SNP has let down Scotland's school pupils and teachers when they needed support most – Ian Murray MP

Congratulations to all the pupils across Edinburgh who received their results this week.

Thursday, 12th August 2021, 4:55 am
Nicola Sturgeon promised to focus on education but under her leadership the attainment gap between rich and poor has widened (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/PA)

It has been another year with extraordinary upheaval, and young people, their families and their teachers all deserve huge praise.

It’s quite remarkable that some students will be going into S6 having never sat a normal exam, such has been the level of disruption for an entire generation.

Some have called this a ‘lost generation’, but the truth is that youngsters have shown a resilience that previous generations never had to, and I’m sure they will emerge stronger as a result.

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They have done themselves proud.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for Scottish ministers, who have let down pupils and teachers.

I know it’s been said before, but it really is worth remembering what Nicola Sturgeon promised the people of Scotland.

Education and closing the attainment gap would be her ‘defining mission’, she said.

Yet this year’s results show the gap growing once again. In fact, it’s rarely narrowed.

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Figures from the SQA results show that the difference between the proportion of pupils from the wealthiest and poorest areas getting A grades at Higher has increased to 22.1 percentage points (pp), its highest point since before she made that pledge.

The gap in the Higher pass rate also increased on last year, from 6.5 to 7.9pp, while the difference in the National 5 pass rate between the best-off and the worst-off increased from 7.9 to 9pp.

There has been a total lack of leadership from the very top.

That resulted in the late cancellation of exams, the shambolic roll-out of the Alternative Certification Model, and an appeals system which failed to take this year’s extraordinary circumstances into account.

The SNP government should introduce a ‘re-sit guarantee’ and offer a further education place to anyone impacted by the pandemic who wishes to re-take their subjects.

Ahead of the recent election, the First Minister said her priority for this term would be tackling the scandal of child poverty.

Labour shares that mission; it has always been our priority, which is why Gordon Brown and Tony Blair lifted millions out of poverty.

But tackling this is much harder without closing the attainment gap.

This education failure highlights the essence of Ms Sturgeon’s politics: when rhetoric is required, she delivers; when delivery is required, she has only rhetoric.

This weekend marks 100 days since the SNP formed a new administration at Holyrood.

Ms Sturgeon set out a list of promises which she said she would deliver in those 100 days. The promises have turned to dust already.

There is no Covid public inquiry established (in fact the FM wants the PM to run it), we’re still awaiting an NHS recovery plan, and there’s no sign of the free bikes for children that were promised.

There are massive crises facing governments – the climate emergency, the Covid recovery and the widening education attainment gap.

These must be the absolute focus for ministers; there is no justification for re-opening old divisions in the face of such challenges for our communities.

Young people and teachers have shown the very best of our country this week.

But they have been let down by a government that has broken its promises on education time and time again.

Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South

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