For good or ill, children’s education in Scotland is in the hands of 32 local authorities, who run nurseries, primary and secondary schools under guidance of the Scottish Government, who set out the vision and priorities though vehicles like the National Improvement Framework and Plan. Each council has an Education Committee, that, in theory, oversees execution on schools. On occasion, this becomes enmeshed in the ambitions of senior administrators or—worse—used as a political tool by the ruling administration.
This latter has unfortunately become the case in my own council area of East Lothian, where I served for 18 years in increasing frustration at this on its Education Committee. What follows is an article on this, published in the East Lothian Courier on November 19th 2020 trying to address the problem of under-performance consistently swept under the carpet under the chair’s leaderrship by anodyne reports she directs officials to present that conceal shortcomings.
In a former life, I served18 years on East Lothian’s Education Committee. Of all council responsibilities, none is more important than educating our children. Awkward questions therefore need to be asked. But the present administration avoids any unpleasantness by anodyne reports to the committee, recommending:
“East Lothian results represent a continuing good profile in comparison to the national and comparator grouping averages.”
Such smugness is disturbing and typical. In 2014, I pointed out we were barely keeping pace with Scottish averages. Three improving schools were masking decline in three oghers. Individual statistics were merhed “to avoid victimisation”. Rather than support teachers and staff to raise attainment, support focussed on inclusion, anti-bullying and other social priorities. The table shows SQA statistics on ‘progress’ over the last decade. While exam results don’t tell the whole story, careers depend on them. Fee-paying schools know this, and ensure they excel.
Musselburgh and Ross show good recent progress. However, the upper three have fallen, relative to their peers. PL is underperforming, despite an effective head teacher and serving a demographic now similar to other catchments.
The Scottish average for 5+ highers has moved from 20% to 26% over the decade. So East Lothian claims to be keeping pace, with 23% rising to 34%. Official comparison council figures flatter us. They are middling performers, like Stirling and Angus.. Let’s examine REAL comparators
True ’comparators’ would be like us—pleasant commuter areas. Over the decade, East Dunbartonshire upped its score from 36% to 50%; East Renfrewshire from 42% to 51%. They boast five high schools in Scotland’s top ten’; we have none, Yet both have areas of deprivation, comparable to ours.
The explanation may lie in primary school attainment. Despite intervention a decade ago, with additional P1-P3 teachers, Place 2B, etc., East Lothian barely tracks national average, while both those councils track 5-10% above throughout primary. Now that Lesley Brown has had three months to get her feet under the desk as Head of Education, perhaps change will replace decades of complacency.