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Here were are again—another Opposition-led debate on the state of Scotland’s education system. I thank the Conservatives for giving us the opportunity to debate this hugely important issue, but I hope that it will be the Government that brings forward the next education debate.
The rationale behind curriculum for excellence is too important to abandon. We must ensure that our pupils have the skills that they need to succeed in the 21st century world of changing technology and work patterns. It was a fair criticism that the old curriculum often pushed pupils through exams by teaching them how to pass rather than how to learn, and it was fair to say that traditional subjects were often prioritised to the detriment of alternative courses that might be better suited to some pupils. Therefore, we are calling not for wholesale change but for the Government to fix what is going wrong before an entire cohort of our young people is disadvantaged through no fault of its own.
The first step is for the Government to listen to the evidence. The cabinet secretary told Parliament the last time we held this debate that we should wait for the Education and Skills Committee’s report to be published before drawing any conclusions on the evidence—so seven months later, we are here having exactly the same debate. The reason is that the members who were involved in that inquiry and who are concerned about Scotland’s education know credible evidence when they see it. Teacher shortages, a lack of resources and a confused chain of accountability are creating a postcode lottery of opportunity.
We know that there are 1,000 fewer maths and English teachers than there were in 2008 and that that is affecting schools such as Aith junior high school in Shetland, which is advertising yet again for an English teacher after several failed attempts to recruit.
The motion also highlights the important work of Professor Jim Scott, who gave evidence to the committee. Professor Scott’s work is hugely valuable to policy makers, but we should not rely on him to do the research that is needed to properly evaluate the curriculum. Education Scotland needs to up its game. It is extraordinary that it cannot provide figures on teachers or the number of multilevel classes, or evidence on the impact of deprivation on subject choice.
The responsibility for fixing what has gone wrong should not fall on teachers, who are doing their best with the resources that they have. One of my constituents, who is a recently retired teacher, recently told me that CFE means curriculum for effluence rather than curriculum for excellence, and they were not using the word positively. I do not agree with that description, but it is useful to think of it in another way.