The “defining mission” of the SNP is failing

The “defining mission” of the SNP is failing

by Ross Thomson
article from Monday 13, March, 2017

THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT’S “defining mission.” That is how Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney and others have described the SNP policy on reforming education. But on their record, that mission is clearly failing.

At one time, Scotland was the epicentre of research, innovation and discovery, responsible through education for such advances as James Watt’s steam engine, Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, and Alexander Fleming’s penicillin.

At one time, Scottish education was seen as a shining beacon, an example of academic excellence for the world to follow.

At one time, Scottish education could have been debated with hope and optimism from all political circles.

At one time…

But, after ten years of SNP stewardship of education, those halcyon days seem a long, long time ago.

Indeed, last week, the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of an opposition motion to determine that the Scottish Government has been letting down teachers, parents and pupils for a decade.  That defeat is the third for the Scottish Government in the space of a week, and the second on education. This is emblematic of the Scottish Government’s reckless mismanagement of our education system.

Teachers have lost confidence in the ability of Scotland’s education agencies to deliver, and standards in reading, maths, and science are falling well behind those in the rest of the United Kingdom. The Scottish Conservatives are unequivocal that teachers are not to blame for this – that lies solely at the door of an incompetent SNP Government which, for ten long years, has been asleep at the wheel, and whose politics of lethargy has left us with a dysfunctional education system.

There is a crisis of confidence between teachers and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and the agency Education Scotland. One teacher gave evidence to the Education and Skills Committee in Parliament and cited an astonishing 81 pages of guidance, across five different documents, across three different websites. In fact the chief executive of SQA, Dr Janet Brown, admitted that Scottish education was in danger of “sinking in a sea of jargon”. 

Most damning of all is evidence to the Education Committee that: “There have been so many mistakes – from the exam to the unit assessment support package – and…we no longer trust anything that comes from the SQA”.

The fundamental fact is that the SQA and Education Scotland have lost the trust and confidence of teachers. That alone should raise the most serious of concerns for us all. If teachers do not have faith in the education agencies, how on earth can we expect parents to have faith in those institutions to provide quality education for their children?

In light of the above, is it really that surprising that the international PISA results have shown that Scotland has plummeted from a reputation as a world leader to lagging behind Estonia and Poland.?

But when it comes to showing some humility on their appallingly poor record the SNP would rather bandy together and adopt a “nothing-to-see here” attitude. My colleague on the Education and Skills Committee, Johann Lamont, was right when she said that the SNP is living in a “parallel universe” when it comes to education.

But it is not just our schools that are bearing the brunt of the SNP’s reckless mismanagement – our universities and research institutions are not immune; Scotland’s poorest children are nearly three years behind children from affluent backgrounds, and a smaller percentage of Scotland’s most deprived children go to university than in other parts of the UK: a mere 10.6% of the poorest 20% of Scots go to university, compared with 19% of the poorest quintile in England.

And if University isn’t for you, the SNP is not on your side either; 150,000 college places have been shamelessly slashed. Technical education and the industries that they support will suffer as a consequence.

However, no policy on education encapsulates the Scottish Government’s cavalier and dangerous attitude more than its decision to abolish the Board of the Scottish Funding Council (SFC). John Swinney’s hypocrisy on this issue is quite something to behold; on one hand he continues to wax lyrical about the importance of autonomy and sustainability of our universities – and on the other he aggressively pushes a policy that would see a new centralised super board chaired by… wait for it… a Government Minister who has power to enforce the Government’s view on the Board. This has created the legitimate concern of a “puppet board” being at the mercy of the political will and whim of the Scottish Government.

Moreover, the proposed abolition of the SFC board could give rise to reclassification of our universities to the public sector by the Office of National Statistics. This would be nothing short of catastrophic for our universities’ capacity to attract investment for vital research projects, as well as for their financial sustainability more broadly.

And to compound all of this the SNP has failed to provide a shred of tangible evidence to support a decision to abolish the SFC board in its current form. In short, the proposals are unwanted, unnecessary and uncorroborated. That is why the Scottish Parliament voted against the proposals just a few weeks ago. Whether the Scottish Government will respect the express will of Parliament is another matter altogether!

So, with all these missteps and failures in mind, can education really be the Scottish Government’s “defining mission”?

Well, of course not. The SNP has put education (and everything else for that matter) on the back-burner to focus on its true “defining mission”.

The Scottish Government’s true mission has been, and only ever will be, its transcending belief in independence – independence at all costs, even if the cost is the potential and opportunity for the next generation.

It is time for the Scottish Government to get back to the day job and ensure that all of Scotland’s young people have the opportunity they deserve to achieve their full potential. When the SNP does not, cannot, or will not stand up for the education which our children and young people deserve, I can categorically assure you that the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party will.

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