The Scottish education system and lack of diversity

moragPDiversity is an appropriate theme to alert readers to the launch of a recent education report entitled “By Diverse Means”. A title inspired by a quote from Montaigne, suggesting that we can arrive at the same destination, but by taking different paths: http://reformscotland.com/public/publications/bydiversemeans1.pdf.

I represented the co-operative sector on the group via The Co-operative Education Trust Scotland: www.cets.coop. CETS is a charitable organisation whose mission is to raise the awareness and application of co-operative values and principles in education establishments across Scotland.

The report suggests, that although Scottish Education is good, it is not great and the lack of diversity in our education system is at the root of the problem.

Kier Bloomer, the chair of the Commission for School reform group comments:

“In order to reverse our decline and become world-beating once again, the report argues that we need to promote variety and diversity by increasing the autonomy of individual schools and loosening the grip of central authorities. Decisions which can competently be taken at a school level should be taken at a school level without higher interference – that way we can harness all the creativity that exists in Scotland’s schools and embed a culture of excellence in our system from the ground up.”

For me, this accusation can be leveled at most big government organisations. There is a temptation by them to assume control and command “at the top” to avoid risk, (to the taxpayers money) meet targets and make sure that it is fair and equal for everyone. Sounds sensible and for the best? Yes, I’m sure that has been the intention but with this homogeneous culture over the years we have lost individuality, sparks of innovation and genius and compliantly watched a slide into an almost Orwellian culture of double speak. We no longer feel we can argue against the established received wisdom of target setting and achieving them at all costs. This, even when our own senses tell us that something is not right: we must meet the targets! Schools focus on passing exams, hospitals on reducing waiting lists, councils on being “better” and cheaper than the authority next door. The issues and problems around banking and finance were, I believe, driven by people wanting to do the right thing by meeting targets, but done with one eye shut as to the consequences of focusing on the results, rather than the impact of their actions.

The motivation to meet targets can be driven by a number of human frailties that encourages us to conform to the status quo and receive our rewards. Competition to be at the top of any league table is strong and all apparently for the best reasons. I fear however that we have lost the ability to take risks, have the confidence to do things differently and try to find new and better paths under this combative regime. If we all co-operate rather then compete, could we do better?

The culture of conformity in education filters through our lives and we live what we learn. If we teach compliance and conformity and competition, then obviously this is what we will reflect in our society. I never cease to be amazed at how many teachers need to seek permission to try out new and innovative projects in their classroom or school, suggesting that their professional opinion is not valued.

I also worry how many feel oppressed by a bullying culture of top down bureaucratic local authority control of how to do things, a box ticking mentality, threats of poor HMIE inspections and a sense of never being quite good enough. Even the word “Inspector” resonates with Victorian values of the people in power checking on those without it! Teachers (another word from a bygone era, implying that education is a one way process?) across Scotland do a good job but I believe they could do a great job if they were encouraged to take more risk and were freed from micro management and the target setting agenda.

If Scotland’s education system was more diverse we would see confident innovative teachers leading confident innovative students aspiring to create a more diverse work environment where innovation is expected.

All children, and educators are different in how and why they learn. All children arrive in the system with different backgrounds, experiences and personalities. The diversity is there to start with, why do we feel the need to eliminate it by having a lack of diversity in our education system?

What I think Scotland is lacking is the confidence to let go of an outdated model of education and trust in education as a profession to take us into a bolder, more diverse and innovative future. I believe our report, with its 37 recommendations is a good starting point. All we need to do now is have confidence to stop judging how good a school is by how many highers at A-C passes it procures for its students, trust our teachers to know what is best for their students and allow them to put innovation and fun back into learning. If we can do this we will start to create a new generation who genuinely are confident individuals, successful learners, effective contributors and responsible citizens.

Culture change is not easy and takes more than one generation. Time to question if you are ready to let go of our Victorian inspired education system?


Morag has had many and varied careers from retail management, running her own business through to primary teaching and enterprise development within West Lothian Council.

Currently she works with a charitable organization, The Co-operative Education Trust Scotland, where she supports educators and students in becoming more enterprising and democratic through alternative business models, which will lead to more sustainable lifestyles for everyone

Her remit is to raise awareness of and develop enthusiasm for co-operative models of practice in Scottish schools by delivering effective CPD, writing resources linked to Curriculum for Excellence and liaising with local authorities to engender their support in implementing co-operative enterprises.

2 Comments on The Scottish education system and lack of diversity

  1. Anne Casey // June 4, 2013 at 9:37 am // Reply

    ‘The culture of conformity in education’ – a telling phrase Morag. How are we to learn to accomodate difference if all we are taught is how to conform? I think it shows in teachers’ thinking so much when you hear them interviewed on the media. They are invariably defensive and inward thinking and your article has given me an insight now into why that is. At the very least I will now be a bit more compassionate in my response!

  2. Hello Morag. I cannot agree more and the effect of top-down bureaucracy is felt in England too. Results-driven education and success in league tables says nothing for the children who are bright but cannot cope with the pressure it places on them. Education should be interesting, compelling and fun. It should enable children to grow into confident, sociable, responsible and ultimately employable adults. Only teachers know how to achieve this – not distant corridors of government.

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