John Swinney is to be moved from his role as education secretary after five years in the job, it has emerged this evening.
Mr Swinney will remain deputy first minister and will now also have the role of cabinet secretary for Covid recovery.
He leaves the education job amid growing concerns that, in the weeks and months ahead, there could be another Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) assessment fiasco akin to that in 2020.
It is not yet known who the new education secretary will be, with more ministerial appointments expected tomorrow.
Cabinet reshuffle: Who will be the next education secretary?
Names that have been mentioned include Kate Forbes, Richard Lochhead, Angus Robertson, Shirley-Anne Somerville, Maree Todd and Humza Yousaf, as well as former teachers Jenny Gilruth and Kaukab Stewart. Ross Greer, the Scottish Greens’ education spokesperson, has been talked up by a number of teachers but giving the job to someone outside the SNP appears highly unlikely.
In a Twitter thread, posted shortly after the announcement was made, Mr Swinney said: “Over the last five years, it has been my privilege to be Scotland’s education secretary. I want to thank everyone involved in education for all that you do to support young people achieve their full potential especially during this difficult last year.
“I am proud that we have a record number of young Scots from deprived backgrounds going to university [and], by August, we will have doubled early learning and childcare, and more young people are leaving school to go to positive destinations than when we came to office.”
THREAD : Over the last five years it has been my privilege to be Scotland’s Education Secretary. I want to thank everyone involved in education for all that you do to support young people achieve their full potential especially during this difficult last year. 1/5— John Swinney (@JohnSwinney) May 18, 2021
Mr Swinney added in the Twitter thread: “Progress has been made in closing the attainment gap, we have 3,000 more teachers in our schools and – due to supreme commitment by many – education has been sustained during the immense difficulties caused by Covid.
“There is more to be done to advance Scottish education but I am proud of the strength and quality of our system. I wish my successor well and will do all I can in my new role as deputy first minister and cabinet secretary for Covid recovery to support those efforts.
“And to the young people of Scotland, thank you for being wonderful. It has been my privilege to meet many of you in your schools, youth groups and other places. Our country is very lucky to have you and I will continue to do all it can to create the best future for you all.”
One secondary teacher echoed the views of many in the profession by tweeting: “Think it’s the right decision to replace Swinney but whoever does succeed him will have a difficult time ahead.
“They should definitely look to make some changes in the SQA too or many of the issues will continue.”
Michael Marra, Scottish Labour’s education spokesperson, was one of the first opposition politicians to respond to the news about Mr Swinney.
He tweeted: “The departure of the [deputy first minister] from education after five wasted years closes the ‘defining mission’ chapter of this government.
“We must remember that his appointment was to be a strong signal that education would be taken seriously, that education demanded a minister with real authority and that positive change could happen under the SNP. None of this came to pass. Mission failed. This is the 5128th day of this SNP Government. The next minister carries that record of failure into the post. I wish them luck. They’ll need it.
“The first test will be to accept the misery and worry being wrought by the latest exams fiasco.”
The departure of the DFM from Education after five wasted years closes the ‘defining mission’ chapter of this government. We must remember that his appointment was to be a strong signal that education would be taken seriously, that education demanded... 1/3— Michael Marra MSP (@michaeljmarra) May 18, 2021
Nicola Sturgeon, who was re-elected as first minister by MSPs in Holyrood earlier today, has created a new role focused on Covid recovery for Mr Swinney to step into, although it appears to encompass some responsibilities that were already part of his role as deputy first minister.
Mr Swinney, who has survived two votes of no confidence during the Covid crisis, will take responsibility for government strategy on recovery from the pandemic. His position will also include responsibility for public service reform and inter-governmental relations.
Appointing Mr Swinney, Ms Sturgeon said: “Our first priority as a government is to lead the country through the pandemic and into a recovery that supports our NHS, protects and creates jobs, backs our young people and contributes to our ambition to be a net zero nation.
“Appointing John Swinney to drive cross-government work on Covid recovery is a key step in getting Scotland’s recovery off to the right start.
“How we begin our recovery is crucial to the kind of country we can become, and that means ensuring everyone, whether in government, the public sector, the business community or wider society, is pulling in the same direction.”
Mr Swinney will also chair a cross-party steering group on Covid-19 recovery, the Scottish government said, with the first meeting expected to take place next week.
The incorporation of the UN human rights treaties into Scots law, which has already led to clashes with the UK government, will also be his responsibility.
Mr Swinney said: “Recovery in our schools, our health service, our economy and across our wider society is this government’s immediate priority and I am honoured to have been asked to lead that mission.
“I am determined that government will bring the same urgency that we applied to the actions we took to protect public health, to the actions we need to take to secure a fair and just recovery.
“I will be bringing opposition parties together next week to hear their contributions and to set out how I believe we can all work together to secure a strong recovery.
“As we recover, we must also remember our commitments to improve the lives of people across our society and it is a privilege to continue to lead the work across government to deliver on the incorporation of UN charters and to deliver The Promise for our care-experienced young people.”
Mr Swinney’s departure came hours after some of his opponents made fresh calls for him to be removed amid concerns about whether another SQA results fiasco can be averted. Growing numbers of teachers and students have been expressing concerns about the “huge pressure” of the ongoing assessment system put in place after national exams were cancelled last December.
An honour to be officially re-elected as FM in @ScotParl today. And I’m delighted that @JohnSwinney will continue as Deputy FM, with cross government responsibility for Covid recovery. pic.twitter.com/eS7kqPJOub— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) May 18, 2021