Tom Peterkin: SNP are cheerleading rather than sorting out education

Picture: PA
Picture: PA
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Those seeking an exercise in smug, self-satisfied complacency could do worse than take a trip to the Holyrood public gallery.

This week’s debate on the state of Scottish education provided a prime example of the sort of self-congratulation that can sometimes take hold when the party of government discusses its own record.

As politicians discussed a government motion “building on Scotland’s education success”, it was left to former teacher and former leader of the Scottish Labour Party Iain Gray to sum up the session’s tone.

He described SNP claims of falling primary school class sizes as “perhaps the most egregious piece of empty back-patting”.

And it was left to Gray’s colleague John Pentland to point out that average class size in 2007 was 22.8 in primaries one to three, rising slightly to 23.3 last year.

“Whatever happened to that manifesto pledge to reduce class sizes to 18?” asked Pentland.

Needless to say Labour raised countless other examples of short-comings in the Scottish education system, including poor levels of literacy and numeracy, teacher shortages and the attainment gap which sees children from a poor background struggle in comparison with the offspring of the well-off.

Much of the SNP’s response to these difficult and pressing problems was to simply suggest that everything was just fine and dandy.

George Adam, the Paisley representative, was the first SNP MSP to quote figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), which, as he put it, showed that “Scotland is the most highly educated country in Europe and is among the best educated in the world”.

Sandra White, the MSP for Glasgow Kelvin, joined in the singing from Adam’s hymn sheet when she cited the ONS figures.

“Scotland’s population is better educated than the populations of Ireland, Luxembourg and Finland,” she said, showing little inclination to indulge in original thought.

“Is that not something to be proud of?

“Should we not be proud of the fact that we have done that, instead of constantly saying that we have not done very well at all?”

She simply couldn’t understand why there was “constant carping” about deficiencies in the Scottish education system.

Surely even SNP MSPs should be able to set aside their cheerleading for the government to take an honest and objective look at the sort of education that is being offered to our children.