point with the help of the man I and many others regard as Scotland’s greatest modern novelist.

Robin Jenkins was an alumnus of this university.

When he studied literature here in the years before the second world war, he would have been very familiar with this lecture theatre. Indeed, when he took a Latin class in the winter months of 1931-32, he would have sat exactly where you are sitting now.

This year marks the centenary of his birth, and I’m delighted to see it is being celebrated on this campus and across the country.

Jenkins was born just 6 miles south east of here, in the village of Flemington near Cambuslang.

His wasn’t the easiest of beginnings. His mother was widowed when he was only 7 years old. He and his three siblings were brought up in straitened circumstances. Flemington, at the time, was a place where – in Jenkins’ words - “pit bings rose like volcanoes out to fields and woods" and where poverty and deprivation were woven into the fabric of everyday life.

A bursary to Hamilton Academy – then a fee paying school - and a university scholarship would offer Jenkins a means of escape. However, it is clear that the poverty he endured during these formative years was to shape his outlook forever.

In line with Dickens – and, that comparison is very apt give Jenkins place in the tradition of social realism – Jenkins yearned for a better world in which the twin demons of poverty and inequality are vanquished. Like any artistic realist, his imagined world was intended to stand in comparison to our real one – amplified in some places, exaggerated in others. certainly, but that is the point. His fictions hold a mirror up to ourselves and compel us to respond to the distortions we see.

Repeatedly, in his novels we encounter children who, despite living in the most desperate urban squalor, retain their humanity along with a quiet dignity.

Nowhere can that be illustrated more poignantly than in the character of Smout McTavish a childhood friend of the young Fergus Lamont in the novel of that name:

Smout lived in a single-end in Lomond Street, with his parents and three sisters. There were two set-in beds. Smout himself slept on the floor on an old mattress; mice trotted over him. If he was sorry for himself, no one ever heard him say so. That he was embarrassed by the holes in his breeks was shown by the way he tried to hide them, but still he didn’t complain….”

And, later:

“The McTavishes were considered out of their class in Lomond Street. Single ends were meant for married couples, not families of six. That was the way slums developed. The Vennel was the proper place for them”.

Beaten down by deprivation, and the snobbery of those who inhabit the second from bottom slum, the cruel twist is completed when Smout is killed at the front shortly after being called up for the World War I.

Learning is out of Smout’s reach. He never has a chance to shine at school or even to complete his education. Poverty and an early grave are his lot. And Jenkins condemns society for that failing.

For Jenkins as a novelist and as teacher - which was his lifelong profession, at home and abroad - had a passionate belief in the power of education to transform lives for the better. If society could only but send children to school - and keep them there - then they would have a chance to flourish.

Jenkins went further too. He regarded teachers as having the power to lift or flatten the potential and life chances of children. Schools could be places of liberation or places of oppression. He put education on a pinnacle, but he shone a harsh light on those who failed in their duty which that place demands.

Like Sir John Boyd Orr – another alumnus of this university and lifelong critic of poverty and deprivation - Jenkins saw education as the only reliable means of realising a young person’s potential. Every young person's potential.

And he constantly explored the transformative power of education in such novels as Happy for the Child and in that chilling account of educational failure The Changeling.

As an education secretary – who has himself benefitted from inspirational teachers and the very best of a Scottish education - and as a child and spouse of teachers I share Jenkins faith in education and teaching.

When I reflect on my own education – and, teachers such as Alex Syme, who I encountered in my fifth and sixth years at Marr College, and who inspired me to go on to study literature at university – I know that education can change our lives, define our destinations and sustain our ambitions. And I hope that everyone here tonight has also had experiences of education that confirm that view.

More prosaically today we can also call on a wealth of evidence to show that education can have positive effects not just on job prospects and future income but personally and socially too.

The National Institute Economic Review, for example, tells us that “more educated people tend to be healthier, to live longer, to commit less violent crimes and to experience a greater sense of well-being”.

Driving up attainment

That is why I believe that we must offer not just a good, but a great education to all, and where we fail to do so we must redouble our efforts to break down every barrier to attainment and every blockage on the learner journey.

This isn’t just about improving access to university or college – admirable though recent improvements in these areas have been and more are on the way in the Post 16 Bill which passed at Stage 1 today.

It is about ensuring that all of our children and young people are engaged in their education at every level , and in getting all the skills and knowledge to succeed in work and in life.

Last year, the raising attainment group – a group of experienced head-teachers - provided me with expert advice to help address these very issues. Their report coupled with the work being developed by the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland and Education Scotland, identifies the key actions that are needed to successfully raise the attainment of all children, including the most deprived.

Their conclusions also confirmed that, with Curriculum for Excellence, we have exactly the right sort of conditions and professional infrastructure to create an education system that can drive forward continuous improvement.

We are already focusing on the right areas – on driving up the quality of learning and teaching; on improving leadership at every level of the system; and on engaging parents.

I was struck three weeks ago when the Reform Scotland Commission reported at how many of their recommendations were already the subject of action by this Government. That too is a sign of hope.

For example, we are well aware that supporting children in their earliest years gives them opportunities for learning and development that can make a huge difference for the rest of their lives. That’s why we are investing as never before in improving our children’s life chances well before they enter formal education system at age 3. Early intervention will remain a priority for us in breaking the cycle of poverty, ill health and poor attainment.

However, if we are to realise the potential of every child there is more to do.

Let’s start with securing national agreement for national action. We need a guiding alliance for change. That’s why, as soon as possible, I will once again , in partnership with COSLA, convene an Education Roundtable of those who are in the best position to influence the kind of change we want to see. Education Conveners and Directors have already met with me in what was a very positive discussion. Let’s take that forward focused on the need for equity in attainment. And let’s ensure that we engage , at the earliest point , with the educational workforce and ensure that their skills, knowledge and experience are brought to bear on our shared agenda for progress.

It would be good if that could be supported by a cross party consensus on these issues. Let’s not be hung up on our divisions. Let’s not treat every step forward as one that threatens the constitutional status quo. Let’s accept we can journey forward in education whilst still disagreeing on the national question.

If we can agree on a united front, then we need to then agree on what further interventions we can make – both nationally and locally.

There are at least six areas where I believe we can - working together - make some early progress.

i. Improvement Partnership Programme

Firstly, and as I have said, partnerships will be important in closing the gaps between schools and departments.

That’s why I want to take forward, with agreement by all parties, a nationally coordinated Improvement Partnership programme to partner those schools that have the most to give with those that have the most to gain. The Programme will be underway by June and, I am delighted to say, that already we have agreement from ADES and SLS that they will work with us on it. .

We know from other education systems – such as in Ontario – that partnership approaches can work very well. We also know that some schools in Scotland are already working together in learning partnerships to some degree and that, in many cases, these are showing clear benefits. We have also seem some encouraging cross authority working between Glasgow and West Lothian for example.

This collegiality is, of course, central to the Scottish democratic tradition

However, through this national Programme, we will accelerate such development and go much further.

We want to see partnerships between schools, which – outwardly – have very similar characteristics, but which perform very differently and can learn from each other. We also want to see more links between schools with a strong track record of success, and those that have experienced difficulties and are aspiring to bring about change. Each relationship will be a long-term one, and it will be of mutual benefit to all of the schools and departments that are involved.

Schools themselves, school leaders, education authorities and Education Scotland all have an opportunity to support such improvement – and, all stand to gain from this approach. Every school has something to learn – as well as something to teach.

Yet, this isn’t just about improving leadership.

Learning and teaching will be at the heart of the Programme and the improvement we want to see. So I hope the teaching unions will support the programme too.

Through this initiative, it won’t be enough just to create partnerships. The onus will be on building productive relationships and using collaboration to share good practice from those involved in the front line of teaching. Real improvement is the outcome we seek.

ii. Class sizes & Teacher Numbers

Secondly, we know that the quality of the teaching workforce is crucial both in the continuing adoption and embedding of Curriculum for Excellence and in driving up attainment in our schools. We need to have the right numbers of teachers, with the right skills and experience.

Our strong commitment to teacher quality is demonstrated by the establishment of an ambitious and challenging agenda which is being both led and overseen by the National Implementation Board chaired by Professor Petra Wend to deliver improvements in every aspect of teacher education.

I believe that that there is more that we can do to meet our aspirations on teacher quality and break the link between deprivation and low attainment.

This Government has a manifesto commitment to progressive reductions in class sizes. We took action to reduce P1 class sizes in 2011, and the 2012 census showed that we have virtually wiped out larger P1 classes. This shows the effectiveness of legislation. At the same time, working with COSLA and the teaching unions, we have been able to halt the decline in teacher numbers.

There are significant resources going into the system to support teacher numbers and class sizes. We should consider how collectively we make best use of those resources to deliver the improvements we all want to see.

We have a shared aspiration to breaking the link between deprivation and poor educational attainment. I believe that limits on class sizes can help us to deliver that aspiration. There is clear evidence that in the early years, particularly in areas of deprivation, smaller class sizes do make a difference. But I accept that there will be a debate about the value for money of such developments, especially in the current context. The current economic conditions present all of us, including local authorities, with huge challenges. And, for local authorities, I recognise that those financial challenges don’t relate only to education but to the whole range of local government services.

I am keen to explore and debate, with our partners, the role our policies on class sizes and teacher numbers can play in delivering improved outcomes and closing the attainment gap.

We must ensure that whatever changes we make complement our drive on supporting teacher quality and enhance the positive experience of Curriculum for Excellence in support of children and young people across Scotland.

We are working hard to issue a broad consultation paper in the coming weeks and I would urge the widest possible debate and discussion around these important issues.

iii. Data to drive up improvement

Thirdly, we know that good, timely and relevant information about schools is itself an important tool in driving up attainment. The Attainment Group made precisely this point when it reported last year

However, we need to use information intelligently – and, not create an extra burden for teachers. Indeed, as we have said from the outset, Curriculum for Excellence is about effective learning and teaching – and, certainly not about creating overly-bureaucratic tracking systems or a paper-chase for hard working teachers.

That’s why I am pleased to note the progress that my officials are making in the development of the Senior Phase Benchmarking Tool.

The tool is entirely in line with the systems we already have in place for Curriculum for Excellence. It is about using information smartly to compare the performance of pupils in the senior phase of secondary school. It makes better use of existing evidence. It is not about creating new data burdens.

It will benchmark how pupils perform in terms of literacy and numeracy; how they achieve more broadly in terms of qualifications and wider awards; and where they move on to when they leave school.

Crucially, the tool will take a ‘virtual schools’ approach.

This means that local authorities and secondary schools will be able to benchmark themselves against their virtual equivalents.

In future, they should also be able to measure themselves against how an ideal model – and, how schools could perform in relation to its pupil mix, its demography and its educational progress . In other words, to compare the reality of a school to what an ideal school in that location could do.

This will be a leap forward in driving up continuous improvement in all our schools. Moreover , whilst it will contain less data than at present it will use that data much more intelligently. It will not increase workload – quite the reverse . It will help teachers work not harder, but smarter.

Collaboration on developing the prototype of the tool will take place over the next 18 months, and we will launch it fully in August 2014.

iv. Improving parental involvement

Fourthly, we know that good information is also vital for parents.

A decade ago and more there was a passionate debate in Scotland about the publication of league tables of schools. The right decision was made then by the Labour / Liberal Administration - the decision not to publish them in the form that is used south of the border.

Instead the raw statistics are published every year by the Scottish Government in a way that should help parents make genuine and fair comparisons. But some of the media persist in taking that information and presenting it in the manner that they think helps their readers, or at least sells newspapers.

The Labour Government in Wales has developed a compromise position on this issue. It publishes “bands” of schools, helping parents to see where their school sits in the overall provision that is offered.

I have considered that matter afresh in recent months. There is something simplistically attractive in a league table and I understand why the Welsh compromise suits their system.

But I have come, just as my predecessors did ten years ago, to the conclusion that league tables do not suit our system. There is, in fact , something very destructive and misleading in that approach.

At its worst league table mentality insists that measurement can only be meaningful if it is used in judgemental comparisons, though it is does not understand that such comparisons are nearly impossible in education given diversity of cohorts, communities and cultures

Ad it does not appreciate all the effort that has taken place in recent years in Scotland - for example in bringing together the Inspectorate and LTS - to ensure that supportive action that leads to productive change is the norm in our dealings in education one with another .

However we do need to constantly improve the quality of information we offer to parents. And all the evidence tells us that parents will be more likely to become involved in their child’s education if they have the right information not just more information.

That is why we introduced new School Handbook legislation to improve the quality and range of information for parents about their child’s school and, it is why we have made it a priority to improve the quality of information going to parents about Curriculum for Excellence.

We will go on doing so. I have now asked Education Scotland to bring together the data in Scottish Schools On Line, the information resource in Parent Zone , HMI Inspection Reports, local school plans and a range of other material including national policies into an easily understood, one click, website portal that helps parents to make sense of this rich range of material. Parents, like teachers, will be able to work not harder, but smarter to get an overview – geographic, demographic and educational - of the school their children attend and what to expect of it.

And as part of this, I have commissioned a new publication which will be provided to every parent in Scotland. It will tell the story of how Curriculum for Excellence came about, how it affects every year on the learner journey, how Universities and Colleges are changing to take account of it, and how its roll out is a process, not an event.

We also need to consider what might be possible in future years . As data becomes richer and the digital society becomes all-embracing can we find a way to make sure it is always meaningful and helpful and it use is positive not negatively judgemental? Can it be used to close the attainment and information gap without creating unacceptable pressures for staff and pupils alike?

What indeed is the role of the digital world in schools - a topic well addressed recently by the IT Excellence group and which is producing a steady process of profound change in all our schools.

I want Scotland to be a post league table society. Indeed a society that has never dallied with league tables. We must not be driven by narrow targets but inspired by the opportunity of ever better attainment, using evidence to help achieve that end.

Of course not all parents are as well engaged as they could be in their child’s education.

This could be down to those parents having a poor recollection themselves of their own school experience, and then not expecting much more for their child.

It may be that they think that school is just something that their child will have to endure before going on to the next phase of their life.

Or, it may be that they don’t feel that they have the energy or belief in themselves to challenge teachers on issues of interest to their child.

Clearly, we have to adopt a new approach in such cases. That’s why I have asked my officials to look at how we can work with some of our charities, and pool our efforts, to reach out to all groups of parents and involve them in their children’s education. I want every parent in Scotland to be fully aware of the rights they and their children have in relation to their education – from beginning to end. And I want - in time - every parent to be a co-learner with their child, involved in the job of all of society in taking our education system to the next stage. From good to great.

For every parent wants the best for their child. Irrespective of their own educational experience almost every parent has a belief that education liberates and changes lives and will do so for their child. Schools need to harness that natural impulse as a force for good. The school effect should always be positive.

v. Leadership

Leadership has a crucial role in all of education.

Everyone within the education system should be able to demonstrate leadership – whether that is in the classroom; within a school; or within the broader community. We have developed a framework for educational leadership and a new team will start within Education Scotland next month to scope out options for a potential new College for Educational Leadership.

Given the potential impact of leaders, we need to consider whether we are really making best use of them in Scotland. We should, for example, be considering the impact of our most experienced and effective school leaders beyond their own school. Are we really providing these leaders with the opportunity to experience different schools and different challenges?

To my mind, there is no doubt that, by bringing their experience to bear on different schools and different challenges, school leaders would enrich their own experience and bring benefit to the schools and communities that they might become involved in.

vi. Innovation

All these ideas are essentially about innovation.

The Commission on School Reform which reported three weeks ago expressed the view that educational innovation in Scotland was more difficult than it should. I met the Commission last week and discussed the culture of education in Scotland and the problems of driving forward change.

It is certainly true that innovation at all levels has been limited with one huge exception- Curriculum for Excellence. There are some good examples – for instance in Dumfries the plan for a senior phase school is an interesting one – but there is room for much more

Innovation has to be within our traditions. Innovation is not about importing bad ideas. Innovation must be about achieving equity, not diminishing it.

So when the Roundtable meets in May I want to put this item on the agenda too. Each one of Scotland’s 32 local authorities has many exciting and committed educationalists in their employment. The potential for new thinking and new achievement is great.

Let’s start bringing those ideas to the table and lets start planning ways in which we can , through the massive innovation of Curriculum for Excellence innovate in delivery and attainment too.


As I come to my conclusion, Anton, I want to return to Robin Jenkins.

Jenkins was distraught by the failure of the referendum in 1979 and the passing up of an opportunity to create a more economically, socially, morally and spiritually just Scotland.

In a sense Jenkins tapped in to the rich seam of left learning nationalism that had run through the Labour movement of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Keir Hardie himself was, after all, a member of the Scottish Home Rule Association. He had set up the Scottish Labour Party with RB Cunninghame Graham - who, of course, went on to set up the National Party of Scotland, which later became the Scottish National Party.

And Hardie’s first electoral address - in the Mid Lanark By-Election of 1888 - included a commitment to Home Rule, as well as to temperance.

Certainly, for his part, Jenkins believed that we should be creating a a Scotland worth living in where honour and justice (to half quote a line from his historical novel Lady Magdelene) are within reach of all, where there is betterment for the poor and a sense of national purpose and progress.

A Scotland in which Smout McTavishes – and his modern day equivalents – would not be held back by the disadvantage of their birthright. Where - in the words of the Ontario educator Avis Glaze - poverty is not destiny.

But Jenkins believed something else.

He saw that the potential for creating that kind of Scotland was already with us. We had the gift of a better Scotland in our own hands if only we chose to use them for that task.

Rather than waiting for change to be conferred on Scotland from some munificent external source, Jenkins tells us that we only have to rely on ourselves and our own judgement.

We can make the choice. We can change Scotland for the better if we take responsibility for our own destiny. We can do it ourselves.

And that applies both to the big choice of independence and to the other choices - no less big - of securing equity in our educational system and success for all our children.

The answers are here and we can implement them now.


Anton. Ladies and gentlemen. Just over a month ago, the students in this university voted in what turned out to be the biggest university election for more than a decade.

But the most striking factor in that election was that out of 20,000 students only 2,500 expressed a preference about the type of Scotland they wanted to live in.

As an incurable optimist, let me take that as a proof of potential rather than a sign of stagnation.

Here, the majority of the students – like the population across Scotland - have yet to make up their minds. So everything is still to play for.

That is why over the coming months the Scottish government will continue to work tirelessly to convince people, including our students and younger people, that they have nothing to fear and everything to gain from being a normal, independent country.

We will do so in every place we can, at every opportunity we can.

A couple of weeks ago , for me , it was in a village hall in Ardentinny, in front of 21 people, Tonight it is in this magnificent lecture theatre, in front of two hundred. Next week I shall be on Colonsay whose entire population of 160 may well turn out for the debate.

There will be many more such contrasts before we are done.

When I gave the Adam Smith Lecture in this university last month, I said that I didn’t see independence as an end in itself. And, I’ll go further today by saying that it won’t transform Scotland overnight.

Independence won’t be like the flicking of a switch. Transformation will take time . Perhaps, unlike Ireland, our post-boxes won’t change colour.

Because education is almost fully devolved the liberating effect of independence will take some time to show itself. Schools may initially feel much the same, as might our colleges and universities.

But show itself it will. When the people who care most about Scotland – that is the people of Scotland – are in charge of all the decisions about Scotland then they will be in charge of all the decisions about how we invest in, take forward, develop , nurture and strengthen our education system at every level.

For in Scotland we know, to paraphrase Disraeli, that it is upon the education of the people of our nation that the fate of our nation depends.

But let’s be more specific. It is our children that need to be our focus. Our policy of getting it right for every child has at its heart the word “every”. So we can’t succeed until we ensure that every child has the best of chances and the best of education. Closing the attainment gap, demanding equity in our system is an essential next step.

Education must be , as it once was in our past, our national passion. It must absorb our national attention and care like never before.

Because never before will we have been able to make free and independent choices about not just what we do, but how we choose to pay for it and how we ensure that all the things that impinge on education are supported too.

This is the way we take Scottish education from good to great. Next year’s referendum offers us the chance to do so. That is our challenge and must be our choice.

For I believe that there is only one path to take – and, like on any great journey, it is the first step that will count the most.

Or to finish on the slogan whose time is still to come – in this University at least - great things start with YES. 

© Michael Russell 2014