It is often said, and generally accepted, that the biggest issue faced in seeking to improve Scottish Education is the clear link between lower pupil performance and poverty. This has recently been the subject of intense political focus with all political parties in Scotland seeking to make the issue their own. The key positive to be taken from this is that there is political consensus that this is an area which requires considerable focus and action. The SSLN results alongside the OECD report (and, no doubt, the conclusions of the forthcoming OECD country study of Scotland) will focus minds further.

Provided that focus is sustained it will lead to improvement. The question is what sort of focus is appropriate and what sort of improvement will it bring.

At a recent event I attended Pasi Sahlberg showed slides graphing PISA countries on system performance and system equity. The UK is a mid-level performer – very close to the OECD average for both measures. In the course of his presentation he offered praise for the change and efforts to improve in the Scottish system and criticism of the direction of travel in England. Then he showed a slide disaggregating the countries of the UK and all were still very close to the OECD average. He was challenged by a member of the audience who asked why, if what Scotland was doing was so much better than what England was doing, the results in terms of system performance and equity were more or less the same. He didn’t really have an answer.

My belief is that Scotland needs to have faith in its current direction of travel. The system wide consensus about our priorities is crucial. We have recently introduced considerable system wide change to our curriculum, how we support individual children (GIRFEC), teacher training and leadership development. These changes are not complete and require time and commitment to embed and have impact. Complementing these efforts are the recently announced Attainment Challenge and actions to support implementation of ‘Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce’. These are designed to specifically target areas of ongoing concern.

The Education (Scotland) Bill 2015 seeks to put a legal obligation on local authorities and the Scottish Government to close the attainment gap. In doing so it provides no suggestions about how this might be achieved. This reminds me of the Blair Government’s target driven approach to the NHS which produced mountains of unintended consequences as people manipulated the system to achieve (or rather avoid failing) targets. We do want a system with a smaller attainment gap but there is a potential perverse incentive to achieve this at the expense of overall performance.

The AHDS National Council has considered the Education (Scotland) Bill 2015 and while in no way disagreeing with the policy objective we have yet to be convinced about the appropriateness of or the need for this proposed legislation.

Greg Dempster

AHDS General Secretary