John Swinney is facing an opposition attack over the SNP’s education record today as he unveils a manifesto pledging the party will “protect and improve” Scotland’s schools going into next month’s council elections.
The Education Secretary insists that a vote for the SNP will transform early learning and childcare, as well as seeing investment and new powers for schools and teacher numbers maintained.
But the promises come after the performance of Scots pupils nosedived in global league tables across key areas such as maths, reading and science during the past decade of SNP government. More than 4,000 teachers have been lost from Scotland’s schools in this time.
Nicola Sturgeon has pledged that education is her top priority as First Minister, particularly closing the gap in attainment between well-off and poorer areas of Scotland.
Campaigning ahead of the local government elections on 4 May, Mr Swinney said: “A good education is an investment – not just in our children, but in our society and our economy too.
“A vote for the SNP in the council elections is a vote to elect councillors who are dedicated to protecting and improving our education system.”
The mini-manifesto being launched on education today highlights Scottish Government plans to almost double free childcare to 30 hours a week, invest £120 million in schools to close the attainment gap and reform school governance to empower headteachers.
But Scotland recently recorded its worst ever performance in the flagship Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) for 2015 against other developed nations, falling from 11th to 23rd for reading since 2006, from 11th to 24th for maths and from tenth to 19 for science.
Labour and the Conservatives claimed education was not the SNP’s top priority.
Scottish Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray said Mr Swinney had “repeatedly dropped the ball” on education. He said: “The SNP promised to make education its top priority, but the reality is that this government is only interested in a divisive second independence referendum.”
Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary Liz Smith said: “People are tired of hearing the SNP’s excuses on why our education system is failing.”
She added: “Everyone knows that all the SNP rhetoric about education being their top priority is not matched by the necessary action.”