Scottish Government clash with Holyrood parties over “decline” in education standards

06/12/2016
Nathanael Williams

As new report is released Labour and Liberal Democrats attack Scottish Government, while Swinney commits to further reform

SCOTTISH LABOUR, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Scottish Greens and the Scottish Government have clashed the new findings of a new report showing a dip in Scottish educational performance between 2012 and 2016.

The Programme for International Students Assessment (Pisa) showed a decline in science and reading since 2012, but also showed that maths performance had been stable.

Pisa also found that although there was a “steady relationship” between social background and academic performance, this had declined since 2012. The Scottish Government has said the report shows more work is needed.

"It is by carrying through on these reforms – no matter how controversial – that we can make Scottish education world-class again.” John Swinney

Labour’s education spokesperson Iain Gray said: “SNP ministers should be ashamed of these results. For all their warm words about making education a priority we are seeing performance going backwards as Scotland drops down international league tables.

“These are terrible results after ten years of SNP government. They must wake up to the fact that their year-on-year cuts to school budgets, teachers numbers  and support staff are damaging the life chances of Scotland’s children.

The Pisa which is an assessment of 15 year-olds’ skills was carried out for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 72 states and surveyed more than 54,000 pupils. The report suggested that in reading and science Scotland had fallen to the average among OECD states compared to 2012 when it was above average.

The Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Tavish Scott MSP also piled into the government saying: “These international comparisons do not lie. Scottish education is going in the wrong direction after a decade of SNP Government.”

However, the Scottish Government’s education minister countered by focusing on plans to close the attainment gap for the poorest pupils, highlighting the Scottish Government’s £750m Attainment Programme. The Scottish Government can point to the cuts inflicted on the Scottish budget which have affected spending for local authorities and education. Since 2010 the fiscal budget of the Scottish Government has been cut by 10 per cent in real terms impacting on spending plans since. 

The Fraser Allander Institute stated earlier in the year that the Scottish Government’s direct funding from the Treasury would fall by as much as £1.6bn in real terms by 2020-21, as the UK government continues to pursue its deficit reduction plans post Brexit.

As new report is released Labour and Liberal Democrats attack Scottish Government, while Swinney commits to further reform

Swinney, who was given the role of education secretary after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who called on the public to judge her government on its record on education.

“For all their warm words about making education a priority we are seeing performance going backwards as Scotland drops down international league tables.” Ian Gray

Responding to the report’s findings, Swinney said: “There is great strength in Scottish education but these results underline the case for radical reform of Scotland’s education system. The results undoubtedly make uncomfortable reading but they contain a plain message: we must continue to make the changes that are necessary to strengthen Scottish education.

“We must recognise that while Pisa is only now being published, it dates from the period in which our own statistics on literacy and numeracy were published and prompted our current programme of reform. Both sets of figures tell us the same thing. Reform is essential.

“That is why last year we launched a comprehensive programme of reform, based firmly on the independent findings of the 2015 OECD review of Scottish education. It is by carrying through on these reforms – no matter how controversial – that we can make Scottish education world-class again.”

"If we’re to improve overall performance in schools, we must raise additional revenue so that councils are fully funded.” Ross Greer

The Scottish Greens chose to focus on the cuts to local councils and what they term is the government’s trend towards centralisation and standardised testing.

Spokesperson for the Greens, Ross Greer MSP, said: “This drop in performance is clearly a concern. Other opposition parties have pushed the SNP down the road of unwelcome standardised assessments, and coupled with Scottish Ministers’ talk of bypassing councils in how schools are governed, there is a real danger of pursuing the wrong priorities.

"If we’re to improve overall performance in schools, and in particular close the attainment gap, we must raise additional revenue so that councils are fully funded, that teachers have the resources they need and that young people across Scotland, particularly those with Additional Support Needs, get the support they deserve.”

Picture courtesy of Ben W

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