The Scotsman 2021 Election Hustings: Opposition parties condemn SNP record on education

Opposition party candidates rounded on the SNP’s record on education on Tuesday evening, amid an ongoing row over SQA advice for final assessments that critics have labelled ‘exams in all but name’.

Six Holyrood hopefuls standing in the Glasgow electoral region, including the SNP’s Ivan McKee and Scottish Labour’s Pauline McNeill, at the fourth live virtual hustings event hosted by The Scotsman.

The heated exchange on education followed a pledge from the First Minister on Tuesday afternoon that there will be “no requirement” for pupils to sit exams, after the Scottish Government cancelled the 2021 diet due to the impact of coronavirus.

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Nicola Sturgeon said qualifications would be awarded based on “teacher judgement” instead of exams - but critics were quick to point out examples of official SQA guidance that stated question papers represented “key pieces of evidence” for assessing pupils’ attainment.

Liberal Democrat candidate Carole Ford called the SNP’s handling of final assessments for children in 2021 a “shambles” and said teachers were “at their wit’s end”.

The former secondary school head teacher said: “Children have had very different educational experiences during lockdown, and so there was no way they could all have been asked to sit the same exam, having all studied different topics to different levels.

“So what we have instead is a whole series of exams taking place inside classrooms after the Easter holidays. Teachers have to devise them, they have to mark them, they have to grade them and then they have to send all that into the SQA, who presumably are sitting around twiddling their thumbs.”

Ms Ford added: “The whole system is absolutely shambolic and teachers are at their wit's end with the volume of work, and pupils are stressed to the eyeballs about being asked to sit tests and exams that they haven't had the chance to study or revise for properly.”

Opposition party candidates rounded on the SNP’s record on education on Tuesday evening, amid an ongoing row over SQA advice for final assessments that critics have laelled ‘exams in all but name’. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Kyle Thornton of the Scottish Conservatives said: “Nicola Sturgeon promised that education would be our number one priority - it's very clear that it hasn't been.

“We all know what our number one priority has been. It's been a distraction in terms of trying to foster the conditions for yet more constitutional division, and we can see the results that.

“International PISA studies all show that Scottish education has gone backwards. Our maths score has dropped in every survey and is at a record low, and our reading score is lower than the level seen in 2003.”

But Ivan McKee, the Scottish Government minister trade, defended the SNP’s record on education.

The heated exchange on education followed a pledge from the First Minister on Tuesday afternoon that there will be “no requirement” for pupils to sit exams, after the Scottish Government cancelled the 2021 diet due to the impact of coronavirus. (Photo by Andy Buchanan-Pool/Getty Images)

He said: “getting children back to school was a priority ahead of other parts of society, and I think that was absolutely the right thing to do.

“But of course the consequences of all of this are that we're in a position where we can’t have the normal situation for assessment of pupils’ performance, so this assessment process has been put in place to try and bridge that gap.”

Mr McKee insisted that “the gap between the most and the least deprived pupils at Nat 5 has shrunk by more than a third - that’s not a marginal or a minimal improvement.

He added: “Record numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds are getting a place at university. So there's more work to be done, but progress has been made.”

Liberal Democrat candidate Carole Ford called the SNP’s handling of final assessments for children in 2021 a “shambles” and said teachers were “at their wit’s end”. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

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