Scottish Union for Education – Newsletter No33
Newsletter Themes: pros and cons of using the law to achieve change, declining pupil numbers, and the teaching of environmental activism
Welcome to the Scottish Union for Education Substack. Last week we had our first Parents and Supporters Group (PSG) meeting. The group has been set up and is being coordinated by Kate Deeming to collectivise our efforts and to allow parents and supporters to get to know one another to help support those who are trying to change things in our schools. At our next meeting in October we will be discussing Dr Jenny Cunningham’s pamphlet Transgender Ideology in Scottish Schools: What’s wrong with government guidance which you can read here. You can also watch an interview with Dr Cunningham about the pamphlet.
If you would like to know more, please contact Kate at PSG@scottishunionforeducation.co.uk.
This week Stuart Waiton takes a first look at the question of law as he tries to work out how best to make a difference in our schools, Julie Sandilands raises a concern about the declining number of children in Scotland and the implications this has for education, and lastly, Philippa Mayes explains how a one-dimensional form of environmental activism is replacing learning and education with an inwardly focused form of activism.
We are delighted to announce that our next online event will be Stuart Waiton in conversation with comedy writer and critic of transgender ideology Graham Linehan, who was recently cancelled by Edinburgh Festival venues. Tickets are now available at Eventbrite: proceeds will go towards helping the PSG campaigns. Come along and have a chat with Graham about his work and his experience of taking on the trans activist establishment.
How best to use the law?
Stuart Waiton is Chairperson of the Scottish Union for Education
Not very long ago, I helped to set up NO2NP, the campaign against the Named Person scheme proposed by the Scottish government and that still exists (in a variation of its original form). The Named Person scheme was an initiative developed in Scotland to make every professional who comes into contact with any child in Scotland either a Named Person or a reporter to the Named Person. Through this initiative, every aspect of a child’s ‘wellbeing’ (undefined by the legislation) was to be monitored and recorded by health visitors, nursery workers, nurses, doctors, teachers – the list was endless. Those opposing this initiative felt that this was a huge overreach by the state, which for all intents and purposes was taking over the role and rights of the family and parents.
There were two core dimensions to our campaign. First, there was an attempt to create public pressure, helped by public meetings across the country and by media articles and the engagement of politicians. The second was legal, and the case against the Named Person scheme ended up in the UK’s Supreme Court.
I was always nervous about the legal dimension, in part because once you turn to law you risk handing over authority to lawyers and unelected judges to decide what is right and wrong. A good example of this could be seen when the Lord Advocate, the chief legal advisor in Scotland, rejected the idea that there was any legal issue with the Named Person scheme. Following this, the legal case was taken to the Inner House, part of the supreme civil court in Scotland, and once again it was judged that there was no legal issue. Indeed, it was not until the case went to the UK’s Supreme Court that the illegality of the Named Person scheme was recognised.
When thinking about using the law, it is worth bearing this process in mind, because somehow, magically, the same piece of legislation was twice deemed to be fine and dandy by the best legal minds in Scotland, and then, suddenly, the Supreme Court noted that, at least with regard to data sharing of private information about children, it was very clear that Article 8 of the Human Rights legislation had been breached.
Moreover, despite ruling against the data-sharing dimension of the Named Person scheme, the Supreme Court also argued that the fundamental idea of the Named Person was ‘unquestionably legitimate and benign’. I totally disagree with this part of the ruling, as did everyone involved in the NO2NP campaign and the vast majority of parents we met across Scotland. But there it was, in black and white, and indeed in law: the principle of the Named Person scheme is legitimate because a few judges in London have said so!
As legal writer Jon Holbrook noted at the time, this is the potential danger of using the law to fight what is in many respects a public-political matter about parents’ rights and role in society. The conservatism of judges, he argues, is always likely to protect the prevailing order of things.
Which begs the question, when it comes to the madness of the policies put in place to supposedly support ‘transgender’ pupils in schools, the sexualisation of children, the potential loss of sex-based spaces and sports, and so on, and the wider question of indoctrination of schools, what role should the law play, and how should we use it?
If I’m honest, I don’t really have the answer to this question, but I do think that there is a place for using the law to challenge what is happening in our schools.
At our first Parents and Supporters Group (PSG) meeting last week, which I thought was fantastic, the question of the law was raised a number of times, and in England a variety of legal issues are being raised regarding the harms taking place in schools. Indeed, as one of the activists in the PSG brilliantly observed, in Scotland, schools are an unsafe space! She’s right.
A parent also raised the idea that a parent or a group of parents could possibly use the law to challenge the harm being done to children through the promotion of transgender ideology and the use of inappropriate sex education materials. Again, in England, the issue of the harms of transitioning is being discussed and the question of legal action considered.
However, the same parent noted that, following concerns raised by herself and others, the headteacher had decided to ‘take the clitoris off the curriculum’. This was in a primary school, where part of the sex education, unbelievably, involves teaching young kids about sex and sexual pleasure. The point about this, for me at least, is that this change to the curriculum didn’t need a lawyer, or a group of fusty old judges; it just took a few parents asserting their right to speak up about what they thought was wrong to change things.
Elsewhere, we have seen For Women Scotland very usefully noting that there is, in fact, a law regarding the provision of single-sex toilets in schools. And we already have a legal framework for ensuring that education in Scotland is in ‘accordance with the wishes of [pupils’] parents’. Furthermore, the Human Rights Act talks about education and teaching conforming with the ‘religious and philosophical convictions’ of parents. And yet here we are, watching as our schools are turned into centres of social justice activism.
As I have said, I think we can use the law, but I suspect a key part of this approach is to arm parents with the knowledge about what schools should and should not be doing, not because it is just illegal but because it is wrong; it goes against the basic principles of education, it threatens to undermine the distinction between adults and children, and it also confuses education and politics.
Our first PSG meeting was attended by about 50 people. Imagine if it were 500 or 5000 people. Then we wouldn’t have to rely on lawyers and judges to make our schools and our politicians sit up and take note because, if you’ll excuse my language, they’d be crapping in their pants.
Let’s use the law where we can, but more importantly, let’s get clued up on what legislation there is and what breaches of the basic rules of education are taking place, and let us all collectively make damned sure that our headteachers and councillors know that whatever they think is ‘progressive’, we – the public – think they’re wrong.
Over the next two months SUE intends to spell out in detail what is legally, morally and politically dangerous and damaging about what is happening in schools. We hope to produce a leaflet that spells this out. I suspect we will need to do this and to create a mass public campaign, because as the illegitimate Scottish rulings around the Named Person scheme proved, and what the Supreme Court ruling about the Named Person scheme being essentially legitimate and benign shows, when it comes to doing what is right, in the end, we cannot rely on judges to fight our battles for us – we have to rely on one another.
The depopulation of Scotland: a crisis waiting in the wings
Julie Sandilands is an English/business teacher who worked in several secondary schools in Fife until 2017. Now based in Cumbria, she works as a private tutor teaching children both in and out of mainstream provision.
Reading the recent comment from WEF advisor Professor Sarah Harper CBE that the UK population collapse is ‘probably good for the planet’ came as no surprise, because a couple of weeks ago I was having a friendly chat with a neighbour when the dreaded subject of climate change managed to worm its way into the conversation. It basically went like this:
Neighbour: ‘Well, there are far too many people on the planet.’
Me: ‘Really?! Who told you that, and on what evidence was that opinion based?’
Her expression was one of complete shock, and I could almost hear her thoughts. Had I not heard? Was I not aware? Had I been living under a rock? I continued unabated with a few inconvenient facts such as Japan’s population now being in steep decline, and nearer to home, ‘Scotland’s Total Fertility Rate has fallen to a new low. At 1.28 it’s down from 1.30 in 2021.’ And it is a well-known fact that the TFR of any country needs to be 2.1 in order for the population to replace itself.
Neighbour (pause): ‘Scary, but probably good for the planet.’
Me (now wearing her expression): ‘Depopulation doesn’t just mean fewer babies being born, or old people dying peacefully in their beds surrounded by family and friends: it means continuing excess deaths (currently across all age groups); miscarriages; abortions; stillbirths; neonatal deaths; suicides... The cold hard truth of the matter is that a decrease in population equates to human pain and suffering.’
Neighbour (defiant): ‘I don’t want any unnecessary deaths, but I do think the human population needs to decrease.’
Me (shaking my head in disbelief): ‘Sorry, but you can’t have it both ways... Perhaps we should start a register of volunteers specifically with your point of view who would happily sacrifice themselves. Scary, but probably good for the planet.’
I very much doubt that conversation will ever be repeated!
So, is the world’s population growing out of control? Not according to the World Bank, who report that the annual population growth by percentage has declined steadily from 2.1% in 1963 to 0.8% in 2022, with the populations of western nations shrinking more than the eastern ones. If this trend continues, then the current mass migration to the West will need to continue to fill employment gaps across all sectors.
Despite the prediction that Scotland’s population is expected to continue increasing until about mid 2033, peaking at 5.53 million, between 2019 and 2022 there has been a deficit of 57,315 between births and deaths. For context, the population of Stirling is estimated to be 93,470. If the 57,315 was concentrated to Stirling, this would equate to 61.3% of the population being wiped out in just four years. Where are the government investigations? Where are Scotland’s investigative journalists? In fact, in the first quarter of 2023 National Records Scotland reported an increase in deaths of 12.5% higher than the first-quarter average, and birth registrations for the same period being 6.3% lower. Sadly, though, it is not just the Scottish government who are reluctant to formally investigate these worrying data.
Births in Scotland Deaths in Scotland
So, what is happening with Scotland’s birthrates? Births in Scotland saw a gradual decline between 1993 and 2002 before increasing again between 2003 and 2008, after which there has been another gradual decline, the exception being in 2021.
In terms of education, the declining numbers are already having an impact, with the number of primary school pupils decreasing from 400,312 in 2017 to 388,920 in 2022. Whether this will be compounded further by the recent initiative to allow parents to defer entry their child’s entry to primary school is not yet known, but history has a habit of repeating itself and teachers in Scotland have been here before. Owing to the gradual decrease in the birthrate between 1993 and 2002, the number of children in primary education dropped to 365,326 in 2010, with total teacher vacancies declining from 1164 in 2005 to 354 in 2010. This was despite a pledge in the 2007 SNP manifesto which stated: ‘We will maintain teacher numbers in the face of falling school rolls to cut class sizes and place greater emphasis on teacher recruitment for the early years, languages and science.’
Then in October 2010, while giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee, Cabinet Secretary Michael Russell stated: ‘I do not have a policy on employing an arbitrary number of teachers.’ However, in a bid to reduce unemployment for teachers entering the profession, ‘the Scottish Government and COSLA [in November 2010] agreed to ... provide enough jobs for the 1,800 teachers due to complete their probationary year in June 2011.’ (John Swinney, MSP, and Pat Watters, President of COSLA, in a letter to all Scottish local authorities).
Now is the time for teachers and teaching unions to start asking questions about future job security, although I hope Jenny Gilruth MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, is well aware of these demographic changes and is currently working on not just a pledge on teacher numbers for the next SNP manifesto, but how she is going to mitigate the ramifications which will inevitably hit virtually every aspect of her remit. Perhaps the initial planning notes on her desk look something like the this:
Real solutions are needed for real problems, and if the problem of depopulation is conveniently ignored, it will eventually leave Scotland heavily reliant on external resources – alongside diminishing communities and linguistic and cultural traditions. With a general election on the horizon in late 2024, the current SNP government might just be able to turn their backs and walk away having done no mitigation whatsoever, effectively handing the baton to the next political custodians. Time will tell, but ‘it wisnae me’ or ‘I dinnae ken’ from any political party simply won’t be acceptable to Scotland’s people.
Activism is draining the life out of education
Philippa Mayes is a concerned parent from East Renfrewshire
Homework is not what it used to be. One task assigned to my youngest son was to come up with a pledge of what he and our whole family would be doing to help save the climate. Another task was to pick one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and write about what he was personally going to do to help deliver that goal (he was nine years old at the time). We can’t seem to get through a whole week without some or other campaign: Fair Trade Fortnight, Switch Off Fortnight, Cycle to School Week, Sustainability Week, and so on. School has become saturated with activism, and it is draining the life out of education.
In their book The Coddling of the American Mind, Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff describe three ‘great untruths’ that have spread through schools and universities in recent years, creating a huge cultural shift. One of these untruths is ‘The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a Battle Between Good People and Evil People.’ Although the book mainly deals with the university system in America, this theme rings true throughout education here too. Subject matter being taught in schools is becoming increasingly binary and simplistic, and there’s only ever one side that can be right. Nowhere is this untruth more evident than in the battle for ‘climate justice’, a topic that seems to have wound its way around the whole curriculum under the guise of achieving ‘learning for sustainability’.
The causes of climate change are simplified to good versus evil, and any information that doesn’t fit the narrative gets omitted. Children are being taught plainly that climate change is the result of burning fossil fuels. The truth is, of course, a little more complicated. While it is widely accepted that human activity may be accelerating climate change, we also know that climate change occurs naturally as part of warming and cooling cycles that the earth has gone through for millions of years. Why are children not learning about the different natural factors that contribute to climate change, such as solar output, changes in the earth’s orbit, and volcanic activity? Because if it doesn’t conveniently fit the narrative of good versus evil, then it doesn’t get taught.
In Scotland, the Climate Action Schools programme provides training and resources to schools about climate change. Except that it doesn’t. What it actually provides is a blueprint for schools to become hubs of activism. Just listen to the language. Climate change has morphed into climate justice or climate action. Fighting talk. All the way through these resources everything is an ‘emergency’ or a ‘crisis’, and always the focus is on what children should be doing about it.
They encourage schools to declare a climate emergency, set up eco committees, appoint climate officers, and draw up action plans. Occasionally a little bit of science is thrown in here or there, but don’t be fooled: the point is not for kids to learn stuff, the point is for kids to do stuff. Take up a sword and fight in the great climate battle.
My son’s primary school has one of these eco committees. And just to be clear, the purpose of these is not to promote learning about climate science or the natural world. The purpose is to monitor fellow pupils and check that everyone is behaving sustainably and that the school is on track to reducing its carbon footprint. A typical task involves comparing the school’s electricity usage from one year to the next. So instead of learning about the climate, children just learn about themselves: how much electricity they use, how sustainably they travel to school, how much waste they produce, etc, etc. All their intellectual curiosity is directed inwards. And all their critical thinking is directed at how they can personally improve: reduce waste, reduce energy consumption, eat less meat, be more kind, and so on. No curiosity is directed at why they must do these things or even whether it is a good idea. The work they have to do is all on themselves.
The eco committee claim in their leaflet to be fulfilling Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: ‘You have the right to an opinion and for it to be listened to and taken seriously’. Likewise, the Climate Action Schools website states that ‘it is essential that the voices of our youngest citizens are heard’. And this is another feature of school activism: pretending that all these ideas come from the kids and that all schools are doing is simply amplifying the message of what kids want. Well of course kids hold all the right opinions when they are only allowed one opinion and they haven’t been presented with any nuance. They are literally told what their opinion should be and then get praise for regurgitating it.
What troubles me most is that this stuff just does not prepare kids for life. Of course, these kids will be good at recycling and switching off lights they are not using. But will they have acquired the kind of skills they will need to become well-rounded adults and to navigate the challenges of the future? The dictionary offers a definition of critical thinking as ‘the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.’ I believe this is the core skill that schools need to teach children, and I do not believe they are fulfilling this any longer. Nor are they teaching children how to work together with people who share different views. Despite the fact that diversity and inclusion has become the mantra of headteachers across the land, what schools are actually becoming is more and more closed-minded and intolerant, while action is taking the place of learning and problem solving involves searching ever deeper inwards.
Schools have truly lost their way. The question that remains is how do we find our way back? We can’t very well opt our kids out of learning outcomes that are embedded across the whole curriculum. But we have to find a way to stop schools morphing into social justice training camps. Open-minded curiosity about the world around us should be at the heart of schools. Not activism. We must replace the call to action with a call to learn.
A selection of the main stories with relevance to Scottish education in the press in recent weeks, by Simon Knight
https://archive.ph/rqYmW Ewan Somerville, Children must not change gender at school, Tavistock whistleblowers tell Rishi Sunak. Leading clinicians warn Prime Minister he risks being ‘complicit’ in explosion of teenagers wanting puberty blockers and sex-change hormones. 01/09/23
https://archive.ph/MT9ml Jonathon Ames, Maya Forstater: schools are at legal risk if they let pupils self-identify. The gender-critical campaigner Maya Forstater issued a warning to schools that don’t have clear policies. 05/09/23
https://www.dublinlive.ie/news/world-news/more-children-identifying-furries-expert-27635579 Jilly Beattie, More children identifying as 'furries' as expert issues advice to parents and teachers. 05/09/23
https://www.spiked-online.com/2023/09/06/kids-dont-need-teachers-who-look-like-them/?utm_source=Today+on+spiked&utm_campaign=67c86d5e44-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2023_09_06_05_34&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_-67c86d5e44-%5BLIST_EMAIL_ID%5D Rakib Ehsan, Kids don’t need teachers who ‘look like them’ The notion that black pupils must be taught by black teachers is racialist nonsense. 06/09/23
https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/children-need-protection-from-adult-madness/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=CampaignMonitor_Editorial&utm_campaign=WEEK%20%2020230907%20%20AL+CID_7c5bcd24666ab76ed6327fad1da73c14 Lionel Shriver, Children need protection from adult madness. 09/09/23
https://archive.ph/uRC5s Ella Whelan, Graham Linehan isn’t alone in deserving an apology. Light is finally being let in on the trans debate, which has been characterised by censorship for far too long. 06/09/23
Frank Furedi, The Pornification Of The Western World. When pornography goes normal. 09/09/23
https://europeanconservative.com/articles/commentary/how-the-gender-lobby-hijacked-the-eus-policy-agenda/ Ashley Frawley, How the Gender Lobby Hijacked the EU’s Policy Agenda. 02/09/23
https://thecritic.co.uk/abuses-of-affirmation/ Roisin Michaux, Abuses of affirmation. Inside the communities of trans mums. 07/09/23
https://thecritic.co.uk/a-failure-of-safeguarding/ Miriam Cates, A failure of safeguarding. The government should act on transitioning in schools. 09/09/23
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