First Minister accused of 'spin' to make school figures look better

Written by Gemma Fraser on 9 September 2019 in News

A row has broken out after school estate figures were compared with previous years, against official advice

 

Image credit: Holyrood

The First Minister has been accused of making “dodgy comparisons” in order to show that the condition of Scottish schools has improved.

According to official figures published today by Scotland’s chief statistician, the proportion of schools reported as being in good or satisfactory condition currently stands at 88.3 per cent, whereas this figure was 61.1 per cent in 2007.

However, the same report – School Estates Statistics 2019 – warns that comparisons should not be made between 2019 and previous years as the way of measuring the condition of school buildings has changed.

This means that schools may have been reclassified without having necessarily been improved.

It states: “In November 2017 new guidance was provided to local authorities in measuring school condition.

“Condition was recorded using this guidance for the first time in the 2019 School Estates Core Facts Survey. Differences between this and the previous guidance mean that a school’s condition rating may have changed when there has been little or no change to the physical condition itself.

“Therefore, caution is advised when comparing the 2019 figures with previous years.”

But Nicola Sturgeon used the comparison between this year and 2007 to congratulate her government for improvements made over this time period, as well as a future investment in improving the school estate.

She said: “This investment builds on the progress that we have made over the last 10 years. The National Statistics published today reveal that, even before today’s announcement, Scotland’s school estate has never been in better condition, with a record percentage in good or satisfactory condition. That is a result of sustained investment and we will now build on that.

“Modern, state of the art buildings can make a real difference to the lives of pupils, teachers and parents, as well as the wider communities they serve. This investment continues our efforts to improve the condition of our entire learning estate, from early years through to schools and colleges.”

But Scottish Labour hit out at the Scottish Government’s decision to “chase positive press headlines” whilst ignoring the warning about making comparisons.

The party’s education spokesperson, Iain Gray, said: “The First Minister and her government have been caught out making dodgy comparisons against the advice of their own officials.

“Official guidance contained within the report clearly warns against comparing figures from this year to previous years.  Schools may not have improved at all, just been recategorised.

“Instead of spin, the SNP should be focussed on fixing the problems they continue to create in Scottish education.

“Nicola Sturgeon and the Education Secretary must explain why they ignored official advice in order to chase positive press headlines.”

According to the report, the proportion of pupils educated in schools in “poor” or “bad” condition has decreased from 36.6 per cent of all pupils (around 257,000) in 2007 to 10.3 per cent of all pupils (around 71,000) in 2019.

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Beatrice Wishart MSP today said it was “alarming” that there are still so many Scottish pupils being taught in schools that are considered to be in a poor or bad condition and warned the SNP are jeopardising tackling the attainment gap through “sub-par environments”.

She said: “It’s alarming to see that 70,000 Scottish pupils are being taught in schools that have been graded poor quality or bad working environments. That’s more than 10 per cent of all pupils.

“Every child has the right to a high-quality education in a reliable space which will help them achieve their full potential. It’s disgraceful that the condition of our schools could distract from learning and prove unpleasant workplaces for teachers.

“The First Minster thinks this is great progress, but we don’t have a hope of properly tackling the attainment gap if tens of thousands of pupils are being taught in sub-par environments.

“Education is supposed to be this government’s number one priority. It can’t risk letting down another generation of learners.”

 

 

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