This article appears as part of the Lessons to Learn newsletter.

All through last week, The Herald ran an ongoing special report called The New Highland Clearances. The series covered issues including housing, healthcare, jobs, demographics and, of course, education.

In Sutherland, rapid population decline means that a school built for 200 pupils currently has just 33 enrolled, with numbers forecast to drop by a further third over the next eight years; meanwhile, on the other side of the highlands, the community in Strontian is celebrating the fifth anniversary of the opening of their community school.

In both cases, the role of education in sustaining the viability of communities is clear – it’s just a shame that so many decision-makers are unable, or unwilling, to see it.

Sadly, these aren’t isolated stories. Today, we’re reporting on a new campaign, Save Our Rural Schools, which has been launched by parents from four different parts of the highlands – Farr, Gairloch, Kinlochbervie and Ullapool. The group warns that their communities are being put at risk by staffing formulas that disadvantage small rural schools. They have published an open letter to education secretary Jenny Gilruth and Highland council leader Raymond Bremner, and are inviting people to sign it.

Over the weekend, we’ll be looking at another example of a small, rural school facing closure as a community desperately tries to save it – but this one isn’t in the north of the country. As my colleague Garrett Stell has explained in an excellent analysis piece, the story of rural schools coming under threat, and communities fighting a near-impossible battle to protect them, is depressingly common – and not just in Scotland!

Read more:

Scotland made a Promise… but can it keep it?

Earlier this week I caught the train to Edinburgh to attend the Stories of Change Conference organised by The Promise Scotland.

It is now four years since the publication of the Independent Care Review – a flagship report which made a wide range of recommendations to improve the experiences of those who end up in contact with a care system that, according to many, has all too often been characterised by the lack of care it offers.

Working in a college in Glasgow meant that I taught a disproportionate number of students with experiences of the care system, and I heard horror stories that I’ll never quite be able to shake from my memory. Transforming the care system absolutely should be a national priority, and the failure to do so would be a massive moral failure.

The conference attracted hundreds of people representing an apparently endless list of organisations that are, in some way, involved in the provision of care services in Scotland. We talk about the care ‘system’ but I learned that the word ‘eco-system’ probably has more accurate connotations – it certainly gives a better sense of the complexity involved.

Even a terrible cynic like myself would have to concede the sense of collective determination to make things better amongst those attending the conference, and I heard various ‘stories of change’ that made me genuinely hopeful – but I also saw the sheer scale of the challenge ahead more clearly than ever before.

Keep an eye out for more coverage of the push to change Scotland’s care system in the coming weeks.

Read more: 

The Herald:

In Case You Missed It…

Last weekend, The Herald’s Big Read had a focus on education – but not in the usual way. Instead of a feature about some new teaching innovation, or a deep-dive into government data, I decided to tell the story of what happened when I tried to investigate the SNP’s latest Big Idea for education: the creation of a Centre for Teaching Excellence.

Jenny Gilruth announced that this would be happening at the most recent SNP conference, but it began to unravel pretty much immediately.

She claimed, for example, that the new centre would be co-created with teachers and academics, but it quickly emerged that she hadn’t bothered to discuss the idea with any of the key bodies in Scotland education – in fact, they all found out when she gave her speech at a party-political event.

You will, I imagine, be entirely unsurprised to learn that I submitted an FOI request… or two… or five… to try to find out what the hell was going on. Where did the idea for the CTE come from? How long was it going to take to set up? What was this whole thing going to cost?

Read more:

The very fact that I’m writing any of this probably tells you that my attempts to investigate didn’t go very well. There are two main reasons for that.

The first is a lack of information, because it turns out the government doesn’t actually know the answer to what should, surely, be fairly basic questions about a flagship education policy.

Sign up for Lessons to Learn and get a weekly expert insight into Scottish education.

To have no idea what this idea is going to cost, for example, yet pursue it anyway is phenomenally irresponsible, especially at a time of widespread financial cuts in the education sector. Then again, it’s also fairly unsurprising at this stage in proceedings – remember the standardised testing debacle?

The second barrier was the education secretary herself. Using numerous linked FOI disclosures I was able to build a timeline showing that my requests for information were largely being handled correctly until they arrived on Jenny Gilruth’s desk, at which point everything seems to have ground to a halt.

I can’t imagine why…