Shetland Times Column 15 December 2023

15 Dec 2023

“The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children”, a quote attributed to Nelson Mandela.

I went to Mona McAlpine’s recent book launch in Sound Hall where she gave a fascinating talk about her time as a midwife in Africa, including delivering two of Nelson Mandela’s grandchildren. Mona also spoke about the charity she and her late husband set up, on their return to live in Shetland, for African orphans. There has been a lot of local support for ‘From Shetland With Love’.

I can recommend the book and its insights into apartheid and poverty.

Last week the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Act.

UNCRC incorporation is more than just recognising children’s rights but ensuring that those rights are embedded in all policy considerations across public services that affect Scotland’s children and young people. That will mean culture change.

The bill was finally passed after years of deliberation, and in the same week as the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) education results were published. Scotland’s education performance is slipping further down the ranking, despite the SNP promising their reform would return Scotland to amongst the best in the world

The Former First Minister said she wished to be judged on her record on education.

Just as it is unwise to read too much into one opinion poll, so too it is unwise to draw similar conclusions from just one set of statistics. For education, however, there’s various evidence indicating that education in Scotland under the last 16 years of an SNP-led Scottish Government is not what it used to be.

The poverty-related attainment gap is as wide as ever, as the latest attainment statistics show, and the global pandemic does not explain why Scotland is falling down international rankings, a slide that began long before anyone had heard of Covid-19.

At a time when we are seeing growing violence in schools and increasing numbers of children with additional support needs, classroom support has been decimated and funding for local authorities continues to be squeezed.  As we head towards the Scottish Government’s budget, there’s little sign the funding situation will improve any time soon.

If children do not receive the level of education and support they need then ultimately it will be to Scotland’s detriment as there will not be enough people with the skills needed for the jobs and industries of the future.

This is my last column before Christmas. Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, may I take this opportunity to wish you a peaceful and happy festive season.

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