Category: Eductaion

More University places?

I was on the BBC’s Have Your Say today whilst taking a break from job hunting and packing.  There is a debate on there about whether we should be opening up more university places.  This is not a straight forward answer.  I may sound like an educational snob here, but I think it is the right solution.

University is not for everyone.  The level of academic ability required to get a good degree is such that not everyone can go to university.  The Government target of 50% of school leavers going to university is a ridiculous one.

Some of the degrees being offered today will give the graduate little or no gain in the employment world, so why saddle them with up to £30,000 worth of debt for them not to get the return that they have been led to believe they will get?  That’s just not fair on the individual.

More money does need to be spent on Further and Higher Education, but let’s get it in the right place.  Let’s give those with the academic ability to go and study at University, but may not have the financial backing that others do more financial support so that they can go to University and study.

Also, let’s put money into FE Colleges and open up more vocational qualifications.  We have a drastic shortage of skilled tradesmen in this country.  Why not offer more opportunities for people to learn trades in the right educational setting?  A university is not the most appropriate of places to train builders, electricians or plumbers.  Hands on, vocational courses suit these professions, which are catered for best in FE Colleges.

The Government is always on about having a skilled workforce and this being one of the reasons why we want more university graduates.  However, this fails to realise that a skilled workforce includes the likes of plumbing, brick-layers, electricians and so on.

There is no point sending someone of below average intelligence to university on a course which will add no benefit to the wider economy just for them to gain a drinking problem and be saddled with a massive debt that they will spend most of their working life paying off.

Another problem with sending too many people to university is that Undergraduate degrees start to become devalued and those with degrees in subjects suited to university level study need to start doing post-graduate qualifications in order to give themselves the competitive advantage that having an Undergraduate degree once did.

As for whether there should be more university places?  There should be enough places at university on appropriate courses for those with both the academic ability and desire to go to University without any financial barriers.

Clearing 2009

In a matter of weeks nervous 17 and 18 year old will receive their exam results which will determine the University they go to and what course they will study while they are there.  However, a row has erupted between Scotland and England over clearing.

Clearing is for teenagers who fail to meet the requirements of their Firm and Insurance choices which they made during the UCAS process.  Clearing is a list of courses still with space which students can, if they have the required grades, apply to study.

Due to the differences in the school year between Scotland and England, Scottish students have traditionally received their results prior to their English counterparts.  However, it is usually only a matter of two or three days.  This year, however, Scottish applicants will receive their results just over two weeks ahead of their English counterparts sparking fear that this will mean a poorer selection of courses for English students.

Due to the recession the numbers applying to university and college this year has dramatically increased meaning that there is already a shortage of places at universities and colleges for the numbers who are applying.

Is this really an issue or is it simply down to the old Scottish/English rivalry which sees each of these two nations of the UK fight over who is the most hard done by in the Union?

Legislative Updates

I’ve written before on a very welcome and long overdue piece of legislation as it passes through the different stages at The Scottish Parliament.  The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill has made it to the third and final stage of the process and looks set to become law later this year.

The bill is important because it finally moves our sexual offences laws from the archaic position they currently hold to something that better reflects the realities of sex crimes.  The biggest move forward will be the wider definition of rape which will reflect better what the public understand rape to be.  Unusually, England and Wales bet Scotland to the modernisation with the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

I look forward to the passing of the bill and when it passes I will look in detail at the new law and try to assess the impact it will have on the criminal law in Scotland.


Another interesting bill before the Scottish Parliament just now is the Arbitration (Scotland) Bill.  There are four primary objectives of the bill and they are that it:

  • Clarifies and consolidates Scottish arbitration law, filling in gaps where these exist;
  • Provides a statutory framework for arbitrations which will operate in the absence of agreement to the contrary;
  • Ensures fairness and impartiality in the process; and
  • Minimises expense and ensures that the process is efficient.

A 46 page Policy Memorandum on the Arbitration (Scotland) Bill can be found here.


And a final bill that I am quite interested in is the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Bill.  Essentially this bill will build upon the Education (Additional Support for Learning)(Scotland) Act 2004.  The Scottish Parliament website describes the bill in the following way:

A Bill to amend the law in respect of placing requests in relation to the school education of children and young persons having additional support needs and in respect of arrangements between education authorities in relation to such school education; to make further provision in relation to the practice and procedure of the Additional Support Needs Tribunals for Scotland; and for connected purposes.

Again, another welcome piece of legislation.

Schools crumble while SNP sets up SFT

I was reading this evening in the Scotsman about the problems the SNP are causing in the Scottish Education system.  When the SNP won the election back in May 2007 they stated their opposition to PFI/PPP.  It was PFI/PPP schemes that resulted in new schools being built and schools being refurbished under the Labour Executive that lost in 2007.

The SNP said they were going to start a new scheme to pay for these projects:  The Scottish Futures Trust (SFT).  However, 18 months into their term they have yet to set up this scheme and it could be another 18 months before it comes to fruition (i.e. at the end of the SNP’s term of office).

The Scotsman reports that this is causing major problems for the 832 schools around scotlad that either need to be ripped down and rebuilt or refurbished as this work cannot begin yet.

Local Councils, as the Scottish Government have pointed out, are still free to approach the Government for funding under the PFI/PPP scheme.  However, putting together a bid for funding is not cheap and councils are unwilling to risk spending the massive amounts of money required to put a bid together when the current Government is so opposed to the scheme.  In short, they feel that the money will be wasted as the SNP administration is unlikely to approve any bids.

The article also reports that a spokesman for the First Minister, Alex Salmond MSP, has said that some 250 new schools would be built in the lifetime of this parliament.  However, the spokesman was unable to confirm whether these 250 new schools would have been commissioned by the SNP or whether all (or the majority of) were commissioned under the pervious Executive (the cynic in me says that this means Labour will have commissioned the majority, if not all, of these new schools).

Jeremy Purvis MSP (Liberal Democrats) has said of the SNP administration:

“They have got themselves into that zone where they genuinely believe that the schools they are opening were conceived, were built, designed and financed by them.”

The SNP’s Education policies seem to be falling a part at the seams.  They promised new schools and can’t deliver them; they promised smaller class sizes and can’t deliver them.  The SNP wants to see an independent Scotland with a strong economy.  That will never happen if the children of today (the wealth creators of tomorrow) cannot get a decent education because they are being taught in schools which are not fit for purpose, with fewer teachers and larger class sizes.

How to improve discipline in Schools

There is no discipline in schools just now. As it currently stands the most people seem to get is a small talking to, but even this is twisted into showing things in a positive light.

Teachers have little or no power; they’re often not backed up by the senior management in the school who in turn are most certainly not backed up by the LEA.

Head teachers are encouraged not to exclude pupils and when they do the parents of these children have a right to appeal this exclusion, which usually excluded from – which is only going to make them feel even more powerful and cause their behaviour to deteriorate further.

One of the major contributory factors to the behaviour of pupils is this “one size fits all” approach to education we are taking to education. Common sense says that one size doesn’t fit all. This has lead to a policy of inclusion, which has seen a reduction in setting and an increased in mixed-ability classes (having a detrimental affect on the education of all in the class, not just the brighter pupils). This policy of inclusion has also lead to the reduction of power vested in schools to deal with disruptive pupils and also a reduction in the numbers of specialist schools. Everyone is being forced into a system that doesn’t work for many of them.

I’ve mentioned a few issues and I want to look at some in a little more depth and will now do this.

Mixed-ability teaching

This is hopeless and doesn’t work. It makes the job of the teacher even more difficult trying to set a lesson for a very wide set of abilities. Setting is being abandoned as it is seen as ‘prejudicial’ and ‘stigmatising’. This may be, but it helps to give more people a better chance of achieving at school.

When pupils are set the teacher is dealing with a much smaller range of abilities. This means that they can plan a lesson that is appropriate and will challenge all those in the class rather than being too easy for one half and far too difficult for the other half of the class (as is the case with mixed-ability teaching). This means the less bright students can be taught at a level they understand and might actually leave school with a couple of qualifications rather than none at all while at the same time those at the top will get the help and support they need to achieve the grades they are capable of.

Threats as discipline

Sadly, this is what discipline in schools today mainly consists of: threats, all of which are empty! You an try excluding a pupil from a class, but guaranteed they’ll be back in he next lesson (if not that very one). Even worse if you try and exclude a person fro the school completely the head teacher has to push hard to justify it: simply “he assaulted a teacher” will not do. Then the parent’s can appeal this exclusion, where no doubt they will play the “my son is getting bullied by the teachers” card and the exclusion will be overturned. This makes no sense really, if your son/daughter is being bulled by teachers at a school, why would you bother appealing an exclusion to get them back in there – surly it would make more sense to use this as a new start and move them to another school? Anyway, hat was a slight tangent.

If an appeal is successful (which they invariably are) the disruptive pupil returns with an increased sense of importance and a feeling of they really can’t be touched (which is true, but is very dangerous) and will only provide them with a reason to behave even worse than they originally did.

Then, there is the reluctance of police involvement. Assaults on teachers often go unreported to the police as head teachers are unwilling to get them involved. The same goes with cases of vandalism and destruction of school property; short of burning the school down or blowing it up there is little chance of vandalism being taken seriously.

It’s the same case with assaults by pupils on pupils: the school are reluctant to get the police involved.

Effective discipline policies need to be put n place and followed. If a teacher says that X will happen if you don’t stop doing Y then X has to happen when the pupil does not stop Y.

Falling number of “special schools”

Who knows what they are called these days – it’s probably not PC to call them special schools. I am of course referring to schools which took children with learning disabilities and provide them with a specialist education, provided by specially trained teachers, that is appropriate for them. This just cannot e catered for in the mainstream system.

I am not saying that all children with learning difficulties should be sent to specialist schools, but it is clear that those who would benefit from it are being forced into mainstream education as part of the policy of inclusion.

It doesn’t help anyone to do this. The child with the learning disability (again that’s probably not PC, but I don’t care) will not get the help and support that the need and as result will not get as good an education as they deserve. The rest of the class also suffer as adjustments need to be made to try and provide for the disability and as such their standard of education is not as great as it should be.


The curriculum doesn’t work either. It is far to focused on Exam results and trying to each a wide are of subjects. If little Jimmy can’t read or write English properly, is there really any point in trying to teach him French, German, Spanish or whatever Modern Foreign Language the school teaches? If they can’t do their basic times tables is it really worthwhile teaching them calculus, standard deviation, trigonometry or anything else like that? Probably not!

Some people are just not academic. It is a fact of life. Why do we insist on trying to teach them advanced academic things? Would it not be better to teach them things they’ll actually use? The more research I do into Education the more I am in favour of vocational qualifications being taught in school. Why don’t we try and teach those who have little chance of getting their GCSE French, Maths, English and so on the very basic maths and English that they need along with providing them opportunities to learn a trade?

Teach them how to write English, how to read English and how to do basic mathematical calculations (i.e. how to add, subtract, multiply and divide) along with say plumbing or bricklaying. Yes, these kinds of qualifications will be seen as lesser, but do you really need a degree to become a plumber? How will this aid discipline? The answer is quite simple really, many of those who disrupt classes are bored and that is mainly because they are getting nothing from school. French, Calculus, Standard deviation and so on are not benefiting them in any way whereas equipping them with the basic skills they need when they leave school and giving them a trade that they can then go on and earn a living from might just give them the motivation to learn!

Then there is this policy of aiming to have 50% of people going to university. Yes, I’m all for opening up Higher education and more people should be able to go. However, the people we should be encouraging are those with the academic ability, and not the financial ability to go. This will serve society better in the long run.

Okay, at the risk of going on for even longer I will end this here simply by saying: this will not eradicate the problem, but I am fairly sure that it will significantly decrease the problems in school (and society in general) and make the problem easier to manage.

Cannabis and Mental Health

Cannabis has caused much controversy in the last decade or so. In the UK it has been yo-yoing between class C and B (it is currently class C, but there is a review on its classification to decide whether to move it back to Class B or not). In amongst all of this, there are regular calls for its legalisation as it allegedly causes no harm whatsoever. The effects of the drug are still, to a degree, unknown. However, it is clear that one cannot truly hold the view that it causes no harm to anyone; ever.

There is a large bank of evidence to support the view that Cannabis has a detrimental effect upon one’s psychiatric well-being. The bulk of the evidence does not support the view that cannabis causes mental illness in the first place, but research has strongly suggested that there is a clear link between early cannabis use and later mental health problems in those with a genetic vulnerability.

There is a particular issue with the use of cannabis by adolescents (adolescent usually describes a patient between the age of 12/13 and 17/18). Adolescents that use cannabis daily are around five times more likely to suffer depression and anxiety in later life. Adolescents, it would appear, are more likely to use cannabis than people of other age groups.

One other psychiatric condition that cannabis use is often associated with is Schizophrenia. Three major studies followed large numbers of people over several years, and showed that those people who use cannabis have a higher than average risk of developing schizophrenia.

Research has also discovered that if a person start’s smoking Cannabis before the age of 15, a person is 4 times more likely to develop a psychotic disorder by the time they are 26.

The three major studies into Cannabis use and Schizophrenia mentioned above also discovered that the more cannabis someone used, the more likely they were to develop schizophrenic symptoms.

Recent research in Europe, and in the UK, has suggested that people who have a family background of mental illness – and so probably have a genetic vulnerability anyway – are more likely to develop schizophrenia if they use cannabis as well.

Why should adolescents be particularly vulnerable to the use of cannabis? No one knows for certain, but it is possible that it has something to do with the fact that the brain is still developing during these years (up until the age of 20 in fact.) A massive process of ‘neural pruning’ is going on. This is rather like streamlining a tangled jumble of circuits so they can work more effectively. Any experience, or substance, that affects this process has the potential to produce long-term psychological effects.

Another issue which those who advocate the legalisation of cannabis appear to focus on, and try to claim does not exist, is ‘Cannabis Psychosis’. ‘Cannabis Psychosis’ is a short-lived psychotic disorder that seems to be brought on by cannabis use but which subsides fairly quickly once the individual has stopped using it. Research fro Denmark suggests that it does exist.

The Danish research found that three quarters had a different psychotic disorder diagnosed within the next year and nearly half still had a psychotic disorder 3 years later.

So, it also seems probable that nearly half of those diagnosed as having cannabis psychosis are actually showing the first signs of a more long-lasting psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia.

There is also some debate surrounding whether Cannabis is addictive or not. It has some of the features of addictive drugs such as tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms of withdrawal produce about the same amount of discomfort as withdrawing from tobacco.

So with only scraping the surface it can be seen that Cannabis has an effect on a person’s Psychiatric wellbeing. With roughly 1 in 4 people in the UK suffering from mental health problems at one stage in their life avoiding cannabis – especially in teenage years – is something that is well advised.

Improving Social Education in Scotland – Part 3

In Britain we have appalling rates of teenage pregnancies, sexual transmitted infections (STIs) and the understanding of the emotional side to Sex and Relationships. Successive governments (both in Westminster and Hollyrood) have tried to put in place a system to solve this problem.

They have failed to consider the system that countries such as Holland use. I am a strong advocate of the “Dutch Experience” of Sex and Relationship Education (SRE).

The Dutch teach their children in a way that focuses on helping young people make responsible decisions about relationships and sex, with the emphasis on mutual respect. They do learn the biological bit in detail, but they also spend a large amount of class-time discussing values and attitudes, and finding out how to decide when’s the right time for them, as individuals, to start having sex.

In Holland the SRE starts young, and everything is covered without embarrassment, from what it’s like to fall in love, to same-sex relationships, STIs and sexual abuse. It’s all very open and upfront and, most important of all, it’s in touch with the realities of teenagers’ lives.

Holland started getting a grip on its sex education in the 1980s when Aids first became a very real threat. Although there’s no national curriculum, sex education is compulsory in all Dutch secondary schools and over half the country’s primary schools put sex and relationships on the agenda too, for kids from the age of six.

The Dutch SRE experience doesn’t stop at the school gates either. There are special youth groups which continue the education further and reinforce what is being taught in school.

The Dutch education experience is so different from what we get here. My experiences of Sex Education were pretty poor and from talking to other people my age it would appear that this poor standard is in schools around the country.

The Dutch have shown that such a system works. They have the lowest rates of teenage pregnancies in Europe and Britain’s are around five times higher.

Improving Social Education in Scotland – Part 2

Okay, I’ve been really busy lately and sadly my blogging had to be put aside for a few days. Normal blogging service has now returned.

So to continue with my blogs on the subject of improving Social Education in Scottish schools I’m going to look at the issue of teaching personal finance.

Managing ones personal finances can be a complicated and daunting task. Debt in the UK is at record levels (with more debt than the country’s entire GDP for a year). Much of this debt is beyond the means of those who have borrowed it, especially if the economy takes a serious turn towards recession. Too many of us have been tempted with low interest rates to borrow and use credit cards far more than we would normally

Some younger people have no concept of how to manage money and the importance of budgeting (or even how to budget). This can only worsen the problems of Student associated debt. It is a sad day when the BBC creates a TV programme to assist people who have got too far into debt that they are struggling to get by and without urgent action are well on their way to bankruptcy. It is an even sadder day when the majority of people appearing on the programme are in their 20s!

How many people actually understand the workings of inflation and interest rates? How many know what APR or AER means? How many people know what an ISA is and how it could or could not benefit them? All of these things have are very important and people just don’t know what they mean?

It’s only socially just to teach our young adults how to budget and the basics of personal finance and how things will affect them before they leave school!

Improving Social Education in Scotland – Part 1

This is the first entry of a number on what I believe should be introduced in a national curriculum by the Scottish Government in the area of Social Education.

The SNP came to power claiming to really improve the lives of those living in Scotland and one way which they can make a real difference is to introduce a comprehensive social Education programme nationally into our Schools. This would equip the future generations with the social knowledge that is currently lacking.

There are several areas that need improvement. Currently social education in schools is very inadequate and mainly covers bullying, drink, drugs and some very basic things on contraception (with all these things being repeated and no additional detail added in year on year – and all varying from School to School). I envisage a system which has comprehensive Sex and Relationship Education, lessons on personal finance and lessons on Mental Health in addition to the alcohol, drugs and bullying classes.

I intend to cover Mental Health in this blog entry. Part two will look at Personal Finance and part 3 (most probably the longest one) will look at a comprehensive system of Sex and Relationship Education.

Statistically one in four people in Scotland will experience a serious problem with their mental wellbeing at some point in their lives. To put it into a classroom context that means roughly 7 pupils in every secondary school class (based on an average class size of 30) will suffer a serious mental health problem during their lifetime.

This large number means that it is important that we teach something about Mental Health in schools. It also means that it will be almost impossible for anyone in Scotland to go through life without being a sufferer of or being close to someone who suffers from some form of Mental Health problem.

By teaching about Mental Health in Schools we can also aim to help break the stigma attached to Mental Illness (while some progress has been made in recent times in this area, there is still a very real stigma attach).

I’m not proposing that we aim to teach school pupils (and in this context I really am talking about Third or Fourth year Secondary Pupils) in such a great detail that they’d be after a psychiatrists job straight after school. What I do propose is to equip them with the skills to understand what Mental Illness means and what the symptoms of the common Mental Health Conditions are.

By teaching the symptoms of the most common Mental Health conditions we can only hope that our young people grow up being able to spot where there may be a problem with their Mental Health and get help from professionals before it gets to a stage where they are seriously ill.

Mental Health illnesses can ruin lives. Even after the problem has been treated the stigma attached to Mental Health can have a profound effect for years to come. It can put potential employers off (more through ignorance than anything else). Being unable to find work does not benefit the wellbeing of the individual and can only serve to cause further damage to the individual’s mental wellbeing.

We owe it to our Children to equip them with the skills at school to understand the world around them as parent’s are failing to take responsibility and do it themselves and in such a specialised area would we really want parents attempting to educate their children? The answer is probably not. That is why we must act now and build in such lessons to the PSHE lessons at school.