Sturgeon admits curriculum's literacy and numeracy failures

Scotland's curriculum is failing to teach literacy and numeracy skills adequately, Nicola Sturgeon admitted yesterday as she was forced to confront the SNP's record on education.

Liz Smith MSP

The First Minister conceded that international experts agreed that Curriculum for Excellence was not focusing enough on reading and writing and needed reform.

On the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme, Ms Sturgeon insisted she still wanted to be judged on her record on education and promised that standards would rise by the next election.

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But opposition parties said the SNP were presiding over a “lost generation” who could not wait five years for the government to bring up standards in schools.

Results from the latest Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) found that less than half of 13- and 14-year- olds are performing well or very well in writing.

The figure for S2 pupils has fallen from 64 per cent in 2012 to 49 per cent in 2016. Writing standards were also down across P4 and P7 pupils last year. Richer pupils performed better than poorer pupils across all categories surveyed.

The government has “identified a particular issue with literacy and numeracy”, the First Minister said, but she insisted that by other measurements, such as destinations for school-leavers, the education system was performing well.

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Ms Sturgeon said Curriculum for Excellence had been “praised by the OECD”, which compiles the internationally-respected Pisa rankings, but that international experts had called for greater focus on reading and writing.

Last year’s Pisa results gave Scotland its lowest ever scores in reading, maths and science since the survey was launched in 2000.

Ms Sturgeon said she had “been very open” that literacy and numeracy standards were “not good enough”, adding: “I’m not being defensive, 
I absolutely readily accept the areas where we need to do ­better.”

The First Minister said: “Curriculum for Excellence is about educating young people to be good citizens, to not just absorb facts and figures but to be able to analyse that and said sense of the world they live in. It’s the right thing to do.”

The government has introduced new benchmarks for literacy and numeracy, and is giving headteachers control over a share of £120 million to raise standards.

Additional teacher training places are being created to try to address a shortage of some 700 posts, amid growing concern about the standard of training for those teaching pupils to read and write.

Ms Sturgeon said: “We need to be both frank about the challenges in education, some of which are not unique to Scotland, but we also need to recognise that the fundamentals of Scottish education in many respects are very strong.

“I’m focused on improving these areas that we need to improve, but also making sure that we don’t do a disservice to teachers and pupils by saying everything in Scottish education is bad, because emphatically it is not.”

Asked if the government’s record on education could cost the First Minister her position, Ms Sturgeon said: “I don’t wish to be Mary, Queen of Scots. I’ve been First Minister for two and a half years, and I said when I became First Minister that I wanted this to be the defining priority for however many years I am First Minister, and I hold to that.”

Labour leader Kezia Dugdale called on the SNP to shelve plans for a second independence referendum and focus on getting schools back on track.

Ms Dugdale said: “After ten years of SNP government, we have seen nothing but declining education standards and growing class sizes. And now even Nicola Sturgeon isn’t denying that reality.

“There’s a lost generation of Scottish children who are suffering as a result of the SNP’s obsession with another divisive independence referendum.”

Liz Smith, MSP, the Conservative education spokeswoman, said pupils could not wait four years to see standards rise.

“Today’s response from the First Minister that she is ‘not denying’ collapsing standards in literacy and numeracy is a tacit admission of failure,” she said.