Scotland politics

SNP MSP John Mason attacked over education tweets

john mason
Image caption John Mason was heckled by opposition MPs during FMQs

The SNP has been accused of failing on education after one of its MSPs suggested schools had "widened out" from spelling and times tables.

In a series of tweets, John Mason also questioned whether it was a problem if a surgeon could not spell.

He said there had been too much emphasis on academic subjects in the past at the expense of other skills,

The tweets were highlighted by Conservative leader Ruth Davidson at first minister's questions.

Ms Davidson said it was evidence of the SNP presiding over "10 years of failure" on education, and asked First Minister Nicola Sturgeon: "Is this the view of the SNP government? Because if it is it explains why standards are so poor."

Recent studies have shown literacy and numeracy have fallen in Scottish schools over the past few years, and there continues to be a wide attainment gap between the country's wealthiest and most deprived pupils.

Ms Sturgeon responded to Ms Davidson by saying that the "highest standards of literacy" were vital for young people.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Ms Sturgeon said the government has been "making progress" on education

The first minister added: "Standards of literacy are vitally important as a foundation for everything else our young people do.

"That is why we will get on with the job of building on the progress we have made in our education system."

Mr Mason, the SNP MSP for Glasgow Shettleston, had tweeted: "I think when I was at school there was too much emphasis on academic.

"Of course reading and writing are very important. But if someone is a good surgeon and cannot spell, is that a problem?"

'High expectations'

In other remarks he said "many people do not need fabulous literacy to do their jobs well", and an "engineer may not need exceptional grasp of English".

Mr Mason also said: "Old fashioned view was that kids learned times tables and spelling by rote. I think our idea of education has widened out now".

But he agreed that "basic literacy and numeracy are essential" and that "everyone needs to be able to read".

And he stressed: "We should have high expectations of all children. But we should not try to force them into a rigid box as we used to".

Image copyright PA
Image caption Ruth Davidson said the SNP had presided over a decade of failure on education

Ms Davidson condemned the "litany of tweets" from Mr Mason which she said had included: "That we have moved on from spelling and times tables, that if someone has only basic literacy they should concentrate on what they are good at.

"That you don't need spelling to be a surgeon, you don't need grammar to work in IT, an engineer doesn't need high levels of English and that there was too much emphasis on 'the academic' in the past".

Education Secretary John Swinney told MSPs on Wednesday that cuts in student teacher numbers "probably" went too far when the SNP reduced them by 1,550 places in 2010-11.

Ms Davidson pressed the SNP leader on his admission, telling Ms Sturgeon that "when it comes to the basic task of putting enough teachers into our classrooms, her government got it wrong".

Ms Sturgeon said: "The decision she is criticising, taken in one year in 2010, was actually based on the unanimous advice of the teacher workforce planning group, a group that includes councils, teaching unions and the universities.

"In every year since then, what we have done as a government is ensure an increasing number of young people are going into teacher training."

Waiting times

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale later highlighted NHS waiting time figures, which she said showed patients had a better chance of being treated within 12 weeks before the SNP introduced a legal guarantee in 2012 for conditions such as knee and eye operations.

Ms Dugdale insisted: "That should shame Nicola Sturgeon. Because behind these numbers are people and real lives. It's pensioners, children and parents waiting months for operations.

"Under the SNP, standards in our hospitals are down, NHS staff are over-worked and underpaid, and tens of thousands of people are waiting longer for treatment.

"That is what happens when the SNP spends more time campaigning for another divisive independence referendum than it does running our NHS."

Ms Sturgeon responded by saying the NHS in Scotland was doing better than the NHS in Wales, where it is run by Labour.

She said staffing in the NHS haf increased by over 12,000 and the budget had increased by more than £3bn under the SNP, but acknowledged the challenges facing the health services - which she said were shared by countries around the world.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie raised the issue of the downgrading of the maternity unit in Caithness General Hospital, and called on the first minister to intervene and reverse the decision.

Ms Sturgeon said the decision was taken on the basis of patient safety, and that no politicians should go against safety advice.

It was following the death of an infant in the unit in 2015 that the board took its decision, she said.