We have many political issues of our own to contend with in Scotland, but we can at least console ourselves that our children’s future is not (currently) being dictated by a “demented Dalek on speed” who is on a mission to “exterminate” education!
Sounds harsh, but that’s how the National Union of Teachers in England described the UK Education Secretary, Michael Gove, last week. It may indeed be a reasonable assessment of the man, given that he has previously espoused the abolition of school holidays and the imposition of an 8-day school week! Clearly I have paraphrased those two particular ambitions but, in any event, I am confident we should remain grateful that Michael Gove has no influence on education North of the border.
However, we should still be wary of those who seek to influence our political leaders as it often appears all too easy for them to be led down the path of increasingly irrational, unfounded bureaucratic nonsense. For example, only last month this newspaper reported that a Scottish ‘think tank’ had declared “children should start school at the age of four”. When these people are thinking in their tank do they ever bother to read, research or, heaven forfend, ask some experts?
Sadly, politicians often seem intent on packing kids off to school ever younger, then hot-housing them through some ‘rigorous’ Victorian throwback system in a frantic sprint to have them graduate into the world of work. Then they can work hard, pay high taxes and regenerate our economy – hurrah!
Instead of the Chinas, Japans or South Koreas so beloved of Gove and his ilk (and we have them in Scotland too) can we perhaps find inspiration in Finland? There, formal schooling begins at age seven yet they consistently achieve credible educational statistics. Of course there’s more to it than simply starting later, but allowing ‘kids to be kids’ is central to the Finnish philosophy. Who could argue with that?
In Finland, state schools are highly localised; there are no private schools. Childhood independence is promoted and most pupils will walk or cycle to school by themselves. Class sizes are small and highly-qualified, well-paid teachers are charged with treating each child as an individual. It’s not rocket science, is it?
We can be reassured by the fact that the Scottish Government appears to at least aspire to many aspects of the Finnish approach. One of the strengths of our education system, as opposed to that in the rest of the UK, is that Scotland has long enjoyed an all-graduate teaching profession. Finland takes that a stage further and insists on all teachers having Masters degrees. This is a trend in many European countries and is in complete contrast to the latest Gove-inspired fad in England of introducing unqualified teachers into the system. You couldn’t make it up, really!
So, in Scotland, we appear to be doing, or attempting to do, most of the right things, most of the time. This is something we should be proud of, but we cannot be complacent while ‘think tanks’ continue to push in the opposite direction. Perhaps, some might agree, they are what should be exterminated?