Scottish Government education bodies ‘cannot be trusted’, MSPs told

Education Scotland and the Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA) ‘cannot be trusted’ with ensuring Scotland’s education system recovers after the pandemic, MSPs have been told.

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said in a motion passed by Parliament on Wednesday that the Scottish Government’s education bodies had been “totally absent” when people needed them most during the pandemic.

He said the organisations had been “on borrowed time” before coronavirus struck, pointing to an education committee report published three years ago.

Mr Rennie said: “At the heart of the recovery must be education. School closures and remote learning were never going to be easy, but teachers, pupils and parents have worked flat out to make it work as very best they can.

Willie Rennie said the SQA and Education Scotland could not be trusted with Scotland's education recovery.

"It’s been a time of great disruption and worry and it is going to take time for education to bounce back. I want to focus on what children and young people really need. I think we should be making every hour spent in school count for more.

"What is clear is that Education Scotland and the SQA cannot be trusted with that critical job of helping the education system bounce back. These Scottish Government agencies have let hard working teachers, pupils and parents down.”

Mr Rennie said he wanted inspections to become independent, branding Education Scotland’s role as both responsible for what happens in the classroom and for inspecting its implementation a “fundamental conflict of interest”.

He said: “I want to re-establish the independence of the inspectorate. The balance in education must change.

"Out should go centralised bureaucracies and their token teachers on committees. In must come an education system overseen by people with current and direct teaching experience. Let’s get the experts back in charge.”

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John Swinney hit back at Mr Rennie’s claims, saying they were a “kick in the teeth” for public servants, branding the criticism “unfounded and gratuitous”.

The education secretary said: “While I do not claim that we have got everything right, we have made judgements in the most testing of circumstances. It serves neither the country nor our young people to attack the contribution of some of those staff in Education Scotland and the SQA for their efforts.

“My amendment removes from this motion, the unfounded and gratuitous criticism of the SQA who have worked hard, alongside local authority and school staff, to ensure continuity of school for children and young people. Education Scotland and the SQA have been central to those efforts.”

Other opposition parties united over the issue.

The motion, with an amendment by Scottish Conservative Jamie Greene, which requested that information in an OECD report into Scottish education was released, was passed by 65 votes to 58. The amendment by Mr Swinney was not.

Scottish Conservative MSP Oliver Mundell said: “Teachers have lost faith in these two organisations and we cannot accept that. We need to do something about it, it is not enough to wish the problems away.”

Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: “The performance of Education Scotland and the SQA has not been good enough. It has not been gratuitous to say that this afternoon, it has been absolutely necessary.”

Green MSP Ross Greer, said there was a problem with “management culture” at the SQA. He said: “Nothing we are raising this afternoon is new.”

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