First Minister’s Questions dominated by education

Nicola Sturgeon faces attacks over national assessments and ‘crash’ in subject choice

Henry Hepburn

First Minister’s Questions dominated by education

The two main opposition parties used their slots at First Minister’s Questions today to attack the Scottish government’s record on education.

Conservative leader Ruth Davidson homed in on the “crash” in subject choices at S4, citing evidence presented by former secondary headteacher Professor Jim Scott at the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee yesterday.

His analysis found that, over the past five years, students in Scotland had taken 622,000 fewer qualifications by the end of S4 than would have been expected under the old qualifications regime.

Ms Davidson said there had been a “crash” in subject choice because of the “chaotic introduction of Curriculum for Excellence”; more than half of pupils could only take six subjects in S4 – seven or eight were more common under the old qualifications – and schools in more deprived areas were more likely to be among the minority which offer five subjects.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon accused Ms Davidson of comparing “apples and oranges”, explaining it was now far more common for pupils to stay on at school until the end of S6 and that their educational attainment should be judged at that stage.

She told Ms Davidson to “stop talking our schools down” and said that attainment was rising while the attainment gap between affluent and poor pupils was closing.

She cited a large rise in pupils attaining Highers in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest local authority. In one school in an area of high deprivation, Drumchapel High, the proportion of pupils attaining a Higher by the end of S5 had risen from 8 per cent in 2006 to 53 per cent in 2018, said Ms Sturgeon.

Labour leader Richard Leonard used his slot to accuse the first minister of ignoring teachers’ concerns over P1 Scottish National Standardised Assessments, after the government lost a vote on the issue yesterday.

Ms Sturgeon said opposition to P1 SNSAs was not shared by all teachers, pointing to former Edinburgh primary head Lindsey Watt, who is also a member of the government’s International Council of Education Advisers. The first minister said Ms Watt was “confused about the furore” as locally set standardised assessments had been carried out in large parts of Scotland for some time.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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