Marlyn Glen MSP
Speech in the Scottish Parliament debate
Curriculum for Excellence
11 November 2010
It is quite a few years since I was in the classroom, but I am still very much aware of the hard work and dedication that teachers and other school staff put in day in, day out in our nurseries, schools and colleges.
From that point of view, it is welcome that today's motion and the Labour amendment congratulate the teaching profession on its efforts.
However, it saddens me to say that education has been one of the least successful policy areas of the current Scottish Government. I worry that, on too many occasions, the Government has found itself on the wrong side of the argument from Scottish education's professionals as individuals, groups, organisations and institutions.
Again and again, it has shown a lack of respect for their views, which has ultimately been shown in the cutting of at least 3,000 teachers from our schools.
Michael Russell: By Labour councils.
Marlyn Glen: The Scottish Government must take responsibility for what happens in education throughout Scotland. I hope that the cabinet secretary accepts his responsibility.
The roll-out of the curriculum for excellence is, indeed, going ahead and the position of the major teaching union, the Education Institute of Scotland, is one of support.
Where the EIS differs, however, is on the timeframe.
It believes—and asks—that the qualifications be delayed, because professional opinion is that they are not deliverable in 2012.
Now that the assessment arrangements have gone live online, perhaps some of the confusion that we have had will be dispelled; nevertheless, there remain real concerns about funding and about being able to maintain the number of teachers who are required to deliver the curriculum for excellence and deal with its associated workload.
The conclusions of the EIS's survey of its members, which was published last month, show that they clearly regard the implementation of the CFE as testimony to the level of teacher professionalism and good will that exist. However, most suggestions from teachers for support centre on finance in relation to staffing levels and class sizes. At this point, we should recall the much-quoted words of the 2007 SNP election manifesto:
"We will maintain teacher numbers in the face of falling school rolls to cut class sizes".
I had some reservations from the start about the idea of HMIE going into schools in a supportive role, but those fears seem to have been largely unfounded, I am glad to say.
However, the question now is about what happens when the inspectors restart their inspections. How will that dual role work and how will the support role be continued? Many concerns and questions remain.
Robin Harper: Will the member take an intervention?
Marlyn Glen: No, thank you.
There is a necessity for long-term commitment to the curriculum for excellence, but that commitment must include resources including continuing professional development opportunities and—which is important—time at both local and national levels.
How will the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning seek to ensure that the continuous professional development associated with CFE will be of the very best quality? Also, how will he ensure that teachers throughout the country will have regular access to it at a time of very tight budgets?
I turn to literacy.
Labour's literacy commission reported in December last year, urging the Scottish Government to produce "an immediate action plan" to deal with the levels of illiteracy that had been revealed.
The literacy commission found that almost a million Scots have difficulty with literacy and that, each year, almost one in five children leaves primary school lacking the ability to read and write at the basic standard level.
The commission's report called for a zero-tolerance approach to tackling the problem of illiteracy and made recommendations.
However, it was only last month—10 months after those revelations—that the cabinet secretary published his literacy action plan. Its stated key actions include:
"Curriculum for Excellence supporting literacy from a child's early years".
Illiteracy problems will not be solved by the curriculum for excellence on its own. What further measures does the cabinet secretary intend to introduce to end the annual output of almost 20 per cent of children leaving primary school lacking basic literacy?
Any actions must be detailed and timelined.
Furthermore, how can that improvement be achieved when schools are losing specialist learning support as a result of the Scottish Government's reduction in the number of teachers and posts?
That makes the work of the classroom teacher much harder and even more demanding.
As a former support-for-learning principal teacher, I understand fully the difference that support in the classroom can make to individual pupils—from essential assistance with the transition to secondary school to the special arrangements that are made for examinations.
Such support can, and often should, follow the individual into further and higher education, and it helps many students to reach their full potential.
I cite an example that Margaret Mitchell will know about. Jackie Stewart, who is now the president of Dyslexia Scotland, had to wait until his 40s to be diagnosed as dyslexic.
He now campaigns to ensure that assessment toolkits and help are made available to pupils as early as possible.
He also works with prison inmates, who, we now understand, have very high levels of dyslexia and other learning difficulties.
We often talk in the chamber—quite glibly—about the importance of early intervention, and I understand that the Finance Committee is currently working on that in the context of preventive spending.
Putting resources into education, with full support for learning from both teachers and classroom assistants, is one of the best examples of early intervention and preventive spending.
I trust that the cabinet secretary understands its importance and makes the most robust arguments for that essential day-to-day spending, which makes such a difference to the lives of young people.