Helen Liddell in the Press

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Call for Liddell to quit as school crisis deepens

By MURRAY RITCHIE, Scottish Political editor

SNP leader Alex Salmond called yesterday for Helen Liddell's resignation as Scottish Education Minister as the Higher Still crisis escalated.

He denounced Labour for blaming the looming boycott of Higher Still by Scotland's biggest teaching union as the work of a "coterie of Trots and Nats", and said Mrs Liddell should quit now.

Her removal from office was a necessary ingredient in resolving the crisis, he argued.

"The EIS boycott of Higher Still - following the 86% vote in favour - is a problem entirely of Helen Liddell's own making," he said. "Helen Liddell was sent to Scotland to bash the Nats - but now she is bashing Scotland's teachers, and the Scottish education system as well."

He described as extraordinary the accusation by Labour that "a coterie of Trots and Nats" was responsible for the Higher Still boycott.

"That is surely the final straw," said Mr Salmond. "The reality is that the Higher Still boycott is an expression of legitimate concern by the teaching profession about the quality of post-16 education in Scotland.

"London Labour's education policy in Scotland has been reduced to tartan tatters by Helen Liddell's confrontational app-roach. That has got to stop, and the best way to usher in a fresh start in Scottish education would be for Helen Liddell to resign."

Ian Hudghton, SNP candidate in the North-east Scotland European by-election, told reporters: "In six months, Mrs Liddell will have no responsibility for Scottish education, since she isn't standing for the Scottish Parliament. It would be better for all concerned for her to go now, so that we can start afresh.

"We need to discuss with teachers the phasing in of Higher Still, the need more more training, and an improvement in the quality of material available."

He criticised Labour for making unrealistic demands of teachers with its "top-down, talk-down" style, and he called for a partnership approach instead.

He said Labour's bullying of teachers had backfired and he quoted a recent poll suggesting 78% of Scots considered teachers hard-working, while 70% believed they were are undervalued.

But Mrs Liddell yesterday accused the SNP of using Scottish children as a political football, and said: "We're spending money on schools. They'd spend money on the trappings of independence, on ripping Scotland out of the UK. They can't be trusted to run Scotland's schools. They don't take education seriously because they want embassies, not education."

The head of the EIS teaching union yesterday emphasised that pupils' education will not be disrupted, despite the boycott of Higher Still.

EIS members in schools and colleges are being instructed to stop work on preparing Higher Still, the replacement for Highers that the Government wants to introduce next August, from December 1. - Nov 24.