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Last Updated: Friday, 14 September 2007, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
SNP facing tough tests on skills
By Seonag Mackinnon
BBC Scotland Education correspondent

Just weeks into the new term the new boys and girls are in trouble.

Ministers have suffered two defeats in a week in parliament - and they are both down to the approach to education and training.

Opposition parties joined forces to claim the policies lack credibility.

On Monday the Scottish Government launched its long-awaited response to a landmark report called the Leitch Review for the Treasury which said Britain had to cut the amount of unskilled and low skilled labour.

Jobseeker
The SNP Government described its Skills Strategy as "a call to action"

It warned that unless we radically improve education and training by 2020 we'll drop out of the top league of economies.

The SNP government described its Skills Strategy this week as "a call to action".

It heralded a merger of the two advisory quangos Careers Scotland and LearnDirect Scotland and it outlined the status quo and aspirations.

From the Scottish colleges, CBI and Chambers of Commerce there was a broad welcome.

But the Institute of Directors said it was disappointing. And any hope that this neutral sounding document would be nodded through in parliament were dashed.

Jeremy Purvis, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said it had no targets, timescales, measures of success or funding pledges.

"Exactly how does this qualify as a call to action?" he said.

Concrete measures

Iain Gray for Labour said: "The SNP loves to describe itself as a whirlwind. Well we must be at the eye of a storm where nothing much happens."

He called for concrete measures such as the launch of 50,000 apprenticeships.

Fiona Hyslop, the education secretary, said she does aim to streamline and focus training services. And that will boost businesses. The skills strategy document is just a first step.

The strategy could well have been just a holding document allowing the regime to meet its pledge to launch a skills strategy in its first 100 days in power.

More meaty plans may emerge when Westminster reveals in a few weeks how much money governments will have to play with.

Fiona Hyslop
Ms Hyslop aims to streamline and focus our training services

Opposition MSPs were not prepared to take that on trust - well they wouldn't would they? The government suffered a defeat in a vote on its skills strategy.

Round two came two days later with a second defeat in the chamber for the government.

This time it was over their approach to education in schools and universities.

Elizabeth Smith, the Tory schools' spokeswoman, said her party had "grave misgivings" about the Nationalists' ability to deal with education.

Citing the plan to cut class sizes to 18 she said: "This policy is simply not sustainable and it should not be paraded as one-size-fits-all panacea that will drive up education standards."

The Scottish Council for Research in Education has assessed studies from around the world into the effect of cutting class sizes.

It concluded that it does have an impact on the development of children in early primary and on those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Change lives

But there is no consistent body of research indicating it makes much impact on other pupils.

And it went on to describe the policy as "prohibitively expensive".

Ms Hyslop is starting out with smaller classes for youngsters who, research indicates, will benefit and running trials of free school meals for all in schools in the toughest areas.

They could be measures that change lives.

But if the education secretary fulfils an election pledge to have smaller classes across the board she is likely to meet resistance from the local authorities who run our schools.

There are already signs that councillors may ultimately say to the government: "See you in court."

That could make two defeats in a week in parliament pale into insignificance.


SEE ALSO
Government defeat in skills vote
12 Sep 07 |  Scotland
Ministers to merge careers bodies
10 Sep 07 |  Scotland
Training scheme failures exposed
13 Mar 03 |  Scotland

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