Dismantling Scottish Education

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By Mike Small

Gordon Brown has entered the referendum campaign with the subtlety and strategic wit of a wrecking ball. As the No campaign pose for a photo-opp in front of a building known as ‘Edinburgh’s Disgrace’ (thanks for that PR magic) the ‘sort of’ occasional leader of Better Together has crashed the party.

Just as the Unionist-bloc was about to announce a pact offering new powers for Scotland, and trying to maintain the ‘best of both worlds’ narrative, up pops Gordon with an astonishing statement on education.

MSP Kenneth Gibson said:

Having undermined the No campaign last week by calling for David Cameron to debate with Alex Salmond, Gordon Brown has done it again. This week, he has endorsed the idea of a UK-wide education system – which could only mean taking powers away from Scotland and giving them back to Westminster – on the very day Alistair Darling and the No campaign are desperately trying to say that they stand for more powers for Scotland.

The absolute core of the ‘best of both worlds’ story about Britain is that the Scottish people benefit from the ‘security’ (sic) and ‘stability’ (sic) of the Union but are allowed to retain distinctive features of our own culture, identity and political infrastructure.

The latest gaffe from Gordon puts paid to that nonsense as the mindset of those Scots who have been institutionalised to believe everything about their on culture is inferior leaks out. Unfortunately for Better Together, the education system being developed in England is a disastrous sideshow teetering on the brink of collapse as it veers between the fantasy worlds of ‘free schools’ and ongoing privatisation.

Scotland was the first country since Sparta in classical Greece to implement a system of general public education. Schooling was made compulsory for the first time in Scotland with the Education Act of 1496 since it forced all nobles and freeholders to educate their eldest sons in Latin, followed by the Arts, and Scots law. 

Not that we are problem free.

Sorting the education system is a must, from smaller class sizes to pre-school education to free universities. The new Scottish Government should take on and shake up the university sector with its bloated hierarchical structures. In 2009 Scotland’s 18 university principals received an average salary of more than £225,000 – up nearly three times the rate of inflation.

The highest-paid principal is Professor Duncan Rice, from Aberdeen University, whose salary package rose by 17% from £256,000 to £299,000. The next-highest-paid principal is Professor Sir Tim O’Shea, from Edinburgh University, who is paid a total salary package of £286,000 after an increase of 7%. Professor Anton Muscatelli, the principal of Glasgow University, is the third-highest-paid with a combined salary package of £283,000. These are ridiculous salaries and a bold and ambitious move would be to set some sort of restructuring of these roles and pay structures. This would be both a real saving and a symbol of a shift towards a more democratic, leaner higher education sector.

1 in 5 of young people leave school with literacy issues.

But none of the UK’s educational philosophies or policies would do anything but bring this into absolute chaos.

This is an education system which advocated two year olds entering the school system (“Two Year Olds in school’) as a response to poverty.

The contribution from Brown belies an incredible ignorance of his own country. The principles of a Scottish education system (to be free for all) and the principles of generalism that distinguish us would be utterly undermined by a pan-UK approach.

This is an appalling mistake by Gordon Brown, but at its heart are confusion about who is running Better Together and a complete lack of belief in the key institutions and ideas of Scotland having any worth.



Categories: Commentary

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44 replies

  1. The great clunking fist strikes again! I have no idea what has happened to Brown. He seems to be going the same way as Tony Blair. His interventions in the anti-independence campaign are disastrous, as disastrous as his time in political office, both as Chancellor and PM. His comments yesterday were a disgrace, and also laughably shambolic. Brown seemed to suggest we should hand over our own education system, which was guaranteed under the Treaty of Union, to Westminster and Michael Gove! Surely this must finally spell the end of the myth of the great socialist/Red Gordon Brown once and for all? No wonder some independence supporters call him Crash Gordon…

  2. I think you meant ‘literacy’ Mike! The real revolution in education – needed as much in Scotland as anywhere – is a form of education that teaches young minds to question the established order, whether in science, politics or anything else. The trend almost everywhere is towards more Pavlov’s dog ‘stimulus and response’, with rote learning of facts and computer-enabled marking of multiple choice tests. Instead of doing real research on a subject of choice, pupils are routinely allowed (even encouraged?) to carry out a cut-and-paste job from undigested online material.
    Historically, some of the most creative and inventive minds had no or very little formal schooling. The measure of quality in education should not be the number of Highers passes and university entrance quotas. If the education sector was doing its job it would be teaching critical thinking on social, environmental, political and economic affairs – and especially on the principles and practice of democracy. But of course the system doesn’t actually want enquiring, critical minds – neither in a physical, chemical and biological science hidebound by dogmatism, nor especially in devising ways of escaping from the cul-de-sac of a selfish and self-destructive capitalistic-consumerist mindset (not only among management) that is destroying the very basis of life.

    • Typo. Apology.

      • Have you looked at the Curriculum for Excellence? Its ethos and praxis belie that which you seem to think about Scottish Education in the here and now. Education is not solely based on outcome in Highers or Uni Education but in achievements relevant to the individual. The higher order skills – solely but also in cooperative group settings – encourage thinking, analysis, evaluation and application of learning but most of all skills across different situations. Very little rote learning other than in the likes of times tables. Very much about in depth investigation and an meta-cognitive approach to reflecting on how we learned, what we learned, why we learned it and logging the learning and its applications. And there is built in the questioning of established order.

    • If I may be so bold, I think this could bear repeating:-

      But of course the system doesn’t actually want enquiring, critical minds – neither in a physical, chemical and biological science hidebound by dogmatism, nor especially in devising ways of escaping from the cul-de-sac of a selfish and self-destructive capitalistic-consumerist mindset (not only among management) that is destroying the very basis of life.

      • May I say that I think that parents should play a role in this also. Teachers can do the basics but Parents can teach as my Father did me to look closely at what and who was telling me things and to check for myself. I admit that whilst I loved my Secondary School days, I hated the Primary and my last teacher there and the hatred was sadly reciprocated by the teacher, so much that she condemned me to the lowest female class in my Secondary for two years. The one thing it taught me was that not all adults were to be believed and some were particularly bad at the job.

  3. This just highlights the complete hypocrisy at the heart of the “solidarity” argument so loved by Labour No voters. If we should be voting No to retain solidarity with people in Newcastle and Manchester, then why should we be protected from the “reforms” (more accurately deforms) to the NHS and education system that are going on down in England? Where’s their solidarity there?

    “Best of both worlds” really means “have our cake and eat it”. Mind you, what else could we expect from a party that used to thrive on highlighting the differences between Scotland and England when it was electorally convenient to do so (i.e. against the Tories in the 80s and 90s), but suddenly decides that this is a terrible thing when it means people start voting for truly Scottish parties instead of them?

    One Nation Labour? No thanks.

  4. As Brown himself benefitted from a Scottish Education this seems utterly bizarre. Also that Treaty of union as I understand ensured Education Law and Religion were always to remain under Scottish control. In that case the only way education could go under UK jurisdiction would be to repeal the Treaty! oh wait!

  5. Gordon Brown’s timing remains impeccable — the same fortnight that the ONS declared Scotland’s population the best educated in Europe, he decides it’s a good idea for our education system to be absorbed into the rest of the UK’s.

    • The ‘best educated’ was defined as being the country with the highest percentage of degree-educated youngsters. ( I beg to to differ) Discuss.

    • Well, maybe it would be good if the rest of the UK’s education system was merged into the Scottish one, but I don’t think that’s what they’re planning.

  6. Raising the possibility of depriving the Scottish Parliament of its power to legislate for the education of our children and transferring responsibility for administering our schools to Whitehall is certainly a bold and unexpected move at this stage in the campaign!

  7. Your comments on University principals are fine – but why should anyone be on a salary from the public purse that is higher than that of the First Minister? There’s far too many of them!

    • I quite agree

    • The answer of course is that they do not regard the First Minister as one of their peers their salaries should be compared to. They are looking at the heads of the Russell Group universities in ‘the rest of the UK’. Hopefully that is the sort of thinking we can derail by voting Yes.

      Something else we might want to look at is the corporatisation of our universities taking less and less notice of the academic staff and a collegiate system. Dundee for eg is looking to make tens of lecturers redundant, not because of a looming deficit but so they can make a larger surplus.

      That their workloads will have to taken by their colleagues (or more likely Teaching Fellows on short term or even hourly contracts) is not mentioned.

      You see universities are not repositories of research and knowledge for the greater good and places for higher education. They are thrusting global businesses in the world knowledge economy. Get with the program or get out of the way.

  8. I find myself alarmed at this piece of news,as for being extinguished as a country then it would apply to England also being extinguished as a country and just being southern Britain. We must be independent or for real be obliterated from history.

  9. Brown is only saying in public what British Labour are really thinking.
    One nation philosophy has no room for devolution.
    They have already discussed eradicating the Scottish health service and together with their plans to fund local councils directly,would eliminate the need for a Scottish parliament
    The picture is now clear.

    • That’s exactly what I was thinking. They have decided that devolution has been a disastrous experiment (for them) and are trying to reverse it.

      We really have to get the word out on this! Brown may actually have done us a favour by being so cack-handed.

  10. Has Brown forgotten that education is a devolved area?

    Or does this signal a desire on the part of the London power elite to actually reverse devolution by removing existing powers from Scotland?

    Has he let the cat out of the bag?

  11. As for the BT3 in the picture above,

    Are they not supposed to be working ?

    They might at least have brought along a sheet of A4

    to give the impression of doing something.

    Instead they’re holding their hands out

    Looking for more powers

    More powers for those three

    I wouldn’t trust them with a AAA battery.

  12. have a good long look at what’s on offer from these crooks –let me help you look at the backdrop yep thats it a decrepit ruin it was never finished in their case it will never be started even if they could offer all that was asked in order to keep their precious union intact just for spite they wouldn’t in case their jobs were in danger thats it their jobs not yours not ours there own bloody well paid jobs paid for by us always remember we employ them not the other way around keep reminding them to fight for the scottish people not “party”

  13. I saw the big red battle bus the other day.

    It was presumably en route to get more powers.

    I couldn’t see into the bus

    so I couldn’t tell if Anas Sarwar ,

    Deputy Leader of the Labour & Unionist party in Scotland was on board.

    Maybe he was playing truant again

    like he did when he nicked off to Pakistan

    while the vote for the bedroom tax was being held.
    .

    Anas succeeded his dad Mohammad, now Governor of Punjab,

    as Labour MP for Glasgow central in May 2010.

    Now that Anas has been declared non-essential by Johann lamont & Ed Miliband,

    who just might have chosen Clare Lalley

    for grooming as a future leader,

    I wonder if he’s planning on taking another bus

    the Airbus to Pakistan

    to succeed his father once again.
    .

    Nothing, I say again, nothing

    would surprise me.

  14. Seeing those three gathered together on Calton Hill… it’s a new incarnation of the Parcel o’ Rogues.

  15. The aim of British nationalists like Gordon Brown is to reduce Scottish culture and identity to an accent and the occasional kilt at weddings. It’s not malicious, they simply don’t see the point in anything Scottish because it means nothing to them.

    Anything distinctively Scottish is not good because then it’s not British.

    This is the man who loved the idea of a Team GB football team.

    Brown doesn’t want a separate educations system or a separate football team.

    Andy Burnham doesn’t want a separate NHS

    Even the SRU tried to commit hara-kiri by authorising a Team GB sevens Rugby Team for the Olympics but strangely enough the IRB and the IOC have put the kybosh on this one. According to them only one of the Home teams can represent GB at the Olympics.

    The direction of travel in the event of a no vote is easily seen. Separate Scottish sports teams won’t last very long and even separate Scottish institutions like the NHS and Education will fall with them. The Scottish legal system will probably be the last to go but with the Supreme Court in England having jurisdiction over Scottish cases now the writing is on the wall there too.

  16. These university principals are no different today from a chief executive of a corporation or an English primary school head – where it’s ” bums on seats means money “. It’s all about making sure a kid finishes the course ( doesn’t matter what grade he/she gets ) and attracting business and other grant awarding bodies.

    None of the principals mentioned will have given a lecture in the last ten years.

  17. Good article, Mike. The RIAS Architectural Guide for Edinburgh notes about Calton Hill

    “what was built was exactly that which the contract drawing specified should be built. In other words, it was a deliberate intent from the first to build only the small section we now can see: and was therefore a act of deliberate folly.”

    Using Calton Hill as a backdrop is definitely a Freudian slip. These parties are not serious about the devolution of more powers.

  18. Mike, great stuff.

    In terms of the salary of the leading lights of Scottish academia, I was just watching the news on Catalan TV and the King of Spain, much in the news these days because of the succession of his son, draws an annual salary of 292,000 Euros, so some of the principals of Scottish universities are being paid a salary superior to the head of State of Europe´s fifth biggest economy.

    Just a perspective…

    Does anybody know the Queen´s salary by the way or is that a state secret?

  19. Giving with one hand, taking with the other. the Union in all its self-righteous duplicity. Such a parcel of rogues in a nation.

  20. Duncan Rice has not been principal at Aberdeen for some years. It is currently Ian Diamond.

  21. I’ve mentioned this in one of my blogs. In my opinion Broonie’s positioning himself.
    Annoying the hell out of the Tories and undermining Labour Scotland at the same time.
    ‘Godfather of Scotland’

    http://www.eezypeezylemonsqeezy.com

  22. I am absolutely convinced that people give Gordon too much respect.I think he really is as ignorant as his statements suggest.His biggest knowledge gap is the Scottish health service.One of his central arguments for the union is the great national health service and why would we want to lose that.The Scottish health service is independent and was so even before devolution.Their is no British health service.This is very basic stuff so shows just how out of touch he is.The guy knows nothing about his home nation and that’s just outrageous!

  23. ‘Sorting the education system is a must.’ Agreed but, in all that has been said and written about independence in the past year, how much attention has been given to this ?
    As opposed to commenting on what Brown/Darling/Wilson did, or did not, say.
    Confronting the problems of education, including the 18% of young people leaving school after over a decade with poor levels of literacy, involves accepting that there are huge failures in Scottish society in areas where Scotland has had control for a long time. In the case of education, for generations.

  24. Meanwhile,

    http://tinypic.com/r/rkv3g4/8

    What staying in the UK means for Scotland.

    Warning: This is Scotland’s worst nightmare.

  25. It is about forced assimilation. Breeding desent out of restless natives and destroying any semblance of identity which does not fit in with the over-riding mass. This is about destroying Scotland, it’s culture and identity. Pure. Simple. This man is a disgace.

  26. I don’t get the point of Lamont, Davidson and the Liberal guy appearing in this picture. They lack the power to make any changes as these would be in the gift of Westminster. So what exactly were they doing there?

    • You mean my former MP Willie Rennie, who now should be known as the Parrot, because he has the same question as the other two every week on FMQ’s.
      They like to give the illusion they are worth something.

  27. Rather than changing the entire Scottish education system to an English one, how about obliging English universities to accept Scottish Highers in their entrance qualifications, Gordon?

    I have never understood why we in Scotland don’t make more of this atrocious inequality.

    English universities are able to accept student qualifications which are not A levels from any other part of the world than Scotland.

    Why do we put up with this?

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  1. Scaremongering and smearing: just another day in the Scottish referendum campaign. » Spectator Blogs

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