Fears ‘valuable staff’ could be lost thanks to Scottish education reform
Concerns have been raised that “many, many valuable staff” could be lost if two key education bodies in Scotland are reformed and replaced as planned.
The overhaul of Education Scotland and the scrapping of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) will put jobs on the line creating a “huge risk of losing expertise and stability”, teaching professionals have said.
It was announced by the Scottish Government in June that a new specialist agency for both curriculum and assessment would replace the SQA, which has over 900 staff while Education Scotland – the agency responsible for improving the quality of the country’s education system, with over 350 staff – would be reformed, with its function of inspection removed.
Professor Ken Muir, of The University of the West of Scotland, has been appointed to act as an independent advisor to the government to consider and advise on the implementation of the changes. He is also leading the consultation on reform, launched in September.
In a recent webinar on the reform, he addressed the matter of potential redundancies.
The concerns of staff at the two agencies are a “real issue”, he acknowledged, and have been made clear to him during meetings with them.
He said: “I don’t doubt the anxieties and the fears and the concerns that they have around employment… And you know, it is possible that some of that expertise might disappear if folk decide that they don’t want to run the risk of continuing in an agency that has, for whatever reason, been subject to reform.”
He added: “I understand that the cabinet secretary has given a reassurance that job security will be provided. Now, that’s my words. But I know that she has engaged with the staff unions in both organisations, and that there is a degree of security.”
Allan Sampson, national officer at the FDA – the trade union which represents professionals in public service, including those who work at Education Scotland – agrees that redundancies are a major concern.
The reform has “led to a prolonged period of uncertainty and anxiety for existing staff”, he said.
He added: “We have had very good and open engagement with the cabinet secretary [for education] and her officials over the past few months, as we have had with Professor Muir. However, at this stage we do not know what the future looks like.
“We know the inspectorate function will be removed from Education Scotland but we don’t know where it will go. Nor do we know what will happen to the remaining staff in Education Scotland, so staff are naturally concerned, for their existing civil service status and for their jobs.
“It’s difficult to assess whether there is a real risk of redundancies and job losses due to the reform of Education Scotland. We have sought assurances with regard to this, and although the cabinet secretary for education has attempted to provide that reassurance, in a letter dated 25th August, by stating ‘the commitment to no compulsory redundancies has been a feature of Public Sector Pay Policy for many years, and the 2021-22 Public Sector Pay Policy affirms this commitment’ and that ‘for clarity this applies to the staff of Education Scotland’ the reality is the current no compulsory redundancy guarantee will expire on 31st March 2022, when current public sector pay policy comes to an end.
“It may well be extended beyond that – we should find out when the Scottish Budget is announced on 9 December – but at this stage we cannot be entirely sure.”
The decision to transform the national education agencies came after it was recommended in a report published in June by international education experts at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
All those in Scotland with an interest in education, including parents, carers, young people, teachers and lecturers, have been invited to give their views in the consultation on reform.
The final webinar will be held on 28 October, while the written consultation is open until 26 November.
Professor Muir is expected to make recommendations to ministers on the reform plans in January 2022.