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Highland P1, P4 and P7 are ranked the worst in Scotland for literacy and numeracy as council bosses say work is already underway despite calls for a major overhaul of education to remedy the problem labelled a 'failure' by business woman Helen Crawford

By Scott Maclennan

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Helen Crawford.
Helen Crawford.

Calls have been made for a major overhaul of education at Highland Council after rankings for literacy and numeracy in P1, P4 and P7 were ranked the worst in Scotland.

It comes despite investment per primary pupil, ranking the council at 20th out of 32 local authority areas in the country – a fall of six places from last year.

Official statistics for 2020/21 for P1/P4/P7 state 49 per cent of pupils are achieving in literacy, where the Scottish average is 67 per cent, while for the same group 60 per cent are achieving in numeracy, where the national average is 75 per cent.

While council bosses blame the impact of Covid while praising staff for the job they did during the pandemic, they insist much work is ongoing to improve attainment.

Concerned Beauly businesswoman Helen Crawford said “this failure in education” prompted her to stand for election in the Aird and Loch Ness ward this May – and called for changes.

“I am appalled to learn that Highland Council now ranks 32nd out of 32 council areas for literacy and numeracy among our Primary 1, 4 and 7 children,” said the mother-of-two.

“It means we now live in the lowest ranking council area in the whole of Scotland for these fundamentals.

“If we are going to tackle standards in education, we need a council that is open and honest about its failings, instead of trying to bury them in the back of a lengthy report. Our children and our hard-working teachers, who try their best to prop up this failing system, deserve better than this.

“Over the years, I have been repeatedly surprised by the reality of what is going on in our schools. I remember on one occasion speaking with an area education officer and telling him that I was concerned about the standard of numeracy learning.

“He dismissed my concerns and said there was no problem in the Highlands. And teacher friends have often told me of their frustrations with how the curriculum is applied and how it hinders them from doing what they do best, which is teach.”

The council’s education committee chairman John Finlayson said work was under way to improve the attainment figures, including “collaborative engagement, support and challenge” for primary schools with “standardised attainment meetings” and an action plan based on this.

“The absence of external assessment information during 2020 and 2021 led to grades awarded being based on teacher estimates,” he said.

“These results are therefore not directly comparable with previous and future years, and any change in attainment levels during this time should not be seen as an indication that performance has improved or worsened without further evidence.”

He added that more than half of Scottish local authorities, including five out of seven in the so-called family of similar rural councils, fall below the national average “in terms of indicators being reported”.

He concluded: “The reality is we recognise the need to really focus on attainment as we move out of Covid, and the education service is working with schools on plans to do this.”

Council chief executive Donna Manson said: “In many ways the council has achieved sustainability and connectedness through the soft skills of the Highland people, including our staff, and yet there is none of that in the national indicators that we work to.

“The significant impact of the pandemic on service delivery means that the performance targets agreed in the 2017-22 corporate plan will need to be reviewed later this year as part of a performance recovery plan.”

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