Scotland politics

Sturgeon: Numeracy figures 'unacceptable'

Nicola Sturgeon
Image caption FMQs was extended to 45 minutes for the first time under changes introduced by new presiding officer Ken Macintosh

Nicola Sturgeon has acknowledged that figures showing the country's pupils are doing less well in maths are "not acceptable".

But she insisted that plans to publish the results of new national school tests had not changed.

The Scottish Conservatives claimed the first minister was backtracking from the proposals.

The exchange came during the first session of first minister's questions since May's Holyrood election.

For the first time, the session was extended to 45 minutes rather than the previous half hour.

Ms Sturgeon was challenged on the results of the latest Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) by both Conservative leader Ruth Davidson - whose party is now the second largest in the parliament - and Labour's Kezia Dugdale.

Inequality gap

The survey found that the the proportion of P4 and S2 students performing "well or very well" in maths had fallen between 2013 and 2015,

Referring to the figures, Ms Sturgeon said: "I have made clear, as has the education secretary this week, that the findings of the SSLN survey are not acceptable to me."

Ms Sturgeon said it was the responsibility of herself as first minister, as well as the Scottish government and councils, to ensure that standards were rising and the inequality gap closing.

She added: "That is what we are determined to bring about, which is why we have embarked on a programme of reform and improvement in our education system,"

The provision of better data was a "key part" of that, she said.

She added that the SSLN is "limited in its coverage", saying the information is drawn from a sample that includes just four pupils per primary school and 12 pupils per secondary.

The first minister said: "It doesn't enable us to tell school-by-school how schools are performing, that is why the National Improvement Framework will lead to more comprehensive school-by-school data that allows us to target our efforts more closely."

Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said Scotland's main teaching union, the EIS, had published an advice note saying the Scottish government had "watered down" its plans for standardised assessments.

The assessments are being brought in for youngsters in P1, P4, P7 and S3, with SNP ministers arguing the data is vital in helping them close the attainment gap in schools.

But critics have warned publishing the results of the tests, as outlined in the Scottish government's National Improvement Framework, could lead to a return to school league tables.

Ms Davidson said the EIS now claimed to have "forced changes" so that "standardised test scores will not be collected or published".

Image caption Ms Davidson brandished the EIS advice paper which claimed the union had "forced changes" to plans for standardised testing

She added that the teachers' union also said "there is actually no need for all pupils to sit assessments in the first place".

Ms Davidson said: "The first minister said publishing more information and more data was vital if we are to improve our schools, but it now appears she is backing off from her own original plans, why hasn't she stuck by them?"

But Ms Sturgeon said: "The leader of the main opposition party may have changed but there doesn't appear to be any greater ability on that leader's part to adapt her questions to the answers she is given.

"Let me try and make it clearer. All of the data that the National Information Framework says will be gathered and published will be gathered and published.

"That has not changed. That remains the case now in the way that it was when I published the National Improvement Framework, no change whatsoever to that."

Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said Scottish government cuts were "devastating" schools, as demonstrated by the "scandalous" decline in numeracy levels.

'Important choice'

She said: "It is a disgrace. These stats are the reality of this government cutting the education budget by 10%.

"You have been in power for nearly a decade now. Surely the first minister regrets cutting the education and skills budget?"

Ms Dugdale continued: "Nicola Sturgeon needs to do the numbers and accept she can't cut the attainment gap whilst she is cutting school budgets.

"The SNP face an important choice - they can work with parties on the left to invest in education and skills or they can side with the Tories to impose even deeper cuts on our schools."

Ms Sturgeon rejected the view that she should choose between political sides, stating that the whole parliament should get behind a national priority to cut the attainment gap.

She added: "I am on the side of Scotland's children and young people - nobody else."

On funding, she added: "We have been very clear about the need to increase resources to tackle attainment. That's why the plans we set out in the election are to increase funding by an extra £750m over this parliament, specifically targeted at attainment.