SNP ministers have been embroiled in a fresh “secrecy” row amid reports that draft versions of a parliamentary statement on education reform were made available to key agencies but not MSPs.
Oliver Mundell, who represents Dumfriesshire for the Scottish Conservatives, said it was “insulting” the documents had not been released to Holyrood’s Education, Children and Young People (ECYP) Committee.
His remarks come after the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published landmark analysis of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) that led to a decision to replace the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and remove inspections from standards body Education Scotland (ES).
Mr Mundell said he had heard a parliamentary statement was planned on the findings of a follow-up report by Professor Ken Muir, former chief executive of the General Teaching Council, who was commissioned to lead work on progressing changes to Scotland’s education system.
The Scottish Government recently told The Herald that Prof Muir’s report had been received and was being considered. It is expected the document will be published in the Spring, when Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville is due to set out her response.
The latest row also follows accusations that the SQA tried to edit the OECD report to reduce criticism and “save its own skin”.
Addressing the ECYP Committee on Wednesday morning, Mr Mundell said: “I suspect I am not the only committee member to have been concerned by reports that the Scottish Government are still over a year later withholding from publication of the draft version of the OECD report it received last January and their subsequent response to it.
“Furthermore, I have also heard that a parliamentary statement is now planned on the Ken Muir report and it has been reported that the senior leadership at the SQA and other education bodies have already seen advanced drafts.
“I am not aware that this courtesy has been extended to this committee, in what looks like a repeat of the same situation as with the OECD where the unaccountable organisations who are currently failing our young people are extended an opportunity to review and potentially influence the findings without any checks or balances.”
He continued: “Having been a member of this committee over a number of years, I believe it is insulting that such documents have not been made readily available to this committee and this practice of excluding parliament and denying us the fullest opportunity to exercise our scrutiny function diminishes the work we do. To me this is unacceptable, and I believe we should be urgently requesting these documents.
“I know we are to cover our work program in private today, but I am increasingly concerned that too much of our education policy is decided behind closed doors, not least because of the culture of secrecy and lack of transparency at the heart of the SNP’s approach.
“I think it is important the public know we are alive to these issues and that we as a committee are taking our job of scrutiny seriously.”
Mr Mundell also asked for the committee’s scheduled work programme discussions to be made public to allow the issues to be addressed.
However, after hearing the remarks, SNP MSP Bob Doris accused Mr Mundell of “grandstanding”. He said: “I’m conscious, when this committee started in this session, we said we’d work collegiately, we’d work cross party, and we’d challenge the government as and when appropriate, in the strongest possible fashion when we had to, but we’d seek to work constructively with government – and constructively across this committee.
“I’m therefore disappointed we get a set-piece statement from Mr Mundell, which I would consider grandstanding. There’ve been lots of opportunities to raise these concerns within the committee before now.”
He added: “I’m keen to work collegiately as a committee to decide how best to respond to Mr Mundell’s comments, but the idea of ambushing a committee at the start of a meeting, which has had lots of opportunities to put this to fellow committee members that work collegiately, I find very disappointing.
“I find the tone unhelpful, I find it overtly party-politicised, and it’s not the way I want this committee to work.”
Committee convener Stephen Kerr said the issues raised would be discussed in private.