Scotland Education Secretary Confuses, Criticizes Teachers


Angela Constance, Scotland’s education secretary, is under fire for making a controversial statement about the literacy and numeracy skills of Scotland’s students, saying that attitudes held by teachers are the major stumbling block to students’ achievement.

The Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) showed that fewer than 20% of secondary school teachers in a subject other than English considered reading and writing vital to their subject’s curriculum.

The BBC quoted Constance’s speech to educators at Glasgow University’s Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change:

This year’s results on literacy show that we need to step up the pace of change. Frankly, it’s not good enough that some children appear to be doing less well in basic skills the older they get.

SSLN also found that, if we take away English teachers, fewer than 20% of secondary teachers think that reading and writing is ‘vital’ to their curriculum area.

And if it is the case, then we must change those attitudes and do more to support our schools and teachers, to raise the quality of teaching in literacy across other curriculum areas. If we are to achieve our goals and ambitions for all of Scotland’s children, then the whole system needs to be focused on achieving our literacy goals.

She also discussed the role that poverty plays in education, and said that every student deserves a chance to succeed regardless of socioeconomic status.

However, her statements about the skills of Scottish students have been met with criticism. Many have drawn attention to the increase in class sizes and shrinking numbers of teachers. Torcuil Crichton of the Daily Record points out that the attainment gap due to poverty is widely viewed to be beyond the scope of what schools can improve.

The general secretary of Scotland’s largest teaching union, Larry Flanagan, said that Constance chose data that did not represent the full picture, and that the survey showed that teachers had a “very high level of engagement with literacy skills and development across non-English subject areas.”

Constance was also criticized for being unclear in her speech and the accompanying press release, with Conservative opponents accusing her of using unintelligible “jargon” and “psychobabble.” Matt Chorley of the Daily Mail notes that the irony of demanding literacy education in a poorly written speech is not lost on her detractors. One passage was particularly confusing:

So let me be clear, in pursuing a shared ambition to ensure that education delivers every child the best opportunities to excel, nothing is off the table.

Let me equally be clear that the teachers at that table will be fully-qualified and well-trained — and they must be joined by parents who feel fully engaged and well-informed about how they and their children are being supported to realize their aspirations.

Constance has been Scotland’s Education Secretary for six months, notes the Extra.