SNP lambasted over cuts and curriculum 'crisis'
Labour and Liberal Democrats last weekend turned on the SNP government which ousted them from power five years ago, lambasting it for cuts to school and college budgets and a "crisis" in the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence.
The two parties were holding their annual conferences in Dundee and Inverness respectively - opportunities for both navel-gazing over past mistakes and boasting about their own record in government.
The new Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont, gave a hint that Labour might be prepared to reintroduce a graduate contribution.
"In Alex Salmond's progressive Scotland, where the rocks will melt with the sun before he will introduce tuition fees, colleges in Scotland are being filleted with 20 per cent cuts. Meanwhile, youth unemployment spirals out of control," she said.
Hugh Henry, her education spokesman, saved most of his firepower for an attack on "an arrogant and bull-headed cabinet secretary for education", over his refusal to listen to teachers and parents about their worries concerning CfE.
"Mr Russell knows best, Mr Russell is right and Mr Russell won't listen," he said.
"But he should listen. Listen not to his civil servants and directors who are far removed from the classroom. Listen to what ordinary teachers are saying - they are not ready, the materials are not ready and they are worried that the exams will not be ready," Mr Henry added.
He quoted from an email sent to him by a worried parent: "I have now attended parents' evening at my son's school and am more concerned than ever for my son's education future. Teachers were unable to answer specific questions about the syllabus. I'm not blaming teachers - they just don't have the information. Several teachers have told me off the record that CfE is in shambles but they are not allowed to speak out against it. I am very afraid that children like my son will be the losers if this is allowed to go ahead this year."
If teachers did not feel ready, if parents had no confidence in the timetable and pupils would be adversely affected, then there was "a compelling case for delay" in introducing the new National 4 and 5 exams, said Mr Henry.
The Liberal Democrats' education spokesman, Liam McArthur, told his party members that colleges were feeling "under siege" from an SNP government that "either doesn't care or doesn't understand the positive contribution colleges make to local communities up and down the country".
Speaking to a motion on protecting Scotland's colleges, he said: "Thanks to the tremendous campaign waged by NUS Scotland, Liberal Democrats succeeded again this year in reversing some of the swingeing cuts to student support and college budgets proposed by SNP ministers."