Scotland politics

New education secretary John Swinney back at former school

Swinney school
Image caption John Swinney took part in a science class at his old school in Edinburgh

John Swinney has carried out his first visit as Scotland's education secretary as unions hit out over class testing.

The deputy first minister joined pupils for a science class at Forrester High School in Edinburgh, his old school.

The ex-finance secretary will tackle the SNP government's "top priority" of closing the attainment gap among pupils following a cabinet reshuffle.

Mr Swinney's visit came as secondary teachers called on the government to "stop the assessment madness now".

The Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA) has launched a ballot of members for industrial action over concerns about "excessive and unreasonable demands" on staff.

Mr Swinney has already had to deny claims that primary pupils will have to sit hour-long tests, amid criticism of Scotland's performance in international league tables for education.

His predecessor Angela Constance has been moved to the new portfolio of communities, social security and equalities, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying Mr Swinney's appointment to the "crucial role" demonstrated how important education is to her government.

The new education secretary carried out several engagements in the capital before moving on to Stirling University where he will speak to students and lecturers.

'Great future'

Prior to the visits, Mr Swinney said: "Giving every child in Scotland an excellent education and improving prospects for all our young people is at the heart of the Scottish government's priorities this term.

"Allocating the deputy first minister the role of education secretary demonstrates the significance that the first minister attaches to this issue.

"Our children and young people must be given the best possible start in life and I am determined to drive forward this agenda every day that I hold this office.

"Today I look forward to engaging directly with children, young people, early years staff, teachers, youth workers, students and lecturers - all of who are key to helping this government in our crucial work to ensure that every child in Scotland can have a great future."

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Image caption First Minister Nicola Sturgeon handed her deputy John Swinney a key role in the cabinet reshuffle

Mr Swinney's day of visits came after the SSTA announced it would ballot members on taking measures to reduce teacher workload.

Union general secretary Seamus Searson said: "SSTA members have always wanted to do the best for the young people in their classes, and went over and beyond to ensure the qualification system worked and their young people didn't miss out.

"But the qualifications and the assessments need to fit the teaching and learning, not the other way round.

"The SSTA has had no choice but to move to an indicative ballot of our members for industrial action against excessive and unreasonable workload. It is not too late for the government to intervene and stop the assessment madness now."

The Educational Institute of Scotland is also to ballot members over industrial action, while fellow teaching union NASUWT has instructed members to boycott some work associated with the Curriculum for Excellence.

'Genuine concerns'

Opposition parties have piled pressure on Mr Swinney in his first days on the job.

The Scottish Conservatives, called on the deputy first minister to act over the named persons scheme, which has proved controversial with opposition parties.

The system of having a named person assigned to everyone under the age of 18 in Scotland is to be implemented from August, but Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith said it was "unworkable, and will have a massively detrimental impact".

She added: "It is going to pile on mountains of extra work on the shoulders of teachers, health visitors and care professionals. As council leaders have warned, it may even put people off applying for senior teaching posts.

"I hope John Swinney will accept that people's concerns are genuine and based in fact."

Meanwhile Labour's opportunity spokesman Iain Gray has written to Mr Swinney calling on him to "stop the cuts" to education.

Mr Gray said: "Under the SNP government there over 4,000 fewer teachers, 152,000 fewer college students and bigger class sizes.

"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."

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