Alex Salmond was today forced to demote Cabinet Secretary for Education Fiona Hyslop after the Liberal Democrats signalled their intention to bring a vote of no confidence in her to the Holyrood Parliament this Thursday. The First Minister knew that there was no way MSPs would back Ms Hyslop after her reported threat to nationalise every school in Scotland and her failure to deliver on key SNP manifesto pledges.
“We will reduce class sizes in Primary 1, 2 and 3 to eighteen pupils or less to give children more time with their teacher at this vital stage of their development.”
“We will maintain teacher numbers in the face of falling school rolls to cut class sizes and place greater emphasis on teacher recruitment for the early years, languages and science.”
“We will provide leadership and drive in the Curriculum for Excellence agenda. We will cut over assessment and bureaucracy which gets in the way of quality teaching and learning.”
So said the SNP manifesto in 2007. The reality they’ve managed to deliver is somewhat different. Figures last week showed that there are actually 1348 fewer teachers than there were this time last year and only just over 13.2% of Primary 1-3 children are in class sizes of 18 or less. With 54000 children, my daughter included, due to start Primary 7 under the new Curriculum for Excellence next August, but their teachers are still unclear on the details for exams and testing that they will need to carry out.
Fiona Hyslop’s reaction was to blame the Councils. As a parent, I encourage my child to take responsibility when things go wrong and if there’s a problem, to positively look at ways of finding a solution. It’s not a very good example of leadership to have the people in charge of her education at each other’s throats the whole time.
The already bitter relationship between Ms Hyslop and the Councils reached crisis point over the weekend when reports suggested that she intended to nationalise every school in Scotland. I’m not sure how one minister could possibly take responsibility for the education of nearly 680,000 children. The chaos that would have ensued from even attempting such a move could only have been harmful to the children.
When Liberal Democrat bloggers recently met Tavish Scott in Edinburgh, it was clear that education is his absolute top priority. He sees it as a key to “giving kids from poor backgrounds hope.” On Thursday, the Liberal Democrats will set out a fresh, constructive approach to solve the crisis in education. They will call on the new Cabinet Secretary Mike Russell to repair the breakdown of trust between the Education Department in Edinburgh and Scotland’s Councils. In doing that he needs to listen to the financial pressures that the Councils are under. If he wants to deliver on the SNP’s promises, he’ll have to give the councils what they need to implement that as well as provide books, equipment and safe, dry buildings.
I have to say I’m not hopeful. Alex Salmond might have moved Fiona Hyslop out of the line of fire, but there’s no indication that Mike Russell will do anything different. I don’t see anything in “Schools policy has reached a difficult period with our disagreement with many local authorities about their failure to reduce class sizes” that inspires me with any sort of confidence.