Public Petition PE 1879: Background

  • In early 2017 the Vice-chair of the Association of Palestinian Communities Scotland received the following letter from (name redacted) HM Inspector, Senior Education Officer at Education Scotland.

Re: Palestine/Israel – Teaching Material                                                                                             24 March 2017

Thank you for your email dated 21 February 2017 to John Swinney MSP, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, regarding the Palestine/Israel teaching material for schools. Your letter has been forwarded to Education Scotland and I am pleased to provide a response.

The teaching resource has now been quality assured by a range of stakeholders including partners representing both Palestine and Israel. The majority of people who viewed the materials considered them to be balanced and appropriate for use in Scottish schools. However, they were not well received by all groups1 which has contributed to further delay.

The resources are now on an open area of the national intranet for education (GLOW) which makes them accessible to practitioners. Education Scotland’s commitment was to facilitate and support the development of the resource which we have done, working in partnership with the remaining members of the Glasgow and Clyde Valley Rights-Based Learning Group.

GLOW is a nationally available digital environment which teachers can access by entering a password. GLOW is arguably the destination hub for staff looking for additional learning and teaching resources or to share ideas and approaches2. I trust this response is helpful.

The blue writing above is Scottish Friends of Palestine’s (SFoP) emphasis. Note 1 is important. There was only one group, or stakeholder, where only some of the constituent members of that group disagreed. Note 2, is likewise important. It confirms the paramount importance of GLOW for those teachers seeking additional educational resources.

This letter was a direct consequence of a meeting on June 16th 2015 with Education Scotland and Scottish Minister, Dr Alasdair Allan. This meeting had one specific agenda item – just what to do about news reports that some Scottish schools were issuing homework, based on inappropriate teaching and learning resources, which maligned the Palestinian people and showed an ignorance of both Palestinian history and rights. With Dr Allan expressing commitment “to support high quality education that appreciates equality and diversity within Scotland” the solution was to establish a writing group with the remit to develop a teaching and learning resource ultimately entitled Palestine & Israel: understanding the conflict.

This writing group was convened under the auspices of Education Scotland and Glasgow and Clyde Rights-Based Learning Group (GCRBLG). By Autumn 2016 the resource was ready to be scrutinised by various stakeholder groups. This exercise was completed, with support from Education Scotland, by the end of 2016 with the above letter issued about 3 months later.

  • Within 2 weeks of the above letter, with no explanation offered, the resource was taken off the open, public area of GLOW and became password protected. It was to take 3+ more years before the resource would be viewed again in the public sphere.

It serves no purpose to delve, in any great detail, into the intrigues and obstacles encountered during these 3+ years. Suffice to say that of all the educational resources ever developed in Scotland this resource has unique and verifiable claims:

  • The paramount interests and needs of Scotland’s pupils and diverse school communities rarely, if ever, featured in any discourse with Education Scotland and the Cabinet Secretary for Education.
  • The content of the resource was amended by Education Scotland on instruction from the Cabinet Secretary for Education as a consequence of political lobbying. [During May 2017 the Cabinet Sec for Education ordered the deletion of an animation produced by the US based Jewish organisation, Jewish Voice for Peace, from the resource. This followed on the heels of a meeting earlier in the day with the Chair of a prominent Scotland based pro-Israel body].
  • For reasons unstated, the validity of the resource became dependent on the need for consensus across all stakeholders. This need for consensus was eventually ditched once reality prevailed at the political level.

Following mounting pressure at the political level, and on Education Scotland, over the withdrawing of the resource from GLOW’s open, public face, arguments and concepts in support of this decision, hitherto unknown and unheard of, started to emanate from Education Scotland and the Cabinet Secretary for Education.

The resource was now, with no consultation, referred to as a “draft” with further review and verification of the draft to be led by Education Scotland. This included proposals in June 2017 for a piloting exercise in some schools with feedback used to develop the resource further. Then in the Autumn of 2017 more consultation was suddenly required; this to be followed by a strategic review meeting with Education Scotland, the Children’s Commissioner, the President of the EIS, local authority officers all participating.

March 2018 saw the first mention of consensus and the introduction of’ ownership of the resource into the discussion, by Senior Education Officer (name redacted), who stated to SFoP “I agree with you that it is important that a nationally-endorsed set of resources is made available for teachers. Education Scotland is committed to ensuring this can happen as soon as possible.”

Three months later in June 2018 SFoP was informed of the need for ‘consensus prior to piloting’ of the resource with Education Scotland breaking further new ground in their ‘reasoning’ by introducing the concept of the need for balance and objectivity as the reason for any redrafting – with no explanation offered as to where this lack of balance and objectivity was to be found in the resource. By now the obstacles to the resource were fairly stacking up – typified by this quote from an Education Scotland reply to SFoP on 5 June 2018 “Any redrafting requires the resolution of ownership of the current resources . . .”

Meanwhile (name redacted), CEO and Chief Inspector of Education, is assuring her correspondent that “Education Scotland (is) working hard with stakeholders to provide a balanced set of resources to support learning & teaching about Israel/Palestine”. But crucially, in the same letter (4 Oct 2018) it is stated that the Cabinet Secretary for Education had “put on pause all activity on the resources in late August”.

At this point SFoP is not quite at the end of the saga. However it is important to note that the information and detail provided in the previous section was never volunteered by the Cabinet Secretary for Education and / or Education Scotland. It was only through persistent questioning by Scottish Friends of Palestine that slowly but surely the convoluted thought process of the Scottish Government’s education establishment in “support(ing) the learning and teaching about Israel / Palestine “ was revealed.

  • Further intent by Education Scotland to make the resource ”available on Glow as an Education Scotland endorsed package” and allow the “sort of revision to the resources which Education Scotland was proposing” – as revealed by (name redacted) in her letter to SFoP of 6 November 2018 – was  stymied by Education Scotland’s  insistence on sole ownership of the resource and hence total control over the content of the teaching and learning resource. Indeed, as it turned out, by 5 June 2018 “a team of Senior Education Officers” had developed a sample of a redrafted section of the resource. It is worth noting that SFoP’s enquiry as to who acted as advisers to this team of Senior Education Officers went ignored and unanswered.

Detail of any discussion and debate over claims to ownership of the resource was never revealed. There was no transparency. However, there were four acknowledged contenders with claims, at the very least, to joint ownership of the resource – Education Scotland, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the Children’s Commissioner and the project coordinator.

However, at some point an arbitrary decision was taken to arrogate decision making powers to Education Scotland and the EIS, with the consequent  acquisition of ownership of the resource by the latter. Currently the resource is hosted on the website of the EIS.

Where does this now leave the initial claim of Education Scotland, the Cabinet Sec. for Education and, ultimately, the Scottish Govt., to have a resource “accessible to practitioners”? Just what is now the role of Education Scotland and its intranet service, GLOW, in ensuring that Scotland’s teachers and pupils have no need to rely on the vagaries of the internet or the blandishments of well-funded pro-Israel institutions such as the US based ‘One Voice’ or ‘Solutions not Sides’ – currently to be found in Scotland’s schools –  for their understanding of the Palestine-Israel conflict?

Following an enquiry by SFoP (20 Sept 2019) the following is the relevant extract from Education Scotland’s  reply – a terse message with no link provided, not even reference to the name of the resource (Palestine and Israel, understanding the conflict).

As of 3 September, anyone accessing the Glasgow and Clyde Rights Glow blog will find the following message which signposts them to the EIS.

The teaching and learning resource on Israel/Palestine previously available on this blog via a password is no longer hosted on Glow. The resource has now been published by the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS). Further information can be obtained from the EIS”.

‘Travesty’ is what comes to mind. When the above message was posted on the Glasgow & Clyde Rights Group blog, the previous posts were dated 2014 /2015. Neither this obscure blog nor the EIS are the natural homes of educational resources. As Education Scotland pointed out in its letter (24 March 2017) “GLOW is arguably the destination hub for staff looking for additional learning and teaching resources or to share ideas and approaches

  • Is it to be the fate of Scotland’s pupils and teachers that, nearly 6 years on, they are no better served by Education Scotland in the crucial subject area of understanding the Israel – Palestine conflict than before? Just why does the Government continue to let down Scotland’s pupils by its failure to make available an accessible, bias-free, teaching and learning resource?

Note:  Throughout this period two working groups were formed at the request of the Cabinet Sec for Education. One was the Israel/Palestine teaching resource review group with membership drawn from a variety of education focused bodies including Education Scotland.  The other was a Steering Group with representatives from Dundee University, the One World Centre and one charitable group which requested anonymity. This Steering Group was never utilised.