DE Johnston: SNP is responsible for fall in school standards

Scottish education is in a parlous state. Don't take my word for it: ask the thousands of teachers and support staff who, day-in, day-out, ­struggle to make things better for their pupils against the odds. Somewhere along the line, a wrong turning was taken.

Structural changes in teaching are failing in the classroom. Picture: John Devlin

The SNP’s chickens have finally come home to roost. Supported by their cabal of lightweight, sycophantic ­policy makers, and put in place some eight years ago, these so-called ‘reforms’ have been shown to be nothing more than a cynical attempt to persuade pupils and ­parents that devolved politics would deliver higher ­standards for Scottish ­children. They didn’t.

In April 2009, the then ­Education Minister launched the Curriculum for ­Excellence declaring that the reform would ‘prepare our young people for the ­challenges of life in the 21st century’. The particular focus was to be on literacy and numeracy.

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‘Scotland already performs well on the world education stage but we must do ­better,’ she declared. ‘Doing ­better’ was a political imperative – one of the areas where the SNP could not escape ­ultimate responsibility.

The recently-released PISA results show a system in ­crisis. Children leaving Scottish schools are failing. Pupils are less ­literate and less numerate than ever before. This decline in ­Scottish education is directly attributable to the structural changes introduced by the SNP.

They and their self-serving advisers have been ­responsible for a spurious, attainment-led, bureaucratic autocracy which has ­resulted in a continuing decline in standards. They have been ­supported by a self–promoting, intellectually dull, ­conformist generation of ‘educationists’ who can’t see beyond their shared ­obsession with the next career move.

I once had the dubious pleasure of sitting through a presentation by an ‘educationist’ who accused his ­audience of a reluctance to leave the safety of their ­‘subject silos’. Patronised as intellectually inferior, we were clearly unable to think outside the box. Don’t think of yourselves as teaching your subject, he insisted, you are all teachers of children. Quite.

While politicians obsess about the attainment gap, real teachers get on with the job. Schools aren’t the cause of society’s ills – nor can they be made responsible for ­coming up with the cure. Teaching isn’t about ­placating our political ­masters or ­massaging ­statistics or ­mending a ­broken society; it’s about doing the best you can for your pupils in the circumstances – and teaching your subject.

Keir Bloomer – one of the prime movers of the ­Curriculum for Excellence and the architect of its failure – continues to witter on about ‘empowering’ teachers. What he really means is that the ‘ordinary teacher’ just doesn’t get it.

But Mr Bloomer and his acolytes didn’t get it then and they don’t now. Had they ­listened to what we said, we wouldn’t be where we are.

DE Johnston is an artist and teacher. He lives in ­Laurencekirk, Kincardineshire. His website is