First Minister's Questions: Nicola Sturgeon accused of 'failing' Scottish pupils

Nicola Sturgeon was forced to agree her government would make a statement on the attainment of Scottish pupils, after she was accused of failing to tackle the attainment gap between the most and least deprived children.

At First Minister's Questions, Scottish Tory interim leader, Jackson Carlaw, raised new analysis which showed attainment between the least and most deprived children had "barely moved" over the last four years and that the pass rate in Higher subjects has dropped since 2015.

According to the statistics there remains a 20.7 point gap between the rich and the poor in primary school literacy, despite the government setting a target of 16 points. The numeracy gap also remains at 16.8 - lower than the 13 point target, and the literacy gap has widened by 0.2 points in the third year of high school. In terms of Higher exam passes, the pass rate in 32 of 46 subjects has dropped since the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence.

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Nicola Sturgeon was forced to agree her government would make a statement on the attainment of Scottish pupils, after she was accused of failing to tackle the attainment gap between the most and least deprived children.

Earlier this month Holyrood voted by 63 to 60 for a “full review” into the senior phase of the Curriculum for Excellence, at Scotland's high schools, as well as a full review of broad general education, which covers learning from the early years right up to the end of S3.

Today Mr Carlaw demanded Ms Sturgeon go further and have her government make a statement on why it is "failing to meet its own targets on education in Scotland's most deprived schools" given that "yesterday the Scottish Government demanded an urgent debate on which flags were flown outside the building".

Ms Sturgeon retorted that it was up to the Holyrood's business bureau to schedule debates but she was "very happy for this government to give statements on the work we are doing to improve education."

She pointed to the attainment fund which "we see at national level is pointing to an improving system" and was "narrowing the gap" between the most and least deprived pupils. "More young people are leaving school with Highers, with five Highers and with National 5 qualifications," she said.

"There is work to do but we are getting on with that job and I'm sure the Deputy First Minister [Education Secretary John Swinney] will always be happy to advise the chamber on that progress."

However Mr Carlaw said while he was "pleased to have the First Minister's support for a statement to the parliament next week" it was clear her priority was not "raising standards in our schools".

He said the SNP’s record on education was “one of unmitigated and continuing failure”. He added: “Nicola Sturgeon expects pupils, parents and teachers to keep listening to her same lines about how education is her government’s top priority.

“But the evidence shows that record is one of unmitigated and continuing failure. It’s clear that the First Minister has many priorities, but not one of them is raising the standard of education in our schools.

“There’s been next to no progress in closing the attainment gap in primary and secondary school when it comes to the key issues of numeracy and literacy. And now we learn, thanks to the botched introduction of the SNP’s Curriculum for Excellence, pass rates in the majority of Higher subjects are on the slide.

“That’s the very definition of failure – it’s as simple as that.”

The First Minister accused Mr Carlaw of "talking down" Scotland's teachers, who, she said, were "working to meet the targets". She said the government had been right to set "stretching and ambitious targets" and it was "wrong to say our schools are not working to meet those targets. I will back our teachers to get on with the job of making improvements across education."

Mr Carlaw said everyone had a "profound respect" for the work of teachers, and it did the First Minister "no credit to hid behind their hard work", but she responded: "The International Council of Education Advisers say Scotland is heading in the right direction and is taking the right approach to education.

"We have committed to publishing an analysis of the exam results and it's right we look at where exam pass rates are falling," she said, adding that in the ten top subjects most pupils sit - including maths, chemistry, physics, modern studies and biology - pass rates have improved since 2015.