Scottish Liberal Democrat Manifesto 1999

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Scotland's education

Key pledges

  • Recruit 2000 extra teachers
  • Double spending on school books and equipment in the first year
  • Launch a "Schools 2010" capital investment programme to tackle substandard school buildings and temporary classrooms
  • Abolish tuition fees for all Scottish students
  • Provide high quality early years' education for all three and four year olds whose parents want it
  • Quadruple student access funds to 14million to help the poorest students get to university

The challenge

Education is the key to Scotland's future

Without high quality education, Scotland will not be able to compete in a world economy, which depends more and more on knowledge and skills. Liberal Democrats want a society in which there is opportunity for everybody to develop their talents to the full throughout their lives. But if we are to succeed in restoring our education system to world class levels, we must recognise how much there is to do.

Too many Scottish schoolchildren have to learn in cramped and crumbling classrooms from tatty, outdated textbooks which they have to share with others. They do not have the facilities which they deserve for science, computing or sport. Worst of all, they do not have enough teachers, and those they do have are undervalued.

Under successive governments, Scotland's education has been underfunded, and undermined by a bewildering succession of reforms and contradictory shifts in policy. With a new Parliament, it is time for a fresh start. Liberal Democrats want Scotland's education system to be among the best in the world. Furthermore, we are honest enough to admit that we cannot achieve our aims without raising and spending more money.

In making education our first priority, we are determined to tackle the problems which have held Scotland's teachers and schools back for so long. These include:

  • successive cuts, which have deprived schools of vital books, equipment and teachers;
  • a torrent of initiatives and instructions from central government, which has left schools drowning in bureaucracy;
  • constant denigration of teachers by ministers and the media;
  • pay rates in education falling behind comparable jobs;
  • schools in more deprived communities ill-equipped to help children cope with social problems.

Our priorities

It will take time to achieve all our ambitions for Scottish education. We propose three key measures which will nonetheless make a huge difference.

We will:

  • Recruit 2000 extra teachers and more support staff. This will enable us to cut class sizes and improve the pupil/teacher ratio particularly in primary schools. We shall ensure the extra teachers give priority to making the greatest impact on literacy and numeracy.
  • Launch a "Schools 2010" capital investment programme. We will provide at least an extra 100 million over the four years of the Parliament for capital investment in schools as a significant step towards tackling the problem of sub-standard buildings by 2010. This will include replacing hundreds of temporary classrooms which have become far too permanent a feature of our schools. We will require all Councils to carry out a building audit of all schools to identify necessary work, including security, disabled access and energy efficiency, over the period of the Parliament.
  • Double the spending on books and equipment in the first full budget year of the Parliament. We will also maintain increased spending levels thereafter.

Our ambitions for education

Making the right start

The first years of school are the most important of all. The only way to ensure genuine equality of opportunity for all Scotland's children is to guarantee high quality education for infants throughout the country.

We will:

  • Continue the planned expansion of pre-school provision and concentrate resources on early years' education to improve literacy and numeracy.
  • Provide high quality early years' education for all three and four year olds whose parents want it.

Higher standards in schools

Liberal Democrats believe that the more diversity there is in Scotland's schools, the more their overall quality will improve. Raising standards in education does not mean imposing a rigid uniform system of teaching from the centre.

We will:

  • Set and achieve ambitious targets for literacy and numeracy, as determined by our Commission on Education.
  • Increase substantially the supply of specialist music, drama and modern language teachers. We shall also use some of the additional teaching posts to increase the supply of science and maths teachers in secondary schools.
  • Ensure that all Scottish school children meet a high minimum standard of computer skills. All schools should be able to make full use of the new technologies, particularly in rural areas.
  • Support children with special needs. We will improve the arrangements for diagnosis and support for children with special needs and give every local authority a separate Special Educational Needs allocation.
  • Boost investment for new school buildings.
  • Strengthen discipline in schools. Recognising the growing problem of classroom indiscipline and that even one disruptive pupil can affect the teaching of an entire class, we will support teachers in maintaining discipline and provide them with the means to do so, for example through special training. We will also continue to support the initiatives on alternatives to exclusion. We will require every school to develop policies to tackly bullying and truancy.
  • Strengthen the teaching of Scottish history and culture in our schools.
  • Guarantee teaching and Gaelic and of Gaelic as a second language where there is a demand.
  • Encourage diversity. Allow schools to develop their own style and strengths, for example in science and technology, sport or arts. This would widen parent and pupil choice. We will encourage independent schools to work with state schools through local partnership schemes.
  • Establish a dialogue with the churches about their role. Recognise the valuable role of the churches in education and establish a dialogue with all the major faiths about the role they wish to play in education over the coming decades.

Valuing teachers

Teacher morale in Scotland has suffered enormously under successive governments over the last twenty years. In other countries teachers are highly regarded, well-paid professionals. The success of the new Scotland will depend heavily on the quality of its teachers.

We will:

  • Ensure that pay rates and promotion prospects allow teaching to compete for the best people with other careers.
  • Review the role and practice of the General Teaching Council. We want the GTC to help to maintain high professional standards throughout a teacher's career. We will provide more opportunities and reward for continuous professional development.
  • Regular seek teachers' views. We will commission genuinely independent research to check on the standards being achieved.
  • Relieve teachers of their burden of paperwork. We will provide enough administrative staff and IT support in schools, releasing the time of teachers for actual teaching.

Sport and physical education

There are too few Scots who are as fit as they should be. Sport and fitness, particularly for the young, are an important way of developing the full potential of our people, creating more worthwhile leisure activities for young people, reducing social alienation and promoting good healthy lifestyles.

We will:

  • Endorse and support a national strategy for Scottish Sport based on Sport 21.
  • Maximise the time allocated for sport and physical education in schools. We will identify where facilities are inadequate.
  • Create a fund to enable good voluntary organisation projects to continue after lottery or other time-limited grants have expired.

Community education

Further Education should be open to all, whether it is part-time or full-time.

We will:

  • Open up schools to the whole community. We will encourage an integrated approach to wider community use of schools and other facilities. We will encourage more voluntary after-school, holiday and supported study schemes. Schools, not least in rural areas, should become centres of education networks, accessible to every age group.
  • Guarantee an out of school hours "extra curricular" activity for every secondary pupil in Scotland - by working in partnership with teachers, sport and drama professionals, voluntary organisations and others.

Higher and further education opportunities

Scotland's economic future will depend on its ability to sustain a highly skilled and flexible workforce. The new Scotland needs to build on its proud traditions in university education and develop a system in which lifelong learning is available to all.

We will:

  • Widen access to further and higher education.
  • Attack student poverty. We will quadruple, to around 14million per year, the access funds administered by universities and colleges to tackle financial hardship. Funding would be targeted, allowing maintenance of up to 2,000 a year to be paid to mature students and those in greatest financial difficulty.
  • Abolish tuition fees for all Scottish students at UK universities.
  • Abolish 4th year tuition fees for English, Welsh and Northern Irish students at Scottish universities. We will work at Westminster for the abolition of university tuition fees across the UK. We oppose the concept of top-up fees for undergraduates in higher and further education.
  • Support the progress of the University of the Highlands and Islands towards full university status.
  • Support high quality university research. We will provide the strongest possible support for the research base in our universities to maintain their competitive position at UK and international levels.
  • Reform and improve the financial support of colleges of further education. We will enhance the key role played by colleges in education and training, particularly for technological and industrial careers. We will work to improve their funding and create, along with them, a modern, prestigious apprenticeship system combining on-the-job training and study.
  • Use the colleges and the voluntary sector to spearhead the provision of quality adult and youth education and training. We will encourage the development of a regional strategic frame-work for further education across Scotland, the use of more New Deal funding in this field and the streamlining of quality audit arrangements.
  • Support disadvantaged students at college and university. We will allocate additional resources to fund the institutions which recruit such students, in recognition of the added costs of recruiting and supporting disadvantaged students with few qualifications.
  • Support an independent UK Pay Review Body for higher and further education. We will aim to implement its awards in full without staging. We will require a vote of the Scottish Parliament to overturn such recommendations.

Planning to be World Class

In the past, too many Governments have tinkered around with the structures of education. They usually succeeded only in increasing the bureaucracy and demoralising the teaching profession. Liberal Democrats believe that the structure of Scotland's education system does not require yet more fundamental change. At the same time there are steps which could be taken to make the administration more efficient and accountable.

We will:

  • Establish a standing commission on education. We will give top priority to a thorough stock-taking of Scottish education, involving the specialist Parliamentary committees, to draw on expert opinion and experience here and in other countries. The Commission would be expected to genuinely consult all the interested parties across Scottish civic life, not least teachers, building a coalition for agreed reform. All the evidence gathered would be used to evaluate the merits of recently introduced reforms as well as to draw up a 10-year programme of coherent reforms to restore Scottish education to its prime position.
  • Aim to enhance civic and environmental education. We will include the basic concepts of business and enterprise.
  • Establish a powerful Department of Education and Enterprise. The Department will be overseen by a Parliamentary Select Committee on Education.
  • Avoid over-hasty and unwanted initiatives. We will not make further major reforms in the curriculum and exam system without adequate resources and full consultation with staff.