The democratic deficit in Scottish education
Andrew McFadyen is a journalist and a parent at St Joseph’s primary in Milngavie. He’s calling on Scottish Labour to back the campaign to make St Joseph’s the first community-led school in Scotland.
The Labour Party should give three cheers for parents at St Joseph’s Primary school in Milngavie.
The Parent Council’s audacious plan to make St Joseph’s the first community-led school in Scotland featured offers Jim Murphy a chance to do something bold and radical that could benefit children for generations to come.
What began as a campaign to save a popular local school from closure has created a much-needed debate about the democratisation of Scottish education.
For the past three years, parents have been lobbying councillors, signing petitions and marching in their hundreds against East Dunbartonshire’s proposal to close the town’s only Catholic primary and bus the children to a new-build in Bearsden.
One mother remarked in the playground that she had been on more demonstrations in the past few months than in a lifetime of living in Belfast.
Local Labour members have been at the heart of the campaign to save the school. Clydebank & Milngavie CLP unanimously passed a motion urging councillors to come forward with new proposals. It made no difference.
East Dunbartonshire Council’s determination to press-on regardless of public opinion reveals a democratic deficit. Nobody has been able to make them listen. Not parents. Not the church. Not even Labour Party members.
The way we run our schools is the last bastion of post-war centralised planning and it provides the sharpest possible contrast with the grassroots community engagement that characterised the referendum campaign.
Scotland saw a revival of street politics with people who hadn’t voted or taken part for years demanding a say in the decisions that affect their lives.
Until now, the debate about education in Scotland has focused on teacher numbers and exam systems. It is time to talk about who actually runs and operates schools.
St Joseph’s Parent Council plan to hold a public meeting in Milngavie next week to discuss their plans for community ownership in more detail.
The concentration of power in town halls is more in keeping with the 1940s than the 21st Century. Communities have a big stake in education and relevant expertise to offer.
At St Joseph’s, parent volunteers already run the school choir and a variety of after-school clubs from netball to chess.
Our football team was the first in East Dunbartonshire and only the second in Scotland to be awarded the SFA quality mark in 2009. Thursday night training at Douglas Academy attracts 50 boys and girls throughout the season. The team is run entirely by parents.
The lesson is that by engaging parents and drawing on the talents of the whole community schools can do more for pupils and raise attainment.
A community-led St Joseph’s primary could be funded by a direct grant from the Scottish Government in the same way as Jordanhill School, in Glasgow. There would be no fees paid or academic selection of pupils.
In England, there are now over 450 co-operative schools, which give parents, pupils, teachers and local people the opportunity to become members of a community-based trust where everyone works together for mutual benefit.
Co-operative education was pioneered by the great Robert Owen, at New Lanark. His achievements offer both an example and an inspiration.
St Joseph’s campaign is about keeping our kids at the heart of our community and putting our community at the heart of our school.
(Andrew McFadyen is a parent at St Joseph’s Primary. Follow him on Twitter @apmcfadyen)