Scotland politics

John Swinney wants 'space' to tackle education issues

John Swinney Image copyright PA
Image caption John Swinney has been tasked with taking forward the top priority of the Scottish government

Scotland's new education secretary has asked for "a bit of space and time" to start tackling challenges in the sector, four days into the job.

John Swinney's comments on BBC Scotland came in response to a threat of industrial action by Scotland's largest teaching union.

The EIS is worried that new school qualifications will lead to a big increase in teacher workloads.

Mr Swinney said he was willing to listen to all concerns.

The Scottish government has made education its top priority - specifically, closing the attainment gap which exists between pupils from the least and most deprived backgrounds.

The EIS has said it planned to ballot its members on action which could see teachers boycotting additional work and assessment related to the new qualifications.

Asked on the BBC's Sunday Politics Scotland programme if Mr Swinney had been able to head off the dispute, he responded: "I've only been in office for four days, so I've not managed to get there yet."

'Great mission'

The education secretary added: "I want to have meaningful discussions with a whole range of stakeholders and I simply say to the trade unions - I say to everybody frankly in this debate - you've got a willing pair of ears here who's prepared to listen to the issues and the challenges.

"My mission is clear. My mission is to close the attainment gap in Scottish education.

"I can't frankly think of a greater mission to have today in Scotland, I'm immensely privileged to have that, and I just ask people to give me a bit of space and time to try to address these issues and deliver on my top priority."

Mr Swinney was also asked if planned standardised tests in Scotland's primary schools and in S3 would be marked externally.

He responded: "It will vary from age to age."

"When we're looking at some of the standardised assessments that will be under taken in Primary 1 classes within Scotland, I don't see the need for those to be independently certified."

Clarity call

Asked about Primary 7 or S3, the minister said: "Give me a little bit of time to work out specifically the detail of how we will take that forward.

"You're asking me to go to a very precise point and I'm not prepared to go there, four days into the job of being the education secretary."

Mr Swinney also said he had no intention of interfering with the independence of the Scottish Qualifications Authority, which deals with the qualifications framework.

Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said clarity was needed on the issue.

"I have today written to the cabinet secretary to seek clarification about whether or not the new tests within primary schools will be externally marked," she said, adding: "Parents and teachers want a straight answer about this as quickly as possible."

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