'Very clear' that CfE review can't be seen before June

MSPs had questioned why draft version of review of Scottish curriculum could not be shared before May elections

Henry Hepburn and Emma Seith

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No version of an independent review of Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) can be published until after May's parliamentary elections, education secretary John Swinney has said.

He was responding to a question in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon from Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Beatrice Wishart, who asked whether the Scottish government had concluded discussions with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) regarding a publication timetable for its CfE review.

The OECD report has become a focal point for opposition politicians in recent weeks, who have been questioning why interim findings could not be published sooner than June  the month when, Mr Swinney confirmed today, the final report is due to appear.

It was initially due earlier but, in April 2020, was postponed to June 2021 after the Covid-19 outbreak began.

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Also today: Is Scottish education 'stagnant and conformist'?

Addressing MSPs today, Mr Swinney said: “The OECD has made its position very clear. It will not publish its draft report, nor will it allow the Scottish government to do so. The correspondence [on this] has been published on the Scottish government’s website.

Controversy over Curriculum for Excellence review

“We now need to let the OECD focus on finalising its findings and the drafting process. I look forward to the publication of the final report in June and to its helping inform the dispassionate discussion of the future of Scottish education.”

Ms Wishart said in response that Mr Swinney had got himself into “a bit of a bind”. She said that 322 days ago the Lib Dems had first called for the public to hear from the OECD before the 6 May elections, and that, subsequently, at a meeting of the Scottish Parliament's Education and Skills Committee, she specifically asked Mr Swinney if he would request an interim report.

He had indicated, said Ms Wishart, that he would happy to discuss this, but a freedom-of-information request by her party showed that the education secretary did “precisely nothing” and that it took “a defeat in Parliament to coax the cabinet secretary to give anyone anything before the election”. She accused him of “orchestrating this obstruction” and of failing to contact the OECD to discuss matters further.

Mr Swinney said that Covid had obstructed the ability of the OECD to engage with schools, and that the remit of the OECD review had been extended twice and so it was not surprising the deadline had been extended.

He said: “We have asked this respected organisation to undertake that exercise. I think we should leave that organisation to do exactly that. I’ve made every endeavour to try to secure early publication in so far as that’s possible, and the OECD have indicated that is not possible.”

Ms Wishart then questioned why Education Scotland and the SQA were on a forum shaping the report when they were both currently “under the microscope” in relation to their own performance.

Mr Swinney said the OECD would speak to “the range of participants in Scottish education”, and that it had sought to question a group that would be representative of the whole of education.

Last week the Scottish Greens' education spokesperson, Ross Greer, tweeted images from "the correspondence confirming that the OECD, not the Scottish government, ruled the unfinished draft report on CfE can't be published".

He said: "The Tories and Lib Dems don't give a damn about Scottish education. They're spreading deliberate misinformation. Why? To undermine devolution."

Scottish Conservative education spokesperson Jamie Greene had previously asked if it was "a joke" that Mr Swinney could read a version of the OECD report but not comment on or distribute it.

Also today, first minister Nicola Sturgeon gave more information about the plan for Scotland to emerge from the latest Covid lockdown, including details for further education students.

She said: "We...expect that from 5 April more students – particularly in further education – will be allowed to return to on-campus learning.

"Colleges will prioritise those students whose return is essential – including those who are most at risk of not completing their courses.

"That includes those who are taking qualifications in construction, engineering, hairdressing, beauty and related courses."

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Henry Hepburn and Emma Seith

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