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 Scottish Government, however, are convinced that the solution to every problem is to move ever further in the progressive direction. We propose a more balanced approach.
The so-called Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) should be abandoned. It draws on all of the worst aspects of fashionable educational ideology. It elevates subjective learner experience over teaching, undermining the intellectual authority of teachers, and uses student motivation and enjoyment as the measure of what is worth knowing. It attempts to blur the boundaries between subject disciplines and is founded upon the idea that education is to build pupils’ confidence and self-esteem, rather than their knowledge and understanding.
The CfE changed the objective of Scottish education from ‘academic education for all’ to a checklist of personal qualities. The purpose of education is now to produce; “successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.” This new curriculum was said to give children more choice, that their education could be ‘personalised’ and that they would take ownership of their learning through educational portfolios and personal-development plans. The reality is that pupils have fewer subject choices; the only personal element of the new regime relates, not to the academic programme, but to a therapeutic agenda.
A simpler curriculum specifying what to teach when, including a system of standardised tests and a definite requirement to offer a minimum range of subjects to study, should replace CfE. The internally assessed National 4 qualification system is open to widespread and systematic corruption, so it should be discontinued. Properly invigilated and externally assessed examinations should form the core of every qualification.
Objective feedback and grading that enables pupils and parents to understand their level of attainment should be available. Data should not be withheld from parents.
Scottish Qualifications Authority examinations should move from May into June, allowing fruitful study through all three terms. The inefficient system of starting new courses in June would then be unnecessary. SQA would face the challenge of marking papers with a tighter deadline, but this is not insurmountable.
While an emphasis on helping those with some educational disadvantages is justified, “closing the attainment gap” between rich and poor areas 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”.
Lessons in critical thinking and logic, unrelated to contemporary political and social issues, should be provided for all high school pupils. This teaching of how to think would contrast with the current emphasis on telling pupils what to think.
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 Education Scotland’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.
As behaviour problems reach crisis point in many schools, staff must be listened to instead of idealistic schemes being imposed from above. Teachers are leaving the profession in the face of routine defiance and pupils’ learning is being disrupted by unchecked bad behaviour. We believe that punishing children is necessary, fair, justified and effective.
Replacing punishments with contrived mini-counselling sessions disempowers teachers and leaves children with the (justified) impression that miscreants continually “get away with it”.
The ideological drive to leave appallingly badly-behaved pupils in mainstream classes is unfair to teachers and other pupils. Attempts to educate and support such aggressive and uncontrollable pupils should be made in a more appropriate context.
While caring for children, schools should also expose them to challenges. It is through a taste of adversity, struggle and failure that character develops. Competitive sports and activities have a place for all ages.
The wellbeing emphasis in Scottish schools is leading to a therapeutic approach that leaves children with the assumption that professional emotional support is required to face the ups and downs of daily life. It can also undermine the role of families as schools constantly have to present themselves as alternative carers. 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. Schools should positively encourage gratitude, respect and obedience towards parents and a respectful attitude to adults in general.
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 whatever they want. The ubiquitous 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. Teaching children that they are entitled to freedom from adult instruction undermines discipline in both the home and at school.
A national certification in character qualities such as good manners, punctuality, personal presentation, trustworthiness and industriousness should be available to all pupils before they leave school. This would be rigorously assessed against objective criteria over a period of several weeks. This could help pupils focus on these vital qualities and thereby prepare themselves for successful employment. It could also assist schools in maintaining high standards. Failure to gain the certificate could have negative implications for benefits. Opportunities to complete the assessment could also be available after leaving school.
Virtues such as courage, integrity, faithfulness, loyalty, gratitude, politeness, prudence, temperance, generosity, compassion, humility and tolerance should be at the heart of character formation in schools.
Instead, most Scottish schools tirelessly promote a liberal/progressive/leftist agenda, taking every opportunity to present this perspective on issues such as climate change, sexism and feminism, race, inequality, gender, sexuality and the like. The extent of this promotion of particular perspectives amounts to indoctrination. Once children’s views have been moulded, a charade of “listening to children” then enables the adults to claim that they are merely following the direction of the children.
If a ‘one size fits all’ education system is prescribed, then it needs to include diverse perspectives and engender open debate on controversial topics. Currently, a uniform philosophy is presented, to the exclusion of all others.
The so-called “harm reduction” approach to drugs education is counterproductive. Young people should not see decisions regarding using illegal drugs as mere personal risk assessment. The impact on family, employers, neighbours and state-funded services take such decisions out of the realm of personal preference and firmly into the arena of moral responsibility. Conspiratorial “we’re here to help you stay safe when using drugs” style presentations should be banished from schools. Parental concern and the wellbeing of wider society should take precedence over the irresponsible, amoral liberalism that currently underpins drugs education.
As well as information about alcohol, pupils should hear the case that drunkenness is inherently irresponsible and should not be socially acceptable, and the case for teetotalism. Having heard these points of view, they will be better able to form their own opinion.
The “harm reduction” approach to sex education is also harmful. Evidence-based sex and relationships education that includes the presentation of moral perspectives should be implemented instead. Young people need to be aware of the statistical correlations between multiple sexual partners, relational stability, marriage, cohabitation, various sexual practices, sex at a young age, and sexually transmitted diseases.
The Scottish Government’s official sex education resources are grossly indecent, positively promoting pornography and masturbation, some disturbing and dangerous sexual practices, and endorsing illegal under-age sex. The tone is often trivialising and the content is too explicit at younger ages. We would require schools to publish all relationship, sexual health and parenthood resources used, so that parents could see for themselves what is being taught and, if they wish, withdraw their children from these classes (which would remain a right in law).
The moral arguments and emotional consequences relating to abortion should be discussed, instead of the current presentation of abortion as the obvious solution to unwanted pregnancy.
We oppose the LGBT Inclusive Education programme that mandates the indoctrination of schoolchildren into a radical ideology of sexuality. Civility and tolerance should be shown to all, and bullying in school and criminal activity targeting LGBT people should be dealt with vigorously. However, promoting a certain philosophy of sex and relationships and denying alternative views is not necessary to combat bullying.
In high school, open discussion should be facilitated about the correlations between different types of relationships and physical and mental health problems, and relational instability. Young people should be aware of these facts to help them make informed decisions. Young people should be made aware of arguments from different perspectives.
The insertion of LGBT content across the entire curriculum is intended to deprive parents of the option of withdrawing their child from it. The drive to normalise and endorse any and every sexual relationship and family form begins from the nursery and continues unabated. Pupils are inducted into LGBT activism from primary school, as familiar campaigning symbols and slogans are presented in lessons.
The philosophy of gender and sexuality fluidity is dangerous to young people, leading to confusion and unhelpful experimentation. Parents should have a strong voice in determining how these issues are approached in schools. Indoctrination into the fashionable philosophy of gender is not appropriate and will lead more children down a difficult road that could seriously undermine their wellbeing for the rest of their lives.
The dangers of indebtedness should be elucidated clearly to school pupils. The assumption that personal consumer debt is routine and unavoidable should be challenged.
Provision and support for children facing particular difficulties is important. This should be provided in the most appropriate context to meet their needs, avoiding excessive disruption to the education of others.
Overdiagnosis and labelling of children can lead to low expectations. A culture of personal responsibility and development should prevail where possible.
Independent schools should enjoy charitable status automatically, as educating children to a high standard is an obvious 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 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.
Catholic schools should not be squeezed into the mould of other schools by government pressure. They should be free to embody and promote their distinct values and ethos as they wish.
We support the right of parents to educate their own children outside school. Resources should be made freely available through local schools to parents who home educate. Local schools should include home educated children in assessment programmes when parents request it. We support flexi-schooling, where parents can place their children in school for a portion of the weekly programme, alongside educating them at home.
Where parents wish their children to be educated according to their values but feel that mainstream schools are failing to do this or, worse, are attacking these values, the government should be willing to fund alternative schools. These schools would follow standard academic curricula, but the state should not seek to impose its own values. Where such schools already exist on an independent basis, they should be offered state funding.