Scotland politics

Labour call for additional tax powers to fund education

Schoolchildren Image copyright Getty Images

The Scottish government has been urged to commit to increasing the top rate of tax in Scotland to 50p to fund education.

Labour education spokesman Iain Gray called on SNP ministers to make the pledge now.

Mr Gray said the additional money should be used for education in the poorest parts of the country.

He said the government could make "a signal of intent" that it would increase income tax on high earners.

It comes after both First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Education Secretary Angela Constance conceded improvements are needed to Scotland's education system.

Recent figures showed a decline in reading and writing skills.

At the education debate on Tuesday, Ms Constance said teacher training courses must spend "sufficient time and resource on these basic skills".

She told MSPs: "We must ensure that new teachers have the skills and confidence they need to teach literacy and numeracy to the highest of standards."

Liz Smith, the Conservative spokeswoman for young people, also criticised the Scottish government.

She said: "With a cutback in teacher numbers it is no surprise that pupil attainment is down."

Ms Smith said there were now "weaker standards in reading, writing and arithmetic" as well as an "appalling attainment gap which fails so many pupils from poorer backgrounds".

Mr Gray added: "The truth is we will not reduce the attainment gap while cutting thousands of teachers and increasing class sizes and spreading resources ever thinner.

"That's why we should commit now, as a signal of intent, that when we have the power to raise a top tax rate of 50p we will do that and use the resource to raise the life chance of those children."

Smith Commission

Meanwhile, Conservative MSP Mary Scanlon raised concerns that teacher training colleges devote "as little as 20 hours in a four year course" to literacy training, compared to 90 hours in England.

Ms Constance told her: "It is something I will seek to address further with the providers of teacher education and also the GTCS (General Teaching Council for Scotland).

"But it is an important point if we want our children to be achieving literacy and numeracy levels at the highest levels we need to consider what support we give to people, particularly as they enter their profession."

Holyrood does not yet have the power to raise the top rate of income tax, but is expected to get these powers in the coming years as part of a further package of devolution that was drawn up by the Smith Commission.

Earlier, the EIS - the country's largest teaching union - said teachers must not be used as the "scapegoat" for problems in Scotland's education system.

Ahead of the debate, the EIS submitted its views on the Education Scotland Bill, highlighting that schools and teachers are committed to tackling the impact of poverty but required the resources to do so.

It also argued that the education system "must not become a convenient political scapegoat for the very difficult societal challenges that poverty in the age of austerity can create".

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: "It is simply wrong and wholly unacceptable for any politician from any political party to attempt to blame schools or teachers for the problems of poverty in society."

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