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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Wednesday, May 15, 2024


Contents


Teaching

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-13196, in the name of Pam Duncan-Glancy, on standing up for teaching. I invite members who wish to participate in the debate to press their request-to-speak button. It will surprise nobody to hear that there is absolutely no time in hand and, therefore, members will have to stick to their speaking-time allowance.

15:00  

Pam Duncan-Glancy (Glasgow) (Lab)

I am pleased to bring the debate to the chamber, because, as I have said before, education is a great leveller when it is done well. When teachers are supported, they can support their pupils, and, when pupils are supported, they have the tools to thrive and grow into the incredible people we all want them to be.

We all remember our greatest teachers, and I want to take a minute to remember two of mine. Mrs Stewart taught me English. She made sure that I passed and could go to university, including by supporting my request for additional help to scribe in exams. Mrs Devine was the support for learning teacher who had high aspirations for everyone in her additional support for learning base, including me. She let me do my physio there, and, while I was doing that, she took the time to tell me that people like me could go to university. She encouraged me to go. She talked about what she could do to help to make that happen, which she then did. I want to pay tribute to them and teachers across Scotland who are doing their best every day to support pupils to achieve their best and be their best. To them, I say thank you.

However, I wonder whether the teachers who changed my life would today have the support that they need to do that for the next generation. The truth is that teachers are now expected to do far more work with far less time, money and support from their Government, and I regret that we are now seeing the dire consequences of that. Teachers are leaving the profession early, probationers are less likely to be offered permanent jobs, burnout is at its highest level in years, workloads are soaring and teacher mental health is suffering. In addition, because of the Government’s failure to fulfil its promises, teacher non-contact time is still too high and class sizes are still too big. In Glasgow, it is so bad that one teacher has asked whether we are determined to

“burn out the existing staff while making school environments more stressful and stretched”.

Another said:

“I cannot, in good faith, recommend teaching as a career any longer. I would leave for another profession if I wasn’t sustained by my commitment to the pupils”.

I thank those teachers for their commitment to their pupils, but it is unacceptable that good will is the only thing that is now retaining teachers.

Because of the Government’s cuts to local authority budgets and its delay on reform and on action on behaviour, current and future teachers have become disillusioned. Just over the weekend, a leading developmental psychologist spoke of the harm that that is causing and what the lack of support for teachers does to them and young people. Adults cannot support children if we do not support them. They cannot pour from an empty cup. Axing teacher jobs and not supporting teachers and school staff has consequences. We know that it will hit our most disadvantaged students the hardest, and there is no doubt that it will set back aims to bridge the attainment gap.

To make matters worse, in Glasgow, the cuts do not stop at teacher numbers—the essential MCR Pathways programme is at risk, too. That programme supports young people and doubles their chances at positive destinations. Cutting it will

“let down our young people”,

as one teacher has said. Cutting it would fly in the face of the idea that we can keep the Promise or close the attainment gap, and the Government should be ashamed that its colleagues in the council are even considering it.

The same can be said for cuts to the developing the young workforce co-ordinators programme. A teacher said of those cuts that

“attacks on the jobs for DYW co-ordinators is an attack on the life chances of our children”.

I agree.

The cuts are not the result of an assessment of what is best for our children. Indeed, any such assessment, if it existed, would prove quite the opposite. The cuts are a consequence of 17 years of failure to properly fund local authorities, and they reflect an abject failure of successive cabinet secretaries, including the current First Minister, to prioritise education.

Teachers have called the cuts short-sighted and have said that pupils who require the most support will be largely abandoned. Parents have said that the cuts will mean that there are no teachers to help with literacy and numeracy, to run parent and child activities or school trips, or to facilitate sporting competitions. There will be no music service, no new resources or subscriptions to learning services and no teachers to provide additional support to the pupils who need it.

On that issue, the Parliament’s Education, Children and Young People Committee’s report, published this morning, laid bare how bad things are. It found that access to services outwith the education setting has diminished, that services in schools are now being delivered by school staff without appropriate support and back-up, and that there are issues in recruiting pupil support workers, teachers and other specialist staff that are having an alarming impact on the provision of additional support for pupils. The committee’s report says, and I agree, that that is “intolerable”.

For nearly 10 years, the Government has said that education has been its number 1 priority, but is the extent of that priority and the Government’s ambition for young people in Scotland deep cuts to the core provision of education and the talented people who work within it? We, on the Labour benches, will not sit back and accept that. Our ambitions for Scotland’s education system and Scotland’s young people go far beyond that. We will not watch the next generation of young people be let down by their Government’s failure to stand up for education.

That is why we have secured the debate for the chamber and why we call on the Government to act, to recognise that local authorities need sustainable funding, to publish a plan to address gaps in the teaching and education workforce, to protect staff in schools and, crucially, to prevent teacher job losses. We, on these benches, believe that education can lift the class, glass and step ceiling in the way of opportunity. We cannot do that with more of the same, so we say that it is time to stand up for teachers and stand up for the next generation, because Scotland deserves so much better than this.

I move,

That the Parliament is concerned by reported plans to cut teacher posts in a number of local authorities, including Glasgow City Council, where 172 jobs are at risk in 2024, rising to 450 jobs that are to be cut over the next three years; recognises that teacher numbers have fallen, compared with 2007, and that these cuts will have the greatest impact on pupils in the most deprived communities; notes that the target numbers of student teachers in some subjects have not been met; considers that the increasing precarity of teaching as a profession makes it harder to attract and retain high-quality candidates; understands that local authorities require stability of funding to provide permanent teaching roles and drive up standards in education in Scotland, and calls on the Scottish Government to intervene to prevent job losses and publish a comprehensive plan to address gaps in the teaching and school staff workforce to inform future recruitment and retention.

15:07  

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Jenny Gilruth)

I welcome this afternoon’s debate during Labour Party business. As the First Minister set out last week, we are in new, although not uncharted, territory as a Government. Across the parties, we have worked well on a number of different issues in relation to Scottish education in the past year, and I have been indebted to the Opposition for its contributions in relation to improving behaviour in our schools, most recently, and on qualifications reform.

Today, it is in that spirit—[Interruption.]—that I will listen to challenge from the Opposition and, as the Government amendment sets out, commit to taking the necessary action that is required to drive improvements for Scotland’s teachers—improvements that will ultimately lead to improved outcomes for our young people.

Scotland’s teachers are the beating heart of our education system, but, on my appointment to this post just over a year ago, I was struck by the challenges that the pay dispute had not resolved. Workload, behaviour and cultural change post-pandemic were contributing to an increasing frustration among the profession, as well as a feeling that they were not valued. I say this to my former profession today: this Government values you. I value you and the compassion that you provide to our young people every day. The extra hours, the extra care and the extra mile that you go for our children make a difference, and we are lucky as a country to have you.

Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is strange that members of the teaching profession are expected to buy so much stuff for their classrooms to ensure that children have the experiences that they need, unlike almost any other profession in this country?

Jenny Gilruth

I thank Martin Whitfield for his intervention. I do not think that the issues that he is raising are particularly new or nuanced. That has happened over the course of a number of decades in relation to resourcing in schools, but I recognise some of the challenge. I will come on to talk about the resource that this Government is providing. However, if there are suggestions from members on the Labour benches about how we could do things differently, I am all ears.

The policy that I want to talk about is mentioned in the Labour motion and relates to teacher numbers. The Government has a long-standing policy on and financial commitment to protecting teacher numbers and, as education secretary, I will fervently defend that policy. I am absolutely clear that, with fewer teachers, our schools will not be able to respond to the challenges in our classrooms post-pandemic.

Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention on that point?

I am happy to do so, although I am conscious of the time.

Is the cabinet secretary therefore concerned that the Government is missing many of its targets to recruit teachers in particularly important secondary school subjects?

Jenny Gilruth

Yes, I am deeply concerned about that point. All of us in the chamber have a responsibility to ensure that we have more people coming into the teaching profession and to talk positively about the difference that they can make in our schools.

I will come on to talk in a moment about some of the ways in which we are supporting that, but I first want to touch on some of the challenges in our schools just now and why the Government has decided to ring fence an additional £145.5 million in this year’s budget specifically to protect teacher numbers.

This year, we have changed the approach to funding due to some of the challenge that is highlighted in today’s Labour motion. Where we have seen slight dips in recent years, the Government has always maintained a position that we seek to claw back the funding if it is not used for the purpose of maintaining teacher numbers. That is not a position that I wish to be in as education secretary, so, as a result, I chose not to recoup funding that was provided to Scotland’s councils this year. I should say that the vast majority of Scotland’s schools have maintained or increased their teacher numbers, and to them I say thank you. That additional funding is also helping to protect record numbers of learning support assistants in Scotland’s schools, which we know is important, given the increase in the number of children with additional support needs.

I agree with Pam Duncan-Glancy, however, that there are challenges to address in relation to teacher recruitment and retention, particularly in certain geographical areas but also in certain subjects. The Government is taking a number of actions to tackle those issues. For example, the preference waiver scheme, which members will be aware of, allows probationary teachers to receive up to £8,000 on top of their probationer salary. That means a salary of more than £40,000 for the first year in teaching, funded by the Scottish Government, for those who choose to complete their probationary year anywhere in Scotland. Indeed, Scotland’s teachers remain the best paid in the UK by a considerable way.

We are also investing in our teaching bursary scheme, providing bursaries of up to £20,000 for career changers who wish to undertake a one-year postgraduate degree in education in hard-to-fill STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—subjects. Of course, the policy of free tuition means that, in Scotland, our trainee teachers do not pay tuition fees, saving students up to £27,750 each for their studies. They are also funded by the Scottish Government in relation to their first full year of probation.

I am, however, keen to work with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to develop a new education assurance board, recognising that it is local authorities and not the Scottish Government that directly employ our teachers. That has to be underpinned by the values of the Verity house agreement, so that we can collectively consider the issues in more detail.

I am conscious of the different recruitment needs across the country. There are rurality challenges for Highland Council or in Aberdeenshire, for example, and there are other challenges for Glasgow City Council, which the motion mentions.

You need to conclude.

Jenny Gilruth

I am conscious of the time, and there is much more that I would like to say. However, I have an ask of the Opposition today. Minority Government gives Opposition parties a direct opportunity to adapt Government policy, so I will listen to any proposals to that end to improve teacher recruitment and retention.

In that spirit, I move amendment S6M-13196.3, to leave out from “, including” to end and insert:

“; recognises that the Scottish Government is investing in maintaining teaching numbers with an additional £145.5 million designed to support local authorities to do so; thanks those local authorities in 2022-23 that maintained or increased their teacher numbers; acknowledges that the policy of free tuition means that students in Scotland avoid incurring additional debt of up to £27,750; recognises that the Scottish Government further invests in supporting full postgraduate support, and in funding the salaries associated with the first full year of probation; recognises the challenges of rurality and subject area in certain parts of the country; confirms that action needs to be taken to reduce workload that does not support learning and teaching; recognises that the Scottish Government and the Parliament have a responsibility to promote teaching as a highly rewarding career, and agrees that the Scottish Government should engage with parties across the Parliament to hear views on how best to meet these challenges, further to work with COSLA, as underpinned by the principles of the Verity House Agreement, in a joint collaborative effort to improve the employment opportunities for all of Scotland’s teachers, for the benefit of Scotland’s young people.”

15:13  

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

We will vote for the Labour motion because, in a Scotland-wide context in which teacher numbers are down by more than 1,000 since the SNP came to power and the overall pupil roll has risen by more than 13,000, it cannot be right that Glasgow City Council will need to axe 450 teachers over the next three years simply to balance the books. News such as that, along with the huge shortfalls in the numbers of students who are studying to become teachers in key subjects, explains why the Government seems to be backing out of yet another manifesto commitment—this time, it is the commitment to recruit an extra 3,500 teachers.

It is not only Glasgow where there is an issue. In March, it was reported that the on-going trouble with recruiting secondary subject teachers in Aberdeenshire is reaching crisis point, with a particular shortage of English, science, technical, maths and home economics teachers. There are reports of Falkirk Council trying to plug a gap of £62 million by proposing to cut teaching time by up to two and a half hours a week. Parents have pointed out that that would lead to a pupil who starts primary 1 now losing a whole year of schooling. Orkney, Inverclyde and Clackmannanshire have floated similar plans. Further, around 11,000 teachers and school staff are stuck on temporary contracts, which is leading potential new recruits to ask themselves serious questions about the future.

There is no scenario in which an analysis of such statistics leads to good outcomes for teachers, pupils or parents—indeed, such statistics do not do that, as last year’s programme for international student assessment results show that maths, science and reading are at an all-time low. Labour’s motion refers to those issues, but the cabinet secretary’s self-congratulatory amendment would delete all of that and does not ask the serious questions.

In fact, the Government amendment reveals two concerning fundamentals. First, the Government would rather avoid discussing uncomfortable truths; it would prefer to make an amendment that diverts, distracts and dissembles, because it fears the optics of acknowledging a perfectly reasonable Opposition motion. It is pathetic. I trust that at least Labour, whose press release yesterday called

“on all parties to come together to demand that these job losses are stopped and that children’s futures are protected”,

will be voting for our amendment rather than opposing it simply because it comes from the Conservatives.

Secondly, the Government amendment reveals a sobering truth—after 17 years and nearly a decade of pretending that education is its number 1 priority, there is no plan. The Government specialises in pumping out pie-in-the-sky targets, often at the time that elections roll round, but it has no idea how to deliver any of them, and some would say that it has no intention of doing so. Rather than projecting five, 10 or 15 years into the future to ask what a thriving Scottish economy and the workforce to service it would look like, and then working back to define the whole environment from early years, through school and on to further education, higher education and apprenticeships, the Government prefers simply to react to each new piece of bad news with more unevidenced targets.

In seeking to lead from the future rather than to the future, the Scottish Conservatives have such a plan for teachers, and we have a plan for the economy, both of which are referenced in the amendment in my name—and neither of which I can recall the cabinet secretary asking me to discuss and work through, despite saying in her amendment that she wishes to do so.

We must have a sea change in our approach to the economy, to the futures of the people of Scotland, to the education that we provide to them and to how we strategise properly to create the best future for all. At decision time, let us see whether the Government can put aside performative posturing and party politicking and just once do what is right by the people of Scotland.

I move amendment S6M-13196.2, to insert at end:

“; takes on board the recommendations of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party’s New Deal for Teachers to support teachers, reduce contact time and properly fund local authorities; believes that enacting these recommendations would help to facilitate the recruitment and retention of teachers, provide the highest standard of education and work to better improve the link between the education system and employers, and calls, in that regard, for the alignment of skills to meet the needs of businesses and employers both for today and into the future, as set out in the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party’s Grasping the Thistle economic strategy plan.”

15:17  

Ross Greer (West Scotland) (Green)

The Greens will be supporting the Labour motion. I was very proud that, three years ago, when we entered Government, we came to an agreement with our SNP colleagues to increase the budget for school staffing—for teachers in particular—by £145 million. That was a real sign of progress and commitment. However, it revealed a huge challenge in relation to national commitments, which were in all five of our party manifestos, and the commitment to localism that is enshrined in the Verity house agreement, which I think all five parties support. We ended up in a situation in which £145 million of funding to increase the number of teachers in our schools did not result in an increase in their numbers, at least not nationally, even though that money was spent. I will come back to the tension between national commitments and localism in a minute.

It is fair to say that having more teachers is not the only way to close the attainment gap in our schools, but having fewer teachers clearly will not help; that will take us backwards. The motion references the unique challenge in Glasgow, which is caused in large part by a £770 million unequal pay bill that was left by the previous Labour administration. However, a challenging national picture needs to be addressed, too. Although the Government amendment has a lot in it that I agree with, it would remove the reference to the situation in Glasgow, so the Greens will not be able to support it.

As much as I welcome the Labour Party’s lodging of the motion, I am frustrated that the motion would require more Government spending, because Labour opposed not just the council tax reforms last autumn to give councils more money but the rates resolution to increase tax on the top 5 per cent of earners in Scotland as part of the budget process. If the Labour Party wants more spending, it needs to identify where it would reallocate the money from or to be honest about the need for tax rises.

I get that the Conservatives oppose tax rises, and they have started to bring forward proposed savings. I do not think that I agree with any of their suggestions so far, but it makes for an honest debate when proposals are on the table.

Fundamentally, this is an issue of finance before it is an issue of education, and that is why the proposed Green amendment focused on financial measures. I am proud of the progress that has been made recently. I believe that the devolution of empty property relief alone was worth about £12 million to Glasgow City Council this year. Greater council tax discretion in relation to second and holiday homes has been used immediately by most councils. Parliament will pass the visitor levy later this month. There are commitments to further work, including a cruise ship levy, a public health levy, an infrastructure levy and potentially a power of general competence, which will all empower councils to fund local services.

Those actions collectively all help, but we all know that the big difference will be made only by reforming council tax. Council tax has been outdated since before I was born. I know that I look as if I have had a rough paper round, but I will turn 30 next month. Throughout my entire life, every year, more and more people have moved into the wrong council tax band. Most households in this country pay the wrong rate of taxation, which is absurd. We obviously need revaluation, but we also need an outright replacement, which is why the proposed Green Party amendment said that all parties should contribute to the joint working group on local government financial sources.

The issue is not just about increasing individual tax liability. The public health levy and the carbon emissions land tax are not about individuals but about supermarkets and large landowners. The Poverty Alliance, Oxfam and others said today, in speaking about child poverty, that Scotland is a wealthy country. Wealth has grown since devolution started in 1999, but it is hugely unequally held. We will achieve our shared goals, whether it is closing the attainment gap, creating a world-class education system or lifting children out of poverty, only if we increase spending in those areas.

The debate is fundamentally about honesty. The block grant is not close to keeping up with inflation or pay demands. We have either to cut public services or to raise revenue. Nobody is proposing to cut teacher numbers, so let us be honest about what we can do to make sure that we keep those posts, preserve those jobs and deliver the world-class education system that our children deserve.

15:21  

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

Just imagine what the world would have been like if Ross Greer had been in government for the past three years.

Conditions in schools are really challenging, and I think that the education secretary knows that. The report that the Education, Children and Young People Committee published this morning highlights that additional support for learning is now in an intolerable position. Pupils are being forced to fail because of the gap between the rhetoric and the reality. Teachers now have to deal with multiple needs in one class. Sometimes, up to half of the whole class can be identified as having an additional support need. That puts incredible pressure on teachers. That, combined with the behavioural issues that we all know about that lead to violence and low-level disruption, interrupts education.

Then there is absence. Pupils are regularly absent from the classroom and teachers have to spend a lot of time trying to get them to catch up. Newly qualified teachers can spend up to six years on temporary contracts. That all adds up to an intolerable position and it is why we are seeing teachers facing burn-out and considerable mental health problems.

I like the cabinet secretary’s approach of reaching out to other parties. I have to remind her, however, that this is not year zero and that the Government has been there for 17 years, so she will forgive us for holding her to account for its performance in that 17 years.

The most recent set of promises in the 2021 election raised expectations among teachers that there would be free school meals, free laptops, lots of extra teachers and a reduction in teacher contact time. Most of that has fallen away, because we are nowhere near getting those 3,500 teachers. In fact, we are going in the opposite direction, partly thanks to the cabinet secretary’s colleague in Glasgow City Council, who has obviously not got the memo and is reducing teacher numbers.

This is not just the Opposition being wicked; it is the reality facing local government, because the Government has made significant cuts. On the one hand, it says that we have to increase teacher numbers, but, on the other hand, it has decreased the overall funding that is available for local authorities.

Expectations have been raised, teachers are now feeling really disappointed and, to be frank, they are not listening to the education secretary any more. That is because this is not the first time—we have been here before. Back in 2007, we were promised that class sizes would be 18 or fewer for primary 1, 2 and 3, and 3,000 extra teachers were promised. Both of those promises were quickly dumped when the Government was faced with reality.

However, the most curious thing that I am interested in exploring—I hope that the cabinet secretary will address this in her summing up—is the latest research paper on reducing teacher contact time by 90 minutes. It has not been endorsed by the Government, but it has been produced under the Government’s auspices. All of a sudden, the Government has discovered this new wheeze in that, because the pupil roll is falling, first in primary schools and then in secondary schools, we might not need to recruit another 3,500 extra teachers in order to meet the 90-minute reduction in teacher contact time. I am wondering why that has suddenly just been discovered. Surely the Government knew that in 2021, when it made the promise. Why on earth did it make the promise to recruit 3,500 extra teachers in 2021? Surely it did its homework and worked out that the pupil roll was falling.

More important, what does that mean for all those who are being trained through initial teacher education just now? On the 3,500 extra teachers, we are not quite reaching that with secondary schools, but we certainly are with primary schools.

You need to conclude.

Willie Rennie

Will those people face the dole queue as a result of that failure to plan adequately? I would like to hear from the cabinet secretary how on earth she will reduce teacher contact time by 90 minutes, because we deserve the answers.

15:26  

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

Last year, I joined members of the Educational Institute of Scotland and Unison on picket lines in their campaign for fair pay. Not a single person wanted to be on strike. Yes, they were angry that pay was falling behind, but the strike was about more than that. It was about the fact that so many pupils with additional support needs are being failed, spiralling teacher workloads and increasing incidents of violence and poor behaviour in classrooms. Just as the Government was too slow in responding to pay demands, it has been too slow in responding to those other challenges.

The fact that one in three youngsters is now identified as having additional support needs in class—compared with fewer than one in 10 a decade ago—has not just happened. For years, we have had a growing number of parents at our surgeries asking why vital learning support for their children has been cut and why their kids are waiting years to get a proper assessment.

Last year, in the absence of any meaningful engagement from the Government, the EIS surveyed its members and warned that the scarcity of support for pupils with additional support needs is compounding the pressure on school staff and damaging the educational experiences of the young people concerned. A year on, little has improved. The Education, Children and Young People Committee’s report that was published today lays bare the “intolerable” reality that

“the majority of ASN pupils are not having their needs met”,

with chronic underresourcing being at the heart of that.

The challenges are linked. Last year’s EIS survey revealed that two thirds of teachers believe that having more classroom assistants to provide support for pupils with additional support needs is likely to have the biggest impact on reducing their workload. Better resources and support for our staff in the classroom will also free up teachers and support staff to tackle some of the other underlying causes of the growing crisis of violence and poor behaviour in our classrooms.

This month, Unison revealed the details of its survey of all education support staff in Dumfries and Galloway. There were more than 400 responses from staff at more than 100 schools, nurseries and education centres throughout the region. The responses painted a harrowing picture. Almost all staff had experienced increasing levels of shouting and swearing. One respondent said:

“As part of the job I’ve regularly been hit, bitten, scratched, nipped, screamed at, had things thrown at me, hair pulled, glasses knocked off. Unfortunately, because we are learning assistants, it’s almost looked at as an accepted part of our job”.

It should not be.

Teachers and support staff believe that they are not being listened to and that action is far too slow in coming. Ultimately, much comes down to resources and the impact of the broken relationship between the Scottish Government and our local councils, which have had to bear the brunt of the Government’s political choices to cut central funding and provide an underfunded council tax freeze, which was supported by the Greens.

Teachers and support staff accept that their roles can be demanding at the best of times. Demand is part of the job, and they do not shy away from that, but the current level of demand is well in excess of what it should be. Every day, teachers and support staff go above and beyond. It is no wonder that burn-out is at an all-time high. However, they keep going because they care about the future of our young people. They are doing their best under tough circumstances, but we cannot rely on their good will forever. The quality of education for Scotland’s young people is at stake.

I had the privilege of being a teacher—it was, I have to say, a wee while ago. We can all remember the teacher or classroom assistant who had a positive impact on us—that one person who let us see our potential. They are our school’s greatest assets but, listening to the cabinet secretary, you would be forgiven for wondering whether she had been in government for the past 17 years. The Government needs—

I was in the classroom.

Colin Smyth

The cabinet secretary was not personally in the Government, but I am sure that she voted for the Government.

The Government needs to start listening and delivering for our teachers, support staff and pupils. It took strike action for ministers to act on pay and, if they fail to address the ticking time bomb of spiralling workloads, growing violence and poor behaviour in our classrooms and the increasing cuts in our teaching numbers, they will find that those same staff are back on the picket line very soon.

15:30  

Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

I thank my committee colleague Pam Duncan-Glancy for bringing forward today’s debate. Her genuine commitment to our education system has always been clear. Another colleague who, I hope we agree, has a genuine commitment to improving our education system is the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills. Positive contributions here and before the committee demonstrate that both of them have a willingness to work co-operatively in search of the best possible outcomes for our teachers and learners alike.

That attitude is reflected in the Government’s motion, which accepts concern about the possibility of the loss of teachers and commits to engaging with parties across the Parliament to hear views on how best to meet those challenges. I hope that the other speakers today will take the opportunity to commit their parties to that.

Of course, actions speak louder than words. For today’s debate, it is important to recognise and welcome the Scottish Government’s additional funding of more than £145 million, which is specifically targeted at maintaining teacher numbers and clearly demonstrates commitment.

It is also important to put on the record a number of points that further demonstrate this Government’s commitment to education. In 2021-22, education spend in Scotland was £1,758 per person compared with £1,439 in England and £1,680 in Wales. Scotland’s pupil teacher ratio is the lowest in the UK. The overall PTR in Scotland is currently 13.2, which is the lowest that it has been since 2009. That compares with PTRs of 18 in England, 18.4 in Wales and 17.4 in Northern Ireland. Scotland has the most teachers per pupil in the UK, with 7,485 teachers per 100,000 pupils compared with 5,545 in England and 5,038 in Wales. Scotland’s teachers are also the best paid in the UK.

Therefore, although I, along with the Government, recognise concerns about possible reductions in teacher numbers—it is very important that we look at that—it is important to balance that concern by highlighting those real achievements.

The learning and working environment is important in attracting and retaining teachers; it must also ensure a welcoming and safe place for learners. Since 2007, the percentage of schools in Scotland that are in good or satisfactory condition has increased from 61 per cent to more than 90 per cent, and the £1.8 billion schools for the future programme has delivered 117 new or refurbished schools across Scotland between 2009 and 2021. Those are, once again, achievements that we should recognise and welcome as part of the debate.

Liam Kerr

I am listening to all the things that the member is trotting out. However, the Education, Children and Young People Committee published a report this morning that raised significant concerns about the school building estate, particularly for ASN pupils. What should the Government do to rectify that?

Bill Kidd

Like the cabinet secretary, I am all ears. Unfortunately, in my case, that is a physical characteristic. Anyway, I am carrying on saying what I am saying.

We must recognise that we are facing financial challenges across the board. The news that, between 1 April 2023 and 31 March 2024, 262,400 emergency food parcels were distributed in Scotland is scandalous. That scandal is the direct result of 14 years of Tory rule, Westminster austerity and indifference to the plight of the people. We must recognise that, in those 14 years—14 years of a Government that we, in Scotland, did not vote for—we have also witnessed savage cuts to public services and that Scotland, as a country held in thrall as a dependency, is dependent on its funding from Westminster. While that lasts, we should all be calling for greater UK Government spending on public services in England in the hope that that will, in turn, raise the level of funding that is received in Scotland to protect the level of services that we have. I hope that colleagues will also commit to that today.

15:34  

Sue Webber (Lothian) (Con)

Nicola Sturgeon said:

“If you are not, as First Minister, prepared to put your neck on the line on the education of our young people then what are you prepared to. It really matters.”

It mattered so much that the SNP Government has presided over 17 years of failure in Scottish education.

Despite the efforts of our dedicated teachers, Scotland has fallen down the international rankings in maths, science and reading. The SNP continues to starve local authorities, schools and staff of resources. The number of secondary school pupils with additional support needs has increased significantly. I am sure that we will hear from the SNP that the budget has grown, but it has not grown to the extent that is needed to reflect the rising numbers.

In 2007, primary school pupils with additional support needs accounted for 4.3 per cent of the school roll. In 2023, the figure was 42.9 per cent. Furthermore, almost 93 per cent of pupils with additional support needs spent all their time in mainstream classes.

Here, in Edinburgh, the City of Edinburgh Council recorded that 46 per cent of pupils in its schools had an additional support need, which is significantly higher than the national average of 34 per cent, yet the total number of pupils in Edinburgh who are educated in special schools has remained at around 1.25 per cent for the past five years. That is despite the city’s population growth and the exponential increase in pupils with additional support needs. As a result, a more complex range of needs are having to be met in the mainstream school sector.

I thank those members who have made reference to the highly critical report by the Education, Children and Young People Committee that was published today, which describes the situation for families and young people with additional support needs as “intolerable”.

I want to reinforce the point that there has been a rise in the wellbeing and nurture element of additional support needs in our schools. Issues such as mild anxiety or other factors do not necessarily have an impact on a young person’s ability to learn, but they have an impact on their capacity to engage constructively in education. Such issues are now more often at the core of the additional need.

The Scottish Conservatives believe that pupils with additional support needs should receive more support but are being let down.

On GIRFEC—getting it right for every child—despite all the rhetoric, we are failing to get it right for so many children. Many need more support and additional learning using innovative approaches. We want to ensure that initial teacher training fully prepares all our teachers to identify and support children with conditions such as dyslexia and autism.

We would like to pay teachers and school assistants to hold extracurricular activities and extra lunch-time classes, which would top up their salaries. We want to see a thriving extracurricular culture in our schools, as that will provide immeasurable benefits to pupils in so many ways, including in attainment, health and wellbeing, and school culture.

However, it is not just the SNP that is letting down our children and the education system in Scotland. Labour’s plans to introduce VAT on fees for independent schools would place a significant burden on the state sector and would disrupt the education of thousands of children. The report by BiGGAR Economics for the Scottish Council of Independent Schools found that 6,000 pupils would have their learning disrupted by being forced out of the sector and that the cost of children joining the state system in Scotland would be more than £50 million. The report highlights that pupils with additional support needs who had to move from the private sector into the state school sector would be most affected by that disruption.

It is time that we prioritised education, it is time that we prioritised our teachers, and it is time that we prioritised all our children and young people.

15:38  

Paul Sweeney (Glasgow) (Lab)

Over the past few months, my inbox has been inundated with emails from constituents who are concerned about the future of education in Glasgow under this Government, anxious about their child’s future and angry about the cuts that will have such a deep impact for years to come. It is not just messages from parents that are flooding my inbox—and, I am sure, the inboxes of my colleagues. Teachers are worried that their jobs are becoming more precarious and that their workloads are about to increase when they simply cannot take on any more.

The cuts that have been handed down to local government by the Scottish Government over the past decade have undoubtedly put councils in an invidious position, but it is beyond comprehension that SNP and Green councillors in Glasgow are looking to make savings this financial year by cutting 450 teaching posts over the next three years, as well as by slashing the financial support for the developing the young workforce and MCR Pathways programmes.

I accept that it has been a difficult decision for councillors. Glasgow City Council has had the largest reduction in revenue funding of any Scottish local authority over the past decade—£270 per person. That 11.3 per cent real-terms cut has more than decimated the council’s budget. After all, 80 per cent of Glasgow City Council’s funding comes from central Government; only 20 per cent of its finances are made up of revenues from council tax and other charges. The situation has been desperate.

The council has done its best to protect education spending in recent years. In 2016, 64 per cent of the overall council funding was spent on education and social work in Glasgow; now, the figure is well over 72 per cent. Clearly, the council has done its best to protect education and social work, but now even those funds have had to be cut. We are well past the fat and well into the bone. Glasgow cannot take those cuts any more.

It is all the more galling that the Scottish Government’s budget went up by 2.3 per cent in real terms over the past decade while council budgets have gone down by 2.1 per cent, according to the Scottish Parliament information centre data. Ultimately, that is a choice, and it is one that will impact on the most disadvantaged and the poorest in our communities, hinder people’s life chances and deepen inequalities.

The MCR Pathways programme has had an incredible impact on young people across Glasgow, particularly those who require further support or are care experienced. I know that because I have family members who are mentors in the MCR Pathways programme. It is devastating that young people do not know whether their mentor will still be there for them when they return to school after the summer holidays. That situation has a devastating impact on young lives.

The developing the young workforce programme, which has been so successful in preparing young people for employment, is due to be axed, too. It is staggering.

The Minister for Higher and Further Education; and Minister for Veterans (Graeme Dey)

On a point of fact, the Scottish Government has funded in full the developing the young workforce arrangements for Glasgow on the same basis as the rest of the country, with one co-ordinator per two schools. We cannot talk about the programme being axed. It cannot be axed.

Paul Sweeney

I am afraid that that is not the position that the GMB trade union has taken. I went to a meeting with young representatives of educational establishments in Glasgow along with the developing the young workforce co-ordinators, and they are under threat. I suggest that the minister engage with them as a matter of urgency to clarify the position. That would be gratefully received, I am sure.

Ultimately, it is staggering that those things are under threat, given the impact that they will have throughout young people’s lives. This is a matter of top priority. After all, the new First Minister said that his goal is to eliminate child poverty. Sadly, that rings rather hollow given that, when he was in charge of education, he was happy to give up on those young people in poverty, dismissing their potential to fit the Scottish Qualifications Authority’s bell curve.

Not only has the Government devastated primary and secondary education, but our colleges are in a dire state, too, with rolling strike action. Ministers have been, at best, dismissive or even missing in action. We need to understand the impact that that will have.

Labour will stand up for young people and ensure that they get a world-class education so that they get the best possible start in life. That is a sure investment in a more prosperous and fairer Scotland.

The final speaker in the open debate will be Ben Macpherson.

15:43  

Ben Macpherson (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

Colleagues will appreciate that, as I am an Edinburgh MSP, I will not comment specifically on the situation in Glasgow.

I have heard the concerns that colleagues across the chamber have raised and I acknowledge the concerns that my constituents have expressed to me. However, I acknowledge, too, the reality of the challenge around the public finances and the fact that the Scottish Government is investing in maintaining teacher numbers with an additional £145.5 million that is designed to support local authorities to do so.

As the Scottish Government’s amendment notes, several local authorities

“maintained or increased their teacher numbers”

in the financial year 2022-23. For example, the City of Edinburgh Council has increased the number of teachers by 39, although I appreciate the concerns that constituents have expressed to me about how the Labour Party-led City of Edinburgh Council has provided a lot of those positions through the city as temporary contracts rather than permanent ones.

I noted what Sue Webber said in her speech about the city that we both represent. She spoke about pupil teacher ratios, and I have just talked about teacher numbers. The whole debate is in that space. Other colleagues have mentioned the report on additional support needs that the Education, Children and Young People Committee released today. During our evidence taking for that, we heard a lot about the challenges, the subtlety and the importance of considering whether teacher numbers or pupil teacher ratios are the most important aspect to improve learning.

In recent weeks, with the new First Minister—thanks to his leadership from the pole position—we have been thinking about a better political debate, and for our body politic we need to decide what the most important aspect is for improving children’s education. Is it more teachers or a better pupil teacher ratio? If we could decide collectively on one of those competing factors and take the party politics out of it, we would be able to debate from the same position.

Will the member take an intervention?

I will take a brief one.

It has been a long time since I did maths, but surely if we have more teachers, we will also have a better pupil teacher ratio, so can we not have both?

Ben Macpherson

We can, but a lot of the time it is about the support in the classroom. We also heard that debate around additional support needs. It was about the additional support in the classroom and not necessarily the teacher numbers. Also, there are local authorities where the number of pupils is falling, whereas in Edinburgh, which Sue Webber and I represent, there is a population increase. We need to take that into consideration.

We also need to think about local government. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities published a report on 22 March 2024 in which it expresses dissatisfaction about the imposition of teacher numbers and learning hours in relation to the Verity house agreement. The Parliament can either agree with local authority discretion or with ring fencing. We cannot have both, and we need to decide on our position.

Lastly, I note that there is a potential solution. The Teach First programme has not been discussed in the Parliament for some time, but it has been highly successful elsewhere in the UK. Perhaps now is the time to look at it again.

We come to the closing speeches.

15:47  

Ross Greer (West Scotland) (Green)

I will start my closing speech by touching on the other element of the Green amendment that was not selected, which was about tackling issues with teacher workload as a way to improve recruitment and retention. I believe—and the Scottish Greens believe—that the principles of curriculum for excellence are strong. The challenges that we have faced with implementation of the curriculum have been about resources, but they have also been about the bureaucracy that has been built up around the curriculum in the years since it was introduced and how that bureaucracy has undermined quality teaching and learning.

The principles of the curriculum rely on the professional autonomy of Scotland’s teachers. We have one of the most highly qualified teaching workforces in the world but, over the years, that professional autonomy has been gradually narrowed. I was proud that, a couple of years ago, the Greens and the SNP agreed that we would review the indicators and measures that are associated with the curriculum, with the aim of making teachers’ workloads more manageable.

One example of that is Scottish national standardised assessments. It is the Green Party’s position—and I believe that it may also be the Liberal Democrats’ position—that SNSAs should be scrapped entirely. Other parties have a range of views on which years should and should not include them. The example that I will give is not about SNSAs in and of themselves; it is about all the additional reporting and administrative requirements that have been bolted on to them over the years, primarily by local authorities. I welcome the commitment from the cabinet secretary that the review of indicators and measures will be taken forward, but that specific example raises exactly the issue that Ben Macpherson was talking about in relation to the autonomy of local authorities in Scotland. Either we believe in national direction in education or we believe that local authorities should have the discretion to make those decisions for themselves.

I have to be honest and say that this is where I hit my limit for localism. Standardised testing is a national policy and it is appropriate to limit it nationally. The Government could set limits on the additional workload that is created around it. The Scottish Government’s amendment seems to allude to the fact that such work will take place, so I would welcome a commitment that that will happen. Finances are tight, but there are plenty of policy changes that we could make—free policy changes—which would help with workload and, in turn, would help with recruitment and retention.

There are other options for increasing retention, such as improving teacher career progression. What has happened to the lead teacher model? That was supposed to be an opportunity for teachers to progress their careers without moving out of the classroom into management. In particular, it was designed to boost the number of specialist additional support needs teachers in our classrooms. That model does not appear to have taken off, and I think that we need to revisit it.

I am afraid that the Greens will be opposing the Conservatives’ amendment. There are elements of it that we agree with, but it endorses their “Grasping the Thistle” economic plan. I had to remind myself what The Herald said about the plan at the time, because the business editor of The Herald found himself in the strange position of agreeing with me on a matter of economic policy. Ian McConnell said:

“Not only did Mr Ross fail to deliver anything profound but his speech lacked anything of perceptible substance at all.”

I am afraid that that is not an economic strategy that the Greens can endorse.

I agreed with elements of what Sue Webber was saying, but one element that I disagreed with pushed me closer to the Labour Party. Of course, the Greens would absolutely support the fair application of tax to private school fees; it is only just that private enterprises pay the correct level of tax.

Will the member give way?

Ross Greer

I need to close in the next 10 seconds, I am afraid, Ms Webber.

I am glad that we have had this debate and I am glad that Labour has given us the opportunity to discuss the issues. However, what I wanted to hear this afternoon were colleagues’ proposed solutions. It is very easy for us to highlight the problems; we are all familiar with them, and many of them are long standing—some are even decades old. I have heard very little in the way of proposed solutions this afternoon and I think that school staff—teachers in particular—and young people deserve more from Parliament in the way of actual solutions to these issues.

I would encourage members on the front benches to desist from having conversations across the chamber.

15:51  

Roz McCall (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I am delighted to close the debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives. I thank Pam Duncan-Glancy and Labour for bringing this important issue to the chamber. Again, I find myself highlighting the irrefutable fact that it is an Opposition party ensuring that concerns relating to the Scottish education system are discussed in the chamber.

Since 2021, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, Jenny Gilruth, has used Government debating time for education three times, in comparison with 12 debates that have been brought forward in Opposition time. It was not that long ago that Scottish education was the pinnacle against which all policies and, indeed, the Government were to be judged—in the words of the former former First Minister, in one of her “Let me be clear” statements:

“I want to be judged on this. If you are not, as First Minister, prepared to put your neck on the line on the education of our young people then what are you prepared to? It really matters.”

Oh, how times have changed.

We have had some excellent contributions; I will highlight only one or two, because that is all that I have time for. It is important to highlight the hot-off-the-press Education, Children and Young People Committee report stating that ASN provision has hit “intolerable” levels in our schools. That was mentioned by Pam Duncan-Glancy, Willie Rennie and Colin Smyth, and it was very eloquently highlighted in her contribution by Sue Webber.

I notice that, in the Labour motion, Pam Duncan-Glancy is asking the Scottish Government for a plan on moving forward and for intervention to prevent job losses. However, as has already been highlighted by my colleague Liam Kerr, there is no plan, and the Government is not coming forward with any plans—neither is Labour, never mind the Government.

With the greatest of respect, I say to Bill Kidd that he has made the best smoke-and-mirrors contribution I have heard—“Look over here, don’t look over there.” That is simply not how it is in our schools and in our local authorities.

Pam Duncan-Glancy mentioned two very special teachers. For me, it was a teacher called Miss Henderson, who, unfortunately, passed away recently. She was a teacher who knew that educating a child was about more than just imparting knowledge.

Finally, let us look at the Government’s regular protestations. The SNP Government states that it is committed to recruiting an additional 3,500 teachers, as has been mentioned. Indeed, it was the former education secretary, Shirley-Anne Somerville, who said that, over the course of the parliamentary session,

“we will fund the recruitment of an additional 3,500 teachers”.—[Official Report, 23 November 2021; c 55.]

The important word there is “additional”. However, the teacher census from March 2024, just over a month ago, has teacher numbers down by more than 1,000 since the SNP came to power.

The SNP also continues to highlight pay rise awards for our hard-working teachers, but that is simply not working. If local authorities had sufficient money to pay increased wages, they would not need to reduce teacher numbers. The SNP is setting more targets that are destined to fail. As is so often the case, it is the future of Scotland that will pay the price.

The cabinet secretary has asked for suggestions. The Scottish Conservatives will come forward with sensible suggestions to make tangible changes. Our new deal for teachers would support teachers and reduce contact times in the classroom. It would also allow teachers to provide the highest standard of education, and it would allow teachers to teach.

We would properly fund local authorities so that they can appropriately recruit and retain teachers. We would tackle violence in our schools. Given that nothing that we do exists in a vacuum, I will mention “Grasping the Thistle”. It is our economic strategic plan to improve the link between the education system and employers, which is desperately needed after the detrimental cuts and reform delays that are currently plaguing our college sector.

The Conservative plans would not only support our teachers, our businesses, our local authorities, our college sector and our young people today and into the future—

You need to conclude.

Scottish Conservative plans will take Scotland forward.

15:56  

Jenny Gilruth

I thank members for their contributions. I thought that, in her summing up, Roz McCall got to the point of my original contribution, which was about solutions. I had not seen the Conservative amendment in advance, but I would be more than happy to engage with the Conservatives on any of their proposals about the challenges that we face. They are challenges for the whole country and it is important—in reference to Liam Kerr’s point—that we do not play party politics on this.

I will touch on a number of points that members have made in the course of the debate, and I also want to reflect on some of the investment that the Government is currently putting in. I need members to listen to the numbers that we are seeing in Scotland’s schools. We have nearly 1,800 more teachers in Scotland’s schools than we did in 2019. We have the highest level of teachers employed in Scotland since 2009. The Government has baselined £15 million of funding into the local government settlement, and £145.5 million is ring fenced to protect teacher numbers.

The Government also invests in funding our probationary teachers, with £37 million of direct investment in their salaries. We are supporting teacher pay with £242 million. The Government is making a substantial investment in Scotland’s teachers, but Ross Greer is right to talk about the financials, which is where the challenge rests. There is a challenge in relation to local government, which pays for our teachers. I have some sympathy there, but we also need to consider that, this year, the local government settlement was worth £14 billion and, at the same time, the UK Government cut the Scottish Government’s budget in real terms.

If Labour wants more resource, let us be honest about the erosion of the block grant. Will a Labour Government restore the value of the block grant, should Keir Starmer become Prime Minister in the coming months? There is silence from the Labour benches.

A 0.9 per cent cut, compounded by more than a decade of austerity, is harming the outcomes of our young people. Schools are desperately trying to plug that gap. As Bill Kidd alluded, some of the challenge here rests in the cost of living crisis. The Government is funding the most generous programme of free school meals provision across the UK.

Liam Kerr

As Bill Kidd was mentioned and Roz McCall alluded to his smoke-and-mirrors speech, does the cabinet secretary accept that, given that the Government has been in power for 17 years and has yet to make a strategic plan, it is the Government’s failure that is at fault here?

Jenny Gilruth

I do not accept the member’s point. The Government invests in supporting our schools directly, through, for example, the Scottish attainment challenge, which is funding an additional 3,000 staff in Scotland’s schools, including 1,000 extra teachers.

Willie Rennie said that Scotland’s teachers are not listening to me. That was a bit depressing to hear, but I continue to engage with them directly. They seemed to be listening to me this morning when I met them at Queen Margaret University and spoke to a number of religious and moral education teachers about some of their challenges.

In response to Willie Rennie’s challenge on class contact, I say that I am resolutely committed to delivering on that commitment. That is what will make a difference for Scotland’s teachers in our schools. We, including the Government and local authorities, need to lighten the load. However, the load is not the same in Fife Council as it might be in Glasgow City Council or in Highland Council. We need to understand those local differentials.

Colin Smyth talked about the past 17 years. He and perhaps Mr Kerr might forget that, for most of those 17 years, I was in a classroom. I heard Mr Smyth’s keenness for industrial action. That is not a place that I want us to return to, particularly given the record pay deal that was agreed to by this Government in 2022. Scotland’s teachers remain the best paid in the UK by some considerable margin.

I think that Sue Webber made a number of important points in relation to the Education, Children and Young People Committee’s report on additional support needs. She will know that I am looking forward to responding to that report in detail and that I paused the additional support for learning action plan to listen to the concerns of her committee. I know that she is grateful for that pause.

I am keen to make progress. We have not heard much in the way of solutions today. The solutions that I need to try involve working with local authorities, through their requirements on employing teachers, to provide more detail and support for teacher recruitment and retention.

We also need to really improve promotion opportunities for Scotland’s teachers. Ross Greer was absolutely right to touch on the role of the lead teacher, which has not been as popular as we would have hoped, to that end.

It is also worth while to point out some of the current workload issues in teaching, which I mentioned in my contribution this morning at Queen Margaret University and which are referenced in the Government’s amendment. We need to go back to reducing unnecessary teacher workload and freeing up teachers to allow them to deliver quality learning and teaching.

There is a lot to be positive about in Scottish education, although you might not have heard it in this afternoon’s debate. However, I accept the challenge that is presented in the motion. We cannot fundamentally drive the improvements that we need to see in Scotland’s schools with fewer teachers. The Government values our teachers. That is why we invest in the policy of free tuition, fully fund the postgraduate qualification and pay for the first year of probation. However, the Government does not act in a silo. We do not directly employ our teachers, so our local authorities have a key role in driving improvements on retention and recruitment. I look forward to working with them to support Scotland’s teachers.

I call Martin Whitfield to wind up the debate.

16:01  

Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

It is the Opposition that has, again, brought a debate about education to the Parliament. That is important. However, I welcome the cabinet secretary’s hand reaching across the chamber to discuss and find solutions—this is the first time that I have said that to her.

I had the privilege of listening to the cabinet secretary speak to some incredible young people only a few hours ago. She rightly raised the fact that, during Covid, when a number of bodies that support our communities and society were forced to step back, it was the education service that stepped up to take care of a number of matters that had previously been dealt with by other services. At that time, additional payments were made.

However, we are now at a stage where the expectations that are placed on our education service are at the level that they were during Covid, but it has lost the financial support for delivery because, as the SNP Government would say, the funding from Westminster has been cut. However, although the funding has been cut, there has been no reduction in the expectation that is placed on our teachers. In the past 17 years, expectations about what the education service, in its widest sense, has to pick up have increased exponentially.

To refer to Bill Kidd’s interesting contribution, I agree that actions speak louder than words. For how many years has the chamber been hearing that we need to reduce our teachers’ workload? For how many years has the chamber heard about the need to properly support our young people? For how many years has Scotland had promises of smaller class sizes, and promises about bicycles and computers that have not been delivered?

One of the challenges that is faced by the people of Scotland—especially children and young people who have been in school as part of the Covid generation—is how much more they will have to hear before they see an actual difference. The quality of education of Scotland’s young people is at stake in so many areas, particularly for children from deprived areas.

As is evidenced by the committee report that was published this morning, additional support for learning is being impacted the most. The situation is intolerable—a word that means the opposite of tolerable, and “tolerable” means that something is barely able to be dealt with. For our children with additional support needs, the situation is intolerable.

I could go over a number of the contributions that we have heard today. It is important that people outside Parliament hear the whole debate, because there have been some very powerful contributions, and that will continue to be the case.

I thought that Ross Greer’s first speech was interesting, but he will not be surprised if I do not agree with all of it, including his reference to the equal pay claim. Of course, it was our current First Minister who said, in 2006, that:

“the financial envelope that the Executive”—

now the Scottish Government—

“makes available to local authorities has an essential part to play in resolving the issue”.—[Official Report, 9 Nov 2006; c 29150]

Indeed, that quotation goes to the heart of the discussion, as does the “two minutes”—which I heard being chanted behind me—that the getting together to talk lasted.

The question of what the answers are is actually a question that we should never need to ask ourselves, but it is this Scottish Government that has put the question in front of us, through the state of our education. From the experience that children have in the classroom with a teacher, to the experience of an ASN child in terms of adults who used to be there to support them but are not there now, to the building that they are in, to their entire journey through education, it all becomes incredibly questionable.

I will move on to Paul Sweeney’s contribution. He is not the only one whose inbox is flooded with concerns about cuts. Some of the hardest answers that we have to give are to constituents who are concerned about their children. They know that the answer to Scotland’s problems lies in their children discovering, learning, creating wealth, being independent and going away from Scotland and talking about how great this country can and will be. Yet they are confronted by the fact that they cannot afford shoes and cannot afford coats. Some child in a class is the victim of a situation and there is violence in their schools that is frightening children.

Paul Sweeney went on to say that it is right to talk about it being a choice and he mentioned MCR Pathways. I think that any person who looks at that scheme will see advantage for young people in it, yet—as Paul Sweeney said—they do not know whether their mentors will be there come the new academic year.

I have much more in common with Ross Greer regarding his conclusion. There is a workload that is based on the reporting and bureaucracy that have been driven by national Government requiring that data be pulled from local authorities, which, in turn, the local authorities have pushed down to schools, for them to provide. That raises the question of the actions on chartered teacher status, which previously existed, and which many members will know about. It went because the Government would not fund the salary increase that would have allowed brilliant and experienced teachers to stay in the classroom, working with our young people and supporting their colleagues when they have challenges.

Therefore, perhaps it is not a case of looking back to go forward. Perhaps it is a case of recognising where we are, why we need to change and why the young people of Scotland demand that.

That concludes the debate on standing up for teaching. It is time to move on to the next item of business. I will allow a moment or two for the front benches to reorganise.