Greg Dempster, AHDS General Secretary, attended the Education Committee in the Scottish Parliament today (15/11/2023). The purpose of the session was to discuss education reform. While he had an opportunity at the outset of the session to highlight that the key concerns of AHDS members related to a lack of management time and pastoral support in primaries, as well as a lack of adequate support for ASN in the form of support assistants and alternative placements, the bulk of the evidence session was focused on qualifications reform.
There has been considerable criticism of the Cabinet Secretary's recent statement to Parliament in which she launched a consultation about an Education Bill relating to a new qualifications and assessment agency and a new education inspectorate. An element of her statement which appears to have been overlooked by most if not all commentators is very much welcomed by AHDS. Essentially, what the Cabinet Secretary outlined in that statement was that (while unquestionably important) qualifications reform is not the only show in town. She set out that there were considerable challenges faced in schools with increases in children with additional needs, as well as additional post-Covid challenges, and that those challenges needed to be addressed too. She said:
"I cannot, in this context, ignore the challenges our schools are currently responding to. So I must balance that reality with any reform of our qualifications system."
This is aligned with the messages that AHDS members have shared with us through our workload survey year on year. The real need in primary and ASN settings are for additional management time and for additional trained support staff and specialist provision places. For our members, these are of a higher priority than structural reforms.
Finally, today's committee session did spend little time on plans for the new Inspectorate of schools (also part of the Education Bill consultation). Greg Dempster set out the long-held position of AHDS which is that inspection should focus on local authority education departments ability to know and support their schools. This would recognise the place of local authorities in the system and would be a much more effective approach to supporting improvement than the current summative, moment in time, reports which do not offer the system or school level reassurance about the performance of our education system.