Yousaf tries to distract us from SNP finance. Will it work?
However, education has been through a period of intense upheaval. Perhaps we should listen to the comment from one parents organisation to the effect that what is needed now is a period of stability and balance.
It is little wonder our school students are fretful. They endured Covid when centres of learning were frequently closed.
Strikes by teaching staff may be comprehensible, given the issues of pay and workload. But they have inevitably added to problems in schools.
In addition, we are currently shaking up the entire exam system, including the replacement of the SQA. We are assured the outcome will be much more than a rebranding exercise.
Jenny Gilruth, the new Education Secretary, perhaps summoned her own experience as a teacher and educationalist when she answered questions on the exam diet at Holyrood this week.
It was helpful, for example, to have it confirmed that the SQA will continue to use a sensitive evidence-based approach to grading this year, given that the students concerned will have experienced a degree of disruption in the recent period.
But what of the future? Ms Gilruth referred to a pending review of qualifications and assessment. The final report is due next month and is expected to inform change.
Ms Gilruth told MSPs the review was instigated in response to concerns that education for senior pupils was driven by high-stakes exams rather than by the provision of a rich and rounded educational experience.
Children are under pressure
(Image: free)
Who could dissent from that? Who would wilfully deprive our young folk of that rich and indeed rounded experience?
Employers for one. They might welcome clear, empirical evidence that the individual they are about to hire or train possesses a particular skill set. Confirmed by measurable, reliable evidence.
Universities, for another. They might prefer to admit students who have the capacity to demonstrate their knowledge in an independent, external test.
I think we would struggle now to sustain the concept that our school education system is world leading. Frankly, I think that always owed much to myth, although Scotland was certainly ahead of the game in universal provision.
However, several of our universities and not just the ancients are regularly listed among the worlds best. They will not sustain that standard if they are obliged to admit students without thorough checks.
Now, to be fair to Ms Gilruth, she is seeking a balance. She is not utterly thirled to the suggestion, advanced by some, that exams should be abandoned entirely.
To be fair for a second time (a new record), exams are not ideal. They can be stressful. They may measure the capacity to survive external testing, rather than display concomitant knowledge.
But consider the problems associated with continuous assessment. Firstly, it lacks external validation which is difficult to generate without formal tests.
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Secondly, it is open to manipulation. Pushy parents yes, they do exist may press schools to upgrade marks in order to gain advancement and/or university entrance for their offspring.
Teachers may feel additional pressure, within schools, to reward their classes and perhaps exemplify their own teaching skills.
Further, such assessment can give advantages to certain individuals. Wealthier parents may be able to hire tutors throughout the year rather than just at exam time or, in the case of the least well off, not at all.
Material for home essays and folios may be obtained online or purchased from penurious university students.
I warmly welcome Ms Gilruths determination, expressed in a wireless interview on the BBC, to support teachers and young people through the expected changes and onwards into the future.
The Minister advised us to expect radical change. Dredging up what remains of my schoolboy Latin, I think that means or should mean at root, fundamental.
Well, quite. But perhaps we need to be more radical still and ask: what is education for?
Is it childcare? Or, as a weary teacher at an Edinburgh comprehensive once told me, riot control?
Should it be child-centred? By all means. Education should be tailored to individual aptitude and need, as far as that is possible in sizeable classes. Schools should certainly offer additional help, where required.
However, education cannot be child controlled. We fund state education not just to benefit individual students but to enhance future prospects for our society and, crucially, for our economy.
In that regard, Ms Gilruth reminded MSPs that the objective of our education system was, at least in part, to prepare young people for the world of work.
That means we, as a collective society, are entitled to prescribe certain requirements in our education system. It is not just about entertaining the young although innocent merriment may assist the pedagogic purpose, if used sparingly.
We may, therefore, prioritise subjects that are of use to society and our economy.
Maths, science and languages, for example. Rather than ferret-taming, astrology and coarse fishing.
Literacy and numeracy are essential. But, at minimum, a nodding acquaintance with science is also helpful, if only to introduce students to the concept of objective analysis, as opposed to the subjective opinions they will constantly encounter via social media.
A couple of final thoughts. I commend the endeavours to narrow the gap in attainment related to income although Ms Gilruth said she was mindful here too of the baleful impact of Covid. One worth watching.
And we also await detailed plans for a general Scottish diploma of achievement. Who said that sounds like the old Leaving Certificate? Lunchtime detention for you.