It is true, as the Education Secretary John Swinney said this week, that it “takes time” to implement reforms in education, and natural that, since the effects must be seen as a cohort of students moves through the various stages, any improvement will take a while to evaluate.

That, for their own good, is perhaps something the SNP Government should have considered before Nicola Sturgeon staked her political credibility on the claim that improving schools was her first priority. The plight she finds herself in is of her own devising, and criticism can made on several fronts.

The most obvious is that when you invite judgment on an issue, you should not be surprised when it comes, and the stonewalling and denial which have, until the past few days, been presented as the Government response was obviously deficient. Mr Swinney’s point about it taking time also begins to look increasingly thin when his party has been in power for 13 years, and the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) was introduced in 2013.

Another is that, while no one seriously doubts the First Minister is sincere in her ambitions, good intentions are no excuse when the data constantly fails to back up the rhetoric. And, awkwardly, while evidence of improvement may take time to show, the same is not true for indications of obvious deterioration.

It’s not just that there has been no admission of such signs; the Government has also chosen to abandon systems of assessment, such as the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy, that might have aided honest evaluation. As it is, those indicators, such as PISA, that remain plainly show not just no evidence of obvious improvement, but a strong indication that Scottish pupils are falling behind their counterparts in other parts of the UK.

Evasive formulations about more students leaving with a qualification of some kind are meaningless if this year there has been a drop in the number (as there has) leaving with one or more national qualification at every level, from 4 to Advanced Higher, if pupils are taking fewer exams, and when, in the judgment of a report published late last year, attainment has dropped by a third for those in fourth year, and by 10 per cent for Higher students, since the CfE’s introduction.

Many supposed measures of educational advancement are obvious nonsense; no one expects or should expect record exam results in every consecutive year. Indeed, such claims – as in the case of the Blair government’s reforms – often prompt suspicions that the rigour of the tests of learning are being undermined.

But it is a different matter when almost all the available evidence suggests that well-intentioned measures are not leading to noticeable improvement, and quite a lot of it indicates that matters are getting worse. One definition of failing to learn is persisting in a course of action which has failed to produce the desired result, and expecting a different outcome to materialise. As in an exam, it’s no use meaning well and trying hard if the answers turn out not to be the ones you expected.

Hedge of insanity

Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees, sometimes you can’t see the house for the hedge, and sometimes you can’t see that a cluster of 22-metre-high leylandii trees constitute a hedge, and you resort to the courts to get the matter settled.

That was the case for a householder in Inverness who objected to being told to trim the trees. His case hinged on whether a row of trees is a hedge, or a hedge may be made up of several rows. Lady Carmichael, pointing out that the word “row” can include the plural (indeed, it more or less has to), found that several rows of trees could nonetheless be a hedge, and that this one should be cut down to two metres in height. She didn’t hedge, which seems to settle this row about rows.