Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has come under fire for the long gap in school inspections revealed by a Tes Scotland investigation, which showed that some schools had gone as long as 16 years without being inspected.
Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson used her entire slot at First Minster’s Questions today to home in on education, accusing the Scottish government of “rigging” literacy and numeracy statistics and trying to “con” parents.
Ms Davidson said that school inspections had “crashed to their lowest level since devolution” – the Scottish Parliament was re-established in 1999 – and noted that, of the fifth not inspected for at least a decade, one was in the first minister’s constituency and two were in that of education secretary John Swinney.
Ms Sturgeon responded that there would be 250 inspections in 2018-19, 30 per cent more than in this academic year.
Ms Davidson also criticised the government’s scrapping of the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN), whose final report was published in 2017, and the focusing of attention on different figures published this week.
“Under that system, a pupil can fail their National 4 or their Higher English and maths, but still be counted as having achieved the right standards of literacy and numeracy – in other words, you’re deemed to have passed, even when you’ve failed,” said Ms Davidson.
“Now, the first minister keeps saying that she wants to boost standards, so how does cancelling surveys, how does rigging the stats, how does lowering the bar for literacy and numeracy help achieve those higher standards?”
Ms Sturgeon said her opponent was “mixing up different stages of education” as this week’s figures focused on National 5 or equivalent qualifications – the level between National 4 and Higher – and showed an improving picture.
She added that the SSLN a “sample survey”, which in some schools was based on the performance of only 12 pupils, whereas the controversial new national standardised assessments would provide a clearer national picture of education progress that ultimately takes in every pupil.
“So we’re actually deepening and making much more robust the measures by which we measure pupil performance,” she said.
Ms Davidson accused the first minister of “massaging the stats and then slapping yourself on the back”.
She said: “I think we’ve just seen the utter complacency we’ve come to expect from this government when it comes to education reform, because this is a government that deals with slipping standards by cancelling the tests that exposes them; it vows to increase inspections – and has done again today – but which drop them to the lowest historical levels; and [it] cooks up a new measure of attainment in literacy and numeracy to try and con parents into believing that things are getting better.
The first minister pointed to the record number of Higher passes and said that Ms Davidson was “just wrong in much of what she said”, with “all of the statistics which we have published this week [showing] that we are making progress”.
She added: “Even if Ruth Davidson and other members across the chamber do not want to welcome the progress that has been made, parents across the country will welcome it.”