The Scotsman virtual election hustings 2021: Opposition parties round on ‘glacial’ pace of SNP education reforms

Opposition parties have rounded on the SNP’s “shameful” performance on education in the final virtual election hustings held by The Scotsman, accusing Nicola Sturgeon’s party of closing the attainment gap at a “glacial” pace.

Candidates in the Mid Scotland and Fife regional list area also clashed on Tuesday night on whether independence was the key to improving education in Scotland – or a distraction from it.

Jenny Gilruth, minister for Europe and international development, defended the SNP’s record, insisting that progress had been made in schools.

She told the hustings: “The gap between the most and the least deprived pupils getting a level five award has shrunk by more than a third, and at level six...the gap has shrunk by a fifth.

“And we've also seen effects in our universities, where we now have record numbers of students from deprived backgrounds going on to study at university.”

‘Progress has been so slow’

The Mid Scotland and Fife constituency MSP, who previously had a career in the education sector, warned rivals not to politicise the issues facing young Scots.

“Issues like education shouldn't be politicised in the way that they have been in the past, and the pandemic means there should be a concerted effort across the chamber to try and make sure we get it right for the next generation,” she said.

Opposition parties have rounded on the SNP’s “shameful” performance on education at the latest in a series of virtual election hustings held by The Scotsman, accusing Nicola Sturgeon’s party of closing the attainment gap at a “glacial” pace.

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But Labour’s Claire Baker hit back, claiming the First Minister had politicised the issue when she asked voters to judge her on her record on education.

“The progress on closing the attainment gap, which was the measure we were to use, has been glacial,” she said.

“The progress has been so slow that it's not making the kind of impact it should be.”

Ms Baker said she was glad that the Scottish Government had been forced to U-turn after downgrading the exam results of thousands of young people from deprived areas of Scotland, calling the debacle “shameful”.

“It was good to see there was finally a reversal of that, but there are concerns we're heading that way this year as well,” she said.

“The issue is that kids, they're sitting non-exam exams. They're not getting study time, they're not getting the same kind of support that you get through a formal exam period.

“You do have the impact of the pandemic, but I think what that's done is just exacerbated existing inequalities that are there.”

‘The Scottish Government has the power to fix this’

Meanwhile, Alba Party’s Neale Hanvey butted heads with the Scottish Conservatives’ Murdo Fraser, after the former insisted that improvements in education could only be secured through independence.

Mr Hanvey, the Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath MP, who quit the SNP in March, said: “If you're planning education, then you need to look at how your curriculum develops from primary, secondary [school] into colleges and university … and how that feeds into industry.

“And unless we are able to control all of those elements as an independent country, then we will always be one step behind the vanguard of other nations.

“To make real advances, then we need independence.”

But Mr Fraser reiterated that Scotland’s education system “is an entirely devolved responsibility”.

“Thanks to the constitution,” he added, “the Scottish Government has the power to fix this now and we are just failing to do so.”

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