Speech from Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education
Iain Gray MSP to Scottish Labour Conference
Dundee, Friday 9 March 2018
Conference, I read in the press that we were coming to conference to rediscover our roots.
Which surprised me because the Labour Party I have been a member of for almost 40 years has never forgotten our roots – and the power of education, skills and human inventiveness to shape our world and change society for the better has always been one of the strongest strands in those roots.
So it is that Labour’s record in power, in municipality and in government is a record of progress in education and one to be proud of.
It was Labour who abolished the divisive eleven plus in our schools, a system which saw 75 per cent of pupils leave school with not a single qualification.
It was Labour who opened up our universities beyond the tiniest of elites, and even, through Jenny Lee created an open university genuinely open to all, so that where less than five per cent of young people went to university in the 1950s, now almost half have that opportunity.
And it was even Labour in Scotland who abolished tuition fees in our universities, way back in 2001, whatever the SNP might try to tell you.
But it is no wonder the SNP is reduced to claiming credit for things Labour did in education, because its own record is dismal and one to be ashamed of.
Not only did they not abolish tuition fees, they have come close to abolishing grants and bursaries.
Not only did they not abolish student debt, as they promised, they have doubled it.
The SNPs student loan book is now the governments biggest single financial asset, currently worth £4.5 billion – that’s three times the value of the Queensferry Crossing.
In colleges, they have cut 140,000 students out.
And in our schools, they have achieved the astonishing feat of cutting 4000 core teaching jobs and created a teacher recruitment crisis at the same time.
The SNP’s answer to all these problems is to press ahead with their reforms, reforms that are rejected by parents, by teachers, by educationalists, rejected by their own educational advisers and even by some of their own SNP councils.
John Swinney says it’s about empowering schools, but it is really about disempowering councils and centralising control with the very government who have so badly mismanaged our schools for 11 long years.
It is just the latest assault on local democracy, the right to take local decisions about local schools.
That is not what our schools need.
They need enough teachers, fully trained and qualified, properly paid with enough support staff and enough resources to do the job our children need them to do.
Conference, that is why Scottish Labour supports the teachers’ “value education, value teachers campaign.”
That is why we support a pay deal for teachers which restores the value of salaries, makes the profession attractive again, and which is fully funded by the Scottish Government.
The Tories and their cheerleaders in the press, try to characterise the educational workforce as a block on educational progress, a self-interested blob, they sneer.
The truth is a fully trained, fully qualified, properly remunerated and valued teaching profession has been the corner stone of all the progress our Scottish schools have made over the decades, and they should not have to resort to industrial action to have that recognised.
But if they do we will stand with them, just as we stood with the college lecturers fighting for the fair pay they had been promised, and just as we stand right now with the UCU lecturers fighting to protect their pensions.
These are the teachers and lecturers we need to inspire, empower and equip our children and grandchildren for the future.
If you really care about education, then you care about the educators too.
They need Labour’s support and solidarity now, and they shall have it, in Holyrood, in our communities, and if need be on their picket lines.