As schools go back, education reform work continues

As schools go back this week, education is once again a hot topic of conversation.

At the end of last term we finished the school year on a high, with a landmark agreement to fast-track the reform of education in Scotland.

Of course there has been criticism from some corners that the Education Bill should have been introduced to Parliament. Equally there has been a lot said about whether legislation was ever necessary to achieve the change we want to see within the education system.

There will always be differing views on how best to improve attainment and ensure all of Scotland’s young people are given an equal opportunity to excel. The one thing we are all in agreement over is that we must do everything within our power to ensure our education system is the best it possibly can be.

So let me make the position absolutely clear.

This government’s number one priority remains education. My focus for the new term will be improving attainment and ensuring excellence and equity for all, as it has been since I took up post.

You may not agree with how I choose to achieve this, but you cannot accuse me of trying to do any less.

What is the SNP education reform plan?

  • Investing £750 million to tackle the attainment gap between pupils from the least and most wealthy backgrounds
  • Increasing teacher numbers. The number of teachers has increased by 543 between 2016 and 2017.
  • More freedom for schools to make their own decisions.
  • Increasing parent and family involvement in schools.
  • Gathering more and better information on the progress of children.

Legislation to help implement reform would be extremely useful and is a valid route to pursue. It would set out clear, and consistent standards for every local authority in Scotland and make it a legal requirement for these to be met.

I am not entirely dismissing this option. If sufficient progress is not made throughout the next year I will return to Parliament with the Education Bill and introduce it.

But this isn’t about party politicking and political point scoring. This is about doing what is right for Scotland’s schools.

I have been listening to many voices throughout this debate and the clear message I have received is that those working on the frontline believe they can achieve the same results faster, with fewer distractions. Anyone with a genuine interest in delivering the best possible outcomes for our young people should surely welcome this approach.

Recently there have been questions raised about the next steps for education reform. Let me give the reassurance that work to progress reform has never stopped.

We have been working closely with local government throughout the summer to take forward the changes that will improve our education system.

More control for schools, teachers and parents is on the way. Our Regional Improvement Collaboratives – groups created to share expertise and best practice at a local level – are already established with further detailed plans due to be published soon.

An independent panel on career pathways for teachers has already been set up. I want our teachers to know there will be exciting and challenging opportunities to enrich their career. Good news for teachers and good news for our learners who will benefit from enhanced expertise and experience.

A comprehensive action plan for parental involvement will be published next week and the new Scottish Learner Panel, enabling young people to help shape national education policy, will begin its work in the Autumn.

Reform is already gathering pace.

Whether we go down a legislative route or not our focus for the new term remains resolute.

This has been billed as the best chance in a generation to make radical improvements to our schools. I am committed to this challenge and I believe our education system is too.

This article originally appeared in the Herald.