Education must be placed at the heart of Scotland’s recovery from Covid-19, Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie is to say.
He will call for the country to adopt a “partnership approach” in the aftermath of the pandemic – with a “needle-sharp focus” on issues such as creating more green jobs, improved childcare and mental health services, and building a “world-class education system”.
He will insist Scotland needs “an education system overseen by people with current teaching experience, saying the Scottish Qualifications Authority and Education Scotland should have more board members with recent experience in the classroom.
He will make the call in a speech to the Scottish Liberal Democrats autumn conference, which is taking place online because of coronavirus.
Mr Rennie will also call for a “teacher premium” to supplement the pay of staff in schools in the most deprived areas – saying this will help attract the best teachers to areas with the “greatest need”.
He will pledge three-year packages for probationary teachers and retention bonuses to help “new graduates start their careers with security”.
Mr Rennie will insist his party can be a “vehicle for change” after a “decade of division with the Conservatives and SNP”.
He will tell the conference: “The Scottish Liberal Democrats represent a third way.
“The third way means working in partnership. A partnership for recovery. A partnership to focus on a green and fair recovery from the pandemic. A partnership putting aside our differences on the constitution.
“Whatever your views on independence, reasonable people would agree that we need to put aside our differences.
“So we can work together for a needle-sharp focus on green jobs, strong childcare, excellent mental health services and a world class education system.”
He will add that “at the heart of the recovery must be education”, vowing that the Lib Dems will seek to “put teachers in charge”.
School staff have “had to put up with a lot this year,” Mr Rennie will say.
“They were told to teach online then given a few days’ notice to switch to face-to-face,” he will add. “They were told to start teaching again in August without even knowing if exams would run next year. They were told their assessments would be ditched for an algorithm.
“Teachers and pupils deserve better.
“Teachers have been creative and dedicated in this crisis. By contrast Education Scotland, the SQA and ministers have been slow-footed, showing no leadership, avoiding hard decisions, with no good ideas. This needs to change.
“I want teachers to be at the centre of how we make Scottish education the best again.
“We will review their terms and conditions and increase their pay, in return for the central professional role they will play.
“You can’t just magic-up teachers. You have to make sure it is a respected profession, with good career opportunities to attract and retain the best graduates.
“We will work in partnership with teachers for recovery in education.”