Scotland’s education system needs reform – but not the reform John Swinney has in mind
Shadow Education Minister Daniel Johnson says John Swinney’s education reforms, as ever with the SNP, are about where power lies not how best to use those powers to improve the system.
In December, a respected worldwide education survey was released which had bad news for Scotland. Across the core measures of reading, maths and science, Scotland has gone from being one of the best countries to being barely average. The children studied had spent their whole school lives under the SNP government.
That’s bad news because the quality of our education system tells us a lot about where we are going as a country. Levels of education determines the future not just for those children, but for our country.
It should come as no surprise that the SNP’s plan for fixing education involves changing who has power in the system. John Swinney’s plan involves changing who makes the decisions, rather than what different decisions need to be taken.
Whether it is on independence or education, you can count on the SNP to care more about where power lies than how to use those powers for the good of the country.
One key reason that the Deputy First Minister might be pursuing this line of logic is to spare his own blushes. Unfortunately for him, spending on education has fallen in recent years – over the same time period when standards have fallen. But given his previous job as Finance Secretary, as the architect of the budgets that slashed education, he can hardly turn round now and say the problem is a lack of finance.
The legacy of the SNP government is cuts to education: 4,000 fewer teachers, the largest average primary class sizes since they came to power, 1,000 fewer support staff in our schools. Reversing those trends will require investment, and is surely a big part of fixing our education system.
Another part is repairing the relationship between the government agencies who run education and Scotland’s teachers. A survey conducted by the cross-party education committee found that only 20% of teachers trust the SQA to ‘get it right’. The majority expressed criticism of Education Scotland’s guidance and support. More than half expressed reservations about the independence of the inspection system.
These are agencies which have already had high profile failures – like the exams in Higher Maths in 2015 and Geography last year, a fall in school inspections, a new exam system which has led to a collapse in the numbers of people taking Higher Modern Languages, and just this week serious concerns were raised regarding the Curriculum for Excellence management board who take many of the most important decisions around learning.
One has to ask – is John Swinney reforming the right bit of the education system? Should he not be looking at his own agencies like the SQA and Education Scotland?