Letter from Edinburgh - Friday 20th January 2017


“Ask kids”, demanded this mum. At Wednesday’s Holyrood’s Education committee, we questioned how the new school curriculum had been introduced. What had the educational good and great done to help teachers implement the most wide ranging change to what happens in schools for a generation? Had the Government, their quangos and local authorities worked together? 

MSPs got waffle. It is unclear who had responsibility. There is a management board, chaired by a government official. But they do not appear to have made recommendations to Ministers. The teachers’ unions said they got changes by speaking directly to ministers.

Why does this matter? Because it is about our kids and how and what they are taught. Curriculum for Excellence is about teachers and schools designing and teaching subjects that our children need. But the government and their agencies sent 20,000 pages of subject guidance on the curriculum to teachers. Few had a moment to read their part of this avalanche.

So over two hours we probed all this. What had this Management Board actually done? I am unable to give you an answer. What they actually did remains unknown. Hence the brilliant point from a parents’ representative today. She rightly said that kids knew. They were the guinea pigs as Curriculum for Excellence was introduced. She also admitted that we all struggle to have our bairns explain what has been going on in school! So the reality is that parents need to take a close and very active interest in what is going on. Now more than ever. It is a fair point.

What the next generation make of Brexit is another question altogether. This week the Prime Minister set out what she wants to achieve as the UK leaves the European Union. The most worrying element of Tuesday’s speech was fishing. The industry is worth more than £300 million to the Shetland economy. We sell seafood into European and world markets. We need access to these markets. Some are closed. Shetland Catch cannot sell mackerel and herring to Russia because of the EU sanctions following Putin’s invasion of the Crimea. That may change. Trump may change that by next week as he appears a great friend of the Russian President.

Theresa May says that German exporters, French farmers and Spanish fishermen need the UK. We buy Audis, French wine and the Spanish fleet catches fish in UK coastal waters. In other words, she believes that the EU needs the UK and the negotiations will prove this. But at what cost to fishing?

The fishing industry is scared by the sell-out of national fishing interests by Edward Heath’s Tory government in the early 1970s. Now May’s government may repeat this. If the Tories trade Spanish access to local waters and the right to catch fish around Shetland to help bankers in London, the political consequences will be huge. The government should not do that. But by raising the possibility the Prime Minister has opened the hatch on the deck of the Radiant Star. Fishing must not be sacrificed by the UK Government.


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