Scottish education can regain its reputation as a world leader and Labour has the plan to make it happen – Ian Murray MP

This week has seen a number of significant reports rushed out before Holyrood shuts its doors for the election.

Thursday, 25th March 2021, 7:00 am
Scottish education was once world-renowned but in recent years has been out-performed by systems in other countries like Finland (Picture: Martin/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

There was the Salmond committee report which exposed a catalogue of failings by the Scottish government which badly let down two women – and yet nobody has taken responsibility. Everyone is astonishingly “not guilty”.

And there was the report into the infections scandal at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow and the tragic deaths of two young children, which only came to light after Anas Sarwar MSP raised evidence from whistleblowers in Parliament.

Both reports were damning and symptomatic of a government that has lost its way. We can do better than this.

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But perhaps the most telling report came from Audit Scotland. It was a landmark report into the performance of Scotland’s education system, which exposed in stark detail how the SNP has failed to close the educational attainment gap. Nicola Sturgeon promised this would be her “defining mission” to judge her on.

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Well, the independent report did just that, and it shows that “progress on closing the gap has been limited and falls well short of the Scottish government’s aims”.

The report makes clear that vast inequalities still exist between the least and most deprived pupils at all levels.

After 14 years in power, the SNP has failed education in Scotland and young people are paying the price of this failure. Educational inequality was stubborn before Covid struck, and it has undoubtedly increased since.

The focus required to turn this around will be considerable and deserves the full attention of politicians. And yet with both the SNP and the Tories, we have a government and opposition determined to go back to the old divisive arguments.

As Anas said, “Scotland deserves better government and better opposition”.

Labour is fighting the upcoming election with a national Covid recovery plan as our sole focus. This encompasses an education recovery plan to reverse the damage done by Covid.

The plan promises to give schools and pupils the tools they need to catch up from so much lost classroom time due to Covid and reverse the deficiencies in a system that is failing so many. This will centre on a needs-based “personal plan” for every pupil in Scotland, combined with a mental health assessment.

Every pupil would also be offered tutoring, as well as a “re-sit guarantee” for those whose exam results were negatively impacted by the pandemic – alongside the offer of a fully-funded college place to retake national qualifications.

There would be ring-fenced funding to give young people free access to sport, transport, outdoor activities and culture.

And, of course, supporting teachers would be at the heart of this strategy, promising guaranteed school places for probationary teachers to help pupils catch-up.

The plan is needed to restore the once world-renowned Scottish education system and make sure every child has a decent start in life. That should be the defining mission of every politician.

The plan is a serious attempt at putting that mission into action rather than just another empty First Ministerial slogan.

Prioritising this education recovery plan and well-being of pupils will set the foundation for Scotland to finally make the serious progress that’s needed to build a brighter future.

Ian Murray is Scottish Labour MP for Edinburgh South

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