MSPs have ordered an urgent investigation to address “key weaknesses” in the Scottish education system amid concerns that there is a lack of transparency over the challenges schools face.
Today at First Minister's Questions, Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish government would abide by the parliament’s decision “whether or not we consider that is necessary”.
John Swinney, the education secretary, suffered a defeat at Holyrood yesterday as he tried to block calls for a comprehensive review of Curriculum for Excellence.
An independent review of the examination years is already underway and due to report this summer but the Conservatives put forward a motion calling for that inquiry to be extended to include “a full review of the broad general education and how it articulates with the senior phase”.
The motion was backed by MSPs, with 63 voting for it and 60 against.
The figures: Higher pass rate falls
The MSPs also urged the government to accept there were “some key weaknesses in some key aspects of Scotland’s school education and the qualifications structure that challenge its claim that Scotland’s schools are producing 'a strong set of results'”.
Speaking yesterday in the Scottish parliament, the Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman, Liz Smith, said there were some “encouraging aspects of attainment in Scottish schools” but then went on to cite the recent Programme for International Assessment (Pisa) results saying that, although reading scores had improved, they were “not back to 2012 levels”. She also highlighted “the four-year decline in Higher pass rates”.
The 2019 A-C attainment rate at Higher was 74.8 per cent, down from 76.8 per cent in 2018, and down 2.4 percentage points since 2016, when the pass rate was 77.2 per cent.
Ms Smith continued: “We do not feel that there has been sufficient transparency over or acceptance of the nature of the challenges that our schools are facing – serious challenges that do not sit easily with the persistent Scottish government rhetoric that Scottish schools are consistently doing well across the board. That is plainly not accurate, and parents, teachers, young people, education experts, employers and opposition parties do not believe that it is accurate.”
However, Mr Swinney argued that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) had reviewed the broad general education – which runs from the age of three to 15 – back in 2015 and the Scottish government was in the process of implementing those recommendations.
He said: “Now is not the moment to revisit the broad general education other than with regard to its relationship to the senior phase. There are transition issues that we will look at in reviewing the senior phase, but they do not merit a separate broad general education review at this stage given that we have already tested the issues in 2015.”
Responding to the vote, the EIS, Scotland’s largest teaching union, said Scottish education did not need another review, rather it needed investment and stability.
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan added that he rejected “the false narrative of failure” which was being peddled by some “often for the sake of political point scoring”, and insisted that Scottish schools continued to perform well.
He said: “Given that a review of the senior phase, and its articulation with the broad general education, is already underway, it is difficult to see why an additional review is required. After years of change and austerity driven cuts, what Scottish education really needs is additional resource and a period of stability.”