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Chamber and committees

Education, Children and Young People Committee


Follow up information on Session 6 priorities

Letter from Cabinet Secretary for education and Skills

Dear Convener

On 6 October 2021, I attended the Education, Children and Young People Committee to discuss my priorities for education in this new parliamentary session.

During my attendance I agreed to follow-up by correspondence with further detail on when Regional Skills Assessment will take place across all of Scotland and Trade Union and staff representation in Professor Ken Muir’s work. I also understand there were a small number of points that the Committee subsequently asked for further details on. I am writing today to follow this up and have provided detail below.

1. When Regional Skills Assessments will take place across all of Scotland

We believe there may have been some confusion between two regionally based skills planning assessments in the Committee session. To ensure the Committee has a complete picture we have provided details on both Regional Skills Assessments and Regional Skills Investment Plans below.

Regional Skills Assessments

The purpose of Regional Skills Assessments (RSAs) is to provide a robust evidence base, built up from existing datasets and forecasts, to support strategic skills investment planning across Scotland’s regions. They have evolved over time based on independent review and feedback from partners.

RSAs are developed and published by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) in partnership with Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish Funding Council, Scottish Government, the Scottish Local Authorities Economic Development Group and South of Scotland Enterprise. RSAs are available for all College Regional Outcome

Agreement areas, Rural Scotland and all City and Growth Deal Regions. The most recent RSAs were published in July 2021.

These reports are supplemented by the RSA Data Matrix, an interactive tool offering data from a variety of sources. Details of regional skills assessments for each area of Scotland are provided at Annex A.

Regional Skills Investment Plans

A Regional Skills Investment Plan (RSIP) is a mechanism through which SDS is committed to working collaboratively with partners across Local Authority boundaries to embed an evidence based approach to skills planning, investment and delivery that is aligned to the needs of employers and the regional economy. To date RSIPs have been published for Highlands and Islands, Glasgow City Region, Tay Cities, Aberdeen City and Shire, Edinburgh and South East Scotland and the South of Scotland.

RSIPs are developed and co-produced with a range of national and regional partners. Details of regional skills investment plans for each of area of Scotland are provided at Annex B.

2. Further information on digital training

SDS is currently developing a Digital Economy Skills Action Plan and continues to work in partnership with various organisations to develop and support their digital skills development offers.

As part of the National Transition Training Fund SDS is administering a number of funding workstreams related to digital skills, including:

The Digital Start Fund will operate in 3 tranches during 2021/2022. This will support a minimum of 40 individuals on lower incomes or who are unemployed into identified skills gap training for digital technology roles. Tranche 1 core funding has been awarded and tranche 2 is currently open for bids on Public Contracts Scotland.

The Digital Skills Pipeline is currently open for bids on Public Contracts Scotland. The aim of this programme is to provide individuals (minimum 150 learners) ages 25+ with the opportunity to develop new digital technology skills and support them to fill vacancies in digital technology occupations.

The Digital Catalyst Fund will provide matched grant funding for projects to enhance business’ digital capability and the skills of the workforce.

SDS is also developing an offer for Digitally Enabled Learning which will provide access for up to 20,000 individuals to premium/certified online learning content to support upskilling and reskilling. The offer is targeted at individuals in precarious employment, unemployed or looking to upskill or reskill.

I have provided a list of work-based learning offers (apprenticeships) to develop digital skills in 2021/22, at Annex C.

3. A report later in October on ventilation in schools

I can confirm that, as indicated during the session, I will write to the Committee to provide further information in relation to local authorities’ progress on CO2 monitoring and ventilation in the learning estate before the end of October.

4. Correspondence between EHRC and SQA on the date of publication of the EHRC Public Sector Equality Duty report

The Section 23 agreement between EHRC and SQA is a legal document which is subject to confidentiality clauses. This confidentiality extends to discussions between EHRC and SQA about the agreement.

The Committee’s questions to the Chief Examiner about equality centred on the 2020 and 2021 Alternative Certification Models for which equality impact assessments were carried out in each of those years (and recorded and published). Therefore, any reference to the Section 23 agreement, which relates to historic practices at SQA, would not have been relevant to

the Chief Examiner’s responses (notwithstanding the fact that the agreement was announced by the EHRC on 30 September i.e. the day after the Chief Examiner’s appearance).

5. Position of SQA staff, and Trade Unions representing SQA staff, to have direct discussions with Professor Ken Muir

As members are aware, Professor Ken Muir, University of West of Scotland, has been appointed to act as an independent advisor to the Scottish Government to consider and advise on the implementation of the reform that will consider all functions currently delivered by both SQA and Education Scotland. Professor Muir has appointed both an Expert Panel and an Advisory Group, the latter comprising practitioners and stakeholders from across the wider education system, including representation from staff unions at SQA and Education Scotland. These groups support his work, helping to explore the current and future needs of learners, practitioners, and other partners, and offering advice and ideas on how we can design our education system to meet these needs.

Unison and Unite SQA unions, as well as PCS and FDA Education Scotland unions, are represented on Professor Muir’s Practitioner and Stakeholder Advisory Group, the first meeting of which took place in September. As well as being involved in Advisory Group meetings, Professor Muir is meeting all Advisory Group representatives, including those of the unions, directly. All union representatives will also be involved in a final meeting of the whole Practitioner and Stakeholder Advisory Group currently expected to take place the week commencing 22 November. In addition, sub-group meetings of the Advisory Group are taking place, with a dedicated session planned for SQA unions on 9 November.

Professor Muir has also held meetings which have been open to all SQA staff on 7 September and 5 October, with a further meeting arranged for 2 November.

In addition, as I set out to Committee members, an important part of engagement on reform is the national consultation document which Professor Muir launched on 30 September 2021, closing 26 November 2021. To support this work, Professor Muir has also been running a number of webinars that have been open to both unions representatives and individual staff members – the final session will be held on 28 October 2021.

Professor Muir has been clear that he is keen to hear from anyone or any organisation that feels they have something to offer on the reform programme. This might simply be in the form of a short email or the submission of a paper with views and ideas. These can be sent at any time up until 26 November 2021 to [email protected]

Importantly, I fully recognise that SQA unions and staff have concerns about my announcement to replace the organisation, and about what that means for their future job security. These are not matters for Professor Muir but I take them extremely seriously and these remain under active consideration by the Scottish Government.

Yours sincerely

SHIRLEY-ANNE SOMERVILLE

Annexe A

Annexe A to C for letter from Cabinet Secretary 26 Oct 21