LAST week the Scottish Government was accused of interfering in an independent report into the state of the nation's education system.
At First Minister's Questions in Holyrood, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont claimed the Audit Scotland report had been "watered down", with critical comments disappearing because the Scottish Government did not want the public to know about them.
Education Secretary Michael Russell hit back, saying the claims were "simply false" and accusing Ms Lamont of attempting to smear Audit Scotland, the public spending watchdog.
In fact, it became clear almost immediately that the Scottish Government had responded to Audit Scotland under an entirely legitimate process, with the draft being sent to them and other key bodies such as councils and trade unions precisely for the purpose of checking the accuracy of the statements made.
The following day, most media outlets reported the claims and counter claims, but few got to grips with whether the final version was a better reflection of recent trends in Scottish education than the first.
The key areas under scrutiny were Scotland's performance relative to other countries, the attainment gap between affluent and poor pupils and whether Scotland was making enough progress in exams.
The draft said international surveys showed Scotland's relative educational attainment was falling, adding: "The academic performance of Scotland's pupils is static at best and in relative decline to others at worst." In the final report, however, Audit Scotland said there was a "considerable gap" between Scotland and "top performing" countries, but also accepted the decline referred to in the draft occurred between 2003 and 2006 - with standards remaining roughly the same since then.
On the issue of social mobility, the draft said Scotland had "larger and more persistent gaps" between pupils from contrasting backgrounds than other countries, with these gaps "continuing to increase". By the final report, evidence had been added that actually showed the gap "has closed slightly over the past five years".
Finally, while the draft accepted all councils had improved attainment over the last decade, it said the pace of improvement "remains slow". Crucially, however, in the earlier report, Audit Scotland demonstrated Scotland's "slow progress" by contrasting a four-percentage-point increase in the proportion of pupils securing five or more Standard Grades between 2009 and 2013 with a 13-percentage-point increase in those in England achieving an equivalent number of GCSEs over the same period. The clear flaw with this is the fact the English system has been plagued by grade inflation, with Westminster ministers now demanding an end to such sharp increases in pass marks.
It is clear from Audit Scotland's analysis that much still needs to be done to make Scotland's education system the envy of the world, but it is equally clear the final report takes greater account of the subtleties of recent exam results and international studies than the draft.
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