Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville's big plans don't let Scottish government off the hook over looming grades crisis – Scotsman comment

Many teachers will welcome the announcement by the new Education Secretary, Shirley-Anne Somerville, that Education Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority are to be reformed, given the current level of dissatisfaction in classrooms.

Shirley-Anne Somerville became Education Secretary in a Cabinet reshuffle following the Scottish Parliament election (Picture: Fraser Bremner/WPA pool/Getty Images)

The Scottish government said that the said that the “role, remit and purpose” of both bodies would be considered, as well as “their functions and governance”, which sounds like an all-encompassing exercise that could lead to radical steps. But, of course, the devil will be in the detail of what those steps actually turn out to be.

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, stressed that the reforms “must not be a cosmetic exercise”, saying teachers had “lost confidence in both the SQA and Education Scotland”.

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“The NASUWT has already warned that a growing over-emphasis on assessment and bureaucracy is disempowering teachers, damaging their morale and undermining their ability to meet the needs of their pupils,” he added.

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SQA and Education Scotland set to undergo reform

Somerville also said the government would recruit an extra 3,500 additional teachers and classroom assistants and invest more than £1 billion to close the poverty-related attainment gap, which all sounds like good news for Scottish education.

However, when politicians make big promises, accompanied by apparently big numbers, it can sound like electioneering. The SNP in government has developed something of a track record for over-promising and under-delivering – a criticism that it needs to react to by making tangible improvements to education and, indeed, other public sector services.

Cynics may suggest that making a bold announcement amid the growing crisis over the replacement assessment system for the cancelled Highers is little more than a distraction technique.

Whether or not that is true and whether or not the reforms lead to significant improvements, no grand plan for the future lets any government off the hook for problems in the here and now.

Somerville needs to make sure her eye is very much on the ball – to paraphrase Nicola Sturgeon – in relation to this year’s already much-criticised qualifications system.

The Education Secretary said yesterday she would “take absolute responsibility” for the system, saying she thought that the government had come up with the “fairest, most consistent and credible policy”.

When the grades are announced, teachers, pupils and parents will pass their own judgments about that.

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