John Swinney defends Scottish Government’s education record
SCOTLAND’S CABINET SECRETARY for education John Swinney has defended the government’s approach to education after new testing results highlighted continuing inequalities in literacy among young people.
The Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) found that less than half of all S2 pupils perform “well” at writing, with opposition parties calling for extra investment in education to improve performances and reduce the gap between pupils from richer and poorer backgrounds.
The Scottish Government, in response, claimed that its programme to reintroduce standardised testing and extra finance through the attainment challenge programme will help bridge the gap in school performance.
Making a statement on the SSLN results to parliament, Swinney said: “When we published the SSLN literacy data in 2015, it became clear that we needed a broader and much deeper level of data to secure improvement for Scotland’s children. To address that, we developed the national improvement framework, and we now have data that reflects the progress of all children at key points in the curriculum for excellence.
He added: “In addition, we are developing targeted interventions for schools through the £750 million Scottish attainment challenge programme. The challenge will tackle the poverty-related attainment gap by targeting resources at those children, schools and communities that are most in need, focusing specifically on literacy along with numeracy and health and wellbeing.”
“In fully accepting the case for reform that is confirmed by today’s statistics, we must not fall into the trap of ignoring the tangible strength in our education system, which is delivering well for a great many young people in Scotland,” Swinney said.
Scottish Labour and Scottish Green Party education spokespeople said that austerity cuts were at the heart of continued inequalities and problems with education.
“The core issue here is that there are simply far fewer staff in our schools than there were a decade ago.” Ross Greer
Former Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray asked: “How many years does he need? In those 10 years, we have lost more than 4,000 teachers from our schools; we have lost more than 1,000 support staff; spend per pupil has fallen, and class sizes have grown to be some of the biggest in the developed world.
“The cabinet secretary promises clear lines of sight, new benchmarks and a new framework on the improvement hub. When will he promise us more teachers with more support and more resources to let them do the job that they love and want to do? Is that not the fundamental reform that we need now?”
Ross Greer MSP also focused on the issue of resources, something also raised by teaching unions.
“As has been mentioned already, the core issue here is that there are simply far fewer staff in our schools than there were a decade ago,” Greer said. “It will be cold comfort to teachers to hear from the cabinet secretary that there are slightly more of them than there were a year ago when there are 4,000 fewer than there were a decade ago.
“The latest phase of reform is only now starting to come into force, with £120 million having been given to headteachers just last month to spend on improving attainment.” John Swinney
“No governance review will change that core issue. The people who deliver education in Scotland — teachers and support staff — did not ask for that review. Rather, they want their cut colleagues back. I mention specifically the loss of a third of school librarians. What impact does the cabinet secretary think that the loss of 100 librarians has had on the reading and writing abilities of pupils?”
Swinney, replying to Greer, said that the government has always encouraged council authorities to protect key staff including school librarian support.
The government has also been encouraged to reform devolved taxation – such as the council tax and income tax – to increase revenue for education and other public services. The Scottish Government did raise, slightly, the upper bands of council tax to raise revenue that was earmarked for education. However, opponents want further moves towards progressive taxation.
Swinney added: “The latest phase of reform is only now starting to come into force, with £120 million having been given to headteachers just last month to spend on improving attainment, with the outcome of the governance review expected next month and with the introduction of standardised assessments later this year.
“Those actions will not deliver an overnight solution; it will take time before we see their full effect. Nevertheless, it is clear that we must stay the course and continue to make the changes that are necessary to strengthen Scottish education. That requires that we keep an unwavering focus on improving Scotland’s education system for every child, and we are doing exactly that.”
Critics of the government’s reforms, including the Liberal Democrats and lecturer James MacEanany, have warned that an increase in testing risks reducing standards by burdening teachers with further paper work and narrowing curriculums towards testing as opposed to wider educational objectives.
Picture courtesy of Scottish Parliament TV
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