“What happened to Excellence?”: Lord Jack McConnell, 19 Nov 2020

This talk, the 2020 David Raffe Memorial Lecture, was delivered online, and the video is now available here (subtitles will be added in the near future).

It attracted some attention in the Scottish press, including The Scotsman and the Holyrood magazine.

Lord McConnell portrait

Abstract by Lord McConnell:

“Education is back at the centre of debate in Scotland. Parents, teachers, politicians and educationalists have been prominent in recent public exchanges over lockdown, assessment and catch up. For some time though, serious concerns about quality and results, worries around teacher recruitment and retention, and questions asked about the lack of progress on closing gaps in attainment have all contributed to demands to review, change course and reform. The pandemic has brought these issues even more to the fore.

20 years ago, as Education Minister and then as First Minister of Scotland I oversaw a period of major change in Scottish education. The new professional teaching agreement, policies on global and environmental education, the school building programme, new rights for those with special needs, national music tuition and language teaching initiatives all helped reverse years of decline, and began to create a foundation for excellence in our schools.

The next step was to visualise a Curriculum for Excellence that could transform Scottish education from 3 to 18 and to ensure that all young people had the chance to achieve their incredible human potential. The initial concept attracted wide support but there is now much debate about its delivery and impact, particularly on the secondary school curriculum and its possible negative impact on the school experience and post school transitions of less advantaged young people.

In this lecture, I will take the opportunity to offer a personal, longer-term perspective on developments and reform in Scottish education. Teaching was, and is, my passion and I have strong views about what is right and wrong in our schools today. This will be an opportunity to lay them out, but also to suggest a way ahead.

Key Information

Lord Jack McConnell gave the 3rd annual memorial lecture in honour of the late David Raffe, Professor of Sociology of Education and Director of the Centre for Educational Sociology at the University of Edinburgh. David’s work was underpinned by a concern with issues of inequality in education and how policy change and educational reforms might impact on inequalities. This theme was reflected in this third memorial lecture, given by Lord McConnell 20 years after he became Minister for Education in 2000.

Speaker Biography

Lord Jack McConnell was First Minister of Scotland from 2001 to 2007. He is still the youngest person to serve as First Minster in any of the UK nations, and was the first who had not previously been an MP at Westminster. He grew up on a small sheep farm on the Isle of Arran and was a high school Mathematics teacher for a decade before moving into full time politics.

Lord McConnell serves as Vice President of UNICEF UK; Chair of the McConnell International Foundation; and Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the UN Global Goals. He advises in the implementation of peace agreements and is Chair of the global judging panel for the Tomorrow’s Peacebuilders Awards.

Lord McConnell is currently Chancellor of the University of Stirling. He has a keen interest in sport, serving as Chair of the Commonwealth Games (Scotland) Endowment Fund and as Honorary President of Scottish Athletics. He chairs the Sustainable Development Panel of SSE, is Deputy Chair of the UK/Japan 21st Century Group, and is a global adviser to PwC.

From 1999 to 2011, Lord Jack McConnell was a Member of the Scottish Parliament. He was Scotland’s Minister for Finance 1999-2000; Minister for Education, Europe and External Affairs 2000-2001, and President of the Legislative Regions of Europe in 2004. He was UK Special Representative for Peacebuilding 2008 to 2010, when he was appointed to the House of Lords.