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Sketch: Jenny Gilruth would like a gold star, please

Credit: Iain Green

Sketch: Jenny Gilruth would like a gold star, please

Jenny Gilruth is a bit peeved that MSPs are not more willing to celebrate the successes in Scottish education. Perhaps it’s because she used to be a teacher, so it’s all a bit close to the bone, or perhaps it’s because she’s now education secretary, with responsibility to actually do something about the mess education is in.

Either way, in a Scottish Labour-led debate titled ‘Stand Up for Quality Education’, Gilruth spent most of her speaking time lamenting the fact that opposition members weren’t being more positive. Where is her gold star?

She finds it “disappointing” that Labour could not bring itself to acknowledge anything positive. The SNP may not have closed the attainment gap, but on the bright side her teaching qualification at least makes it look like the government has put someone in charge who might know something about the brief. A win for Gilruth, at the very least.

“I do not shy away from the areas where we face challenges,” she says, before carefully steering the conversation away from any of the areas where there are challenges.

Gilruth is just a sunny and optimistic person. So instead of looking at internationally recognised Pisa figures which found standards in Scotland’s schools had slipped, she advises everyone to instead look at a “broad range” of data. Including one particular dataset compiled by the, err, Scottish Government that proves the kids aren’t nearly as screwed as they seem.

And of the issues Labour raises – on attainment, on teacher workload, on additional support needs, on the broken free school meal promise? “I must say that the idea that we will be able to fully debate all those topics in a truncated opposition debate this afternoon is simply not credible.” Pshaw. There are simply too many problems to deal with, Gilruth insists.

The very nerve of Pam Duncan-Glancy to bring all of this at once to her desk. “Her motion looks to me a bit like a copy-and-paste job,” she adds, marking her down for plagiarism.

The education secretary goes on to insist there was an “opportunity to have a genuine debate on education” – one that, presumably, focuses on how good a job she’s doing. “I fear that what we will hear instead will create a highly predictable political rammy,” she says. Isn’t it terrible that the opposition cannot simply hand her the ‘A’ she so desperately craves?

Still, not shy of a political rammy herself, Gilruth charges on: “It is somewhat dispiriting that the Scottish Labour Party motion does not say anything positive about Scottish education. What does that say about the offer from Scottish Labour in relation to its vision for Scottish education? I would like to hear it.” You can only fix problems by ignoring the problems and looking at the positives, apparently. To be fair to Gilruth, that does seem to be the current mantra of her party.

Not dissuaded by Gilruth’s optimism, Duncan-Glancy laments that since becoming shadow education secretary she has realised there are problems “no matter what stone I turn over or what corner I look around”.

“With concerns bubbling up, they are vulnerable to overflowing,” she gravely warns. Which is both a gross metaphor and also one that might ring true, given the crumbling nature of many schools in Scotland. She tells MSPs that “teachers are the architects of our children’s futures”. But it’s clear that teachers may also have to be actual architects, before any school roofs fall in because of dodgy concrete.

Still, despite the problems, the Labour MSP insists she is more than happy to work with the SNP. Channeling the grown-up energy of her boss Anas Sarwar, she says: “Let us set aside political differences and unite in the pursuit of a brighter future for our children.”

Conservative Liam Kerr does not appear to have got the memo. Instead, he spends most of his debate time complaining about the lack of debate time. He opens his speech by highlighting he has a “mere four minutes” to set out all the problems in Scotland’s education (much to Gilruth’s dismay – hadn’t she just called for a focus on the positives?)

The Scottish Government, he says, has refused to put education on the agenda and it has been up to the opposition to bring forward debates. With his trademark pause and flourish, always the lawyer, Kerr tells the room: “The government has called one such debate.” There is a panto-style gasp from somewhere in the Chamber.

Three-quarters of the way through his speech, he says: “With so little time, I will cut to the chase.” Apparently, Kerr’s own education did not cover learning the definition of cutting to the chase.

He, like Duncan-Glancy, benevolently offers to “help the government with solutions” to their problems. They can “put the politics aside…” he insists, before cheekily adding: “…to help Scotland’s economic and social recovery from the past 16 years of the SNP government”. Nope, not political point-scoring at all. All should be sent to the bottom of the class.

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