Ruth Davidson: Education system 'not working'

Media caption,
Ruth Davidson tells the conference how her politics were forged at Buckhaven High School

Scotland's education system is failing too many young people and needs to change, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has told the party's conference.

Ms Davidson said her party would be carrying out a "root and branch review" of the Curriculum for Excellence.

And she described the SNP's record on education as an "absolute disgrace" and "a mark of shame".

She also insisted her party could form the next Scottish government.

But she acknowledged: "We're not there yet. Not by a long shot".

Ms Davidson has already spearheaded a Tory revival in the Scottish Parliament, with the Conservatives winning 31 seats last year to overtake Labour as the largest opposition party.

She told delegates that her politics had been forged as a pupil at Buckhaven High School, which she said was a "great school, with brilliant teachers, burning with ambition for their pupils".

But she said that "all around you, you could also see opportunities not being taken, potential not being realised, talents not being cradled".

Ms Davidson argued that this was because "it had been drummed into too many young people that to aspire was somehow wrong - that ambition was something only other people had".

And she said it was "time to get rid of the waffle, and the theories that have failed - and restore Scotland's reputation as providing the best education in the world".

She added: "Our purpose, our vision, our reason for being in politics is to ensure those same young people - the classmates I remember - can get on in life.

"It is to make Scotland the best place for them to study, to learn, to get a job, and to have the fulfilment they deserve.

"And the sad truth is this. For too many, Scotland is not that place right now because, after ten years in office, this SNP government has simply squandered the opportunity it has had to transform our country."

Analysis by Brian Taylor, BBC Scotland political editor

Ruth Davidson varied the tenses in her talk. There was much of the present. She talked of the challenges created by Brexit and demanded that the first minister dump any thought of indyref2. Now. In the present.

There was talk too of the past. Of Conservatives "back in the day" who had continued to deliver the leaflets even when they knew the chance of victory was non-existent.

Of the gains last year, when the Tories became the main opposition party at Holyrood. Of the change in prime minister. Ms Davidson, rather cheekily, said the previous guy was "pretty good" but she plainly warmed much more to the current incumbent, who addressed the conference yesterday.

But it was the bit in the future tense which was most striking. She said the Conservatives must now pitch themselves, must begin to behave like a Scottish government in waiting.

In her customary blunt fashion, she added: "We're not there yet. Not by a long shot". I suspect that her political rivals would endorse that sentiment.

She highlighted a report from the Sutton Trust charity, which said there was "no specific area where able children in Scotland really excel", with standards in reading, maths and science slipping.

Ms Davidson directed part of the blame towards the Curriculum for Excellence, which was rolled out from 2010 and which she had left "a generation of teachers, parents and pupils utterly confused about what is going on".

She stressed that "teachers are not to blame for this", but instead said the blame "lies with a school system that, thanks to this SNP government, simply isn't working".

And she added: "I can announce we are going to undertake a root-and-branch review of one part of the system that is failing - and that is Curriculum for Excellence.

"Here's what we're not going to do - teachers tell us they don't want yet another top-down reform, so we don't propose scrapping it altogether.

"But what we have to do is to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy which has led to this collapse in standards".

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Mr Mundell told the conference that Scotland does not want or need another vote on independence

Ms Davidson was addressing the second day of the conference, after Prime Minister Theresa May spoke in defence of the Union on Friday.

She acknowledged that Brexit negotiations will be "tough" for the UK, but said the difference between her and Nicola Sturgeon was that "I want us to make a success of Brexit. She wants Britain to fail".

And she called on the SNP to "stop talking Scotland down - and go out to the world and talk our prospects up for once".

Ms Davidson also pledged to fight "every step of the way" to preserve the Union, adding: "none of us - Unionist or Nationalist - serve anyone by re-fighting old battles."

Image caption,
Protestors gathered outside the SECC as the conference continued inside

She said: "We've been down that road before and what have we got to show for it? A divided country, a neglected politics, a Scottish government that has now simply lost all grip on the things that really matter.

"Scotland deserves better than this. It deserves better than "would", and "could" and "may". It is time for "will" and "can" and "must". And conference, the responsibility falls to us.

"We can be that better government, we must be that better government, we will be that better government. That's our ambition - nothing less."

Ahead of Ms Davidson's speech, Scottish Secretary David Mundell called on Ms Sturgeon to take the threat of a second independence referendum off the table and instead join "Team UK" in trying to get the best possible Brexit deal.

Mr Mundell told the conference he had been filled with "utter dismay" when he heard Ms Sturgeon say a second vote on independence was "highly likely" within hours of the EU referendum result being announced.

He said Ms Sturgeon's comments "betrayed the Nationalists' complete lack of respect for any views but their own", adding: "We voted in 2014. Another vote would divide our country and damage our economy at the worst possible time".

Mr Mundell added: "We don't need it, we don't want it - and you (Ms Sturgeon) should take the threat off the table altogether.

"What we do need, and what we do want is strong, clear, sensible leadership as we prepare to leave the EU. Well, we have all that, as we saw yesterday, in Theresa May."

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