Scottish Greens call for investment & halt to reforms as literacy performance dips

Nathanael Williams

Parties clash over literacy dip as Scottish Government press ahead with education reforms

THE SCOTTISH GREENS have urged the Scottish Government to place more focus on investment in teaching staff and less on the proposed reforms in the light of new figures showing a dip in the performance of Scotland’s children in literacy.

Reading and writing, according to the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) has declined in the past 5 years leading opposition parties such as the Scottish Greens and Labour to question the government’s commitment to investment in additional support staff. The new figures show less than half of all S2 pupils perform “well” at writing. 

The SSLN is an annual sample survey which monitors national performance in literacy and numeracy in alternate years, for school pupils at P4, P7 and S2. It features data relating to 10,000 pupils in 2,250 schools as part of the survey in 2016.

Teaching shortages and workloads have also been blamed for the downward trend with unions such as Unite Scotland suggesting that the school system is thousands of teachers short.

However, the study did conclude that Scottish children as a whole still performed at the “well” or “very well” stages over the assessed 2012 to 2016 period despite the attainment gap between poorer children and richer children existing.

“We must also focus efforts outside the classroom as a young person’s learning is far too often affected by poor housing, poor health and lack of income.” Ross Greer MSP

Ross Greer, MSP for the West of Scotland and the Scottish Green spokesperson for education, said: “These figures underline the need to invest in education, reversing the damaging cuts we’ve seen over the years to teacher numbers, additional support needs staff and librarians in particular. Helping students from less well-off backgrounds achieve their potential isn’t going to be helped by national testing, a league table culture or new regional structures.

“Students, parents and teachers know that what matters in education is adequate individual support for pupils. And the best way to provide that support is by bringing back the staff who have been cut, keeping class sizes down and easing teachers’ unsustainable workloads and mountains of unhelpful guidance.

“We must also focus efforts outside the classroom as a young person’s learning is far too often affected by poor housing, poor health and lack of income. By investing in these community priorities, as well as teaching and support staff in schools, we can start to close the attainment gap.”

The SSLN study showed that at level Primary 4, since 2012, the percentage of children being able to read well or very well has fallen by 5 per cent, and for writing, it has fallen by 2 per cent. At P7 level, since 2012 the percentage of children being able to read well or very well has fallen by 2 per cent, and for writing by 7 per cent. For highers, at S2 level, there was a slight increase of 2 per cent from 2014 but S2 pupils also saw those who can write well or very well fall from 65 per cent in 2012 to 49 per cent last year.

A 2017 report by Unison Scotland cited 6707 more pupils since 2010 in Scottish schools, but 1841 less support staff and 1389 less teachers. It also goes on to list that 54 per cent of support staff cite budget cuts as a major obstacle to education achievement, 40 per cent of said support staff in schools carry out unpaid work to meet new workloads, 60 per cent say morale is low and 80 per cent say workloads are heavier. This is despite claims by the Scottish Government that advice and guidance has been “streamlined by up to 85 per cent.”

John Swinney, education secretary for the Scottish Government, responsed saying: “I want to see standards and attainment improving in Scottish education. A stable performance and drop in S2 writing is simply not good enough.

“These reforms are not an overnight solution: it will take time before we see their full effect and we must stay the course. But if anyone looking at these literacy results thinks nothing more needs to change in Scottish education then they are mistaken. Further reform is now imperative.”

Swinney also upheld the statement that all schools now have access to ‘Attainment Advisors’ and that government had, from April this year, provided a £120 million Pupil Equity Funding for head teachers to use for activities and interventions that will lead to improvements in literacy, numeracy and health for children.

Picture courtesy of Scottish Government 

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