Pressure is mounting for an independent review of the SNP’s flagship Curriculum for Excellence after Scotland plummeted down international education rankings.
Nicola Sturgeon admitted at First Minister’s Questions yesterday the performance of Scottish schools in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) league tables was “not good enough”.
But the first minister said the Curriculum for Excellence – which was rolled out in 2010 in an attempt to deepen pupil learning – is the “right way forward”.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson called for a full independent review of the system in the wake of Scotland’s worst-ever PISA performance.
She said: “The single biggest education reform under this SNP government has been Curriculum for Excellence and nobody here can simply brush aside the fact that since it has come in standards have fallen.
“So, I’m telling the first minister today that our ongoing support for Curriculum for Excellence cannot be taken for granted.
“I believe that this entire project should be put on probation.”
Ms Sturgeon hit back by quoting the Scottish Conservatives’ education spokesman Liz Smith MSP, who said on Wednesday the principles of the curriculum are “absolutely right”.
The SNP added they are pursuing major reforms, which include delivering funds to cut the attainment gap, giving headteachers more power, creating regional education boards, and the introduction of standardised testing.
She added: “We are serious about making those improvements and I hope that the whole parliament will get behind us, because some of what we are going to do over the next period will be controversial and some of it will run into resistance.”
Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrats leader, told Ms Sturgeon the SNP’s complacency over education has been “oozing out of ministers for a whole decade”.
Speaking after FMQs, leading Scottish educationalist Keir Bloomer, the architect of Curriculum for Excellence, said he “sticks by its principles”.
He said: “It is the best way forward for Scottish education. However, the implementation has been dismal.”
Mr Bloomer added there is an “urgent need for greater rigour” at secondary level.
Scotland’s performance in the Pisa tables, which tests 15-year-olds in science, reading and maths across 72 jurisdictions, has been in decline since the turn of the century.
For the first time all three subject areas in Scotland were rated “average” rather than “above average” when the results were published on Tuesday.
Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney said: “Ruth Davidson showed her true colours once again today.
“The Pisa results made for uncomfortable reading – but in difficult times, leaders do not abandon their principles, retreat and run for cover. They hold fast to what is right.
“Now, just as we have seen with her sudden conversion to a hard-right Brexit, Ruth has revealed she cannot be trusted to stand by what she says she believes.
“In contrast, her own education spokesperson, Liz Smith, is right when she said, that CfE is the way forward for Scotland’s schools.
“Sadly, Ruth seems less interested in pupils’ education and more interested in pursuing the next cheap headline.
“Her attack on CfE reveals a lack of substance and of political resilience. It does her no credit at all.
“The Scottish Government will remain firm in our beliefs and listen, not to the turn-and-run Tories, but to our international advisers who have told us to be urgent in what we do, but patient about results. We will stay the course.”