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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Tuesday, February 6, 2024


Dunoon Grammar School

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-10234, in the name of Donald Cameron, on celebrating the work of Dunoon grammar school. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I ask members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates the pupils, staff, parents and partners of Dunoon Grammar School on the school’s ongoing and award-winning work collaborating with the local community and public bodies for the benefit of all; understands that the school has collaborated with a large number of organisations, including Apps for Good, Argyll Holidays, the Dunoon Film Festival, Police Scotland and the Wood Foundation, ensuring that its pupils leave school with a wider experience of the world outside; notes that the school is involved with a company set up to develop Dunoon as an adventure capital of Scotland, and provides a junior board to the company; commends what it sees as the empowering leadership of the school’s head teacher, David Mitchell, who, it understands, supports staff, pupils, parents and partners to operate in the knowledge that the head teacher has their support; recognises that the school has been facilitated and supported by Argyll and Bute Council; believes that Dunoon Grammar School demonstrates that a school can be the heart of, and make a significant difference to, its community, and hopes that lessons can be learned throughout Scotland from the successful partnership between Dunoon Grammar School and Argyll and Bute Council.


Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I am delighted to bring this debate to the chamber to highlight to the Scottish Parliament the fantastic work of Dunoon grammar school. I thank Gillian Hunt, who is in the public gallery, for all her encouragement to me in lodging the motion and for her enthusiasm. I also thank David Mitchell, the headteacher of Dunoon grammar school, who I will mention a few times during my speech. He, too, is in the gallery, or is making his way there—the early decision time might have caught him on the hop. A group of young people from Dunoon grammar who have been in the Parliament this afternoon are also in the gallery.

Dunoon grammar has achieved so much under the leadership of David Mitchell and his staff. Such is the sheer number of achievements of the staff and pupils of the school over the years that, in my time as an MSP, I have submitted eight motions recognising various successes. The school is at the heart of its community. It is also very open and welcoming to politicians. In fact, my first experience of the school was at a hustings there during the 2016 election campaign. I have also spoken alongside Mike Russell, the former cabinet secretary and MSP for Argyll and Bute, at a class for modern studies pupils in the school.

Such are the successes of Dunoon grammar that, in 2019, it was the first-ever Scottish school to be named in the European entrepreneurial school of the year awards for its work in promoting entrepreneurial initiatives. Teams of pupils have won awards at the Apps for Good UK showcase over the years, with two teams from Dunoon grammar winning prizes in 2023. Dunoon grammar is a regular entrant in the Scottish education awards, for which David Mitchell was nominated last year, and the school won the Gaelic education award in 2022. However, perhaps most notably, in 2022, Dunoon grammar was named the world’s best school for community collaboration by the global teaching platform T4 Education.

None of those achievements has been accidental, and all have happened because of the school’s relentless focus on being an institution that actively collaborates with the community that it serves. There have been a number of such collaborations.

The Minister for Public Health and Women’s Health (Jenni Minto)

I absolutely recognise the glowing way that Donald Cameron is speaking about Dunoon grammar school—many of my visits have had the same positivity. Does he agree that we should express our thanks to the following teachers: Paul Gallanagh, for the work that he has done with regard to entering the school for those things, and Scott McKinnon and Pam McNaughton, for their work on developing the young workforce?

Donald Cameron

I am grateful to Jenni Minto for mentioning those teachers. It is important that we get on record the names of not just the headteacher but other leaders in the school who have driven it forward.

I was discussing community collaboration, and I will focus on one project. An empty toy library in Dunoon, which was owned by Argyll and Bute Council, has been passed to the school, which has plans for it to become a new community facility. Pupils will play an integral role in the success of the project. For example, there are plans for it to host adult learning classes that are delivered by young people, for a garden run by the school’s learning centre and for a community cafe where young people can learn skills for future life. That positive project is not only being pursued for the benefit of pupils; it is giving back to the local community and bringing an empty space into good use.

Pam Duncan-Glancy (Glasgow) (Lab)

Does the member agree that focusing on the Scottish credit and qualifications framework and on offering alternative courses for young people—as he has just described is happening through the community focus in that award-winning school—is useful for young people, who need all sorts of support to achieve the best that they possibly can in school?

Donald Cameron

I agree that having a breadth of subjects available is intrinsically important to young people. The member will know about the challenges that we all face with subject choice in schools in Scotland.

My point is that the project that I mentioned gives back to the local community. A report by Gillian Hunt in 2023 entitled “High Dunoon: How one Scottish school empowered its staff and pupils, and transformed a community” explains that work and those projects and why they have been such a success. The report was taken up by the think tank Reform Scotland and featured in a number of national newspapers last year. The foreword states:

“in a Dunoon context the word ‘community’ is widely cast, as you will see”.

It goes on to talk about the

“exemplary environment for young people to learn, grow, find future opportunities, and contribute their own ideas.”

It continues:

“Teachers are encouraged to think for themselves, and take an ‘outward looking’ approach to their job. External partners in the public, third and private sectors have become part of the DGS family.”

That sums up what Dunoon grammar does, and how it could be a wider model for other schools across Scotland.

That is not to say that the school is perfect. It would be wrong not to acknowledge that in Dunoon, as in many other towns in rural Scotland, there are deep-seated challenges. Within that community, vulnerable people still need support, and young people’s mental health still needs to be addressed.

Stephen Kerr (Central Scotland) (Con)

On the member’s point about the transformative power of the school, would he agree that the pivotal thing that makes it all possible is leadership? That is what we see at Dunoon grammar: leadership. There is a leader, and a leadership team.

Does the member believe that if every school in Scotland had that empowered sense of leadership—and autonomy, even—we could transform every one into a Dunoon grammar?

Donald Cameron

I am firmly of that view, and Stephen Kerr sets out eloquently what I personally believe.

I am not saying that Dunoon grammar is unique. Plenty of other Scottish schools have a similar level of engagement with their communities, and allow their teaching staff to think creatively outside the box. Other schools do remarkable things too, which I am sure that other members will draw to our attention.

However, Stephen Kerr mentioned leadership, and the school is very fortunate to have David Mitchell as the headteacher there. It is no wonder that he was shortlisted for the headteacher of the year award at the Scottish education awards in 2023.

Will the member take an intervention?

I think that I can—

I can give Mr Cameron a wee bit of extra time, because he has been generous with taking interventions.

Finlay Carson

I thank the member for giving way, and I apologise for missing the start of the debate.

I want to put on record that the headteacher, David Mitchell, cut his teeth in Dumfries and Galloway, so Dunoon’s gain is certainly Dumfries and Galloway’s loss. The culture around the school in Dunoon is admired everywhere, and Dumfries and Galloway could certainly take some lessons from what is happening there.

Donald Cameron

I did not know that, so I thank Finlay Carson for that information.

Given that much of the decision making around education is the responsibility of local authorities, it is down to the leadership of those authorities to make or break innovation in education. It is important to recognise that all the many achievements of Dunoon grammar have occurred under existing structures and systems. Nevertheless, if there were greater freedom for, and greater empowerment of, headteachers, even more such achievements could happen.

I must draw my remarks to a close, but first I lay down a direct challenge to the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, who I am delighted to see is in the chamber to respond to the debate. What will the Scottish Government do to learn the lessons of Dunoon grammar’s success and ensure, in any way that it can, that that success can be replicated across Scotland?

The school is a brilliant example of what can be achieved when teachers are given the freedom and support to think and act creatively, and when pupils are made to feel part of something bigger and are encouraged to think about social good. On that note, I should mention that there are Dunoon grammar pupils currently undertaking work in Tanzania. Dunoon is a brilliant example of what can be achieved when a local community has a stake in the success of its school.

Dunoon grammar and David Mitchell—his team, his leadership, his teachers and his pupils past and present—have achieved so much and will no doubt go on to achieve much more. To help Dunoon grammar and every other school in Scotland, however, it is imperative that we in the Parliament remove the barriers to success and let our schools flourish.


Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I, too, take the opportunity to congratulate Dunoon grammar school. I congratulate Donald Cameron on bringing the debate to the chamber, and I am happy to support his motion. I also add my thanks to all at Dunoon grammar school for their hard work and their dedication and commitment to the community, and for providing a school-age learning experience that spans a lifetime for the pupils.

The school’s many achievements, which have been well rehearsed by Donald Cameron, are testament to its ethos of continually improving and doing all that it can to ensure the best outcomes for young people.

Dunoon grammar school has a long and distinguished history spanning more than 350 years of growth, of which high standards of academic and personal development have been the hallmarks. A huge well done goes to all in the school community.

In preparing for the debate, I had a wee discussion with my head of office, who attended Ayr grammar school, and we had a blether about the history of grammar schools in Scotland. Scotland has many schools, including Ayr grammar and Dunbar grammar in my South Scotland region, which are called grammar schools but are now essentially the same as other state schools. Although, historically, those grammar schools would have acted independently and are, in some cases, still viewed as providing high-quality academic education, it is important to note that they are not the same as grammar schools in England and Northern Ireland.

With that in mind, I will share some of the exceptional work of schools in the South Scotland region, which are working to provide the best possible educational outcomes.

One such school is Lockerbie academy in Dumfries and Galloway, under the leadership of Brian Asher. Lockerbie academy is very much an integral part of the town. It embraces fully the town motto, “Forward”, building on its vision around improving the future of the local area for pupils and the community.

Lockerbie academy has a

“twin purpose, to be a place where pupils feel cared for and above all, come here to learn”,

which drives their desire to be the best that they can be.

Every year since the Lockerbie air disaster, the academy has worked with Syracuse University in New York as part of an exchange programme. Two pupils from Lockerbie travel to Syracuse, and vice versa, to lay a wreath on behalf of the town in remembrance of all those who died in the air disaster. That is massively appreciated by the town and the wider community, and it has led to the school being nationally recognised by Education Scotland for its leadership of that scheme.

Other fantastic examples are Dumfries high school and Kyle academy in Ayr, both of which have been leading the way with the vision schools Scotland programme. The programme aims to encourage and empower Scottish schools to enshrine Holocaust education in the curriculum, in order to ensure that every young person learns of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Just last week, I had the opportunity to meet Dumfries high school secondary 6 pupils Brogan Matthews and Katie Donald, and their teachers—Lizzie Smithard, who is their history teacher, and Philip Cubbon, who is the headteacher—at Dynamic Earth for a vision schools Scotland award ceremony.

Brogan and Katie have been leading the way with Holocaust education in the school, and they had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz earlier this year. That work is vitally important, and I thank the pupils and the school communities of Dumfries high and Kyle academy for their work.

Finally, I mention Stranraer academy, which was recently awarded the Young Enterprise team programme award. Stranraer academy stands now where my first secondary school was a long time ago. It runs a programme over a full academic year that involves students from S5 and S6 starting their own student company. The pupils go through key milestones of developing an idea, conducting market research and creating the product or service. Ultimately, it is then promoted and traded. The award that those pupils received was well deserved.

In closing, I put on record my thanks to all our fantastic schools, and to Donald Cameron for lodging the motion, bringing the debate to the chamber and raising the profile of Dunoon grammar.


Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

I thank Donald Cameron for bringing the debate to the chamber and so giving me the opportunity to make a brief speech.

Last May, Chris Deerin, the director of Reform Scotland, said, in the “High Dunoon” report that we heard about, that,

“There is much focus, in the media and elsewhere, on what is wrong with Scottish education ... But it’s also important to talk about the success stories—those projects from which others can learn and benefit.”

He makes an important point. We all know, as David Mitchell, the school’s headteacher, put it, that,

“the current financial situation makes it even harder to provide a wide range of opportunities for young people”,

as do the many other issues currently impacting on Scottish education, which we have rehearsed in the chamber many times. Nevertheless, as Gillian Hunt, the educational consultant who authored the report says, all that Dunoon grammar school has achieved has been done

“without additional resources or any special measures”.

That is why it is crucial not only that Parliament celebrates Dunoon grammar’s success—which we have heard, and will hear, so much about today—and that we commend the pupils, staff and partners who have made it all happen, some examples of which Donald Cameron gave earlier, but that we find out what is working, and explore and evaluate what makes that model a success. Crucial to that seems to be the idea of an education system or a facility that does not exist in isolation or in a silo, but, rather, works and exists as part of an ecosystem.

In Dunoon grammar school we see a school that already operates in that way and that exemplifies the idea of taking a village to raise a child. As the “High Dunoon” report put it,

“The school sits at the heart of this environment and its purpose is clear - to provide everything and anything that students need to thrive and be successful. And a huge part of this is making sure that this environment and wider community can thrive and be successful too.”

Fergus Ewing (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)

I warmly endorse Mr Kerr’s sentiment that we should be more positive about the achievements in schools throughout the whole country. I claim no moral superiority in respect of casting stones over anyone else here, but does Mr Kerr not agree that the nature of negativity that far too often characterises the debate about education in the chamber does none of us any good and perhaps does the institution as a whole considerable, gratuitous harm?

Liam Kerr

That is a very interesting point, and I am grateful for the intervention. As I suggested earlier, there are significant challenges facing the Scottish education system. I do not think that it would be right in a debate such as this for me to go into what I believe some of those are, but it is the responsibility of the Parliament to address those challenges by setting them out clearly and trying to work in a cross-party way to find the solutions. I agree that, where success such as we see at Dunoon grammar school is apparent, it absolutely deserves to be celebrated and aired in order that lessons can be learned.

We heard about some of the school’s successes earlier. One of the results was that the school won the T4 Education world’s best school prize for community collaboration in 2022. There are only five prize categories, and they are open worldwide. To put it in context, the year that Dunoon grammar school won that prize, the runners-up were from India and Brazil. It is truly incredible.

We have heard about some of the key factors that led to that success, and we will no doubt hear about them further. They can be summarised as truly collaborative partnerships in the community, an outward-looking approach and a focus on how sectors can learn from one another and apply that learning. From the report, from what we will hear in the debate and from the various commentaries that I have looked at when researching my remarks, one thing is clear: at the heart of all this is the headteacher, David Mitchell, who joins us in the public gallery, and who has driven that approach. He has even been described—rightly, it seems—as a “local hero”, although, of course, many others have also contributed to the school’s success. Jenni Minto mentioned two others in her intervention earlier.

I will close with the words of Gillian Hunt, as they embody what we are discussing today. Writing for Reform Scotland last year, in “Making effective collaboration in Scotland a reality”, she said:

“I challenge the new First Minister and their Education Secretary to refocus attention on education, and to ensuring that all of our children and young people succeed. I urge them to recognise the need to create a new system, an ecosystem and to actively promote and support the contribution of third sector organisations to this ecosystem.”

That seems to me to be inarguable, and I look forward very much to hearing the cabinet secretary’s response to that challenge later this evening.


Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I add my congratulations to Donald Cameron on securing the debate. I also congratulate Dunoon grammar school, its headteacher, staff and pupils on their huge achievement of winning the award for best school in the world for community collaboration, and I recognise the role of Argyll and Bute Council in supporting the school.

The school has taken part in a number of projects, one of which involved streaming bingo and other games to local care homes during the Covid pandemic. That must have been a lifeline for the people in the care homes, and it will have strengthened the intergenerational bonds in the community.

The school has also launched an app to help its neighbours to reduce food waste. Perhaps most importantly of all, it has a student advisory board for the Dunoon project. The Dunoon project is looking at an awful lot of things that will help to put Dunoon on the map and make it a centre for excellence for outdoor activities and other things.

Being on the advisory board allows students to work closely with the project. That will help Dunoon not only here and now, but in the future. In fact, it is providing a future for those very pupils, because it will provide them with job opportunities in years to come, in addition to the skills that they are learning every day as part of that experience.

Learning in different ways benefits all young people, because they can learn in a way that suits them best. We all learn differently, and take on information in a very different way, but seeing different ways of learning motivates everybody, and means that everyone can take part. If someone is not very good at book learning, they may be very practical instead, and all those skills come into play when there is a rich diversity of ways in which people can learn.

The headteacher says that that sort of approach is about allowing the students

“to take part in activities that actually are real learning experiences.”

They may not feel, or seem, like that, but they are, and they add to people’s knowledge. I congratulate the school on enabling that—everyone wins from that approach.

One issue that I have taken up over a long period of time is rural depopulation. We know that young people are pushed out of their communities because of depopulation; Argyll and Bute has seen a fall in population of 2.4 per cent. It is so important that those young people are part of the future of those communities, and that they build the future for themselves and create opportunities that will allow them to stay at home.

Last week, The Herald ran a major week-long series on the population crisis in the Highlands and Islands. The series was looking at the situation a bit further north than Dunoon—the journalists were based in Fort William, but they saw for themselves what is required to retain young people in such communities. First and foremost, what young people need is a home, but they also need to feel part of their community, and have the same opportunities in that community as they would have if they moved elsewhere.

That is why the work of Dunoon grammar school is so important. Those young people are not only being furnished with the imagination to create opportunities themselves; they are actually being a part of the community as they learn. Other schools could learn from what Dunoon grammar is doing.

Fergus Ewing

Concerning Rhoda Grant’s remarks about population and depopulation in the Highlands, and education, and the excellent series of articles by The Herald about the current problems that the more remote Highland communities and islands face in particular, there is a serious risk of massive further depopulation, of 10 or 15 per cent. That is a serious—perhaps the most serious—threat to education, given the risk that schools will simply close because of dwindling school rolls. Repopulation with development in the Highlands, encouraged and enabled by this Government, is, therefore, absolutely essential.

Rhoda Grant

I absolutely agree. We do not want to halt depopulation by keeping our young people in their communities if that is somehow a lesser opportunity for them. We have to create the opportunities in those communities in the future, so that young people are not forced out. I hope that young people in Dunoon will have choices about where they make their futures, and that making their future in Dunoon will be an excellent opportunity for them.


Ariane Burgess (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

I thank my colleague in representing the Highlands and Islands region, Donald Cameron, for lodging the motion and providing us with an opportunity to discuss the excellent work that is carried out at Dunoon grammar school and the potential that it demonstrates for community-supported education across Scotland.

I had the pleasure of visiting Dunoon grammar in the lead-up to the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP 26—when I met students who were part of the eco-sustainability group to discuss the action that is needed on climate and nature. I had a tremendous conversation with them. At that time, David Mitchell, the headteacher, also gave me a tour of the school and showed me all the other amazing activities that people were up to. I had the opportunity to talk to other students and to staff, and I certainly got a tremendous impression of what was taking place in the school.

I am looking forward to returning to the school soon, to meet Mr Mitchell again and to work with pupils on developing a place plan for their community, alongside Dunoon Community Development Trust. It is wonderful to see Mr Mitchell, pupils and staff in the public gallery this evening.

Dunoon grammar’s example does not simply reflect excellent practice in community engagement—it is transforming what a community is perceived to be, and how our young people engage with their local environment, neighbours and culture. That community engagement goes much deeper than the fundraising events and occasional open days with which we are all probably familiar. Working in partnership with third sector organisations and social enterprises to achieve common goals inspires pupils and adds to the vibrancy of life in the town.

How many pupils will know what a place plan is, let alone take an active part in creating one? Yet we all know how vital safe, connected and flourishing community spaces are to young people, whether that is about creating places that make it easy for them to travel on foot or by bicycle, ensuring high-quality play and recreation provision, or creating environments that are well lit and feel safe for meeting friends.

Making our built environment, especially in rural areas, a welcoming space for young people is a key, but often overlooked, aspect of rural population. So, too, is ensuring that there are secure, well-paid jobs in a variety of sectors and, crucially, that the young people who are growing up in rural communities are equipped with the skills that they need to secure those jobs. We know that, in the past year, the number of jobs in the renewables industry has increased by 50 per cent in Scotland, and many of those roles are in my Highlands and Islands region. There is also a growing demand for skilled tradespeople and engineers to build the 11,000 rural homes that the Scottish Government is committed to creating; to retrofit and insulate existing homes; and to install and maintain low-carbon heating systems.

Increasingly, we are opening up a range of new jobs by tackling the climate and nature emergencies, through peatland and rainforest restoration, woodland and deer management and ecotourism. Those job opportunities, like the development roles in the carbon neutral islands scheme, give young people the opportunity not just to have fulfilling work in their rural communities, but to play a part in shaping the future of those places. Perhaps the place-plan work at Dunoon grammar will inspire a few students to become much-needed planners.

However, education is about so much more than producing the workers of the future. It is about developing creative, critical thinkers, nurturing talent and inspiring the next generation through curiosity and a love of learning.

Fergus Ewing

Ariane Burgess talks about the importance of jobs in the Highlands. A great many such jobs consist of people working in the oil and gas industry, who live there, commute to work offshore and form a staple part of many communities. Does the member, like me, value, cherish and support the jobs in that sector, which will be necessary for some considerable time to come?

Ariane Burgess

I appreciate the member’s intervention. What I value and cherish is that we have a future for future generations in Scotland, and on this planet, and I want to see a just transition for those oil and gas workers to other sectors. Renewable energy is one of those sectors, but there are many other opportunities and we need to get on with that.

The approach that is taken at Dunoon grammar is not just about financial resources, although investing in closing the poverty-related attainment gap is vital. It is about reassessing what is truly valuable to a community and ensuring that local education provision meets those needs.

Dunoon grammar is not afraid to take risks—it tackles challenges head on and empowers pupils and staff to find new solutions and take those risks themselves. As MSPs, how can we work with local authorities to ensure that more schools can follow Dunoon grammar’s example? How are we supporting collaboration between schools and community organisations? Crucially, how are we supporting the sharing of knowledge and expertise between schools so that best practice, such as that at Dunoon grammar, is captured and innovation is celebrated?


The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Jenny Gilruth)

I thank Donald Cameron for lodging the motion, and I thank colleagues across the chamber for a positive debate.

As Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, I welcome the opportunity to celebrate excellence in education. Undoubtedly, there is much to celebrate at Dunoon grammar school, as we have heard. I have committed to visit the school in the coming weeks with my colleague Jenni Minto, who is the constituency MSP.

Dunoon grammar school’s success is testament to the hard work of the staff and the opportunities that have been created by the teachers and senior leadership team, working shoulder to shoulder with the local community. Its success is also, of course, testament to the pupils, who, like all our young people, have been through much in recent years. However, they continue to inspire all of us.

Members across the chamber have made contributions to the debate. Before I come to them, I welcome the pupils in the gallery and, in particular, their headteacher, David Mitchell. There was some debate among MSPs about where he belongs in respect of his constituency and his origins—that is what MSPs do. Welcome to our Parliament. This is your Parliament, and it is fantastic to see you here.

Donald Cameron spoke with great warmth about the reception that he received from modern studies pupils. I have to say, as a former modern studies teacher, that I would expect no less.

The school is the world’s best school for community collaboration. What an accolade. I very much look forward to visiting it in the not-too-distant future to see for myself the excellence on offer.

I will respond to some of the points that have been raised in the debate.

Emma Harper spoke about the history of the school. As we all know, Scotland has a very proud educational legacy. We would do well to learn from that and to build on that history.

Emma Harper also spoke about the vision schools programme and Holocaust education. Only last week, I met Kyle academy at Dynamic Earth. I was delighted to be involved in the awards ceremony that recognised the intrinsic importance of Holocaust education in Scotland’s schools.

Liam Kerr mentioned the educational ecosystem. I know that that was inspired by the report. I hope to meet Gillian Hunt, who is in the gallery today, on my visit to Dunoon in the next few weeks. Liam Kerr knows that I will always work on a cross-party basis in relation to education, and his office will soon receive an invitation to mine, if it has not already received it. That invitation has been extended to members of the Opposition to talk to them directly about educational reform. I hope that, in the coming weeks, subject to parliamentary business being agreed, we will have a wider debate across the chamber about educational reform. I look forward to working with members on that.

Finlay Carson

Does the cabinet secretary agree that good educational facilities, such as Dunoon grammar school, underpin the long-term sustainability of areas, particularly rural areas, not just for the people who currently live in them, but for those who may be attracted to move to them? More jobs, businesses, homes and good education are absolutely key to that. If she agrees with that, will she join me in condemning the proposed fast-track mothballing process for Dalry secondary school in rural Glenkens, and will she encourage consideration of wider community wellbeing in relation to the long-term future of that school, similar to what we have seen with Dunoon grammar school?

Jenny Gilruth

Finlay Carson has raised a specific local issue. The mothballing of any school is a matter for the local authority but, as cabinet secretary, I retain some powers in that area. When that issue comes to me, I will look at the recommendation from school inspections.

Much of what we have heard today reflects some of the very best of the curriculum for excellence and the developing the young workforce strategy. It is more than a decade since we launched that youth employment strategy. I am always struck by how the debates on school reform sit in a rather siloed area. Mr Dey, of course, leads on wider skills reform work. I think that those two agendas could be better joined up, and I look forward to working with the Opposition on that. That work is already being done in what we have heard today about some of the real strengths in Scottish education.

Curriculum for excellence offers a broad framework, which gives teachers the empowerment and freedom to provide learning and teaching experiences that best suit the needs of their individual young people. It is a far less prescriptive system than the one that existed prior to its introduction.

Liam Kerr

I am enjoying listening to the cabinet secretary’s comments, but I want to make sure that she will address a particular issue. Rhoda Grant made an interesting point about rural depopulation, and a related challenge is to ensure that rural areas have sufficient teachers. What is the Government doing to ensure that new teachers choose to make their lives and careers in our more rural areas, in order to ensure the future of those key parts of our country?

Jenny Gilruth

That is a substantive question and I would like to give Liam Kerr a more substantive answer. As he might be aware, I commissioned work on that very point from the strategic board for teacher education last year, which will provide me with a report on options for moving forward.

At the current time, we have a waiver system, which allows probationary teachers to tick the box, as I did some years ago, that incentivises young people—or perhaps older people—to go to other parts of the country to learn how to become a teacher. As Liam Kerr knows, we have seen a fall in the number of teachers who have been ticking the box. Part of that fall has been informed by the pandemic, with fewer people willing to move now than prior to the pandemic. However, we will need to look at that work in further detail.

The challenge that I, as cabinet secretary, face in that space is that I am not an employer of teachers—that is a matter for local authorities. I need to work with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on that very important matter, which is why the new Verity house arrangement that we have with COSLA will be pivotal to driving change in that area.

Liam Kerr might be aware that one of his colleagues has been raising questions on that very point in relation to issues in Aberdeenshire, which I will look to visit in the next couple of weeks. In doing so, I will look to address the member’s point in much more detail, alongside the General Teaching Council for Scotland, which makes decisions about where student teachers are allocated.

We cannot have a one-size-fits-all policy for the whole country. We need to recognise local differentiation, and local authorities can put in place some support. In the past, some of our island authorities have provided financial incentives to encourage people to move there, and there is a range of other opportunities that the strategic board for teacher education will give me further advice on.

Fergus Ewing

I should not eschew this opportunity to ask what progress the cabinet secretary is making in promoting the uptake of the indispensable skill of touch typing among children in schools in Dunoon, Aberdeen and every other place in Scotland. That would be an incredibly cheap but enormously valuable investment in skilling our children for the needs of the century.

Jenny Gilruth

I am always impressed by Mr Ewing’s ability to get touch typing into the Official Report. Pupils in the public gallery will understand that Mr Ewing has a keen interest in that subject area and, broadly, I support him. The Government has invested in digital connectivity and there is more that we need to do in that regard, particularly in relation to the proposed changes to our qualifications, many of which will rely on that digital connectivity.

We heard from a number of members about the breadth of qualifications that are now on offer in the senior phase, even in comparison with those that were offered 20 years ago. In her intervention, Pam Duncan-Glancy made an interesting contribution in relation to the SCQF and why that framework is important in giving parity of esteem across the board. Traditional pathways are being replaced by much more flexible routes to recognising achievement, which is good for our young people because, as we have heard today, there is no one-size-fits-all model.

Rhoda Grant talked about the challenges in relation to depopulation. That is why the flexibility that curriculum for excellence lends is important. Dunoon grammar school has facilitated access to more than 50 skills-based courses to empower students to work in professions that are vital to the local economy and keep them in the local area. That practical, experience-based curriculum also allows our young people to learn about crucial industries such as travel and tourism, design and maritime studies. The school also works hard to develop entrepreneurial skills in its young people. We have also heard that young people at the school have a key role to play in the Dunoon project—the town’s plan to build a massive mountainside tourist attraction—which will create jobs for Dunoon’s young people.

That community collaboration has been a theme of today’s debate. It is a wider approach to school education, which does not look just within the school building. It is clear that, with support from a strong headteacher and leadership team, the wider school community has enabled young people to have the best opportunities at Dunoon grammar school—not only in their local communities but more broadly and, indeed, internationally, as we have heard through the debate.

From engaging remotely with care home residents during the pandemic, as we heard from Rhoda Grant, to presenting climate change solutions at COP26, as we heard from Ariane Burgess, the young people of Dunoon grammar school epitomise what it means to be effective citizens—one of the four capacities that underpin curriculum for excellence. I am proud to have recently looked at the fantastic work that is under consideration at Dunoon grammar school and I will ensure that that work helps to inform our education reform plans as we move forward.

Donald Cameron set me a challenge, which I whole-heartedly accept. We have to learn lessons from the outstanding examples that have been set by schools just like Dunoon grammar school. I commit to visiting the school in the coming weeks, to ensure that our education reform work is informed by the same excellence in our classrooms as has been exhibited by Dunoon grammar school.

That concludes the debate.

Meeting closed at 17:35.