SNP ministers accused of ‘insulting’ Holyrood committee amid secrecy row

SNP ministers have been accused of "insulting" a Holyrood committee amid a secrecy row relating to education reform.

Conservative MSP Oliver Mundell said he was "increasingly concerned that too much of our education policy is decided behind closed doors".

It follows an independent review by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) into Scotland's education system, which was published last year.

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Tory MSP Oliver Mundell. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
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The report led to ministers announcing the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) would be replaced as part of a "substantial" overhaul.

Professor Ken Muir, former chief executive of the General Teaching Council, was tasked with leading work around the reform.

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The SQA was previously accused of requesting edits to the OECD report to “save its skin”.

Speaking at Holyrood's education, children and young people committee, Mr Mundell said: “I suspect I am not the only committee member who has been concerned by reports that the Scottish Government are still over a year later withholding from publication the draft version of the OECD report it received last January and their subsequent response to it.

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“Furthermore, I have also heard a parliamentary statement is now planned on the Ken Muir report and it has been reported that the senior leadership at the SQA and other education bodies have already seen advanced drafts.

“I am not aware of this courtesy having been extended to this committee, in what looks like a repeat of the same situation as with the OECD where unaccountable organisations who are currently failing our young people are extended an opportunity to review and potentially influence the findings of these reports without any checks or balances.

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“Having been a member of this committee over a number of years, I believe it is insulting that such documents have not been made readily available to this committee and this practice of excluding Parliament and denying us the fullest opportunity to exercise our scrutiny function diminishes the work we do.

"To me this is unacceptable and I believe we should be urgently requesting these documents.

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“I know we are to cover our work program in private today, but I am increasingly concerned that too much of our education policy is decided behind closed doors, not least because of the culture of secrecy and lack of transparency at the heart of the SNP’s approach."

SNP MSP Bob Doris accused Mr Mundell of “grandstanding”.

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He said: “I’m conscious, when this committee started in this session, we said we’d work collegiately, we’d work cross party, and we’d challenge the Government as and when appropriate, in the strongest possible fashion when we had to, but we’d seek to work constructively with Government – and constructively across this committee.

“I’m therefore disappointed we get a set-piece statement from Mr Mundell, which I would consider grandstanding. "

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Mr Doris added: “I’m keen to work collegiately as a committee to decide how best to respond to Mr Mundell’s comments, but the idea of ambushing a committee at the start of a meeting, when he’s had lots of other opportunities to put this to fellow committee members that work collegiately, I find very disappointing.

“I find the tone unhelpful, I find it overtly party politicised and it’s not the way I want this committee to work.”

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Committee convener Stephen Kerr said the issue would be discussed further.

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