AS someone who worked in education all my professional career, prior to my retirement some years ago, I read with interest Shona Craven’s piece: “Tussles on accountability – with kids in the middle”, (The National, June 30). While still considering this article, in the Sunday Herald I read a piece by Paul Hutcheon: Government criticised for lack of clarity over pupil ‘attainment gap’” (July 2).

Both articles were critical of John Swinney’s approach, yet neither author had any constructive alternative proposals for bridging the attainment gap, which the Scottish Government has identified as a priority.

Personally I applaud John Swinney’s approach.When appointed, he quickly set about a consultation exercise inviting all interested parties to give their views. Indeed, I wrote to John Swinney at that time, giving him my views based on a long and varied career in education.

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As Shona Craven pointed out, an analysis was made of the responses and the report “Education Governance: Empowering teachers, parents and communities to achieve excellence and equality in education” was published. However, it is her response to that report that gives me cause to take a different view from her with regard to John Swinney’s approach.

In a letter to The National at the time of the election debate in Scotland, I took issue with the treatment of the First Minister by Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale in respect of their description of our education system. I was extremely unhappy at their thoughtless statements with the implied criticisms of teaching staff. Our system is not broken and parents, in the main, value it.

An inclusive, high achieving education system is vital for Scotland and its future. John Swinney was correct to consult, to consider, to report and to make decisions and changes in pursuit of raising attainment and closing the gaps.

In times of austerity, limited resources have to be carefully husbanded and directed. Empowering headteachers, who have the responsibility of leadership and decision-making, managing curricular and pastoral processes, staff, resources, liaising with parents, the community and other professionals, and keeping up with educational change in a fast changing world – by giving them extra funding to use to help staff to close the attainment gap – should be regarded as laudable. Headteachers and their staff are best placed to identify need and direct money to try to improve.

In Scotland, although the delivery of education is devolved to the Scottish Government and local authorities, the funding mainly comes from Westminster. We are greatly constrained by what can be afforded. In an ideal world – or an independent Scotland – I would love to see systems like those which apply in the Nordic countries where staff have greater renumeration; regular professional development and time for preparation and reflection. But, for the present, we are where we are and the monies to schools can be spent in varied and imaginative ways to enthuse staff and pupils, thereby, hopefully raising attainment.

Finally, in my opinion the criticism levelled at John Swinney in Paul Hutcheon’s article where “ministers were accused of not being able to define the ‘attainment gap’”, is misplaced. There is no one measure to show improvement – there will be many. The introduction of testing will show class and school improvements; regional and national data can be compiled but at the end of the process success will be measured in an inclusive society where our young people can take their place in colleges, universities, the world of work and society and contribute in an enthusiastic, caring and constructive way.

I Gibson
Newburgh

THE warning from the newly appointed chairman of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland that mental health patients are too often being referred to other health boards to access inpatient psychiatric beds should not be ignored.

It is an issue we have been campaigning on for some time, highlighting a severe lack of child and adolescent mental health facilities in Scotland, including the fact that there are only 54 mental health beds and no specialist mental health units north of Dundee.

The number of beds recommended by the Royal College of Psychiatrists for the population of Scotland ranges between 125 and 208, far greater than the 54 currently provided.

A lack of such beds is forcing many children and young people who require inpatient mental health care to remain at home, often until the family reaches crisis point.

Others are being forced to travel often hundreds of miles, or are being treated in non-specialist adult and paediatric wards, unsuitable to their requirements.

This frequently leaves them feeling isolated, delaying recovery.

According to the Mental Welfare Commission, in 2015-16 there were 135 admissions of children and young people to such non-specialist wards.

There are also no secure inpatient units in Scotland for under-18s.

At present these children and young people are sometimes sent to specialist units in England, a harrowing experience for the child and the family and at a huge cost to the NHS.

The emphasis must be on preventing poor mental health and on early intervention, thus reducing the need for hospitalisation and the cost burden on the state.

However, cuts in community-based support are often leading to such conditions worsening, heightening the need for expensive specialist support. We need increased investment in mental health services, including a greater and wider geographic provision of mental health beds, ensuring that those with mental health problems receive the vital care and support that they need.

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition: Sophie Pilgrim, Kindred Scotland; Stuart Jacob, Falkland House School; Tom McGhee, Spark of Genius; Duncan Dunlop, Who Cares? Scotland; Niall Kelly, Young Foundations; Stuart Jacob, Falkland House School

MUCH has been written heralding the UK’s apparent “triumphal” withdrawal from the London fisheries convention, “taking back control” of our fishing industry (Holyrood backs Westminster decision to scrap fishing pact ahead of Brexit negotiations, The National, July 2017).

However, there should be caution over the true impact of this and all may not be as it seems. The 1964 London Convention was signed by 13 European countries in order to establish and define a fisheries regime for their coastal waters.

The Convention also established rights for certain vessels to fish in the 6-12 nautical miles region of the coastal states of the 13 countries, if they had “habitually fished” in that same region between January 1 1953 and December 31 1962. The countries that signed were: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

There is however some debate as to whether the London Convention provisions still apply, and a number of senior legal experts noted in evidence to the Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee in 2016 that the Common Fisheries Policy superseded the London Convention.

This means that historic fishing rights derive from European Union law, and not from the London Convention (captured in the annex to the Council Regulation). The key challenge is not to be distracted by this. Instead, we should focus should on what will replace the Common Fisheries Policy after Brexit. One should remind fishermen the UK Government rated fisheries as a “medium” and not a “high” priority in the Brexit negotiations.

Whether the UK leaves or remains a member of the London Convention is something of a “red herring”. The true prize is what new regime our fishermen will face in the brave new world of Brexit.

Alex Orr
Edinburgh