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Billions spent on schools \’fails to improve education\’ – The Times

Lorriane Davidson, The Times, 20 April 2009

Billions of pounds of investment in education in Scotland since devolution has been wasted, according to a leading independent think-tank.

Analysis by Reform Scotland shows that despite a doubling in the amount spent per primary and secondary pupil, attainment levels have remained flat.

“It is clear from the research that the extra spending is simply not delivering value for money,” Geoff Mawdsley, director of Reform Scotland, said. “Put another way, billions of pounds have been spent in the last decade to little or no effect.”

While spending per pupil has risen from £2,092 to £4,638 at primary level and from £3,194 to £6,326 at secondary schools, the proportion of those gaining five good grades at the end of fourth year has fallen from 47 per cent to 46 per cent.
Reform Scotland also claimed that data it had obtained showed that pupils in England who had been lagging behind Scotland in 1998 are now ahead, with the number achieving equivalent grades rising from 36 per cent to 48 per cent.

The Scottish education system has long been regarded as among the best in the world, but the report claims that this view is now a myth.

Mr Mawdsley called on the Scottish government to publish more information about pupils\’ performance. “Using the measure of the pupils attaining five good grades by S4, including maths and English, would be a good start,” he said.

Reform Scotland also urged ministers to look at best practice from other countries and said that the government should consider a report it published this year, in which it argued for parents to be given more power to choose which school to send their children to. The report said that parents from poor backgrounds should be given credits of up to £10,000 to allow them to send their children to independent schools.

Responding to the latest report, Murdo Fraser, deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said: “This shows that the way devolution has been administered has not provided value for money for Scots. Politicians who only have the power to spend money without having to worry about where it comes from are never going to be as responsible as those who have to keep an eye on the income side of the ledger.”

The report provoked a furious response from a former Scottish minister in the previous Labour-Lib Dem Executive, who said: “Reform Scotland has produced a series of reports, none of which has contained any original research or thought. It is simply regurgitating right-wing ideas which have failed in Scotland in the past. To call them a think-tank is an abuse of the word ‘think\’.”

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “There is no doubt that Scotland can do better in education performance. That is why we are now embarking on the biggest reform in education for a generation.”

Reform Scotland\’s report comes as a former Labour economic adviser claimed that devolution has had an adverse effect on public services in Scotland.

John McLaren, who worked for the late First Minister Donald Dewar, also said that the education system had been particularly affected, with performance lagging behind that in England.

His report commissioned by The Sunday Times to mark the tenth anniversary of devolution said: “One can tentatively conclude that government being closer to the people has not led to improved relative performance in Scotland. In fact it may have had the opposite effect.”

Both reports\’ findings were dismissed by Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the teaching union Educational Institute of Scotland, who said: “Scotland continues to send a higher proportion of pupils on to higher education than England does, and if things were as bad as is being made out that wouldn\’t be happening.”