Scottish election 2021: The parties' education policies

We look at the parties' education promises on the first day of campaigning as the country prepares to vote on 6 May

Emma Seith

Scottish Parliament election 2021: What are the parties promising on education?

The starting gun has been fired in the race to win votes in the 6 May Scottish Parliament election – so what are the main political parties promising to do to improve education over the course of the next five years?

Here we summarise what we know about their priorities so far:


The SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has promised an election campaign “overflowing with optimism and hope for a better Scotland” – so what hope can teachers have about the future, if the SNP is returned to power?

This week education secretary John Swinney reiterated the SNP’s “unwavering commitment” to closing the poverty-related attainment gap, saying, “Let nobody be in any doubt that I am wholeheartedly committed to continuing to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap beyond this parliamentary term."

The SNP has also committed to providing free school meals for all primary pupils by August 2022, with the staggered roll-out due to begin in August with P4.

A couple of last acts before Parliament broke up were also education-related, with £19.4 million invested in a six-year mentoring programme for young people, and £20 million invested in a summer play programme.

Scottish Conservatives

Launching his party's campaign this morning, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross focused on independence, urging voters who are against another referendum to support his party, regardless of their affiliation.  

However, last year the Scottish Conservatives revealed what their education priorities were via the policy document Restore Our Schools. In it Mr Douglas pledges to spend £550 million on 3,000 more teachers for Scotland if his party gains power.

Other policies outlined in that paper – published to coincide with the sixth anniversary of the independence referendum – include giving all primary pupils a free breakfast and lunch; introducing a national tutoring programme to support pupils who have fallen behind due to Covid; investing in school buildings so no child attends a school in a "bad" or "poor" condition; and establishing an independent school and education inspector.

Scottish Labour

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar is promising to put plans for the coronavirus recovery “front and centre” in the election campaign. He lists education as one of the things “real world people are worried about” – so what might he do to reassure them?

In his first major speech as Scottish Labour leader earlier this month, Mr Sarwar revealed details of his party’s “education comeback” plan for pupils. It included a personal plan for every pupil, which would be combined with a mental health assessment; tutoring to be offered to all pupils; and a "resit guarantee" of a fully-funded college place to retake national qualifications, if wanted, for those negatively affected by the cancellation of exams.

He also talked about “a summer comeback focused on sports and activity”, digital training for school staff, and support for probationer teachers whose training has been interrupted.

Scottish Greens

The Scottish Greens have launched their campaign with the slogan "vote like our future depends on it" and are putting tackling child poverty front and centre.

The party’s co-leader, Patrick Harvie, is arguing that doubling the Scottish child payment to at least £20 “would lift some 50,000 children out of poverty”. He says his party had already secured changes to the Scottish budget including the commitment to the roll-out of free school meals for all primary-aged pupils, as well as free bus travel for all young people.

Mr Harvie said: “Saying very clearly that child poverty is unacceptable and it does not need to be tolerated, that would be one of the most important things that the next session of the Scottish Parliament could do.”

Scottish Liberal Democrats

Willie Rennie, the Lib Dem leader, has been putting his focus firmly on education. Launching the party's election campaign this morning, he said its “education bounce back plan” offered “unprecedented new entitlements and resources for pupils”.

The plan includes pledges to provide more in-class support; a guaranteed job for every teacher to push down class sizes; an end to the casualisation of the teaching workforce; and a "McCrone 2" that would see teachers’ conditions reviewed, as well as their workload

The starting point for the review would be a pay bump for probationers that would see them starting their teaching career with a salary of £30,000. Mr Rennie is also advocating a “teacher premium” for schools in disadvantaged areas so they could pay their staff more and “attract and reward the best teachers”, and wants probationers to be guaranteed a job for three years, as opposed to the current one-year teacher induction scheme.

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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