RUTH Marr (Letters, April 6) is quite right to remind us that there is much good work being done in Scottish classrooms. While clearly there are some real challenges facing our schools, not least the scourge of austerity, education is not failing and indeed deserves more praise than criticism, criticism that is often ill-founded.

It is frankly a fairy story to believe that Scotland used to enjoy a "world-beating" system. For one thing, international comparisons are of very recent construction. The Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) tests were only introduced in 2000. It is worth pointing out that the PISA programme has its academic critics who question the methodology being used and the validity of the results obtained.

One obvious issue with the PISA exercise is that like is not being compared with like. Scotland is very much in a minority of countries in having a national comprehensive system where some 90 per cent of youngsters are educated in their local high school. Most countries operate selective systems and/or like China and Japan, where 29% of high school students attend private schools, there is a much larger private sector. So the PISA results must be treated with considerable caution. Furthermore, the drive by some countries to push up their PISA scores can be very damaging for their pupils. Our two young grandchildren are in primary schools in Tokyo. Worryingly, in 2020, 479 Japanese school students committed suicide, such is the pressure on them to succeed.

And what about this lost "golden age" for Scotland’s schools? Quite frankly it never existed – at least not for the vast majority of Scottish pupils. When I started teaching, local authority senior secondary schools were still in existence. At their best, these schools could match and indeed outperform some of our celebrated private schools. However, running alongside these senior secondaries were our junior secondary schools. Conditions in these schools were markedly different. The use of corporal punishment was frequent, classes were usually streamed and sometimes single sex. While pupils in the junior secondaries might be leaving school at the age of 15 with some form of local certification, often vocationally based, none of them would have sat national examinations. For that to happen the leaving age had to be raised to 16 which happened in 1972, which coincided with the move to comprehensive local authority high schools. Critics of our schools should also be reminded that the last three decades of the 20th century saw considerable disruption with teacher strikes, working to rule and the boycott of extra-curricular activities.

I would encourage those loudest in their criticisms to visit their local schools. Compared to my early days in teaching the atmosphere now is warm, welcoming, purposeful, supportive and confident. There is much to be proud of.

Eric Melvin, Edinburgh.

* TOM Wyllie, (Letters, April 7) claims that recent PISA statistics show Scotland's record in education to have "plummeted". This is hyperbole and factually incorrect, the four nations of the UK sit side by side in the PISA league tables of educational achievement, only slightly better than the average of the top OECD nations. This is not good enough for any of the UK nations of course, but singling out Scotland for criticism is simply gaslighting Scotland, which many Scots seem to delight in.

Mr Wylie then goes on to ask a number of questions concerning Scotland's economy, currency, and trading arrangements. I will do a deal with him; if he will tell me why Scotland would be a poorer country, and not be able to manage its affairs successfully in the way that so many small European nations do, both inside and outside the EU, then I will reveal to him the answers to the questions he asks.

John Jamieson, Ayr.


ALEX Salmond’s campaign in the Scottish elections is focused on obtaining a supermajority for independence in the Scottish Parliament ("Salmond refuses to say how many MSPS make up his ‘supermajority’", The Herald, April 6). Why doesn’t he argue the same case for a supermajority in a future referendum on independence?

If the SNP/Alba’s vision of the grand Utopia that independence will bring is convincing, then Scots should be voting for it in droves. Instead, in the seven years since the 2014 referendum, the opinion polls have continued to show that Scotland is a deeply divided nation on the subject of independence. The target for these unambitious nationalists continues to focus on obtaining a pitiful 50 per cent +1 mandate. Scotland will never be at peace with itself until the profound divisions are resolved.

Ian Forbes, Glasgow.

* ALEX Salmond is in danger of doing it again.

No, not making yet another political comeback that would have Lazarus scratching his head wondering how he can do it. It’s setting yet another hostage to fortune that will impede the independence cause and could prove to be the proverbial albatross around its neck.

I fear his talk of a “supermajority” will come back to haunt us – as did his “once in a generation” claim that has done the independence cause no favours since 2014.

Whilst the latter quote is taken out of context and misused by the Unionists, it is not wise to sacrifice careful language on the altar of careless rhetoric.

William Thomson, Denny.


ALEX Salmond is set on a course of collision with Westminster and possibly Holyrood too should his party achieve its election aims. Given the high stakes that are being considered in this case should his Alba Party not have contested both elections to prove that he has the backing of the public in this?

Theoretically this election ought to be about who is best placed to govern Scotland for the benefit of all. Instead it is turning into a confused picture of different parties with different agendas whereby the votes garnered cannot be pigeonholed into a specific issue, yet certain politicians will claim the opposite.

Scotland is more divided than ever, just when it requires all hands on deck to get us out of the effects of this pandemic. Whatever happened to the principle of the politicians serving the people? It is now appears to be the other way round. There is no gain from this scenario, only pain.

Dr Gerald Edwards, Glasgow.


IAN W Thomson (Letters, April 7) attributes the Act of Union in 1707 to two main factors, without suggesting that either of the two was more significant than the other. The first was the compensation promised by the English to the "Parcel of Rogues" who sold their nation's independence to secure reimbursement of cash they had gambled and lost by investing in the Darien scheme on the isthmus of Panama. Unlike today, the common people of Scotland were not consulted in any of the events leading up to 1707. Only the aristocracy, from which the "Parcel of Rogues" were drawn, had any ability to influence the outcome.

I would suggest that serious doubt must be cast over the weight attached to Mr Thomson's second factor, the expected benefits of Union. These benefits would have been limited to those perceived by the aristocracy, as the common people had no voice. Speculation that the current vaccine roll-out might be attributable to the prescience of our betters in 1707 would not surprise me in articles by certain Herald columnists but is a bit daring in the Letters Pages. I would trade a slight delay in vaccination for a reversal of Brexit and the restoration of freedom of movement within Europe.

Willie Maclean, Milngavie.


IAIN Macwhirter’s article ("A parliament of careerists governed by self-interest", The Herald, April 7) encapsulated, in its entirety, my own perspective on events since 2014 until today, amidst the revelatory explosions that have followed the botched political assassination of Alex Salmond in the last year and a half. That the degree of engagement of Central Belt have-nots shocked Scotland’s comfortable "haves" in 2014 is beyond question – whether or not "they" (and I’m naming Edinburgh/east coast farming/fishing/business/banking/legal/vested interests ad nauseam, not forgetting the David Mundell/Alister Jack fringelands) will change their minds, when Boris Johnson’s plans to further assimilate us into UK-north gain greater traction, is the real question.

Hugh McShane, Jackton.


IT seems all you need to be a successful politician these days is to be a good communicator. Competence in government doesn’t come into it at all. You can be economical with the truth as long as you say it well and, of course, a lot of electoral bribery helps, no matter if it’s unsustainable. What I would really like the First Minister to communicate, however, is what independence is really going to cost. Not just in money, which would be considerable, but also in terms of friendship and goodwill with our nearest neighbour and largest trading partner.

Elizabeth Reid, Dunblane.

Read more: Dislike of Boris Johnson is no reason to destroy Scotland