Once rated among the best in the world, Scottish schools are in crisis - Susan Dalgety

​A quarter of primary school children are persistently absent from school. Four out of ten secondary school students fail to turn up regularly for classes.
Jenny Gilruth on a visit to a school in the Falkirk area (Pic:  Michael Gillen)Jenny Gilruth on a visit to a school in the Falkirk area (Pic:  Michael Gillen)
Jenny Gilruth on a visit to a school in the Falkirk area (Pic: Michael Gillen)

There are a thousand fewer teachers in our schools today than there were in 2007 and 263 fewer actual schools.​

These statistics are not part of an elaborate April Fools’ joke dreamt up by teaching unions to scare the SNP government into putting more resources into schools and teachers’ pay packets.

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They are a stark illustration of the state of Scottish education. Quite simply, our schools are in crisis.

Given the perilous state of Scottish education – once acclaimed as among the best in the world – one would think that the woman in charge, a former Modern Studies teacher no less, would be rushing to unveil urgent plans to fix it.

You may very well think that, but education secretary Jenny Gilruth has other priorities, namely independence, independence, independence.

A week ago, in the wake of the revelation that a record number of students are deserting the classroom, Gilruth did produce a paper on the future of education – a paper setting out her vision for education and lifelong learning in an independent Scotland.

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But the report is nothing more than a piece of fantasy fiction, set in an imaginary universe far, far away from reality.

A top tip for checking how much meat there is any Scottish Government policy document is to switch to the ‘easy read’ version. This distils government papers into a simple format, accessible to all, but without missing any of the key points.

The trouble with Gilruth’s fantastical vision is there are no key points to miss. Its biggest claims are that in an independent Scotland, mothers could have longer paid maternity leave, the student loan system could be more flexible and Scottish students “would once again be able to take part in the Erasmus+ exchange programme.”

Erasmus+ is an EU scholarship scheme that allows a student to spend a year of their undergraduate course studying abroad. In 2016/17, just over 600 Scots took advantage of the scheme.

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But there is nothing at all in Gilruth’s paper that offers hope to today’s 700,000 school students – particularly the 230,000 who regularly bunk off.

In another masterstroke, the education secretary has just reneged on the SNP’s 2021 promise to provide every pupil in Scotland with a laptop or other digital device.

She blamed the UK government for her decision, which is fantastical even for her, as education is fully devolved.

It is all too easy to mock senior politicians, particularly when they persist in breaking promises and producing make-believe reports, wasting valuable civil service resources that should be spent on fixing current problems. But Jenny Gilruth deserves our scorn.

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When asked for her views on the report that one-third of all pupils are persistently absent from school, she said it was ‘not acceptable’, then passed the buck to Scotland’s chief inspector for education to “ensure that persistent absence is addressed at every school inspection”.

Sorry Jenny, there is a crisis in our schools, and you’re the woman in charge. I suggest you stop fantasising about the future and get to grips with the present.

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