Parents don’t know if education is getting better or worse
By Democrat reporter
Count your blessings if you can – count that is. Nicola Sturgeon says we all need a good grasp of numeracy.
Ruth Davidson agrees, but she wants to know if the First Minister can tell us how much numeracy attainment has improved or declined in our schools since she took office?
Ms Sturgeon says improving attainment is visible across our schools. She added: “For example, we see an increasing intake in STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—generally.
“Across the range of subjects in our schools, we are seeing attainment rising, and we are, of course, also seeing the attainment gap closing.”
When the FM promised specific numbers later, the Tory leader replied: “She will not be able to send me the specific numbers, because she cannot give specific numbers.
“That is because the Deputy First Minister [John Swinney] cancelled the only national survey on numeracy standards that we had, which previously allowed us to see how things were going.
“That means that, as this Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee declared, ‘no meaningful conclusions on upward or downward trends can be reached, at a time of reform within Scottish education’.
“The Deputy First Minister told us this week that it is important to have a good grasp of numeracy standards, yet, under this SNP Government, we have no grasp of how those standards are faring. Does that strike the First Minister as acceptable?”
Ms Sturgeon said: “If that were true, it would not be acceptable, but it is not true. Under the achievement of curriculum for excellence levels data, which replaced the Scottish survey of literacy and numeracy, we provide more data at all levels of the system than we have ever provided before—crucially, to underpin improvement.
“The problem with the Scottish survey of literacy and numeracy was that it did not provide data at school or local authority level. Ruth Davidson does not have to take my word for that. In its review of education in Scotland in 2015.”
She added: “This is what the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said about that sample approach: ‘The light sampling of literacy and numeracy at the national level has not provided sufficient evidence for … use in … evaluative activities or for national agencies to identify … areas of strength.
“That survey was not providing the information that we needed, which is why we have replaced it with the achievement of CFE levels data, which provides that information not just at a national level but at school and local authority levels. I would have thought that that is exactly the kind of progress and improvement that Ruth Davidson might welcome.”
Ruth Davidson said: “The problem is that the new assessments, which we support at primary 4, primary 7 and secondary 3, are not comparable. SNP members should listen.
“They are not comparable, they cannot show a trend, there is no baseline and they will take time to bed in. In the meantime, we have no idea whether standards in literacy and numeracy are rising or falling.
“The committee was explicit about the fact that there is a five-year gap in our knowledge because of the actions of this SNP Government, and it is worried that we are losing the data that we need for Parliament and wider society to hold ‘the Government to account for its performance on education’.”
The First Minister replied: “I will pick up on something that Ruth Davidson said about assessments in primary schools. She said, very carefully, that the Tories support them at P4 and P7—of course, omitting to say that, in their manifesto for the 2016 election, they supported them at P1 as well. That is just another example of Ruth Davidson’s now legendary flip-flopping on every conceivable issue. There are no policies in the Tories, and there is not an iota of principle under Ruth Davidson either.”
Ruth Davidson hit back: “What the First Minister does not get is that the mum of a seven-year-old now will not know whether this country is getting any better at teaching maths until her child is a teenager. It is true. The old national survey showed that standards were declining, for which this SNP Government got the blame, and then it cancelled the survey. That is what happened, and it has left parents without any idea as to whether standards are going up or down.
“Here are the figures that we do know about Scottish schools and numeracy. We have lost more than 400 maths teachers since the SNP took office, the number of vacancies has gone up in the past two years and, the last time that we measured numeracy in our schools, we found that Scottish education had gone backwards under this Government.
“I think that parents deserve to know what is happening in our schools. Why has the First Minister left them in the dark?”
Ms Sturgeon said: “I, too, think that parents deserve to know what is happening in their children’s schools, which is why we now publish the data at school level. Maybe Ruth Davidson should look into this just a little bit more closely.
“The reality is that, under the survey of literacy and numeracy, a parent had no idea what was happening in their child’s school, because that survey did not produce any data at school level. A parent therefore had no idea whether their child’s school was doing well or badly.
“The difference in the data that we publish now is that it provides data not just at national and local authority level, but at individual school level. Parents now have much more of an idea of how their child’s school is doing than they have ever had before.
“Ruth Davidson asks whether it is going up or down. Attainment in our schools is improving and the attainment gap is closing. Those are the facts; which Ruth Davidson does not like.
“There are more teachers in our schools now than there have been at any time since 2010. There are more primary school teachers in our schools now than there have been at any time since I was at primary school. That is the reality of the progress in our education system. It is no wonder that Ruth Davidson is so furious about it.”