One week on from SQA results day, many students may still be celebrating their success and working out their next steps in education or work.
The results have been widely greeted as a clear sign that students performed well, with more than 150,000 Higher passes for the third year in a row and the number of skills-based awards more than double the level of five years ago.
The news was followed by new statistics from the independent university admissions service, UCAS, that showed record numbers of Scottish domicile students winning a place at a Scottish university at this stage in the process. Perhaps even more remarkable was the 13 per cent rise in the number of students from disadvantaged areas gaining a place at university.
So one week after the results and UCAS stats were announced, just as some students are asking ‘where next?’, so we must ask that same question of Scottish education as a whole.
My response is clear: last week’s good news must not be used as an excuse to back off from reforming Scottish education.
Last week reassures me of two important points. First, the deliberate misrepresentation of Scottish education so often promulgated by too many commentators and politicians bears no resemblance to the reality on the ground. Yes, there are challenges – not least around literacy and numeracy – but Scotland has a generally good education system.
We are committed to reform not because I share some negative view of our schools but simply because we want our schools to be even better.
Secondly, I am reassured that the educational journey Scotland is on is bearing fruit. Counterfactual claims to the contrary run headlong into a simple truth: thousands of students from deprived backgrounds are now entering university who previously didn’t get to go. We are moving to a new age where gaining a broader range of skills and qualifications is the norm and not the exception. That’s real progress.
I passionately believe our education system exists to help every young person to fulfil their potential. Improving their education and life chances is the defining mission of this government.
To make that a reality we will ensure key decisions in a child’s education are taken by schools. They will have the freedom to improve learning and teaching. And, everyone else within the system will have a collective and shared responsibility to support schools.
Put simply, we will free teachers to teach and we will put more power and more money in the hands of headteachers.
So, while the many strengths of Scottish education have been clearly visible in last week’s results, that good news does not remove or even reduce the necessity to achieve more.
Quite the reverse.
The lesson of last week is that we are making progress, we must keep going and we can make Scotland’s schools deliver even more for Scotland’s young people.
This article originally appeared in The Times.