By Walter Humes

Last year, a think-tank branded Scottish education "cautious, conformist, risk-averse and stuck in its ways". Earlier this year, an opportunity to change this culture arose with the publication of Professor Ken Muir’s report on reforming the institutional structure of the system, replacing the Scottish Qualifications Authority, reforming Education Scotland, and giving the Inspectorate independent status. Among the recommendations was a call for "a renewed vision" for Scottish education involving fundamental debate about aims and values, in which the perspectives of learners and teachers, not just educational leaders, would help to influence future policy.

The Scottish Government "fully accepted" some of the recommendations, "broadly accepted" others, with a few accepted only "in principle". People familiar with political discourse will recognise the scope for delay and evasion in the last two categories.

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What has been happening since? I understand that a Strategic Reform Programme Board, with several subordinate Boards, has been established. These are populated by the usual suspects – senior civil servants, directors of education, COSLA representatives and staff from the bodies which are to be replaced. It sounds like insider dealing, with those who are part of the problem being tasked with producing solutions. The prospects of the "iron cage" of bureaucracy, a major cause of system inertia, being dismantled, seem decidedly remote.

It is ironic that one of the central thrusts of the Muir Report was that learners should be placed at the centre of policy reforms and that there should be a move away from central direction towards giving more local support to schools and teachers. The rhetoric of "empowerment", regularly trotted out by politicians, sounds increasingly hollow.

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For decades, Scottish education has been damaged by a conformist culture, which sees too many people of modest talent being promoted to senior management positions. They then proceed to defend their territory, marginalise talented colleagues and resist new ideas.

The system desperately needs creative people who are alert to the massive changes that are confronting education as a result of technological advances, geopolitical pressures and economic challenges. By delegating the reform programme to the usual players, the Cabinet Secretary runs of the risk of repeating the errors of her predecessors. Scottish education desperately needs new thinkers and new voices. Time is running out.

Walter Humes is an honorary professor at the University of Stirling and was a member of the expert panel which advised Professor Muir. He is writing in a personal capacity.