LIBDEMS: Education Secretary needs to quit the waffle 

Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie and SNP education secretary Shirley Anne Somerville.

By Lucy Ashton

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Willie Rennie MSP has called on the Education Secretary Shirley Anne Somerville to “quit the waffle” after he criticised the government’s performance on the attainment gap during this morning’s Education Committee.

During the committee meeting, Mr Rennie stated that any improvement in the poverty-related attainment gap has been, “marginal at best.” He also asked Ms Somerville what she meant by “substantially eliminating” the attainment gap. The Education Secretary told him that it would be “exceptionally difficult, if not impossible” to bring it to zero and failed to explain how the government would determine if it had been substantially eliminated.

The Scottish Government is currently spending £17 million on the national testing of children as young as four and five.

Mr Rennie said:  “We are one third of the way through this session of parliament and seven years since the First Minister’s commitment to prioritise education, but the pace of reform has been appalling.

“In that time, the attainment gap has remained broadly the same and got worse in certain areas. Having been pushed to their absolute limits, teachers are now striking.  

“When I asked exactly what was meant by “substantially eliminating” the attainment gap, the Education Secretary’s non-answer implied it would be up to the government to decide whether it had met that standard.

“This SNP/Green administration needs to quit the waffle. That means scrapping the pointless national testing of P1s costing £17 million, give up on the reckless bid to break up the UK and halt the billion-pound bureaucratic takeover of health and social care which many of the SNP’s own MSPs can’t even support.

“All of this is money that could be redeployed to fund greater in-class support, better pay for teachers and stable teacher contracts. That is how we will support children all across Scotland and raise attainment.”

Meanwhile, research shows that the poverty-related attainment gap for P1, P4 and P7 pupils combined has decreased by less than 1% in literacy and increased by 0.2% in numeracy since 2016/17.

The poverty-related attainment gap for S3 pupils achieving at least third level literacy has worsened over the last five years from 13.6% to 16.3% in 2021/22. This is the largest gap since 2016/17.

The poverty-related attainment gap for S3 pupils achieving at least third level numeracy is worse than it was in 2016/17.

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