Previous Events

Scotland Matters’ and Education Matters to Scotland (Maryhill, Glasgow, 04/11/19)

Scotland Matters had a fantastic meeting at Maryhill, Glasgow on the 4th of November. Our contributors included experts on industry and education as well as former MP Tom Harris. The audience also included a number of ‘soft’ indy voters who are also tired of the SNP. 

For the first time, Scotland Matters recorded our contributors. Please click below to see what they had to say or scroll further down to see the full written report:

Tom Harris Glasgow 4.11.19

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Education Glasgow 4.11.19 Maggie Openshaw

Uploaded by Scotland Matters on 2019-11-07.

Conrad Ritchie on education and apprentices. Glasgow 4.11.19

Uploaded by Scotland Matters on 2019-11-06.

Two days before the issue of falling Scottish Education Standards went mainstream following a debate in Holyrood and the Scrutiny of the “Politics Scotland” programme, a Glasgow audience of 43 was shocked to hear that young people are leaving school “under qualified, underprepared, lacking in resilience, and work ethic.” To the extent that one of them asked why opposition politicians were not using this damning information.

Another asked “How bad does it need to get” before people realise that the Scottish government is failing on its No 1 priority.

Ex-Labour minister Tom Harris agreed, stressing the need to “arm people with the facts” and Glasgow Tory councillor Euan Blockley, himself a relatively recent product of the system, said he had heard teachers describing it as “the curriculum for excrement”

Conrad Ritchie, Managing Director of Score International in Peterhead, Scotland’s largest private employer of apprentices, said that “”recruiting is a real challenge due to lack of basic numeracy and literacy skills” and that his in house training scheme spends the “first six months getting them ready for the world of work”. He described how his company pays into the Apprenticeship Levy but gets virtually nothing back from the Scottish Government compared to what he would get in the rest of the UK

Conrad Ritchie on education and apprentices. Glasgow 4.11.19

Uploaded by Scotland Matters on 2019-11-06.

Mr Ritchie was speaking at an event hosted by the ‘Scotland Matters’ network. The advertised speaker Carole Ford and Lib Dem aspiring politician Craig Harrow (contesting Ian Blackfords seat) were unable to attend at the last minute but Ms Fords topic was covered admirably by retired Depute Headteacher and former Associate Assessor for HM Inspector of Education, Margaret Openshaw who had collaborated with her and Mr Ritchie on the content. Together they outlined the, falling standards resulting from the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) and SNP education policy (Those who have read the report of the equivalent meeting in Aberdeen can skip to the ‘Summing up and Discussion’ sections below)

The panel and audience were deeply concerned at the decline in education standards, leaving the most disadvantaged 20% of school leavers described at a previous meeting as being “functionally illiterate.”

Both speakers laid the blame entirely on the SNP, with Mr Ritchie saying “The buck stops with Swinney” whom he says has rebuffed several requests for a meeting to discuss the situation despite having been in Peterhead twice, and that the merger of colleges had left rural students short changed.

They elaborated on their observations and findings from contacts with the school system, past and current teachers and school leavers reporting that school staff feel overwhelmed, undervalued and powerless.

Mrs Openshaw described how the CfE was introduced by Labour as a way of decluttering the old curriculum and reducing teacher workload. Under Tony Blair’s famous “Education, Education, Education” programme it was initially adequately funded but this was not maintained by the SNP. What was intended to be a “child-centred” system gradually morphed through “Chinese whispers” to being “child-led’ and ended up being unstructured and un-assessable, making it difficult to identify relative progress and allocate help accordingly. This was exacerbated by the lack of independence of the current school’s inspectorate and Scotland’s withdrawal from the main international standards comparison schemes.

Education Glasgow 4.11.19 Maggie Openshaw

Uploaded by Scotland Matters on 2019-11-07.

All of this is taking place against a background of reduction of choice in subjects, lowering of pass marks to avoid revealing the falling standards., near impossibility of suspending disruptive pupils, and children being able to opt-out of STEM subjects without parental consent.

Discussion Points and Suggestions

Issues discussed included lack of support for gifted children, misinterpretation of “active learning” (assumes there is such a thing as passive learning), primary school teachers not trained sufficiently to teach for primary seven maths and teaching training establishments being unwilling to fail poor students. Mr Ritchie also brought up the issue of insufficient mental health resources brought to his attention following the recent tragic suicide of one of his apprentices. Several people said that there was too much emphasis on university rather than skills and colleges. Councillor Blockley suggested that the Scottish Funding Council should be split to differentiate between the two and ensure sufficient funding for both. Other suggestions included overhauling the CfE so that standards are built-in, assessable – facilitating robust data gathering, interpretation by an independent Inspectorate and exam results providing a useful ‘ability gauge’ for potential employers.’. Also better engagement with employers, passing on the proceeds if the ‘apprentice levy’, banning mobile phones from schools and classrooms to combat the associated mental health issues of social media were proposed along with a sustained focus on literacy and numeracy for disadvantaged children. It was suggested that to be credible, the opposition parties must come up with robust alternatives to the current dire situation to avoid what Mr Ritchie referred to as “the dilution of talent” saying “our youth deserve a better chance to be the best they can be”. A number of those present with connections to the NHS and other public services reported that staff were afraid to speak up or criticise those bodies.

A show of hands indicated that a significant proportion of those present to would be willing to travel to another constituency to support a candidate from any Unionist Party that had a good chance of winning an SNP seat and there was general agreement that tactical voting was a good option in this situation.

Summing up

Summing up on the general opinion that the SNP were to blame for the decline in education amongst other things and that the public need to be made aware, Mr Harris said that although he had lost his seat in Westminster as a result of his efforts on behalf of the Union, we “need to be respectful” of those in favour of separation, not because we want to be politically correct, but because “we respect fellow Scots and they are entitled to their opinions”. He stressed that the campaign against another separation referendum needs to start now to win it before it starts – by doing the types of things ’Scotland Matters’ is already doing and not to rely on the Alex Salmond trial or any other events to cause a collapse of the SNP.

Tom Harris Glasgow 4.11.19

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He likened the Scottish Separation issue to the “Judgement of Solomon” where King Solomon was asked to rule which of two childless women claiming to be the mother of a baby, should get the baby. He offered to cut the baby in half and they could have half each. The baby was given to the woman who said she would rather the baby lived with the other woman than she had half. The separatists want their vision of Scotland no matter what damage it would do. Another referendum with a narrow margin would tear the country in half and no true Scottish patriot would want this.

If you care about Scotland’s future, then spread this message in any way you can (email friends, write to newspapers, post on social media etc.) One effective way is to write to the members of the Education and Skills Committee in Holyrood expressing your concern and using any examples you are aware of from your own experience to illustrate the problem. Contact email addresses below:

Clare Adamson Clare.Adamson.msp@parliament.scot snp
Alasdair Allan Alasdair.Allan.msp@parliament.scot snp
Jenny Gilruth Jenny.Gilruth.msp@parliament.scot snp
Iain Gray iain.Gray.msp@parliament.scot labour
Ross Greer Ross.Greer.msp@parliament.scot Green
Alison Harris Alison.Harris.msp@parliament.scot cons
Daniel Johnson Daniel.Johnson.msp@parliament.scot labour
Rona MacKay Rona.MacKay.msp@parliament.scot snp
Gail Ross Gail.Ross.msp@parliament.scot snp
Liz Smith Liz.Smith.msp@parliament.scot cons
Beatrice Wishart Beatrice.Wishart.msp@parliament.scot libdem

Scotland Matters Education Meeting, Skene House, 96 Rosemount, Aberdeen, Monday, 14th of October, 7.30pm

Speaking at the SNP conference in Aberdeen, John Swinney (Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills) eventually moved away from an obsession with separation, via Kurds, Kashmir and Catalonia before claiming great progress and ambitious plans for education in Scotland. Meanwhile, another audience in Aberdeen heard damning evidence that as a result of his education policy, young people are leaving school “under qualified, underprepared, lacking in resilience, and work ethic.”

Conrad Ritchie, Managing Director of Score International in Peterhead, Scotland’s largest private employer of apprentices, said that “”recruiting is a real challenge due to lack of basic numeracy and literacy skills” and that his in house training scheme spends the “first six months getting them ready for the world of work”.

Mr Ritchie, together with Carole Ford, one of the few real education experts in Scotland to publicly question declining behavior, falling standards, the Curriculum for Excellence and SNP education policy, was speaking at an event hosted by the ‘Scotland Matters’ network.

The audience, including education specialists, politicians and business leaders, were deeply concerned at the decline in education standards, leaving the most disadvantaged 20% of school leavers described by Ms Ford as being “functionally illiterate.”


Panelist Neil McLennan, a former teacher and Senior Lecturer in education and Director of Leadership Programs at the University of Aberdeen described the difficulty in producing History textbooks for Curriculum for Excellence and National 5 because the difficulties in getting clarity on the curriculum and assessment at the outset. He also noted attempts to promote Scottish History over British, European and World history result in a potential “shortbread tin curriculum”. He stated that the Scottish Government’s claims that more young people were going to university were in part due to the widening access programes and not necessarily better grades being achieved by students and asked therefore if the poverty-related attainment gap was closing at all. He also spoke of the challenges of ‘free tuition fees’ meaning places were capped and in some cases Scottish students could not get onto the course of into the institution they wanted.

All three laid the blame entirely on the SNP, with Mr Ritchie saying “The buck stops with Swinney” whom he says has rebuffed several requests for a meeting to discuss the situation despite having been in Peterhead twice, and that the merger of colleges had left rural students shortchanged. Mr McLennan related that his detailed report on education supporting his well-publicised statement that “the Curriculum for Excellence is dead” resulted in Mr Swinney simply ‘refuting the claims’ – with no explanation or counter-argument.

All three elaborated on their observations and findings from contacts with the school system, and school leavers reporting that school staff feel “overwhelmed, undervalued an powerless.” Ms Ford said teachers reported that behaviour of an increasing minority was “feral” resulting in only 15 minutes of teaching in a 50minute period for a curriculum that had inadequately defined standards making it impossible to assess and compare progress.

All of this is taking place against a background of reduction of choice in subjects, lowering of pass marks to avoid revealing the falling standards., near impossibility of suspending disruptive pupils, and children being able to opt-out of STEM subjects without parental consent.

Ms Ford described some of the expensive innovations adopted by education authorities as being the result of “snake oil salesmen” peddling “drivel” with no evidence of benefit. The lack of independence for the Inspectorate meant that they appeared to be telling ministers what they wanted to hear instead of highlighting the falling standards. The education establishment were “grumbling in their tea breaks – but remaining compliant”. Parents were not complaining or advocating more discipline in schools, partly for fear their children would then be bullied by the troublemakers. It was emphasised that teachers were not to blame as they are employees and can’t refuse to carry out their duties. One senior teacher in attendance said he still found it an important and worthwhile job but that the profession had to be made more attractive as his secondary school in the North East was short of 6 teachers.

Issues discussed included lack of support for gifted children, misinterpretation of “active learning” (assumes there is such a thing as passive learning), primary school teachers not trained sufficiently to teach for primary seven maths and teaching training establishments being unwilling to fail poor students.

Suggestions included overhauling the Curriculum for Excellence so that standards are built-in, assessable and facilitating robust data gathering, interpretation by an independent Inspectorate and exam results providing a useful ‘ability gauge’ for potential employers. The government and educational establishment must be willing to listen and to change the things that are not working. Education should be de-politicised away from such things as the ‘First Minister’s reading list’ or ‘Deputy First Minister’s maths challenge’. Instead, better engagement with employers, passing on the proceeds if the ‘apprentice levy’, banning mobile phones from schools and classrooms to combat the associated mental health issues of social media were proposed along with a sustained focus on literacy and numeracy for disadvantaged children. It was suggested that to be credible, the opposition parties must come up with robust alternatives to the current dire situation to avoid what Mr Ritchie referred to as “the dilution of talent” saying “our youth deserve a better chance to be the best they can be”.

About Our Speakers

Conrad Ritchie-  and his company, Score International were featured in a BBC Scotland News report on the difficulty in finding apprentices who had sufficient numeracy and literacy skills. Click here to read about “Apprentices being failed by the school curriculum.

Carole Ford – is one of the few Scottish education experts willing to speak out about the situation and the reasons for it, including declining behaviour, teaching standards, Curriculum for Excellent and SNP policy. And what needs to be done. She is regularly consulted on her views, just not by the SNP! Carole is the Libdem candidate for the Glasgow Kelvin Westminster seat Click here to read to read her Scotsman article “Scottish Students Will Fail In A Flawed System” articles and letters on the subject, and what needs to be done.

Neil McLennan – is Senior Lecturer in education and Director of Leadership Programmes at the University of Aberdeen. A former teacher and national and local government education senior officer, Neil was also a Director for the Scottish College for Educational Leadership and member of the Association of Directors of Education Scotland. 

His work in education was honoured by the National Academy, the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In the same year, Sir Ian Wood and Neil were given RSE medals. Neil gave evidence on behalf of the Royal Society of Edinburgh to the Wood Commission on Young Workforce. He has led national and local government youth employment strategy and policy in previous roles. 

Neil writes regularly on education affairs in The Times, Scotsman, Herald, Times Education Supplement and recently in the Scottish Education Review. He is one of the leading figures in the #CfE2.0 campaign, calling for a full review and refresh of Curriculum for Excellence. Click here to read some of his writing on CfE and Scottish Education:-

https://neilsgleeeclub.wordpress.com/2019/02/16/reviewing-thinking-on-reviewing-cfe/?fbclid=IwAR26GoTVWwlWDgEixcFOCQCTEaBPb1VW-BOw4EyqVF7ZNSfkp4CnsdJYkXM

Blog: http://neilsgleeeclub.wordpress.com/

Skills Blog: www.bit.ly/skills4success

Fraserburgh and Stirling Events

We’ve held two events, one if Fraserburgh where 35 people heard speakers MSPs Mike Rumbles and Peter Chapman with Cllr. Mark Findlater plus Alison Simpson on the panel.  Also present was David Duguid MP who added a Westminster perspective to the discussion. This meeting focussed on the NE as well as the national issues. Although no one from Labour was able to attend either meeting, this was a great example of the cross-party support for the Union and the wish to concentrate on real local and national issues – with ideas on how we can assist the politicians and vice versa.

In Stirling, the 52 attendees were expecting to hear from Stephen Kerr MP, who was dramatically called back to Westminster and was ably replaced by local Cllr. Alastair Orr.  Also speaking was Sir Iain McMillan, former head of the CBI Scotland. Together they outlined the positive social, economic and emotional case for Scotland remaining in the UK and the risks and disruption associated with leaving. Mr Orr described how when knocking doors during his recent political campaigning, peoples overwhelming concerns are to do with issues like health, education, transport – not separation from the UK. Sir Iain said that although the economic case for the Union was straight forward, it will be the emotional issues that change the balance of opinion.

At both meetings, the speakers set the scene for a lively discussion with the audience suggesting ways in which Unionists of all parties and none, in the absence of any ‘Better Together’ type agreement between the parties, can help to avoid the Scottish and UK parliament becoming bogged down in another decade of Brexit style turmoil to the detriment of the everyday issues such and major ones such as climate change. The audience were urged to get involved with and help their local parties and demand credible alternative policies to the SNP.

Ideas and suggestions from both meetings will be collated and considered for use in our forward strategy.

There were also concern expressed about the Referendum (Scotland) Bill, currently at the committee stage in Holyrood in which the framework for any future referenda is being formulated. Key issues such as the wording of any question and whether the huge numbers of Scots living in the rest of the UK get to vote are being discussed. Scotland matters have also been supporting the petition currently open in the Scottish Parliament calling for a 2/3rds majority in any future referendum. With the Holyrood committee scrutinising the Bill taking opinions, the petition is the ideal way for ordinary Scots to have a say on the matter.

PE01754: Ensure any referendum on constitutional change has a two thirds majority for it to succeed – Getting Involved: Scottish Parliament

Tuesday, 24th September, 7.30pm, King Robert Bruce Hotel, Bammockburn:

To register for this event and for more information, please click on the link below: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/stirling-supporter-meeting-tickets-71503367497

Monday, 23rd September, 7.30pm, Fraserburgh Leisure Centre:

To register for this event and for more information, please click on the link below: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/fraserburgh-supporter-meeting-tickets-70379211115