SELMAS annual conference 2014: social justice – an impossible ideal?

A participant’s perspective…….Danny Murphy shares his thoughts.

The SELMAS Conference this year lived up to its usual high standard, addressing the issue of how schools and school leaders should respond to the issue which is at the centre of Scotlands future: social justice.

There were three excellent speakers. Lesley Riddoch led us off with a mixture of statistics, information and passion – she drew on her work with colleagues in Scandinavia to develop a vision of where we should be going but she also showed a nuanced understanding of the complex interplay of culture, expectations and school systems – change of this kind is a long term project, not a quick fix, but we need to make a start. Alan Williamson, Headteacher at Lasswade High, reminded us that Scottish schools are already doing quite a lot. The new policy environment of Curriculum for Excellence, GIRFEC and the management information tool ‘Insight’ creates a space in which secondary schools are more empowered than before to to bring all children into a meaningful educational experience leading to a positive destination. Sheila Laing, drawing on her work in West Pilton and Prestonpans, revisited Maslow – until children’s basic needs are met, we cannot expect to develop the four capacities of the new curriculum. Key values are ‘respect, nurture, learn.’ It is important for school leaders to be aware who has power and who is powerless in a school community and to share power across the school community. Although as school leaders we cannot do much at a the ‘macro’ level of Scottish policy, we can make a difference by what we do at the ‘meso’ level of the school and what we do makes a difference at the ‘micro’ level of the individual – that’s where we’ve got to start. In among Sheila’s many stories, we’ll all remember Billy – this year he is getting a poppy.

In between the presentations, we discussed the issues raised in smaller groups, sharing perspectives and experiences. One of the great advantages of the SELMAS event is that it brings people from all sectors and all parts of Scotland and there is always some useful discussion and sharing in those informal moments, over coffee and lunch. Each group had to prepare not two stars and a wish, but three wishes for a socially just Scotland and three wishes for socially just schools. These are being collated by the Selmas committee. We won’t have come up with all the answers, but those present will all go back to their various school communities with plenty of good ideas and a renewed sense that we are all part of a common project to make Scotland a better fairer place.

Danny Murphy was keen to share his thoughts about our annual conference on social justice. Danny’s new book ‘Schooling Scotland’, reviewed as a ‘must read for every adult in Scotland’, has just been published by Argyll Press at £7.99. Find out more on Danny’s own blog

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