Scotland has a three-level approach to evaluating and improving education: schools have a responsibility to evaluate their own performance; local authorities have statutory duties of quality improvement and reporting; and the third level is external inspection.
Education Scotland has significantly strengthened its scrutiny functions. In 2018-19, there were 252 school inspections, which was an increase of more than 30 per cent on the previous year. Education Scotland was on track to exceed that figure in 2019-20, before inspections had to be paused in March last year due to the pandemic. I n addition to individual school inspections, Her Majesty’s inspectors of education carry out national thematic inspections focusing on key priorities in education. Those often include visits to individual schools.
Education rightly deserves a good airing at First Minister’s questions. I cannot think of anything more important for us to shine a light on at our own end of term. No one in the chamber ever tires of thanking teachers or school staff for their efforts, but it is worth reminding the First Minister of some key figures that she cannot blame on Covid.
There are 704 Scottish schools that have not been inspected in more than a decade. Another 1,600 have not been inspected in the past five years. The Government has also failed its own manifesto pledge to reduce class sizes and, despite the spin that we heard earlier, there are 1,700 fewer teachers in the system than there were when the Scottish National Party took office. A leading architect of the SNP’s own curriculum reform concluded that its implementation had slashed subject choice for young people, not increased it.
The First Minister asked to be judged on her record on education above everything else. How would the First Minister rate her performance?
That is not up to me or to Jamie Greene—it is up to the Scottish people on 6 May. They will have that opportunity.
Education deserves an airing at First Minister’s questions every week, but I do not choose the questions that I get asked. Ruth Davidson has chosen week after week recently to ask me about something completely different. It is good that the Tories are finally focusing on issues that actually matter to people across the country.
I have set out some responses to the Audit Scotland report and have set out the three levels of inspection and scrutiny in Scottish education. I intend to continue—with the agreement of the Scottish people, should they choose to give that in a few weeks’ time—to get on with the job on increasing attainment and closing the attainment gap. If the Conservatives continue to sit there in the next session of Parliament—or perhaps over here—I hope that they will ask more about education and health than they have chosen to do in recent weeks in this one.