Education Secretary John Swinney has dismissed as a “moanfest” concerns that more than 120 schools across Scotland are teaching children of different ages who are studying for varying exams in the same class.
Figures obtained by the Scottish Conservatives using Freedom of Information showed that there are 112 schools where a subject is being taught to three different qualification levels – and a further 11 schools where the classes have pupils studying for four different exams.
Tory leader Ruth Davidson challenged Mr Swinney on the issue as he stood in for Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood.
With the First Minister in Normandy for D Day commemorations, Ms Davidson told the Education Secretary that in Inverclyde Academy in Greenock “maths is being taught for National 4, National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher all in the same classroom”.
The EIS teaching union has warned of an “explosion” of such classes, she added, while leaders of another trades union, the NASUWT, have complained that this causes “intolerable workload or stress” for teachers.
Ms Davidson pressed the Education Secretary on the practice of multi-level classes, saying he had he previously claimed “he had never heard anybody argue educationally there was something wrong with it”.
Mr Swinney accepted there was a “debate to be had” about the use of such classes, telling the Conservative leader: “There is a debate to be had about every single topic within education, education is a part of our society that is actively the subject of debate.”
But he insisted multi-level teaching had been a feature of the education since he was at school
And he was clear: “I certainly stand by my remarks that multi-level teaching is able to be delivered effectively in our schools by teachers who are trained to deliver professionalism of that quality and that standard.”
Ms Davidson however argued SNP ministers needed to “face up to the challenges in our schools, not deny that they exist”.
Mr Swinney responded by arguing what matters was pupils’ achievements, as he told MSPs attainment levels were rising.
“What I am interested in is making sure our education system delivers the best outcomes possible for the young people of Scotland,” he said.
“And on that the evidence is substantial that the education system is doing exactly that.
“We see young people now achieving more within our schools, we see attainment rising within our society, equipping our young people with the qualifications they require and we also see young people leaving school to the highest level of positive destinations in our history.”
He added: “I recognise there is a debate to be had. but I also want to make sure we do not lose sight of the phenomenal achievement that young people are making in our education system today.”
He went on to accuse the Tory leader of “cooking up the moanfest to bring to Parliament”.
The Education Secretary stated: “What matters is not the litany of complaints Ruth Davidson brings to this Parliament, what matters is what is being achieved by the young people of Scotland.
“Attainment is rising, more Highers, positive destinations improving year on year, that is what Scottish education is determined to deliver, that is what it is delivering, that is what I am happy to celebrate and I am not going to take any moanfest from Ruth Davidson on the subject.”