Our education system needs to be properly funded if it is to thrive

Sunday August 13th 2023


This View has been written by Ross Laird, the Convener of Midlothian, Tweeddale and Lauderdale Liberal Democrats.

As schools return across Midlothian, many will be thinking ahead to the year to come and what the future might have in store for them. Many others will have recently left school and will be heading off to college or university. However, while many teachers, lecturers and managers are doing a great job to inspire and teach our young people, not all is well in the sector, with chronic underfunding and a lack of political leadership.

I’ve worked with many schools, colleges and universities across the county and the nation and have seen first-hand some of the fantastic work that is going on, but there is a real sense that the sector needs to be properly funded and allowed to take greater initiatives if it is to thrive.

Few areas exhibit the need for proper funding than our nursery and childcare sectors. Here, there are closures taking place across the board. Scotland faces some significant educational challenges, which we need to face up to. Unfortunately, Scotland pulled out of some of the highly respected international ranking systems back in 2010, though thankfully the current administration has agreed to rejoin. However, there is a general acceptance that our education system needs radical reform and funding to better meet the needs of young people, communities and employers.

Two very important reports were published just before the summer holidays. The first was the catchily named Independent Review of the Skills Delivery Landscape, better known as the Withers Review. The second was the Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment, better known as the Hayward Review. To the Scottish Government’s credit, these reviews were commissioned by them and both Chairs were given a lot of latitude.

Unfortunately, we have had a Scottish Government still too focussed on exam results – even introducing testing for five-year-olds. Among Hayward’s review findings was criticism of the current education systems focus on exams, the difficulties of implementing the Curriculum for Education and a lack of celebrating the achievements of pupils outwith the exam criteria. She has suggested the creation of a Scottish Diploma of Achievement, which would better recognise the achievements of pupils across the board, beyond simply their exam results. Withers’ review also advocates a radical shake-up of the education sector, with greater parity between vocational and academic courses.

While these reviews are very welcome, without adequate funding the full benefits will not be recognised. The college sector is struggling to meet the ever-increasing costs of its staff and buildings. School and college deficits are getting out of hand, with year-on-year deficits growing, or left unaddressed. Youth work has been decimated by this government and our nursery and childcare sector left underfunded. The simple truth is that if we want a world-class education system, we need to pay for it.

Over the coming year, the Scottish Government needs to introduce the findings from the Withers and Hayward reviews and ensure that our education system is being properly funded from nursery right the way through to further and higher education. That means adequate capital funding to bring our crumbling nurseries and schools back up to scratch and revenue funding and greater flexibility to allow our institutions to thrive.

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