Nicola Sturgeon vows to put education 'front and centre' as she launches SNP election campaign

First Minister will express hope that next four months will involve a 'thriving debate' on the future of Scotland

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Education will be placed at the heart of the SNP’s plans for the next five years in government if the party wins the Scottish Parliament election in May, Nicola Sturgeon will say today as she formally launches her party’s election campaign.

Opening the New Year debate at Holyrood, the First Minister will also express her hope that the next four months will involve a “great, ambitious and thriving debate” on the future of Scotland before the country heads to the polls.

Promising that educational reform will be placed at the “front and centre” of the SNP’s plans for an unprecedented third term, Ms Sturgeon will announce that the National Improvement Framework – which contains controversial proposals for the introduction of standardised national tests in Scottish schools – would be published on Wednesday.

“Our most transformational infrastructure investment in the next parliament will not be in a bridge or a road,” she will say. “It will be our investment to transform childcare provision, providing parents with 30 hours a week of government funded childcare, enabling them to return to work, to pursue their careers and to know that their children are being well cared for, well educated and given the best start of life. 

“And, as I have made clear already, as we extend childcare, we will focus just as much on quality as on quantity, with investment in teaching skills – especially in our most deprived areas – as well as in bricks and mortar.”  

The SNP’s plans for the introduction of standardised national school tests have also proved controversial, amid fears that it could lead to the creation of league tables and “teaching to the test”. However, last month the policy was backed by experts at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, who said it would allow ministers to make more informed decisions about poorly-performing schools.

Ms Sturgeon’s education drive is a response to sustained criticism over the SNP’s failure to close the so-called “attainment gap” between pupils from the wealthiest and poorest backgrounds. Figures have also shown worrying falls in literacy and numeracy standards in schools while her party has been in power.

As well as focusing on education, the First Minister will also use her speech to highlight her intention to bring forward detailed proposals on health and social care, social security, boosting the economy and reforming local taxation.

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