'Total rubbish' that education data worst since 1950s

John Swinney, in a Tes Scotland podcast, hits back at claims that data about Scottish education is worst in decades

Henry Hepburn

'Total rubbish' that education data is the worst since 1950s, says John Swinney

Education secretary John Swinney has described as "total rubbish" the claim that data about Scottish education is the worst it has been since the 1950s.

Critics point to Scotland's withdrawal from international surveys and the scrapping in 2017 of the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) as reasons for a dearth of education data.

But, speaking in a new Tes Scotland podcast, Mr Swinney strongly rebuts the suggestion that data about Scottish education is worse than it has been in decades.


Background: Data about Scottish education 'poorest since 1950s'

Quick read: Scotland 'tarnished' by avoiding international surveys

Data: Five-year hole in literacy and numeracy data revealed

Contact time: Teaching time 'way above average' in Scotland

Previously on the Tes Scotland podcast: What is the quality that every teacher needs?


A paper from the Commission on School Reform in December argued that a lack of reliable data made it harder to tell whether standards in Scottish school education were rising or falling than at any time since the 1950s.

A dearth of data about Scottish education?

Mr Swinney says: "I think that view is total rubbish. And I choose my words very deliberately: total rubbish.

"We've got more information on the performance of pupils at different stages in their education on a comparative basis...which allows us, crucially, to look at where learning and teaching need to be strengthened to support the achievements of individual pupils."

He argues that the SSLN did "not tell you where the problems are in the education system", only whether the overall situation was improving or worsening, whereas the controversial Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs) reveal "at a diagnostic of individual pupils what their challenges are".

SNSA data, he adds, "also tells you, in schools around the country, [where] we may need to strengthen practice to support young people – and that's an invaluable resource to have".

Mr Swinney also acknowledges that, in international terms, the above-average teaching time expected of Scottish teachers is a challenge to be addressed.

But he says: "There's not a quick fix to this, because the quick fix to this would inevitably lead to quite a reshaping of Scottish education...And obviously, I'm open to discussion about these questions, but fundamentally what I'm trying to do is to liberate the teaching profession of unnecessary bureaucratic activity, so that they can concentrate on enhancing learning and teaching."

He says that the two extra in-service days for teachers that he has established this year "enable teachers to do exactly that".

In the new podcast, made available today, Mr Swinney also talks about his most "magnificent" teacher and why he joined the SNP as a schoolboy.

He speaks about how being education secretary affects his relationship with his son's school, why education is so different from his old finance brief, and the biggest successes and shortcomings of his time in the job.

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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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