Shona Haslam’s View – Education

Wednesday April 21st 2021


Midlothian View Holyrood Challenge: This View has been written by Shona Haslam, the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party's candidate in the Midlothian South, Tweeddale & Lauderdale constituency for the Scottish Elections on Thursday May 6th 2021

“I wanted to be judged on this. If you are not, as First Minister, prepared to put your neck on the line on the education of our young people then what are you prepared to do? It really matters.”

Those are not my words, but rather those of Nicola Sturgeon in a keynote speech given in 2015. In that same speech, the SNP leader unveiled plans to introduce standardised testing for primary pupils and to close the attainment gap. Six years on and that pledge has come back to haunt the First Minister, with her record amounting too little more than a litany of failure.

Let’s dig into those promises a little more. Ever since they came to power in 2008, the SNP have been claiming they would lower class sizes, reduce the attainment gap between rich and poor kids and increase teacher numbers. However, if you opened a newspaper from the last decade, you may be forgiven for thinking that you had entered a time warp. “SNP accused of ‘broken promises’ to parents and children” reads a Daily Record headline from 2013. In the same year, the BBC reported a warning from Oxfam that the gap between rich and poor was ‘widening’ while a year later, the Guardian showed that in four local authority areas, no children whatsoever from the poorest 20% achieved 3 or more As at Higher in 2014.

Five years on and things have not improved. Just last month a report from Audit Scotland found that improvements in narrowing the gap between children in Scotland’s richest and poorest neighbourhoods have been “inconsistent”, with “large variations” between the performance of local authorities and that the “improvement needs to happen more quickly.” In 2018/19 the proportion of school leaders achieving five or more awards at National 5 was 82.7% for pupils from the least deprived areas, compared to 46.5% for school leavers from the most deprived areas. For a country that once prided itself on its universally recognised education (not to mention its sense of fairness) this is, quite simply, a disgrace.

So, when Nicola Sturgeon stood up last Friday and declared “We have already made progress in closing the poverty related attainment gap in education”, forgive me if I take that statement with a pinch of salt.

The same can be said of the First Minister’s promise to provide every child with a free laptop. While I welcome this commitment, I would like to point out that in the Borders, where I lead the council, we have provided every child, from primary 4 and above, with an iPad since before the pandemic, delivered in time for the pandemic and all while dealing with cuts to our core funding. If the First Minister was really serious about bridging the gap between rich and poor, she would have rolled out this scheme last year rather than waiting until our children had already returned to school.

As always with this government, it’s too little, too late.

That’s why I’m backing the Scottish Conservatives plan for education. A new workforce strategy worth £550m to recruit 3,000 teachers, a fairer funding programme for our schools, an annual £1m Somerville Fund to promote innovate practice, a £35m national tutoring programme and a multiyear commitment to allocate £1bn of attainment funding directly to all schools over the next Parliament.

We can achieve all this and more in the next parliament. If you want more than another five years of “broken promises”, vote Scottish Conservative on May 6th and together, we can build a better future for Scotland’s children.

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