Mike Vickers' Blog

December 4, 2014

Education policy and Scottish autonomy: the end of a common British tradition?

Filed under: Education, Left Politics, Lesley Riddoch, Scotland, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 11:26 am

I attended this Royal Society of Edinburgh event on Monday (1 Dec 14) to hear Professor Lindsay Paterson give an excellent lecture followed by very good questions and apposite answers.

Paterson prefaced his lecture by stating that he wanted to cover three topics: free tertiary education, secondary schooling and the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence.

Starting with free tertiary education whilst the tuition fees are free in Scotland and continue to saw in England, as bursaries are available in each country he considered the difference is more than it is cracked up to be.

To Secondary education he pointed out that the difference between Scotland and England is one of degree – Scotland introduced what were grammar schools first; these took in many who were unable to pay their fees; these have become half of the private schools in Scotland. The later ones such as Fetters are the equivalent of the English public schools. But most children continue to be educated by council funded schools.

To the Curriculum of Excellence again Scotland has stuck to its old tradition of providing a broad education through schooling whilst England has moved to specialisation much earlier in the school life time. Scottish education follows more closely the broad base while English education is now more capitalist oriented.

Paterson relates education to the welfare state which dates back to 1948. Education has changed since then but it remains largely democratic and in this respect Paterson considers ‘democracy’ works pretty well.

In summary Paterson felt that if education between Scotland and England was ideologically different then Scotland would have been right to become independent; in contrast he considers that education between the two states is one of degree. Scotland and England are both party to European Liberalism.

In support of this view Paterson reviewed the differences the recent surveys have shown between Scotland and England and concludes that while Scotland is to the left of England it is hardly statistically significant.

However Paterson recognises that such academic views as his, had little to do with the outcome of the Referendum and he was happy to quote Hume to a RSE audience ‘reason is the slave of passion’.

More specifically to the Referendum Paterson is scathing about the quality of debate; the No campaign was bereft of any substance while the Yes campaign was intellectually dishonest. The only politicians he had any time for were Nicola Sturgeon and Gordon Brown – in his view if you were to transport them back in time to 1948 they would both have been on the same side. If there is to be another Referendum then he quotes Pat Kane as saying there must be some hard thinking.

To some of questions he felt that

  • nationalism was inculcated pre-school
  • knowledge is education
  • gender equality is good in education and the public office but less so in private industry. It will take 50 years to really become a reality and then only if it is globally acceptable
  • Scotland never gave up its educational stance following 1707 and has always recognised there is a path from the parish school to the university
  • Oh and there was a quote from Lesley Riddoch but I didn’t take it down.
  • We tell ourselves that we are fundamentally different from England even if we aren’t.

But please note that Paterson spoke at a machine run pace and I may well have missed some points or misheard others. There is to be an audio recording on the web in due course so I will try and update the above when it becomes available.

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