Education failure

Another report (3 November) from experts sets out the shortcomings of the Scottish Government, this time in relation to the approach to closing the attainment gap in education.

The report from the Commission for School Reform makes clear they are not convinced the SNP have this right. It says the rhetoric reflects ambitious targets without appropriate strategies, resources and detailed plans to make it happen.

The proposed timings are likely to prove to be unrealistic. The story is similar in health, policing and energy policy, where in turn the concerns of doctors, nurses, police and engineers about lack of resources and ill-judged policy decisions are falling on deaf ears.

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In each of these fields experts have criticised the gap between what the Scottish Government says and what it actually delivers. The problem is not that the SNP do not care about these matters. Rather it is that they simply do not care enough.

The SNP’s commitment to tackling the real problems of Scotland always comes second best to their overriding ambition to maximise votes and in turn further their separatist ambitions. This is why they continue to favour vote-winning universal benefits and the freezing of the council tax, both of which benefit middle-class voters.

This is at the expense of the potential programmes that could otherwise be afforded to improve essential public services and really help the poor and disadvantaged. For all their success in convincing the electorate that they offer something for everyone, the SNP continue to prove that in practice they are letting all of us down.

Keith Howell

West Linton, Peeblesshire

The latest educational report from Edinburgh University provides yet more evidence of SNP incompetence. As well as the falling standards in literacy and numeracy, we have been aware for some time that Scottish pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are much less likely to win a place at university than their counterparts in the rest of the UK.

Now we learn that another significant contributor to this sorry state of affairs is directly attributable to SNP education policy.

Their much-vaunted Curriculum for Excellence actually reduces academic subject choices, making it less likely that pupils will have the necessary qualifications for university entrance. The SNP ministers were repeatedly told by the professional bodies that the loosening of curricular requirements, combined with a pressure on schools to reduce the number of subjects studied, would have precisely this impact.

The reduction in the numbers studying key subjects such as mathematics and science, not to mention modern languages, is the utterly predictable outcome of these misguided policies.

The SNP appear to be impervious to all expert advice.

The evidence of the detrimental impact of ill-conceived educational policies is piling up, yet the response of the government is that they welcome contributions to the debate! Meanwhile, school pupils across Scotland will have their future life chances permanently reduced by a failing education system.

Carole Ford

Former president, School Leaders Scotland

Terregles Avenue, Glasgow

Fiscal literacy

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Fraser Grant (Letters, 4 November) is spot-on in identifying Labour’s (and Martin Redfern’s) fiscal illiteracy (Letters, 3 November). It is much more widespread than that. A few months ago, the Institute for Fiscal Studies claimed the SNP’s spending on our NHS had fallen by 0.7 per cent. This was followed recently with a similar conclusion from Audit Scotland. True to form, Labour latched on to that – never missing an opportunity to blame the SNP. Unfortunately, we never see Labour’s own figures.

The SNP have maintained they put into our NHS whatever comes here from the consequences of England’s enhancement, and there is no evidence they have not done that.

The problem the sources have is that they have worked their numbers in relation to what extra money was available, and not on what would have come but for the Barnett squeeze – if we spend 20 per cent more per capita than England, and they receive 5 per cent, our “share” is worth only 4 per cent to us.

It is that aberration of Barnett that explains the drop in spending, and not any manipulation by the Scottish Government.

The 1 per cent shortfall on a block grant of £25bn is £250m, and half of that applies to our NHS, ie, close to the 0.7 per cent quoted above.

That means the £110 million of proceeds from Kesia Dugdale’s increasing the income tax of the rich would serve only to restore our NHS Barnett shortfall, in round figures.

Fraser Grant is right, too, to highlight the offsets from the block grant to match any proceeds from tax increases, which would leave nothing extra to spend. This is being covered in the so-called “fiscal framework” – being negotiated outwith the legislation – that should concern us. This is effectively a revision of Barnett.

UK ministerial statements to the effect that, as tax revenue assumes greater significance, then Barnett would diminish.

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The only possible interpretation of that is that, for example, our income tax proceeds would be countered by a corresponding reduction in block grant – so no extra money!

It is a disturbing reflection on the Unionist mindset that Scottish Secretary David Mundell stated that the reality of the proposals would become apparent when the Scots started to pay tax – what exactly does he think we have been doing for all of our working lives?

Douglas R Mayer

Thomson Crescent, Currie

Gaelic on TV

The Gael who wishes to see and hear Gaelic on television lives in curious times. We have our own television station, apparently, called BBC Alba. But scratch the surface, and the story becomes a bit more complex.

Firstly, the station broadcasts for around seven hours per day – one hour for children, one aimed at teens, and five, or six at most, for adults. Of these precious hours, there are too many occasions when less than half of the material is actually in Gaelic.

Despite going under the name BBC Alba, which offers a pretence of existing to serve the Gaelic community, there are times when it acts as a sports channel for the rest of Scotland.

We have to accept regular doses of football and rugby, where commentary may be in Gaelic, but interviews are, almost inevitably, in English. These are not additional, but can take up a considerable slice of the few hours available to us.

That the service is underfunded is obvious. Machair, a rather elderly soap, was first recorded in 1992, and is now among the many repeats on the channel. Other material drawn from the archive includes Speaking Our Language, a series designed for those wishing to learn Gaelic, which was first transmitted in 1993, and is available on DVD.

Recent musical transmissions included a five-minute music slot, Barbara Dickson singing Rigs o Rye (inevitably repeated a couple of days later) and a half an hour of Rachel Sermanni, who can claim Highland connections, being from Carrbridge, in Strathspey, but is unlikely to include Gaelic in her repertoire. These are fine singers, who should add welcome variety to BBC Scotland’s schedules, but they shouldn’t be used to undermine the already diluted service Gaels receive. The History Shorts series may last only five minutes, but being entirely in English, only serve to reinforce the myth that Gaeldom contributed nothing to history.

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We do have to live with the numbers game. There aren’t too many Gaels left, are there? But we may counter by reference to a couple of centuries of active repression followed by neglect.

Before the brutalities of the Highland Clearances, around 20 per cent of Scots spoke Gaelic. Then the 1872 Education Act, which introduced compulsory schooling, ignored the very existence of the language. The Gaelic male was a willing volunteer, in two world wars, to devastating effect. So, the number we would wish to engage with is that which might have applied without such depredations on our culture.

If, at peak, a minimum of 20 per cent of Scots were Gaelic-speaking, it may be assumed at least a million of us would still be communicating with each other through the language.

The perceived benefits of multilingualism would probably mean even more would have set about learning it, and ensuring their children did likewise. Even were such assertions arguable, there would certainly be many more speakers than at present.

Given such a repressive history, we might expect to read sympathetic letters demanding full compensation from the government, in order that we may begin to recover from the institutionalised cultural damage done. Instead, we read letter after letter treating us as some kind of profligate enemy of reason: the subtext being “eliminate Gaelic and the problem will go away”.

While we are a resilient lot, with no intention of “going away”, we are also numerically fragile. But Gaelic is a language, not a label, and it is imperative that the necessary demand for reparations is made, with urgency and clarity, so that both UK and Holyrood governments acknowledge the need to act.

Aonghas MacNeacail

Carlops, by Penicuik

Planet report

Your “weather” report (4 November) for “exoplanet” PSO J318.5-22 forecasts a “scorching 800C” with “molten iron rain”. Something here doesn’t add up.

At least in this neck of the universe, iron melts at 1,811 Kelvin, about 1,538 Celsius. Your report says temperatures inside clouds on the exoplanet exceed 800 Celsius, but not by how much: 738C is a big jump.

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I also wonder if “planet-like” is the right classification for a body which doesn’t orbit a star.

But since “planet” is from the Greek for “wanderer” – used historically to differentiate bodies orbiting our Sun from “fixed” stars – it seems more appropriate in this context.


Wilton Street, Glasgow

High-vis effect

Interesting to see the “Wear Something Light At Night” letter from Judi Martin set alongside the “Rugby heroes” letter from Professor David A Alexander promoting the view that wearing a “high-vis” jacket seems to have the same effect as a lobotomy.

Seems we can’t win.

Gordon GM Izatt

Broom Road, Kinross