Leader: SNP must fix flawed school reforms

Education secretary Mike Russell. Picture: Jane Barlow
Education secretary Mike Russell. Picture: Jane Barlow
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EDUCATION secretary Mike Russell’s concession that mistakes were made during the introduction of Scotland’s new high school examinations is welcome, if long overdue.

While stopping short of an apology for flaws – which impacted on teachers and, more importantly, pupils – Mr Russell yesterday admitted that this part of the Scottish Government’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) had not run smoothly.

The new regime was supposed to shift the focus from learning how to pass exams to more fully understanding subjects, but there has – said the education secretary – been too much testing of pupils.

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And he appeared to concede that teachers’ complaints that the new qualifications system had left them with unsustainable workloads had some merit, promising that pressure on staff would ease.

But while Mr Russell’s frank assessment of the current situation was important, it may not reassure staff, pupils or parents.

There have been complaints about CfE for quite some time and the Scottish Government’s response has been to insist that all would be well.

Teachers, not unreasonably, have complained that their concerns about resources and timetables for introduction were ignored, while many parents have raised concerns that their children were being put through a system that was not yet ready.

Only last week, Richard Goring of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association said that last year’s successful exam results were delivered in spite of a lack of support. And he warned that teachers remained worried over a lack of materials and resources to ensure that teenagers were ready for new Higher exams.

Mr Russell told members of Holyrood’s education committee that everybody who has been involved in the process had made mistakes. The benefit of hindsight allowed him to do so.

But now that the education secretary has conceded that critics may have had valid points, he can have no such excuses again.

During the two-year independence referendum campaign, the focus shifted from key policy areas such as education and health. When key services were mentioned by the Scottish Government, it was in the context of how only Scottish independence would allow improvements to be made.

First Minister-in-waiting Nicola Sturgeon is already under pressure from many in her party to keep focused on the constitution. Mr Russell’s admission about the flaws in the introduction of the new exam system suggest that would be a mistake.

Debate on how real change can be brought about in Scotland’s public services has had to take a back seat.

Ms Sturgeon must now direct ministers to concentrate on the existing domestic agenda, within the Scotland that voters chose. The education of our children must come before any chatter about another referendum.

War on child abuse can never stop

WE SHOULD take some comfort from the words of Police Scotland’s Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham, who yesterday told MSPs that the force is devoting time and resources to the disturbing issues of child sexual exploitation.

While Scotland may not have seen the sort of scandal that destroyed young lives in Rotherham, the grooming of children by sexual predators is a problem in every corner of the UK.

An ongoing investigation in the west of Scotland has so far identified 55 crimes leading to 22 people being reported to prosecutors. And of 1,590 rapes dealt with by police last year, one-quarter involved child victims.

We can see important work is being done. But increased use of the internet by predators makes this a battle that will endure.

Child abuse is, as Mr Graham said, a very complex area, with the internet providing a new way for offenders to make contact with potential victims.

Experts from the United States are due to visit Scotland to help specialist teams learn new techniques to pursue offenders. This is vital. We do not know, yet, the extent to which paedophiles use the internet to groom victims but the fact that 283 people have been charged with offences linked to their online activity since April 2013 suggests such crimes are more widespread than many of us might think.

Police Scotland is absolutely right to make this area a priority but we must accept that these crimes will never be eradicated.

Predators will always find new ways to stay ahead of the authorities. That means the Scottish Government must ensure this essential work is fully resourced in perpetuity.