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FM challenged on education after Government defeat on P1 testing

Ms Sturgeon insisted her Tory rival had ‘zero credibility’ on education (Andrew Milligan/PA) Photo: PA Wire/PA Images

Nicola Sturgeon has come under fire on education, after her government lost a vote on controversial assessments for P1 pupils.

Both Labour and the Scottish Tories attacked the SNP on the issue – with Conservative leader Ruth Davidson demanding a “complete overhaul” of the Curriculum for Excellence system used in all of Scotland’s schools.

Ms Davidson blasted the First Minister, saying a decrease in subject choice for pupils in the later years of secondary school meant pupils had lost 622,000 qualifications over the last five years.

But Ms Sturgeon dismissed this, as she insisted her Tory rival had “zero credibility” on education after the Conservatives voted to halt national assessments in P1 – a policy Ms Davidson’s party had previously supported.

The First Minister said: “I don’t think the Tories have got a shred of credibility on education left after the U-turn they did yesterday, voting to scrap P1 assessments that they have spent the last four years demanding that this Scottish Government introduce.

“Zero credibility for Ruth Davidson.”

The SNP leader continued her attack, branding the Conservative a “shameless opportunist”.

The SNP leader branded the Conservative a ‘shameless opportunist’ Credit: Jane Barlow/PA

She said: “Ruth Davidson week after week almost stands up here demanding more information on the performance of pupils in schools and yet she and her party yesterday performed a breathtaking u-turn and voted against assessments in P1 that she called for, demanded, in her manifesto and has demanded at regular intervals since then.”

With Holyrood having voted by 63 to 61 against using national assessments in P1 on Wednesday, Labour leader Richard Leonard used First Minister’s Question at Holyrood to call on the Scottish Government to respect the result of that vote.

Education Secretary John Swinney has already pledged to “consider” this – but at the same time advised schools to continue with their plans for the national assessments.

Mr Leonard said that showed the government planned to “carry on regardless” with the tests, despite teachers branding them a “waste of time”.

The Labour leader asked: “Why does the First Minister believe that she knows more about Scotland’s school children than Scotland’s teachers?”

Ms Sturgeon said there were a mix of opinions among teachers regarding the assessments and said the government would consider the outcome of the vote.

“Our consideration will not be party political opportunism – our consideration will be based on interests of pupils in Scottish classrooms,” she said.

“I want to have information from the earliest stage of primary school so we are know that we are not letting young people people down.

“We simply should not leave it too late to act and to intervene if young people need extra help.”

But Ms Davidson said more action was needed to tackle the problems in Scotland’s schools.

She told the First Minister that more than half of all schools restricted the number of subjects pupils could study in S4 to a maximum of six.

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The Conservative leader added: “And here’s the impact – over the last five years these restricted choices, brought in under this SNP government, have cost Scottish pupils 622,000 qualifications.

“That’s 622,000 courses that would have been sat that never were.

“The crash in subject choice we are seeing is a symptom of a wider malaise and it is caused by the chaotic introduction of Curriculum for Excellence.

“Under this Government we have seen reduced subject choice, we have seen teachers left in the dark, we have seen our Higher pass rate falling, we have seen attainment in National exams down by a third compared to the old standard grades and yet on education this Government shows no sign of listening to the evidence, of listening to this Parliament or of listening to parents or to teachers.

“The solution is a complete overhaul of Curriculum for Excellence and for once will this Government listen?”

But Ms Sturgeon hit back: “Here’s some figures for Ruth Davidson to chew over, the proportion of pupils getting passes at Higher level has risen more than 10 percentage points, it was 50.4% in 2009-10 in 2016-17 it was 61.2%.

“When we look at National 5 level, the proportion leaving school with an award has risen nine percentage points, it was 77.1% in 2009-10, it was 86.1% in 2016-17 and at Higher level the gap between the richest and the poorest has fallen by almost seven percentage points.”

She also noted the university admission body Ucas has just published figures showing “another new record for the number of young people getting a university place”.

She stated: “I think it is about time Ruth Davidson stopped talking our schools down and started celebrating the achievements of pupils right across this country.”