Madeleine Kearns

How the SNP wrecked Scottish education

(Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

‘The politicians aren’t listening to us,’ an exasperated teacher tells me by phone. ‘There’s nothing left for us to do but get on with it.’ The despair felt by Scottish teachers is a notable shift from the anger I encountered in the staffroom when I trained among them five years ago.

That was the year of the ‘PISA shock’, 2015, when Scotland performed abysmally in reading, maths, and science in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Distinguished education professors at top Scottish universities were left reeling. One such academic suggested that the Scottish government had five years to fix the problem. In response, John Swinney, the SNP’s education secretary, promised to implement ‘radical’ and ‘controversial’ reforms. He might have also promised to make matters worse, since that’s what he’s done.

In 2019-2020, the proportion of pupils passing three or more Highers was 43 per cent, lower than any year from 2015 onwards. Audit Scotland, an independent watchdog, concludes that the attainment gap between rich and poor ‘remains wide’ and that progress ‘falls short of the Scottish government’s aims’. Scottish children from poor backgrounds remain significantly less likely than their English counterparts to go to university.

Many pupils have not been taught how to think, let alone have any general knowledge on which to draw.

Yet in 2019 Swinney tweeted that the most recent PISA figures (showing a slight ascent from the depths to which literacy had sunk) ‘corroborates what we see elsewhere — improving schools and a closing of the attainment gap’. But where exactly do we see this? Look closely at the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, the shoogly peg on which the Scottish government hangs such claims, and you quickly find that it is not fit for purpose. For instance, the government reported that in 2019 the highest ever percentage of school leavers (26 per cent) from the most-deprived quintile of areas were going on to university.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.

Or

Unlock more articles

REGISTER

Comments

Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in