We need straight answers from John Swinney about education – John McLellan

SNP Government should rejoin two international schemes designed to compare performance of education systems, writes John McLellan.

Thursday, 12th December 2019, 6:00 am
The way Scotland measures educational performance has been criticised. Picture: John Devlin

After another poor Scottish performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) survey, the Commission on School Reform (CSR) this week challenged the Scottish Government to deliver reliable measurements of education performance.

“The current state of debate… is not based on any agreed firm basis of evidence. Much of the discussion consists of assertion and counter-assertion,” says a new CSR report. “The data for an intelligent and constructive discussion simply does not exist.”

The 13-strong CRS board includes some of Scotland’s most senior education figures and has produced a four-point action plan for the Scottish Government, including re-joining two complementary international systems from which the SNP withdrew to rely solely on the three-yearly PISA system.

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No organisation can legitimately claim to be improving performance without objective measurement, but a focus on policy ideology instead of measurable outcomes has been a hallmark of the SNP Government, leading to initiatives, like the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax failing to hit revenue targets, which don’t achieve their aims.

But there should be no question that something as vital to young people’s futures as education needs closely and effectively assessed. As East Lothian SNP councillor Paul McLennan is on the CRS board, perhaps he can get straight answers from Education Secretary John Swinney.

Council coalition riven by rivalry

Hell hath no fury like a Lord Provost scorned, and Councillor Frank Ross has hit out after the £750,000 rebuilding of Corstorphine Community Centre in his ward was shelved because community centres across the city need £14m of repairs.

Cllr Ross is not an unreasonable man, so how did he come to think it would get the cash when his SNP colleague, finance convener Alasdair Rankin, is adamant funds won’t be available until 2023 at the earliest? And that being the case why did the SNP group unanimously support stumping up?

I don’t go along with the electoral pork barrel theory, but with the Labour group digging in its heels all we can say for sure is the city’s ruling coalition is tied in knots because of internal rivalries.

Balancing act

In Monday’s Evening News, the council’s Labour group leader Cammy Day wrote: “For real change in Edinburgh… vote Labour”. No surprise.

In Tuesday’s Evening News, ex-SNP MP Angus Robertson wrote: “I will choose a better future with the SNP”. Sure you will.

And yesterday, ex-SNP council group leader Steve Cardownie signed off his column with “I will vote for the SNP”. You don’t say.

So readers of today’s print edition (and my council colleagues) may be surprised that a Conservative councillor isn’t writing a “Vote Conservative” argument. But the paper has a policy of not allowing political endorsements on polling day itself, so it’s there online, folks. It was published yesterday, in the long tradition of political balance as editor I was proud to uphold.

Looks can be deceiving

As they say in Private Eye, are they by any chance related? New Hearts boss Daniel Stendel bears an uncanny resemblance to former Glasgow gangland enforcer Paul Ferris and while an irate Craig Levein was said to be scary sight, imagine the motivational qualities of a Ferris-lookalike waving a baseball bat at Tynecastle when the team is 0-1 down at the interval. Having been given ten years for gun-running, Mr Ferris has gone straight and I’m sure the only thing Mr Stendel has run is the line.