Schools should focus on academic rigour, with options for more vocational training where appropriate. Currently, the curriculum provides insufficient challenge for the academically strong and forces the less academic to persevere with abstract study when more practical courses would be more beneficial.
There are two basic philosophies of education: progressive and traditional. The progressive approach emphasises skills, group work, exploration and creativity. The traditional focuses more on discipline, knowledge, formal teaching, and objective testing. Most would see some value in each approach, seeking a sensible balance. Education Scotland, and the entire Scottish educational establishment, are convinced that the solution to every problem is to move ever further in the progressive direction. We propose a more balanced approach.
Schools should instil a proper respect for authority, expecting obedience, courtesy and good manners. Teachers should never feel that pupils are out of control. The SNP’s moves to remove punishments from schools, replacing them with “restorative” processes, is misguided, based on an over-optimistic view of human nature. Boys, in particular, tend to need clear boundaries and defined consequences, and flourish when these are provided.
While caring for children, schools should also expose them to challenges. It is through a taste of adversity, struggle and failure that character develops. Objective feedback and grading that enables pupils and parents to understand their level of attainment should be available. Competitive sports and activities have a place for all ages.
While it is good to listen to pupils’ views and inform them of their rights, pupils should not be led to believe that the school exists to give them what they want, or that their rights justify a demanding and unappreciative attitude. The incessant emphasis on teaching children about their rights can lead to a demanding and selfish mindset, regarding adults as service providers whose primary function is to fulfil their wishes.
Schools should positively encourage gratitude, respect and obedience towards parents. While children should know that they can speak to school staff about problems at home, schools should not invite children to assess their parents through wellbeing discussions and questionnaires.
While an emphasis on helping those with some educational disadvantages is justified, “closing the attainment gap” between rich and poor is now emphasised to the exclusion of aiming to raise attainment for all. The educational system should aim for the highest possible standards for all pupils, not an artificial equality target. Excellent students, in excellent schools in prosperous areas, are to be celebrated, encouraged and replicated, not resented for causing an “attainment gap”.
Independent schools should enjoy charitable status automatically, as educating children to a high standard is a good to society. Independent schools should be free to operate according to their own principles and methods, guided by their traditions, leaders and parents. Instead of enforcing ideals that have had a dubious record of raising attainment in maintained schools, an attitude of sharing best practice should prevail. For example, where independent schools outperform state schools, attempts should be made to replicate the ingredients for success. And vice versa.
We support the right of parents to educate their own children outside school. Resources should be made freely available to homeschooling parents through local schools.