The EIS and the Scottish Green Legacy over the Israel-Palestine Teaching Resource
The EIS and the Scottish Green party adhere to John Swinney’s education legacy over the Israel-Palestine Teaching Resource.
Following the recently heralded announcement of the cooperation agreement between the Scottish Green party and the Scottish government, they published their Draft Shared Policy Programme which outlined a visionary aspiration on key principles including human rights and education reform:
“…where everyone’s contribution is heard and valued and where improving children and young people’s outcomes is at the heart of everything we do… [and] support constructive and progressive discussion and debate on education matters in the Scottish Parliament and wider society”
But there was one exception to that admirable statement which both parties ignored and Scotland’s teachers’ union, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) papered over; the Palestine and Israel, Understanding the Conflict teaching resource.
In 2015 a school in North Lanarkshire issued a homework exercise to pupils which consisted of various questions on why Palestinians are, ‘terrorists’. Such was the reaction from parents, the Scottish Palestine community and national news coverage, the then Minister for Learning and Science, Dr Alasdair Allan, commissioned the Glasgow and Clyde Rights-Based Learning Group (GCRBL) to formulate a more balanced teaching resource.
GCRBL, with the support of Education Scotland, invited various stakeholder groups to engage in a consultative role in the development of the resource comprising educational professionals (including Education Scotland); parents and pupils; groups from Palestinian and Jewish communities and pro-Palestine and pro-Israel organisations.
While most of the stakeholders, including Scottish Jews for a Just Peace, recommended alterations to the resource, they advocated its implementation into Education Scotland’s GLOW website. This was done in February 2017 after being quality assured and was then accessible to teachers.
In May 2017, Education Scotland documented the response from the Scottish Council of the Jewish Communities (SCoJeC) who, along with the Scottish Friends of Israel, were the only stakeholders totally opposed to it.
Among the reasons for their opposition was the fear of anti-Semitism being generated in schools; a bias towards the Palestine perspective and a belief that sources such as the UN were, ‘unreliable’. They rejected the opportunity to recommend additions/amendments to the resource which would reflect their own narrative and instead pursued a more lobbying tactic when John Swinney became education secretary in 2016.
His first task was to instruct Education Scotland to establish a Review Group comprising of Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, teacher unions, local authorities and chaired by Vicky McGraw of the GCRBL. Its function was to review the draft material and to arrange a piloting scheme in a number of selected schools.
However, the Review Group was soon discontinued after Education Scotland, without informing stakeholders, took the resource off GLOW.
Alarmed by this unexplained action and lack of transparency, one of the stakeholders, the Scottish Friends of Palestine, embarked upon a series of FOI requests which revealed that content of the resource had been removed after Swinney had meetings with pro-Israel groups.
Having met up with Swinney at a SNP conference I asked him to explain the future of the resource and received a duplicitous response enquiring if I was “from the Jewish or Palestine side?”
The resource was finally abandoned when the CEO of Education Scotland, Gayle Gorman, announced that there would be no further development of it. Again, I managed to catch up with Swinney and asked him, how would teachers now answer questions by pupils on this issue? He stated that, “There are plenty resources that a teacher can properly construct an explanation of the Israeli/Palestine situation…I cannot believe a teacher is just waiting for Education Scotland to produce a resource pack if it helps them explain the situation”.
This response negated the reason why a resource was needed in the first place at the school in North Lanarkshire and contradicted the earlier decision made by Dr Alasdair Allan MSP and as well as the work by Education Scotland since June 2015. After nearly four years, Swinney completed a circle.
However, Swinney’s decision was mitigated when the EIS took an unprecedented step by offering and agreeing to take ownership of a Scottish government education resource. What was ostensibly an educational rescue and promotion turned out to be a relegation into near oblivion as the resource is now buried on the EIS website. The EIS advised me that they have no intention of seeking its reinstatement on GLOW.
Interestingly, that agreement took place during the height of pay negotiations with Swinney.
This controversy added to the litany of Swinney’s education failures culminating in a vote of no confidence in Holyrood last year. During the debate, the Scottish Green party’s spokesperson for education, Ross Greer MSP, defended Swinney and accused opponents of ‘hypocrisy’. However, a year later Nicola Sturgeon added to this loss in confidence when she demoted Swinney away from education.
Since Greer was convener of the Cross-Party Group on Palestine, it was hypocritical that he and the Greens refused to take a golden opportunity of demanding from Swinney the re-establishing of the teaching resource before voting. As a constituent of Ross Greer, I wrote to him seeking an explanation. Despite reminders, he refused to reply. When I complained to the parliamentary Presiding Officer, Ken Macintosh, I was informed that MSPs are not obliged to answer, ‘political’ questions from constituents.
The current coalition agreement between the Scottish Green party and the Scottish government has again ignored the issue.
The incumbent secretary for education, Shirley-Anne Somerville, reiterated that objective research into historical issues can be overruled by individual stakeholders, “Significant efforts to facilitate the development of a set of resources on understanding the conflict in Israel and Palestine that could be agreed by all key stakeholders were undertaken and unfortunately it did not prove possible to seek full agreement on the content. It was decided that hosting the material on GLOW in these circumstances would be inappropriate.”
The decision to withdraw the resource was not based on educational criteria but political. Will education in Scotland have to go through political lobbying before it attains legitimacy and acceptance? That is why an objective approach is crucial and if we don’t have one, teachers will inevitably be forced to search the internet taking them back to the imbroglio at the school in North Lanarkshire.
The issue is still ongoing as the Scottish parliament is presently considering a petition for the resource to be reinstated.
The history of the Israel and Palestine conflict goes back over 100 years and is still as controversial today as it was then. Britain was fundamentally responsible for this ongoing catastrophe and in particular the protagonist, a Scot by the name of Arthur James Balfour.
Scottish pupils should know about this.
Help to support independent Scottish journalism by subscribing or donating today.