Published in the Stirling Observer, 29 Jan 2020.

Just recently, the Deputy First Minister announced the incredible achievement of more than 30% of pupils leaving High School with five Highers or more for the first time in Scotland’s educational history.


Recent years have also seen record numbers of our young people leaving High School and going onto positive destinations, which includes the world of work, modern apprenticeships, or further and higher education.


Over the past two years, record numbers of Scots have also gone to university – with a more-than a 10% rise in those studying a full-time degree in the past decade.


The recent Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) report found improvements overall for Scotland. The report, conducted by the OECD, measures the performance of 15-year-olds worldwide.


Scotland’s latest Pisa score has shown an overall rise in performance, with maths and science scoring roughly the same as the OECD average and reading scoring well above.


Whilst many education specialists would caution against using Pisa as an isolated indicator to educational performance, what these latest Pisa results do show is that, despite overall improvement, there remain some challenges in maths and science.


Although it is true to say that Scotland’s education system continues to outperform the majority of other UK nations.


The Scottish Government was re-elected in 2016 on a commitment to improve the opportunities and educational outcomes of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Part of this commitment has been through the Pupil Equity Fund, which empowers headteachers with additional spending in schools to help the educational outcomes of more disadvantaged young people. Schools in Stirling have seen £1.4 million in such funding each year for the past couple of years, which I know has enabled local schools in delivering additional equipment and support to younger people.


The outcome of which, as the latest Pisa assessment has found, is that the attainment gap is closing in our schools, and just five OECD countries are ahead of Scotland in terms of their educational performance.


I would like to talk about another major public service that is a devolved matter to the Scottish Parliament: health.


One of the generally accepted barometer tests on how well a health care service is doing is through the performance of accident and emergency departments. Towards the end of last year, around 89.3% of patients in Scotland were seen and resulted in subsequent admission, transfer or discharge within the 4-hour target, out of a total of 25,289 within a week. According to the latest published figures, just 79.8% of patients in England and 74.4% in Wales were seen within this target time.


Of course, the Scottish Government’s target is 95%. This is an ambitious target, purposefully so, and is therefore a very tough target to reach – and inevitably during winter, these numers are under pressure.  Nevertheless, the performance of Scotland’s A&E departments makes an example of the decisions made by other governments within the UK around the NHS.


The National Health Service has faced the longest period of austerity – imposed by the Tory government in Westminster – in its more-than 70-year existence. Despite that, NHS Scotland has received record levels of funding from the SNP Government in Holyrood. Last year, Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay, committed an above-inflation increase in health funding. For NHS Forth Valley, this meant £20.2 million more to spend on the health care services of local people.


It’s an approach that has led to Scotland having the highest rate of patient satisfaction in the UK.


Scotland has more GPs (76 per 100,000 people) than the UK average (60), spends more per person than anywhere else in the UK (Scotland: £2,368, England: £2,184), and has more hospital beds, nurses and midwives per population too.


With this being a New year and a new decade, perhaps its timely to remind ourselves of this: Scotland’s public services achieve so much, and there’s a lot to celebrate.