Reformers got it all wrong

By George K. McMillan


INDISCIPLINE, bullying, vandalism, falling standards, breakdowns in examination correction and assessment procedures and now staff shortages and teachers taking early retirement – Scotland’s schools are a shambles.

This is nothing new to teachers, We have seen it coming for years. I wrote article after article in the 1960s, 70s and 80s warning against the growing tide of political interference in education and the dire consequences thereof.


The attempt to impose complete equality on human beings where equality does not exist has been an abysmal failure. Not only were all secondary pupils sent to the same schools, but they were forced to sit in the same classes for the same subjects, with almost the entire range of intelligence and talent to be found in each class.

Streaming or setting according to ability and progress was outlawed.

The new watchword was group teaching, not in groups of 30 but the nightmarish scenario of six or more small groups in each class.

The abolition of corporal punishment without a long transition period to give teachers an opportunity to replace it with suitable alternatives has been a disaster.

The resulting collapse of discipline and the problems of mixed ability classes entailed a rapid fall in standards. Pupils were no longer able to cope as well as they had in the past.

In an attempt to solve the growing problems of discipline and falling standards, our increasingly desperate bureaucrats have introduced initiative after initiative – new courses, new examinations, new methods, new standards (always lower than the last) – all to no avail. Our schools have just gone from bad to worse.

They are even managing now to go full circle to try to pass off to us as new old, well-tried methods such as teachers instructing and demonstrating from the front of the class and primary schoolchildren learning to read the letters first, then forming words.

Headmasters are being appointed for all the wrong reasons, foremost among them a willingness to go along with the flawed ideas which have plagued Scottish education since 1945. The ability to lead children and staff and to run a successful and orderly establishment seems to be low on the list of priorities.

It is no wonder that there is a crisis in staffing. It amazes me that there are still young people out there willing to enter the teaching profession at all.


There is no use in Peter Peacock, the education minister, pretending once more that everything is under control and that matters will improve. They won’t, until something really radical is done. I suggest he issue an invitation to a group of a retired headmasters of the old school – those who were in charge before it all went completely pear-shaped and who subscribed to traditional methods of organisation, education and discipline.

With their help, it might be possible to restore sanity to the system and rescue Scottish education from final humiliation and destruction.

Short of some such radical step, there’s no hope for us or our young people. And new teachers? You can whistle for them, Mr Peacock.

• George K McMillan is a Former Assistant Rector of Perth Academy


Corpun file 15369

Sutton & Epsom Advertiser, Surrey, 15 March 2005

School where staff work free

By Joan Mulcaster


IF GRAHAME DAVIES had continued teaching in the state system it’s likely he would be earning at least £50,000 a year by now.

Instead, Mr Davies, head of Epsom Christian Fellowship Cornerstone School, and his 17 volunteer teachers are taking home precisely nothing.

All have quit the financial rat-race to provide a standard of education so high that even hypercritical Office of Standards in Education (Ofsted) heaped praise on its methods.

The school’s ratio of 6.2 children per teacher — sending out pupils capable of walking through A-levels when they join the state system at 16 — and a strong emphasis on pure learning received a glowing assessment after inspectors visited a month ago.

These are the sort [sic] of educational standards feverishly sought by wealthy, ambitious parents prepared to pay £6,000 each term.

But money can’t buy you a place at Cornerstone, where only committed Christians can get their children on the 50-pupil roll for which parents pay £360 a year towards expenses and are expected to help out.


Constant fair firmness could have contributed to the learning ethos at Cornerstone. Mr Davies recently went to the High Court for permission to reinstate an occasional appropriate smack for any extremities of bad behaviour.

He failed, but the case opened the debate about the prohibition of corporal punishment in schools.

Some teachers blame this and a total dumbing down of discipline for thousands of colleagues leaving the profession, many with nervous breakdowns.

There has never been any Wackford Squeers-type caning at Cornerstone, but, until 1999 when private schools were subjected to the same banning of corporal punishment applied to state schools in 1986, there was the occasional single thwack with the “paddle”.

Said Mr Davies: “It was a soft table tennis batsized [sic] implement applied across the bottom in front of witnesses and the parent.

“It would hurt a bit and a child would realise why and not repeat the bad behaviour. It was only used when considered appropriate.”

The school, in West Hill, was founded 17 years ago by Tony Seaton, then pastor of the evangelical Epsom Christian Fellowship.