Iain Gray MSP has called on the SNP’s new Education Secretary, John Swinney MSP, to make his first act as Cabinet Secretary be to stop the education cuts. His letter is reproduced below.
I wanted to offer my sincere congratulations on your appointment as Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills. I wish you well in the post and hope, for the sake of Scotland’s young people, that you are successful in the role.
I am sure that you will share my view that education is not just critical in its own right, but also the most important economic investment any government can make. Investing in the skills of our young people is the key to the future prosperity of our nation. There is no future for Scotland in building the kind of low-skill, low-wage economy that comes from a failure to invest in education.
I hope that now you are responsible for education in Scotland you will listen to those in the sector when they tell you how damaging the spending cuts of recent years have been. Under the SNP Government there over 4,000 fewer teachers, 152,000 fewer college students and bigger class sizes. As the Finance Secretary since 2007 you must be well aware that education and skills budgets were cut by 10% over the past nine years. As Education Secretary you must now look to stop these cuts and begin to repair the damage they have caused in schools, colleges and universities.
In your new role, I would urge you to focus on the following four immediate priorities:
1. Stop the cuts to education. The cuts imposed by your 2016/17 budget will see education services across Scotland cut. I know from speaking to teachers, parents, pupils, classroom assistants and other school staff that there is real concern about the impact cuts of hundreds of millions of pounds to local services will have on education in Scotland.
2. Increase investment in education. During the election Labour made a very clear commitment to increasing education spending in real terms over the lifetime of the next Parliament. We were able to make that pledge because we were willing to take the bold decisions on tax that were needed to pay for this, including setting a 50p top rate of tax on the richest 1% earning more than £150,000. The SNP failed to match our education spending commitment. This is a decision that I hope you will reverse.
3. Reform the Attainment Scotland Fund. Most children from poorer families receive no support from this funding because they do not attend one of the schools your predecessor identified. During the election campaign the First Minister acknowledged this was a mistake and promised that future funds would follow the pupil, as we have suggested. However, this was linked to council tax changes which will not presumably happen this year. It was also based on a mechanism which the Parliament’s scrutiny unit rejected as unworkable. You should reform this fund now, provide support for children from poorer families wherever they live and go to school and allow head teachers to use these resources to reduce the gap between the richest and the rest in our classrooms.
4. Our new exam system faces a number of problems which your predecessor refused to acknowledge. The curriculum has narrowed, SQA have struggled to recruit setters and markers and the appeal system introduced by your predecessor favours pupils in independent schools. Most immediately, teachers are balloting on industrial action as a result of the government’s failure to address workload issues. You must face up to these problems and resolve them. We cannot afford another cohort of young people seeing their futures compromised or damaged in any way.
If you do one thing as Education Secretary it must be stopping the cuts to education and skills. As a minority government minister you will be faced with a choice – you can either work with centre-left parties like Labour advocating greater investment in education and more support for our teachers, or you can work with the Conservatives to pursue even deeper cuts into our nation’s future, and ideologically driven tinkering with the governance of schools. For the sake of our future prosperity I hope you work with Labour to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to stop the cuts and invest in education.
I look forward to working with you in the coming years.
Iain Gray MSP