I suffer the brunt of Scott McNab’s educationally and statistically ignorant churnalism in the Herrod


I’ve got a sair heid from reading this.

Here is McNab’s opening statement:

‘More than £400million of spending has been axed from Scotland’s education system since the start of the decade, official figures have revealed.  Older pupils have suffered the brunt of the cuts with spending on secondary education falling by about £350m from budgets since 2010.Nurseries and primary schools saw a rise in spending, according to the figures from the independent Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe). Recent years have seen a worrying fall in Scottish education in international league tables and the SNP Government is now facing claims that it has failed to protect schools from the worst impact of Tory austerity.’


It’s a chaotic piece of writing, peppered with daft comments including that by Iain Grey, but I’ll concentrate on dealing with the two main issues –  a fall in Secondary school spending, leading supposedly but with no evidence at all of it, to older pupils ‘feeling the brunt’  and to an implied connection to a fall in performance in international league tables.

Spending fall in Secondary schools not properly explained

McNab entirely misses these crucial figures:

In 2007 there were 798 275 pupils overall and 309 560 in secondary schools. In 2017 there were 688 959 pupils overall and 281 933 in secondary schools.


So, there was a 15.8%drop in the overall number of pupils and a 9.7% drop in the number of secondary pupils over the last ten years.  McNab doesn’t tell us what the percentage change in budgets was for the same period and he doesn’t source anything, so I can’t trace it quickly. I guess, someone mentioned inflation and he decided not to bother with all that. He does later tell us this:

‘Secondary spending has fallen from £2.25bn to £1.9 bn last year. Primary schooling has risen slightly to £1.96bn, but now tops secondary spending. Nursery spending has also seen a slight increase by more than £50m to reach £410m.’

That suggests a fall of £.35 billion or £350 million from £2.25 billion in 2007 which is a 15% fall. That’s about the same as the overall percentage fall in pupil numbers but greater than the fall in secondary numbers. I’m sure secondary staff might complain at that, but does it not simply reflect a shift in resourcing from secondary to the historically less well funded primary and pre-school sectors, in line with both explicit policy, the research suggesting the shift was needed, and mentioned by McNab in his opening statements?

Do International league tables tell us anything valuable?

I’ve written about this before and the simple answer is that they are useless. Reading them, the Unionist media and the opposition parties scream out ‘crisis’ and reveal just how little they know about education, especially international comparisons. Here is the truth of the matter in ten statements which I elaborated on at the link below:

  1. Some tests just suit some countries’ education systems. Doing well in one test doesn’t make that country’s overall education system better than that of lower rankers and in some cases, especially in East Asia (China, Korea, Singapore), it is evidence of them being worse in many ways.
  2. The PISA results are based on unreliable estimates with huge scope for error and thus, I quote, ‘useless.’
  3. Summarising a country’s education system in just three numbers is, I quote, ‘madness.’
  4. Comparing countries with radically different cultures and educational structures is meaningless.
  5. PISA does not measure curriculum knowledge just general skills, so the so-called successes of Finland and South Korea or the middle-rank ‘failure’ of Scotland are not based on the quality of their teachers, their schools or their curriculum.
  6. The Finnish system is not that successful in other ways that PISA does not test.
  7. The highly authoritarian, ‘industrial’ East Asian systems are a form of child abuse we surely do not want to see in Scotland.
  8. The East Asian systems are not at all successful in developing the creativity, originality and innovation needed for future success in developed societies.
  9. The East Asian systems, in most cases, brutally abandon children with learning difficulties.
  10. The Scottish system is highly successful in feeding its universities with ever more and better qualified students, it is inclusive, caring and explicitly promotes creativity, originality and innovation.

Scotland’s school’s PISA results ‘lean’ toward nothing meaningful. Finland’s success is not real. South Korea and China’s educational programmes amount to child abuse





8 thoughts on “I suffer the brunt of Scott McNab’s educationally and statistically ignorant churnalism in the Herrod

  1. Bryan Weir August 6, 2018 / 9:48 am

    Another great piece John.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Alasdair Macdonald August 6, 2018 / 1:14 pm

    A good contextualisation and subsequent debunking.

    With regard to the change in the balance of educational expenditure between the senior stages of secondary schools and primary schools. This is long overdue and is probably early evidence that the ‘closing the attainment gap’ strategy is beginning to show itself. The gap in attainment between children in the lower socio-economic percentile and those in the upper, begins to show itself pretty early, in nursery and in infant classes. By investing more heavily in these stages, children prosper. SG policy is about pushing money in that direction.

    To be fair, Mr Gordon Brown attempted to do the same, with a fair degree of success, but, immediately they came to power the Tories and LibDems began dismantling Sure Start. Mr Brian Wilson, in his brief spell as the Scottish Minister for Education, was quickly convinced that investing in early years would raise attainment and have an equalising effect on outcomes for children across the socioeconomic spectrum. He decided that over the five year course of a Parliament he would seek to tilt the balance quite markedly. However, Mr Blair, overnight switched him to Trade and the policy languished until recently.

    The formula for budget allocation to schools had a greater per capita allocation for Fifth and Sixth Years of secondary. Because these years are beyond the statutory minimum leaving age, S5 and S6 contain disproportionately more children from the middle and upper classes. So the formula was deliberately skewed to funnel money to the wealthier families. Mr Brown tried to change this by paying a bursary to young people from areas of high social and economic deprivation in an attempt to assist more children from homes with lower incomes to continue education. Again, the Tories and LibDems scrapped this. The case was made by the classroom fascists who fed the media with mendacious stories of the money being misused. They were analaous to the ‘coal in the bath tales’ when council hooses provided bathrooms for the hoi polloi. The EIS was a strong supporter of the bursaries.

    Given that honourable Labour history, one wonders what party the risible and terminally boring Iain Gray thinks he belongs to.

    Finally, let me say a word of praise to Mr Michael Gove and his wife the Daily Mail journalist, Sarah Vine. They made a deliberate decision to send their children to their local comprehensive. Indeed, Ms Vine wrote two articles justifying their decision. These articles were far better than anything which ever appeared in the Guardian. She made the case for comprehensives and public education. Fiona Miller (Alistair Campbell’s wife) could not have written better and I rate her up there with the late Caroline Benn, wife of Tony Benn. It was also Mr Gove who widely publicised the fact that the attainment gap began to appear in the early years.

    Encomia for some Labourites and some Tories! I do not do that very often.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Contrary August 6, 2018 / 6:44 pm

    John, you are a brave man reading that article, and I’m impressed you managed to debunk it when it contained such a confusing morass of random numbers. Do they do that on purpose then? Keep the numbers vague, not reference them etc, just to avoid any debunking?

    I am still reeling a bit from Alasdair’s announcement about Gove and his wife. It will take a while to digest that nugget of information.

    I was wondering, in general, whether it might be a good idea to ban anyone that went to public school from holding public office? Will that just cause howls of outrage and cries of ‘discrimination’? Children mostly just get sent there so they can network (though different education styles can suit different children, so I wouldn’t suggest that is always the case), so you wouldn’t need to ban the schools as an option, just make it that certain career paths cannot be bought and paid for by parents, careers that may benefit from people with a greater understanding of the lives of the people they are paid to serve? I am sure there are many holes in this theory, I have just started musing on it, so please feel free to tear it apart!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Legerwood August 6, 2018 / 7:54 pm

      Public school types and public office.
      There was an article by Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph at the weekend entitled: “”With Etonians shunned in the modern Cabinet, where will the new talent come from?””

      Cannot link to it because it is behind a pay wall but I think the title probably tells you a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Contrary August 6, 2018 / 9:12 pm


      That headline implies the poor poor Etonians are already being picked on (‘shunned’), and the bizarre implication that they were ever a talent. So doubt it will support my idea. Elites, pah. All they have in abundance is supreme overconfidence!

      Did anyone pick up this Twitter thread:


      On matters Brexit and the economy, I don’t know enough to say if it’s good, but it is clearly laid out, and more importantly, it supports my theory that those elites are desperate to get out of the eu because it is bringing in transparency laws to stop money laundering and tax havens.

      Strangely, this morning on the radio, the phone-in was hosted by John Beattie. An unusual occurrence. Hot on the heels of him bringing up the WoS -BBC scandal in his normal show (and being praised for it). And indeed the subject included (sideways) independence re the MOD being taken to tribunal. Interesting.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Robert Graham August 6, 2018 / 9:44 pm

    A sad state of affairs is starting to become normal now , given past indiscretions the BBC – Tory Party- Labour Party – LibDems , I and a lot of other people simply dont believe a single word any of these organisations present as truth now , this is not healthy in a modern democracy when half if not more by now neither believes nor trusts the media in general or any of the London based unionist parties , we have the situation where important information about something serious will be dismissed by half of scots without even a question being asked of its truthfulness Oh is just more guff will be the comment ,for both sides in the independence debate that is concerning ,

    Liked by 1 person

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