Let’s Talk Pencil-Pusher: Lesson V—Education (Fifth of a series, translating bureaucrat-speak into what it means for folk in East Lothian)
Probably no one element of local (if not national) government gets as much emotive, hands-on attention as education. While tertiary (university and college) education is vital investment and students have a habit of drawing media attention when they are unhappy, the most widespread grass-roots ginger group in Scotland is the army of parents with their children at school.
The principal debate is between the Scottish Government, who are forever cooking up new policy like Curriculum for Excellence and the teaching unions like EIS who exhibit a very 19th century, demarcationist attitude towards change. Eight years on from the Kerley recommendations, teachers have 50% more salary but little else has changed. Many parents, especially those with non-academic children, feel that too much emphasis is placed on exam results and not enough on developing vocational skills and addressing learning difficulties. Those and the need to focus on the P1-P3 years to avoid weakness in literacy and numeracy in later years form the basis for local education debate at present.
In tight times, the worry is that funding will be cut. Indeed that has already happened in some councils like Glasgow. East Lothian’s £104m shows no cut and most of that is passed on to schools under Devolved School Management (DSM) that allows Head teachers the latitude to manage their own budgets. While they have severe limits on their latitude to spend this as they see fit, it is weaker management—regardless of academic status—that leads to pleas to parents to help out as paper supplies run out.
East Lothian has been in the lead in academic innovation from interactive whiteboards, school and student websites/e-mail, through investigating the power of community schools (where a school cluster would be managed from a joint panel that included locals) and looking into sharing central services (e.g. psychologists, administration, etc) with a neighbouring authority—in our case, Midlothian. The result of longer-term investment in targeting teachers towards P1-P3 to develop literacy and numeracy is some years away.
Most parents are very happy with the high quality of schools in the county and most moans have to do with the difficulties of child care or the lack of places in after-school clubs. If that’s what the top problems are, then we’re doing something right, especially as each pupil costs £5,600 a year to educate when Band D Council Tax is just £1,117.