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Move to boost scrutiny of education rejected by Highland Council as the local authority is now ranked last in Scotland for literacy and numeracy in primary schools

By Scott Maclennan

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Highland Council HQ in Inverness.
Highland Council HQ in Inverness.

In brief:

  • Highland Council reject a proposal aimed at improving attainment
  • Highland primaries are bottom of the league tables for numeracy and literacy
  • Councillor Helen Crawford sought a recovery plan and biannual reports to full council
  • She argued 'top table' scrutiny is needed to see improvement
  • Councillor John Finlayson said an improvement plan was already in place
  • He claimed that there is no need for an extra report to full council

Highland Council has rejected a proposal demanding greater scrutiny over education after the region’s schools hit rock bottom for numeracy and literacy.

According to national league tables, Highland schools rank 32 out of 32 local authorities for literacy and numeracy in primary one, four and seven.

The motion called for a recovery programme as well as reports delivered to full council meetings biannually on what is being done on attainment.

Councillor Helen Crawford submitted the motion arguing that 'top table' scrutiny at a full council meeting twice a year is needed to see real improvement.

She said that parents and pupils wanted the council to 'own' the problem and deliver real improvement in an area that determines positive outcomes for young people.

But that was rejected at a vote – 27 for the motion, 35 against and one abstention – in favour of an amendment from the chair of education criticised as being the 'status quo'.

Councillor John Finlayson argued that an improvement plan was already in place and that the proper place to discuss education issues is the education committee.

He said he was committed to improvement and questioned the accuracy of the numbers that put the council in 32nd place saying improvement is already visible.

Councillor Finlayson's point about the league tables was that the assessments occurred during Covid when health and wellbeing were the priorities.

What Was Said – 'attainment is the priority' versus 'it's business as usual'

Councillor John Finlayson, Chairman of the Education Committee:

The Education Committee is in place to discuss and evaluate and develop council support and policy and I strongly believe the ethos of a strategic committee, means there is real focus on issues which are not undermined by political gamesmanship and an ethos of at times, political party loyalty.

The focus on improving attainment is a key priority for the council and the members of the Education Committee and of course any other members can attend committee and be involved in shaping our improvement journey and the improvement plan we have in place which will feature at Education Committee regularly.

Cllr Helen Crawford, Co-Leader of the Conservative Group:

Obviously, I'm incredibly disappointed. My inbox is absolutely filled with messages of support for this motion – from parents and carers across the Highlands. And I do feel that this was a missed opportunity and in many respects it is common sense. Why would we not debate these fundamentals at the top table, especially given where we currently rank?

It's the same old, same old. It's going to be business as usual. And I think that is the wrong direction. I'll be doing everything I can going forward. I'll be sitting on that education committee, I will be speaking up for a lot of teachers, a lot of parents and a lot of carers.

And really, we've got to do something different here in Highland to raise our standards so that we are not ranking lowest in Scotland. We've got to do something different.

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