The state of Scottish education is very worrying. Over the last 20 years, since the Scottish Parliament was able to get its hands on what happens in our schools, there has been a slow but inevitable drift away from parental authority and independence of schools towards a centralising dumbing down of standards.
It has not been one particular party. It was the Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition that abolished the ability of schools to be self-governing while remaining in the state system and it was also the same administration that abolished school boards – where in more than 80 per cent of Scottish schools parents used their legal right to be represented and have a voice. They were cheered on at the time by the SNP when Nicola Sturgeon and Mike Russell were opposition education spokesmen.
Then the SNP became the government and we saw the Inspectorate of Schools emasculated and the number of inspections reduced. We witnessed Scotland being withdrawn from international comparative assessments so we could not see the decline, and even the government’s own literacy and numeracy measurements were ended. With what information remained available it was still possible to see other countries – from small Baltic states to Vietnam – pulling ahead of our once-renowned reputation for excellence in education.
We have seen teacher shortages in maths and sciences, and, as a result of our declining system, we are now seeing that the majority of pupils in fourth year are limited to studying no more than six subjects. The lack of finance is normally where politicians look for blame but this approach comes with political danger for the SNP. While they are spending more than £400 less on each pupil they have no excuse, as the funding available to the SNP government has increased.
So we have an education system that has become over-centralised in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats, with less accountability and oversight for parents, fewer teachers and opportunities to learn (especially in the most important subjects), and difficult to measure or compare with our own past or how other countries are performing.
Devolution has been a disaster for Scottish schools – and thus two generations of our children who have passed through it – and it cannot be blamed on Westminster for we have always had a separate education system. All of the foregoing is not to doubt the commitment or ability of our teachers – who face a difficult task in challenging circumstances – it is to ask why our politicians have conspired to reduce standards and then go into denial about it and do nothing to correct it.
You might think that with so much going wrong, and with new revelations of failure on an almost weekly basis, that the First Minister would come to Holyrood and give a statement about what she is going to do about it. You might think that because the First Minister has said education will be her number one problem, she would want to announce what she is doing about all the problems now being faced – that she had a hand in creating.
You would be wrong. Of course that is not what she wants to do. As she once famously said, “independence transcends everything”. No, the First Minister is giving time at Holyrood to talk about her latest thoughts on a second independence referendum. She will take questions on when she “might” announce if she will “maybe” try to have a vote at an unknown date in the future.
It is an utter disgrace and an abdication of her duty to the Scottish people. Never mind Brexit and what it means for independence (or not). Three years after the last Holyrood elections, the First Minister should get back to the day job and put education first like she said she would.