Leaders: Level the playing field on class contact times

RESEARCH showing how much time pupils actually spend in school is to be welcomed as it brings regional differences into focus and offers confirmation that a marked disparity exists across Scotland.
Picture: John DevlinPicture: John Devlin
Picture: John Devlin

According to a Reform Scotland report, variations are so significant that pupils in some areas are effectively receiving two years less education than others who start and finish school at the same age. This is a disturbing finding for parents and it highlights a failure of the education system to ensure that all children are given the most basic of equal opportunities.

None of Scotland’s local authorities is breaking the law, because each is judged on how many days children are required to attend school, rather than how many hours are spent in the classroom.

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There is an argument that time spent in the classroom does not affect performance. Cosla education spokeswoman Stephanie Primrose said: “We are unaware of any evidence which establishes a direct link between time spent in school and how well pupils perform.”

This may be true, but lack of empirical evidence does not mean such a link doesn’t exist. Spending more time rather than less in the classroom can’t guarantee a better education, but it has to help in that ­direction.

Dundee City Council defended its record – at the lower end of the provision scale – saying: “Exam results are improving, with staff and pupils continuing to work hard to improve ­attainment.”

It should hardly need to be said that all of these objectives would stand a better chance of coming to pass if pupils spent more time at school than not at school.

There is the argument that successful teaching is about quality rather than quantity, but this refuses to look the problem in the eye. Pupils who “lose” two years of education will experience their fair share of good and bad teachers. No local authority can pretend it provides such a high standard of education that pupils don’t need to be at school for as long as others.

As the Educational Institute of Scotland has suggested, there should be regulation of the school day and the introduction of a national minimum class contact time. It is difficult to argue against this as a standard minimum would ensure no pupil in Scotland is sold short.

The suspicion is that some may oppose a national minimum because of the cost of extending provision. That would be the worst possible reason for objecting. If we fail our children at school, we risk disadvantaging them for life. Balancing a budget by manipulating the mandatory 190 days when children have to be in school should not be possible, and the Scottish Government should close this loophole at the earliest opportunity.

Public interest should come first

WE ARE no clearer on knowing exactly why the Crown Office decided in February this year that bin lorry driver Harry Clarke should not be prosecuted over the crash that killed six people in Glasgow before Christmas.

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The Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) has heard evidence which has led to suggestions that the Crown’s decision was premature, but yesterday the solicitor general, Lesley Thomson QC, confirmed that there would be no going back on the original decision. It is understood that a prosecution would have risked impacting on the effectiveness of the current FAI.

However, the picture changed when it emerged at Glasgow Sheriff Court that the DVLA could pursue a prosecution of Mr Clarke south of the Border over charges of failing to disclose information to the ­licensing body.

There is some merit to the public interest being better served by holding the current FAI at the earliest opportunity rather than having to wait for a prosecution to take place. If the decision not to prosecute has been taken for this reason, then the DVLA should state its position clearly – to seek prosecution, or not – because its decision could have a significant impact on the FAI, which has yet to hear from Mr Clarke.

If families are to be denied the full extent of the intended FAI process because of the DVLA, that would be an unfortunate consequence. It would also be regrettable, because if the Crown Office has already decided on a course of action which puts the public interest first, then that decision should not be undermined by another party.