An expert has questioned whether the Government and council representatives will be "honest about their own past record" after they were announced as “co-conveners” of efforts to revamp Scottish schooling.

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville told MSPs she wanted her programme to be the “most inclusive” ever and said learners would be given a key role in a national discussion about the plans. Carol Campbell, professor of leadership and educational change at the University of Toronto, and Dr Alma Harris, emeritus professor at Swansea University and professor at Cardiff Metropolitan University, will act as “co-facilitators”.

In addition, Professor Louise Hayward of Glasgow University has been asked to lead an independent review of qualifications and assessment. It is expected she will report on her findings by the end of March 2023.

Ms Somerville confirmed earlier this year that the Scottish Qualifications Authority and standards body Education Scotland would be replaced, with a fully independent schools inspectorate also due to be created. Her announcement in March coincided with the publication of a major report by Professor Ken Muir, former chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

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Ms Somerville said today: “We want to bring the widest possible range of voices and views into the room. It is our children and young people who hold the biggest stake in our education system. I am determined they will be heard just as strongly across our reform programme. 

“Two decades on from the last national debate on Scottish education, the time is right to discuss our vision for the education system.

“This is a discussion for everyone, and I have written today to education spokespeople from all parties in this Chamber inviting them to take part. We may not agree on everything but that should never stop us from finding common ground.”

However, Professor Walter Humes, a member of the expert panel that supported Prof Muir during the production of his report, said Ms Somerville’s statement had left him with doubts.

He added: “The Cabinet Secretary acknowledged the importance of listening to critical voices as we embark on the national conversation about the aims and values of Scottish education. 

“I wonder, however, how much scope there will be for these critical voices to be heard in a process that has the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) as co-conveners of the exercise. These bodies must share responsibility for the situation we now face. How honest are they going to be about their own past record? 

“It is to be welcomed that there will be two external co-facilitators of the discussion, but both of these are members of the International Council of Educational Advisers appointed by the Scottish Government a few years ago, so again questions of detachment and objectivity arise.”

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Prof Humes also noted there was no mention in the update about the membership of the Strategic Reform Board and its various sub-groups. He said: “One of my concerns has been that the traditional Scottish ‘policy community’ has been conformist, complacent and resistant to new ideas. They have also been too deferential in their dealings with senior civil servants. I would like to be reassured that some of those involved would be prepared to challenge the ‘groupthink’ that has characterised past efforts at reform.

“Publishing the full membership of these groups might help to reassure sceptics that the Cabinet Secretary’s commitment to change is more than rhetorical.”

Prof Humes stressed he was encouraged by Ms Somerville’s acknowledgement that changing the culture of Scottish education will be as important as changing structures. “Culture change needs to begin at the top,” he added. “If officials want to win the hearts and minds of teachers – an essential requirement of any successful reform programme – they need to demonstrate that they themselves are capable of adopting new leadership styles.”

Councillor Stephen McCabe, COSLA children and young people spokesman, said: “We look forward to ensuring that children and young people, their families, school staff and wider stakeholders are able to input into this important conversation.”