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Chris McGovern: School standards slump as Scotland ditches its historic commitment to academic rigour

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Reading standards in primary schools have fallen since 2012 and the Education Secretary says that she is “astonished” that fewer than 20 per cent of secondary teachers think reading and writing is “vital” to their curriculum area.

No, I am not referring to Nicky Morgan and the mediocre education system in England but to the recently published “Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy” and to Scottish Education Secretary, Angela Constance.

The survey compared standards across the two-year period from 2012 to 2014. It showed that reading standards fell by 5 per cent among pupils in P4 (fourth year of primary school), with only 78 per cent performing well as against 83 per cent in 2012. The fall was 2 per cent for Year P7 and 4 per cent for S2 (second year of secondary school).

These disastrous figures are a measurable testament of the Scottish National Party’s tenure in government north of the border. The bravado and confidence of Alex Salmon and Nicola Sturgeon have not translated into improved government in this crucial area of Scottish life. The SNP can certainly ‘talk the talk’ but it is the kids, especially the under-privileged ones, who are paying the price. They performed less well in all areas of literacy compared to children from more affluent areas.

Unsurprisingly, Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teachers’ union placed the blame on “restrictive budget cuts reducing resources”. He called on government to realise that austerity has an impact on our schools and young people.” He conveniently ignored the 900 per cent  real terms increase in expenditure since the early 1950s.

According to the OECD, for all of that money spent, the UK, including Scotland, is alone among developed countries in having an over-60s generation that is more literate and more numerate than the recent generation of school leavers. Given that educational standards in Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, languish well behind much poorer and  less developed countries around the globe it is shameful that lack of spending should be blamed for our poor performance.

To be fair to Scotland’s SNP government, it has admitted that standards need to improve. As Education Secretary, Angela Constance, has recognised the decline in literacy, stating that, “…these results are not as good as they should be.  They demonstrate the need to re-double efforts to ensure that every child can succeed in school”.

Sadly, the SNP’s answer to this crisis in standards is not less but more of the same teaching methods and philosophy that got the country into this mess in the first place and that is enshrined in its “Curriculum for Excellence”. This document embeds into Scottish schools a trendy, vacuous, and ‘child-centred’ philosophy of ‘skills’ and ‘concept’ based learning that was concocted in England during the 1980s and which Michael Gove has tried desperately to get rid of via the new, and ostensibly more knowledge-based, National Curriculum for England.

The future of Scotland, as with all countries, depends greatly on the success of its education system. There was a time when Scottish schooling was widely admired for its rigour and for its academic quality. Sadly, those days have gone. Will the Scottish government ever wake up and understand that children in Scotland deserve better than a secondhand  version of a curriculum and teaching philosophy that has betrayed so many children south of the border, and that even the Sassenachs have had to ditch?

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Chris McGovernhttp://www.cre.org.uk
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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