Some of what I said has particular relevance given today's reported row from North Lanarkshire about the 'shared campus' arrangements on offer from the local Council. I believe strongly that we should be able to encourage true diversity in our education system instead of trying to insist that there only be one model for a school within the state system.
"Scottish education is being failed by a lack of ambition. We could, if we so desired, ensure that real choice was available within the state system. Not just a continued support for Catholic schooling and for Gaelic medium education, but a recognition that the same ideal can be offered to other communities across Scotland where there is a substantial demand. We should also highlight the importance of rural schools and ensure that they do not come under needless threat.
The education system needs to be less bureaucratic – providing more freedom within the system and a greater ability afforded to teachers to do the teaching that is needed rather than the form filling and box ticking which currently seems such a priority.
That is a development that I believe Scottish teachers would welcome. As they would a reduction in class sizes. Of course, in order to achieve that, there needs to be a real focus on training and recruitment of teachers, many of whom are taking the early retirement option rather than continue in a job which is no longer what they want to do.
Much was promised by the McCrone agreement, but the delivery of that agreement has been hampered by the inability of local councils to ensure that it is implemented properly. Problems at the probationary level continue. This means that tackling the recruitment crisis is not easy – but unless we do, we will find that efforts to improve education in Scotland will be thwarted.
But improve we must. There are still profoundly disturbing differences in attainment levels being reached by schools dependent on their socio-economic catchment area. Such differences ought not to be tolerated in modern Scotland. Clearly, tackling poverty levels will have a major effect on future education prospects – but we can't afford to write off the current generation of children trapped by circumstance of birth.
That means tackling the issue early in the education system – right at the level of pre-school education. We should be adopting an integrated approach to early years' services, while recognising that children make more progress where staff are well qualified.
It also means using the education system to better the prospects of the next generation by ensuring that in school at least they are provided with balanced school meals and opportunities to develop their health and well being.
By these means, we can help repair the damage done to our education system over the years and begin to restore confidence in a public service that was once a byword for excellence."