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Congratulations to Nicola Sturgeon and her SNP government on the spectacular success of their equalities policy. The triennial Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) statistics for last year have been released and they make it clear no child educated in a Scottish state school is in danger of rising above its station or exchanging a lowly background for a high-flying career.
Scotland’s education system has recorded what the Sassenach media term its worst, but which Scottish socialists would prefer to see as its most egalitarian, performance ever in these international league tables which assessed 540,000 pupils from the 35 member nations of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and 37 “partner countries”.
Scotland has again slumped down the league tables in the three core subjects of maths, reading and science – the three disciplines most closely related to life opportunities. In maths, Scotland has dropped in ranking from 11th to 24th since 2006. In reading, the decline is from 11th place to 23rd and in science from 10th to 19th. The percentage of Scottish pupils classed as showing “low performance” at science rose from 12.1 per cent three years ago to 19.5 per cent. England’s score was 15 points higher, but no doubt that will be categorized by cybernats as “fake news”.
Scotland was formerly high above the OECD average in all three subjects: for example, it was ranked 6th for reading ability in 2000. The slump dates from the introduction of devolved government. The massive decline is most marked since 2006, the year before the SNP came to power. By 2012 Scotland was being outperformed in maths by countries such as Estonia and Vietnam, with 18 per cent of Scottish 15-year-olds rated as unable to “participate effectively and productively in life”.
In the wake of last week’s publication of the OECD figures, a report from Sturgeon’s own government, relating to its ironically named Curriculum for Excellence, declared that 28 per cent of P7 pupils are “not achieving required levels of literacy and numeracy”. That is by no means the first time the SNP has failed Scotland’s primary schoolchildren. The SNP came to power in 2007 on a pledge to cut primary school class sizes across P1-P3 to 18 or fewer. Today the average P1-P3 class size is 23.5, the seventh highest in the world. On the day the SNP entered government there were 55,100 teachers in Scotland; today there are 51,000.
Nicola Sturgeon declared education her priority, but of course it was no such thing: the obsession with independence and extravagant PC projects such as the proposal to impose a “Named Person” on every Scottish child, from birth to age 18, supplanting parents, took priority – until struck down by the Supreme Court.
But while the SNP, having been in power for the past decade, must bear the brunt of the responsibility for the destruction of what was once the finest state education system in the world, there are other accessories to this crime. Chief among them is Scotland’s largest teaching union, the hard-left Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS). The EIS is to Scottish education what Arthur Scargill’s NUM was to the coal industry. EIS members are the keepers of the flame of doctrinaire socialism, fanatical opponents of the slightest scintilla of educational reform, worshippers at the altar of comprehensive education and resolute to stamp out anything that smacks of selection, streaming or academic excellence.
When the last PISA report came out in 2013 showing continuing decline in Scottish schools, the EIS denounced “this damaging ‘league-table’ approach”. Damaging to EIS members, that is, who had been exposed as failing to maintain educational standards in Scottish schools. This year the EIS greeted the embarrassing OECD revelations with a warning that PISA results had previously been misrepresented “by those seeking to make political capital out of talking down education”.
“Talking down education” – you have to admire the chutzpah of the EIS – is Scottish lefty code for worrying about relentless educational decline at a time when a globalized world is demanding increasingly competent skills from anyone who aspires to be more than a hewer of wood or drawer of water. Since 1945, when the plague bacillus of state-dependent socialism infected the compatriots of Adam Smith, the consensual axiom of Scottish politics has been that the government must take care of everything.
If people leave school illiterate and innumerate, and therefore unfit for employment, they can live on benefits. As for the job vacancies – not a problem, we’ll summon more immigrants to do the work our Third World education system leaves so many Scots incapable of doing. Scotland invented engineering, yet several years ago a planeload of engineers from Slovenia (!) had to be flown to Scotland to fill urgent vacancies.
The other chief accessory was Scottish Labour, now vociferously denouncing the SNP’s educational failure without proposing a policy that significantly differs from the Scottish government’s: both leftist parties share the dinosaur consensus that no serious reform should be permitted in Scottish schools. Scottish Labour blocked even the cosmetic Blairite reforms.
Scottish politicians and “educationalists” are united in seeing education as a vehicle not of knowledge but of egalitarianism. No Scottish child must ever feel inferior to another, so selection is forbidden and exams are “dumbed down” to the point of futility. The dead hand of local authority stupidity holds Scottish education in its thrall. Remember those Darwinian charts portraying evolution in a line of silhouettes progressing from a squatting simian hominoid to an upright modern man? The silhouette third from the right is a Scottish Labour/SNP councillor.
The prevailing socialist philosophy is the egalitarian obsession that is marginalizing Scotland from the modern world: the tall poppy syndrome, expressed in the demotic aphorism “Ca’ the feet frae yon big b******!” Yet the tragic victims of this dinosaur class war are precisely those whose interests the Scottish Left purports to defend. Well-heeled Scots send their children to independent Schools or state schools in prosperous catchment areas.
The gifted poor, formerly enabled to fulfil their potential in senior secondary or grammar schools, are artificially held back, the less gifted are denied any upward ladder. It is grossly immoral. It is no exaggeration to say the mounting tally of unfulfilled lives sacrificed to outdated dogma amounts to an abuse of human rights. Nicola Sturgeon, who presides over this scholastic North Korea, has threatened to use her MPs at Westminster to vote down an increase in grammar schools for England. It is only natural that someone who owns a brilliantly successful education system should feel a missionary zeal to export it.