Liz Smith: Education should cater for all

Nothing is more important than the education of our young people and ensuring that Scotland can once again lead the world when it comes to what happens in our schools.

There are lots of really good things happening in our classrooms, thanks to the increasing professionalism of our teachers and headteachers

But there are still many areas where we could, and indeed should, be doing a whole lot better.

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Spending on our schools has more than doubled since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament and therefore parents have a right to expect higher standards. But, this is not what is happening across the board. We need to face up to some hard facts, particularly when it comes to the attainment gap which means far too many children in our disadvantaged communities badly lose out when it comes to the opportunities on offer to more well-off pupils.Thousands of Scottish pupils are failing to meet basic levels of reading, writing and counting. International performance comparisons show Scotland’s schools treading water. There is a continuing trend of general attainment levels slipping back between the middle years of primary school and the early years of secondary school. Last year, fewer than three per cent of pupils from the poorest backgrounds got three or more ‘A’ grades at Higher level, compared to 20 per cent of those from more affluent homes.

The Scottish Government has control over every step of our children from nursery to university. Yet all too rarely do we hear a proper debate about the direction of their policy. It is time to reset the compass.

The comprehensive system of education has outlived its usefulness and is no longer capable of delivering an education that will match our competitors. Our system has become accountable to local and national government rather than to pupils, parents and teachers. The one-size-fits-all policy which determines local authority education departments is not providing headteachers with the autonomy and flexibility required to serve the best needs of pupils, particularly those who have skills in the vocational area of education.

Those reforms abroad which have promoted educational choice, decentralisation and diversity of provision have delivered better results than Scotland. Where is the determination from government to give the same choice and opportunities to poorer families so often taken for granted by the more affluent? Where is the political courage to confront the special interests which stand against change? The Scottish Conservatives believe educational reform should be founded on common sense. We want radical change to deliver the best education for all our children. So too do parents and teachers.

Liz Smith MSP is young people spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives