I am just about to come to that.
I was going to layer on top of what I have said the point that the Scottish Government’s continuing erosion of further education places in the college sector means that it is little wonder that the attainment gap between better-off and less well-off pupils continues to grow. It seems that the Scottish Government has an inability to grasp a systems-wide approach to education, which I have to say is not unique to the education portfolio.
In order to aspire, we need to be able to see the goal and the journey that is required to get there. By reducing options in curriculum for excellence and slashing places in colleges, the Scottish Government has created a systems-wide learning deficit. Only last week, I heard from my local college that it is being asked to trim yet more from its budget. The only means of doing so that it has left is compulsory redundancies, which would once again reduce students’ learning opportunities.
Liz Smith has highlighted the deterioration in STEM uptake and the drop in the overall pass rates in mathematics and English, which are core skills. I add that the subjects that are being worst hit by the squeeze on subject choice—mainly art, drama, music, sport and languages—are those that speak directly to the desire for a more holistic and rounded education approach that is central to the core principles of curriculum for excellence. The figures for some of those subjects have dropped by 60 per cent since 2013. Those subjects are also the ones in which the biggest gaps between the haves and the have-nots occur, and they are the subjects in which soft skills—which are so beneficial to other key subjects—are learned. There is a growing chasm in access to such opportunities, which are central to a more rounded education. I think that that point is lost on the cabinet secretary.
We have world-class educators who are ready to deliver to eager young minds. They should have a world-class environment in which to operate, but the Scottish Government has shown itself to be inept at delivering that. The attainment gap is growing—as I think Mr Swinney knows. Perhaps education is not the SNP’s priority after all.
“Judge me on my record”,
Nicola Sturgeon challenged us. Well, we have—and she has failed.