Leaders: SNP needs to show control on education

In 2007 the SNP won the Holyrood election on a pledge to reduce class sizes. Picture: Bill Henry

In 2007 the SNP won the Holyrood election on a pledge to reduce class sizes. Picture: Bill Henry

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A PATTERN seems to be developing when it comes to SNP promises about early-years education.

In 2007 the party won the Holyrood election on a pledge to reduce class sizes. For many practical reasons, which had been pointed out repeatedly by their opponents, these promises proved impossible to honour in full.

The policy was eventually watered down to one that was more realistic in what ministers could expect to be delivered by local authorities, who are in practical day-to-day control of Scotland’s schools.

But a flaw in the SNP’s approach to education policy had been cruelly exposed. While the party could promise what it liked, it had no control over how its promises were delivered.

The problem was compounded by the “historic concordat” the SNP drew up with local government, securing the council tax freeze in exchange for a promise not to ring-fence council budgets, allowing more discretion for councillors to spend as they saw fit.

The inability to ring-fence funding meant that when ministers announced money for a specific purpose in education, it could not guarantee that money would get to its intended destination. Councils were quite within their rights, under the concordat, to spend that money elsewhere, according to the councillors’ own priorities.

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And so, ultimately, the SNP’s power to keep its promises on a key area of public interest was out of its hands.

Ministerial frustration at this state of affairs – one, it bears repeating, of their own making – was clear earlier this year when finance secretary John Swinney announced £40 million for new teachers and warned that unless councils spent this money on this SNP priority, he would claw back the cash from their budgets.

Will Mr Swinney have to resort to similar methods in other areas of the education budget?

It looks a distinct possibility, if the SNP is not to suffer a series of embarrassments on some of the issues that matter most to voters.

Yesterday, the Labour opposition at Holyrood made hay with a report that suggested Scotland’s nursery schools were failing to meet public demand for their services. Not only that, but the situation was worsening.

The fact that this new challenge is on nursery provision will be hard to thole for the Scottish Government. Nursery provision lay at the heart of the SNP’s white paper on independence, and is known to be a personal priority of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The concordat that prevented Scottish ministers micro-managing council budgets is now effectively dead in the water. A more centralised Scottish education system – one where the delivery was not spread between 32 local departments of education – would be a more reliable way of delivering national schools policy. And that goes for nurseries too.

Fancy a spot of T, dear?

THE name of Scotland’s biggest music festival, T in the Park, is of course a play on words, the T standing for a popular brand of lager.

But after the announcement of the line-up for this summer, perhaps organisers should just drop the pun and re-name itself Tea in the Park, and order in some china cups and tartan blankets to put over festival-goers’ knees.

The truth is that the big names in this line-up – Noel Gallagher, Fatboy Slim, the Stereophonics, Kasabian and the Prodigy – could have been seen at this festival ten, 15 or in some cases 20 years ago. There was a time when T was famed for including the occasional golden oldie rock act in and amongst the most vital and exciting performers of the moment.

Now it seems the emphasis has changed, with the old codgers the norm, and the bright young things harder to find among the headliners.

True, Sam Smith is a genuine global superstar, as his recent haul at the Grammys proved. But where are the other big names of the 2015 music scene?

In recent years, the organisers of T have secured some great coups, with Beyoncé and Lady Gaga two examples of taking a risk with their audience and delivering mainstream pop rather than the usual diet of rock or indie.

But there is little on this bill to challenge anyone.

This year is the first time T will be staged at its new venue at Strathallan in Perthshire, after safety fears about its traditional base at Balado.

Perhaps the organisers are playing safe while the festival finds its feet in its new home. Or perhaps T needs a fresh infusion of thinking.

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