Sturgeon could return Scottish education to greatness

The General Election saw her branded “the most dangerous woman in Britain” but Nicola Sturgeon could turn out to be subversive in a way no one expected.

According to reports, the First Minister is considering a bid by parents to set up a state-funded primary school outside local authority control. St Joseph’s in Milngavie has been earmarked for closure by East Dunbartonshire Council, which says the school is “under-occupied” and must be merged with St Andrew’s in Bearsden.

Parents complain the shuttering of Milngavie‘s only Catholic primary school will limit their children’s access to a Catholic education. They want to establish a “community partnership school” run by a board of community leaders, parents, business figures, and Catholic Church representatives. The new school would be funded by taxpayers but with flexibility to pursue additional revenue from the non-state sectors.

Their efforts have garnered support from the Scottish Tories but Ms Sturgeon has also met the parents and her government is now said to be considering their venture. If her ministers give the green light, it would mark a daring departure for a politician whose instincts are otherwise predictably statist and would put her on a collision course with local authorities.

The public sector *nomenklatura* who have abandoned Labour may come to learn that Nationalists, generational witnesses to municipal incompetence and corruption, are not as wedded to the “aye been” mindset of the *ancien régime*. That streak of populism that runs through the SNP also bears the potential for pragmatism.

Education policy is beset by ideologues and control freaks, for whom the state always knows best and superstitious doctrines of “equality” trump academic excellence. Competition is a deadly threat to monopolies and if the parents of St Joseph are allowed to get away with their audacious rebellion, how long before others follow in their footsteps?

With any luck, not long.

Scottish education, once the envy of the world, is now a workfare scheme for local government employees, sclerotic and dirigiste in equal measure. Intentions beat results; investment is god and outcomes the creed of heretics. *Stop talking down wir hard-working weans and teachers.*

If Milngavie‘s new school gets the go-ahead, parents across Scotland should demand the same opportunity to found community-run schools and even take over ones currently labouring under council management. What’s more, they should press for a *right* to do so, rather than praying the beneficence of ministers. After all, beancounters should remember who provides the beans.

Scottish parents are no less capable of setting up schools than their English counterparts and children north of the border merit the same opportunities that academies and free schools deliver south of the Tweed. (Equality advocates seem untroubled by that particular disparity.)

School choice is a revolutionary idea. It prises power from elites and gives children from ordinary backgrounds the chance at something close to a private education. There is no law that the children of bankers and lawyers alone deserve academic rigour and exacting standards.

Politicians go into politics to get the power to change things but most fail to understand that to bring about change, they sometimes have to let power go. If Sturgeon grasps this, she might end up the most dangerous woman in Scotland — and the First Minister who restored Scottish education to greatness.

Originally published in The Times. Feature image © ajari by Creative Commons 2.0.

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