John Swinney defends cuts to education reform fund

John Swinney has defended budget cuts for implementing education reforms despite concerns raised by MSPs.

Education Secretary John Swinney speaks to pupils at James Gillespie's High School in Edinburgh.

Picture Ian Rutherford
Education Secretary John Swinney speaks to pupils at James Gillespie's High School in Edinburgh. Picture Ian Rutherford

The Education Secretary insisted the flagship Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) was at a stage that justifies a reduction in the development budget when he appeared before Holyrood’s Education Committee.

Analysis by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (Spice) for the committee shows money for CfE has been reduced across the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), Education Scotland and central government budgets.

Funding to support implementation of the reforms and the new national qualifications has reduced by 49.2 per cent between the draft budgets of 2016-17 and 2017-18 on the grounds that “budget decrease stems from a maturity of the CfE and completed implementation of the new national qualifications”.

Conservative MSP Ross Thomson said: “This comes at a time when the SQA have told this committee that they are going through an intense period of assessment redesign, which is on top of business as usual, on top of their transformation programme, the very tight timeline to meet, and they were very clear that this requires additional resource.

“It’s also at a time when Education Scotland have been charged with burning a barrage of bureaucracy and we’ve received some pretty poor Pisa [Programme for International Student Assessment] results.

“So the response from the Scottish Government is to cut cash from the general curriculum by £4 million, money for qualifications assessment has been reduced by 50 per cent and non-staffing budgets for Education Scotland by 16 per cent.”

He asked Mr Swinney whether he agreed with comments from Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy at the University of Edinburgh, that the move would be “a big risk” and “unwise”.

The Education Secretary responded: “No, I don’t. I think we have developed the curriculum to a very advanced stage, the qualifications framework is developed equally to a very advanced stage.”

He said that while changes were being made to re-balance the assessment of the qualifications, that would be a “minor change”.

Mr Swinney continued: “I hear loud and clear the necessity for Education Scotland to be more focused to reduce the volume of guidance that it generates and that’s exactly what I’m doing, and we don’t need more money to reduce the amount of guidance we produce. We need to make sure that is sharper and clearer and has more impact within the system.

“So I think the decisions that we’ve taken have been robust and clear decisions. I obviously will continue to monitor all of these decisions as we go through the financial year but I’m confident that we’ve taken a set of decisions that are appropriate for the stage of development of Scottish education.”

Labour MSP Johann Lamont pressed Mr Swinney on the “huge uncertainty” she said existed in the sector and among parents about the reforms.

In response, he said definitive guidance on the delivery of CfE had been issued earlier this year, adding: “The feedback I’ve had from teachers about that guidance in August was that it was enormously helpful in simplifying the guidance and the approach that the teaching professions were operating within.”