I LOOK forward to the review of Scotland’s education bodies in the light of the OECD report. Neil McLennan ("Teachers should be at the heart of decisions", The Herald, June 22) makes the excellent point that teachers should be at the heart of decisions and I wholeheartedly concur. The only problem is that teachers and young people were widely consulted in the SQA development process which created the current National Qualifications. There was no uniform view.

From 2009-2012 I worked as an SQA consultant in social subjects, working to create the new National Qualifications which sought to embody the principles of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). At one very well-attended twilight meeting with teachers in East Lothian, my colleague and I presented the SQA's thoughts to date, which were of fewer "high stakes exams" and greater teacher and learner choice. We were given a round of applause and we left in high spirits. We went to a similar meeting in Dundee the next day and were lucky to leave the room in one piece as teachers demanded "no more change".

Against a backdrop of funding cuts to councils and schools, the voices of conservatism won the day. When the new CfE qualifications were put in place in 2014 they were not that different from the old. The two-term dash at Higher remained. Pupils were taught to the exam which, in the drive for "consistency", saw the creation of often-incomprehensible tick-box, one-size-fits all marking instructions across social subjects. Existing, creative course work in subjects such as Classical Studies and Religious, Moral and Philosophical Questions (RMPS) were dumbed down to the extended-essay model of History which was then rolled out to the other social subjects. The "assignment" which was subsequently created is loathed by many teachers and learners but it was the result of many teachers (rightly) concerned that they would not be supported in any meaningful way to manage change. They preferred the devil they knew instead of the brave new world.

The vast bulk of Scottish teachers, from my experience, are resilient and open-minded professionals. They deal with challenges and pressures many others would baulk at. I’m pleased the OECD report endorses CfE because its aims and values are sound. The problem is it doesn’t matter how good a curriculum is, if the people delivering it are disempowered and demotivated it can’t succeed. Teachers do need to be at the heart of the new reforms, which I hope will end "high stakes" exams and embrace the many positive aspects of digital technology available to us.

Timidity has been the hallmark of the SNP’s approach to education. It has allowed a joyless, school league table, exam-obsessed senior phase to be created. It has tinkered with tackling educational inequalities. It has treaded water. In the discussions about how to take CfE forward, not only do we need teachers’ views, teachers need to be assured they will be given the time and resources to discuss, plan and teach an enjoyable and meaningful curriculum. If we really want a world-class education service we need to fund it.

John McTaggart, Aberdour.


WHILST I may, unusually, agree with Jill Stephenson (Letters, June 23), she would do well to look back in time a little to find the source of the anti-rote-learning proposition.

In 1965, what became known as the ’65 memorandum was imposed on all primary teachers in Scotland. I myself and another member of my family were teaching in primary at that time and disagreed strongly with this diktat, but were banned from using words such as “clause”, “adjective”, or anything relating to grammar and syntax, as well as from having spelling learned and tested, or times tables rote learned.

The reasoning, we were told, was that these elements stunted children’s imagination and freedom of expression, and that, in any case, there was no such thing as transfer of training. Inspectors were diligent in checking that these rules were being followed. Many of us, who knew well that the opposite was actually true, still quietly taught as much as we could and simply made sure that there was no evidence of this “disobedience” when an inspector was around.

As with many of the accusations today of a drop in standards, the rot began with the interference in education by politicians and others with no or inadequate experience themselves, and continued throughout the 1970s and 80s. This means that many teachers, approaching retirement now, themselves had no training in these elements to pass on to their pupils.

Deploring rote learning is no new phenomenon.

L McGregor, Falkirk.


I HOPE that – as every year – all of this session’s Scottish sixth year school leavers remember well their final school month in future.

They will remember that they were not allowed to have parents spectate – even distanced – at their final sports days; they were not allowed to sing or perform in end-of-year concerts in front of small groups of parents; they were not allowed to attend prize-givings together with their parents; and they were not allowed to have a final group school photograph or an end-of-school prom dance celebration with a hundred fellow pupils – in whose company they have spent almost every day of the last few months – all due to ongoing constraints imposed by Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.

However, they can also remember sitting at home and watching on television as tens of thousands of fellow Scots travelled the length of the UK without any control or restriction – there to congregate together in close proximity, to sing together and to have their photographs taken in collective groups completely unrestrained – all under the encouragement and full support of our First Minister who, never one to avoid a photo-opportunity, publicly urged them to “boogie” together as she posted photographs online of herself watching and enjoying their celebrations.

I hope that our pupils and their families remember well this unforgivable discrimination and hypocrisy from Ms Sturgeon and the SNP when they next vote.

Robin McNaught, Bridge of Weir.


I CAN’T let Alex Orr (Letters, June 23) get away with his bald statement that giving Scots living in England the right to vote in any indyref2 amounts to “desperate gerrymandering". Moreover, to back up his equally bald statement that it would be inconsistent with “the internationally accepted principle that constitutional referendums should have a right to vote determined by residency", he should give chapter and verse to support the existence of such a principle.

I do believe there is an “internationally accepted principle" in such matters, but contrary to Mr Orr’s view, it favours giving the vote to non-resident citizens. Anyone interested should read the 2011 Venice Commission Report from the European Commission For Democracy Through Law which sets out the results of its investigation into what it terms “out of country voting” which it reports is recognised in numerous countries. In other words, that is the internationally accepted principle.

Alan Fitzpatrick, Dunlop.


ALEX Orr (Letters, June 23) suggests that the franchise for any future referendum on Scotland seceding from the UK should be the electoral register as it was in the 2014 referendum. That franchise was less than perfect.

I was born and educated in Scotland and I have lived in Scotland for 52 years of my life. Between 2013 and 2019 I lived and worked in Africa. Throughout this period I continued to pay council tax on my property in Scotland and to pay income tax. I was registered on the electoral register and was able to vote in the EU referendum in 2016.

However, as an overseas voter, I was denied a vote in the 2014 independence referendum. In contrast, I was astonished to discover that a friend of my son, from Singapore and living in Scotland in order to attend university, was entitled to vote.

I suggest that the 2014 definition of the franchise (including the extension of the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds) deliberately increased the representation of impressionable young people while reducing that of people with wider life experience who may be harder to persuade of the benefits of separation. Is this not "gerrymandering"?

Should any future referendum take place, the arrangements relating to the franchise and to the question on the ballot paper should achieve as wide a consensus as possible. It is not for Nicola Sturgeon and her SNP acolytes to set the rules or to stifle the debate.

George Rennie, Inverness.

* JOHN Jamieson (Letters, June 23) obviously accepts the Electoral Commission's rather laboured argument opposing a simple yes/no question in a referendum. The real objections appear to be that it would be simple, unequivocal and not subject to easy manipulation.

In its dedication to scrupulous fairness, the commission somehow failed to notice that a new "party" had include the word green in its title with the clear intention of misdirecting potential voters for the established Green Party. It also allows the Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour to masquerade as independent political parties.

It is time that we had a proper electoral court.

Dr PM Dryburgh, Edinburgh.

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