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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 29, 2023


Contents


Relationships and Behaviour Policy in Schools

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

The next item of business is a statement by Jenny Gilruth on relationships and behaviour policy in schools. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of her statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

14:57  

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Jenny Gilruth)

The issues that are associated with behaviour and relationships in our schools are thorny ones for any Government, but it is imperative that we address those issues and that we do so honestly. That is what I will do today.

Yesterday, the Government published the “Behaviour in Scottish Schools 2023” research, which provides the accurate national picture of behaviour in our schools. I thank the researchers at the Scottish Centre for Social Research for their work on the publication and, of course, the teachers and support staff who contributed. The report is a substantive one. It does not shy from the real challenges in our schools, and I will not seek to sugar coat the Government’s response to the seriousness of the challenge that is ahead of us. It is essential that we get this right.

Members will recall that, in May this year, I committed to engagement with teachers, support staff, local authority staff, parents, carers, and children and young people’s representatives through a range of behaviour summits. In June, I convened a headteachers task force to hear directly the views and concerns of headteachers from across Scotland on issues surrounding school exclusion. In September and October, I chaired behaviour summits that focused on the recording and monitoring of incidents, and the final summit, which took place yesterday, focused on the outputs from the behaviour in Scottish schools research, or BISSR. The summit sessions and engagement events, along with the research evidence, will inform the areas that we need to focus on in the joint action plan.

The research shows that both primary and secondary school staff have been reporting generally good behaviour among most pupils. Indeed, the most commonly reported positive behaviours were pupils following instructions and seeking support from staff or peers when needed. It is important that we keep that big picture in mind.

I ask colleagues across the chamber to bear in mind that these issues are not unique to Scotland. Context is important. The research noticed that the pandemic’s impact has contributed to delays in relation to communication skills and dysregulation. Indeed, as I outlined in the statement to the Parliament earlier this month, the number of young children experiencing speech and language delays has increased since Covid, with the figure in our poorest communities being double that in our wealthiest ones.

Covid has not created challenging behaviour. Rather, it has exacerbated the conditions that allow it to flourish. Similarly, Action for Children reported earlier this month that, as the cost of living crisis has deepened, more children are going to school hungry. More of our young people are anxious or stressed, and they bring that with them to school.

It is worth saying that Scotland is not unique. The Welsh education minister, Jeremy Miles, spoke only last week about similar challenges, and the chief inspector of schools in England has confirmed an increase in disruptive behaviour since the pandemic. Internationally, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has confirmed that shift through its own research. That context is important in terms of the framing.

The research tells us that low-level disruptive behaviour, disengagement and some forms of serious disruptive behaviours have increased since 2016. That includes increases in behaviours such as violence and abuse between pupils and towards staff. I am absolutely clear that our schools should be safe and consistent learning environments for all.

No teacher or support assistant should ever face violence or abusive behaviour at their place of work. It is clear that low-level disruption rather than violence has the greatest impact on staff day to day; its impact can be debilitating for teachers, and it disrupts others from learning.

The research identifies a number of emerging trends in behaviour from our young people, including in-school truancy, vaping, disruptive use of mobile phones and misogyny. At one of the task force events that I chaired, a headteacher told of young people who lap the school building. They are present during registration but not during lessons; instead, they wander the corridors or sit in the toilets. Those young people are not learning.

The research shows that many of our children are struggling, which is particularly true of those who missed out on transitions from early years to primary or from primary to secondary. It is extremely concerning that some of the biggest challenges with violence and aggression are seen in our youngest children, in primary 1 to 3.

Our young people should not be demonised. When the BISSR was first commissioned in 2006, we had antisocial behaviour orders and David Cameron hugging hoodies, and, although Mr Cameron might be back, we do not want a return to punitive approaches—society has moved on. Equally, we should all be mindful of citing in the chamber specific events that involve our young people, because none of us knows the context. These are all Scotland’s children. We have to commit to a plan for improvement; the status quo is not an option.

Scotland’s schools are not run by me as cabinet secretary, nor would I wish them to be. It is imperative, therefore, that local authorities are engaged in the action that is required to improve behaviour and relationships in Scotland’s schools. The BISSR report mentions lack of support from some local authorities and disparate approaches to behaviour management policies.

To that end, we will develop a national action plan to set out parameters to improve behaviour and support better relationships in Scotland’s schools. The plan will include a range of practical suggestions and solutions. It will be established with representatives from education, parents and carers, teaching unions, directors of education and, of course, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

We will ensure that the plan is informed by the experiences of children and young people. The multi-year plan will set out actions at national, local and school level. We will use the feedback from the behaviour summits, alongside the BISSR, to inform the areas that we need to focus on in the action plan.

To drive that work forward with urgency, I have asked the newly appointed interim chief inspector of education, Janie McManus, to strengthen the evidence that His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education gather during school inspections, which will ensure that we have an accurate picture of behaviour in Scotland’s schools to support improvement.

The BISSR report discusses challenges with teacher confidence, with some teachers believing that approaches to promoting positive behaviour have a detrimental impact on overall behaviour. There is a perception that the focus on positive relationships means that there are limited consequences for inappropriate behaviour. I am clear on the need for local authorities to identify their own approaches to supporting the staff who they employ, but, to that end, I am pleased to announce that the Scottish Government will provide support of £900,000 for local councils to use to support staff training for responding to the new challenges in our schools post-Covid.

I am grateful to the Educational Institute of Scotland and the NASUWT for their recent research on behaviour in our schools. The EIS research points to an increase of 80 per cent in violent incidents involving its members. It also mentions underreporting and staff feeling unsupported.

NASUWT’s research considered the gendered impact of challenging behaviour, which was also captured by the BISSR. It indicated that female teachers experienced misogyny and sexism, and more frequently had verbal abuse directed at them. The gender equality task force in education and learning provides the context for the forthcoming gender-based violence in schools framework, which will provide guidance on tackling the issue proactively and preventatively. It will launch in the coming weeks.

My former colleagues in teaching talk of the corrosive impact of social media influencers, who poison everyday teaching with the type of intolerance towards women that we all thought was long over. That has wider implications for a workforce that is predominantly female.

We need to be pragmatic about reporting, because, without consistent and accurate recording of incidents, there will be limited evidence for schools and councils to use for improvement. Therefore, I encourage—in the strongest possible terms—more accurate recording of all incidents of inappropriate, abusive or violent behaviour in our schools. I recognise that, in so doing, the data on incidents will increase, initially. However, it remains my view that it is necessary for us to continue to strengthen the evidence base to inform improvements at school and local authority levels.

The fifth iteration of the BISSR presents a challenge to all of us who are interested in improving education in Scotland. We cannot suggest that the pandemic has not exacerbated inequity, and nor must we blame it for these challenges. Equally, schools cannot address that alone; they need help. Scotland’s parents and carers are crucial to supporting the improvements that we need in our schools. To that end, I have asked Connect and the National Parent Forum of Scotland to directly contribute to the national action plan, so that, nationally, we can support the development of whole-school behaviour-management policies that embed the home-to-school link.

The BISSR is a substantive body of work. I have invited Opposition spokespeople to meet me and the researchers to allow them to present the findings in more detail.

I am conscious of the expectations from within the education portfolio to meet the challenges that are posed by the report. Many of the levers that I believe that we require to pull sit in other parts of Government. I have therefore asked for cross-portfolio engagement with health and justice colleagues on their responsibilities to ensure that we can better support an approach that recognises the need for joined-up policy making.

Today, I have set out a five-point plan that attempts to respond to the rallying cry for support that underpins the BISSR. The first point is that there will be a national plan for action, which will be developed in partnership with key stakeholders and informed by headteachers from Scotland’s schools. Secondly, there will be support that is spearheaded by our new chief inspector to ensure that HMI inspections document an accurate picture of behaviour in Scotland’s schools to support improvement. Thirdly, there will be funding for staff training to allow our local authorities to best support their teams. Fourthly, we have made a call for more accurate and consistent reporting of incidents in our schools, and finally, there will be a dedicated approach to responding to issues surrounding misogyny.

However, I also call to action all those who have a role in supporting improved relationships and behaviours in schools. To support that, Education Scotland has published a suite of practical materials—developed with teachers—on areas such as expectations and consequences. I encourage their use by all Education Scotland staff as they engage and support our schools.

The summits and the research have shown that, at school, local and national levels, there are things that we can and should do better. I ask all partners to reflect on whether there is action that they could take now to drive local improvement.

Let me be clear that violence in Scotland’s schools is unacceptable. It is unacceptable for the staff in our schools and for the young people whom we entrust to their care. It is essential that pupils and their families are reassured that our schools are safe and consistent learning environments for our young people and for those who work in them.

We have much to build on in Scotland. Our education system is focused on achieving excellence and equity for all children and young people. We now have to enact a national plan that better supports our teachers and support staff in the workplace and that recognises the role of local government as employer. That plan has to better protect learning outcomes for our young people—the vast majority of whom are well behaved. That is the prize that better behaviour and relationships in our schools can deliver, and I look forward to working with our partners across Scottish education to deliver just that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The cabinet secretary will now take questions on the issues that were raised in her statement. I intend to allow around 20 minutes, after which we will move to the next item of business. I encourage members who wish to ask a question and who have not already done so to press their request-to-speak button.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of her statement.

Many people who are listening will be concerned about what amounts to plenty of talk but precious few solutions. There is still no new specific guidance for school staff, there is no review of exclusions policies—which many stakeholders have called for—and there is no plan for dealing with attendance issues. Therefore, I hope that I can prompt the cabinet secretary to give some details of actions that are being proposed.

First, given that the report shows that social media and other identified triggers are less prevalent in primary schools, what has the cabinet secretary’s research told her is causing the increase in incidents there, and what solutions will be implemented specifically to address those?

Secondly, the £900,000 for local councils to use for training is welcome, but from which budget is that being taken, when will it be distributed and how much training can be provided for £28,000 per council?

Finally, the cabinet secretary has, apparently, belatedly realised that the issues are not generated in—and will not be solved by—schools alone. As she said, context is important.

Inexplicably, the cabinet secretary refused repeated pleas from Opposition spokespersons to help her at the behaviour summits, so why has it taken until now to acknowledge and seek support from other portfolios, such as health and justice, whose context—and, presumably, budgets—will be key?

Jenny Gilruth

I thank Mr Kerr for the number of points that he has raised. I will attempt to respond to them all.

At the end of his contribution, he asked about engagement with the Opposition. Since my appointment, I have been pretty clear about my engagement with the Opposition. Of course, I engaged directly with his predecessor on that matter and with members from other parties.

In relation to the behaviour summits, I was very clear that it would not have been appropriate for Opposition members to be in the room where we had parents and carers, teachers and a variety of stakeholders talking about their experiences. However, I have written to the Education, Children and Young People Committee to say that I am more than happy to come to the committee to talk to the matter in more detail. I have also engaged directly with Liam Kerr on that.

The important point is that the report that we are discussing today is a 200-page document. It is important that members have an opportunity to engage with the researchers directly on their contributions.

I very much recognise the opportunity for engagement with Opposition members on the issue, which is substantive. [Interruption.]

I hear Liam Kerr chuntering from a sedentary position, Presiding Officer.

Cabinet secretary, I encourage you to ignore comments from a sedentary position. I also discourage such comments, Mr Kerr.

Jenny Gilruth

I welcome Mr Kerr’s offers of help, and it is important that we work on the issue cross party, because the report throws up substantive and seriously challenging issues.

Mr Kerr noted that I belatedly recognised that the issue cannot be just about schools, but I am not sure that he has been listening to my contributions since March. As a former teacher, I have always recognised that the issue has never just been about schools. That is why it is important that the Government takes a cross-portfolio approach to how we respond to challenges. For example, we should engage our health colleagues directly in challenges that we experience in our early years, where they have responsibility.

Mr Kerr asked a question in relation to the additional budget. It will come from the education budget, and, as I understand it, it will be delivered in this financial year. I am happy to write to him with more detail on that, but that is the agreement that we have come to with local government colleagues. It is for them to decide on the training that they think is appropriate for the staff in their local area, and not, I think, for the Government to dictate.

Mr Kerr asked a question in relation to primary schools. Obviously, a number of factors interact with that change and challenge. I have witnessed that and heard anecdotal examples on visits to Scotland’s schools. The type of learning and teaching in our early years is changing, and a range of factors play into that. I mentioned the pandemic, which has undoubtedly had an impact in relation to speech and language delays.

We also see the on-going impacts of the cost of living crisis, with some of our youngest and poorest children attending school hungry.

I must ask the cabinet secretary to conclude.

A variety of factors are contributing to the matter. However, I commit to working with Mr Kerr—and members across the Parliament—on the issue, because I recognise the scale of the challenge.

I have a lot of members to get in, so I will need briefer responses, and members should not ask multiple questions within a question.

Pam Duncan-Glancy (Glasgow) (Lab)

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of her statement, but I cannot hide my disappointment. Teachers will feel blamed, parents will be sidelined and pupils could feel abandoned.

Many of the issues that have been mentioned have been known about for a long time, so I imagine that school staff, pupils and parents will wonder why today’s announcement is about the development of a plan rather than a plan. I would welcome clarity on when the Government will publish the plan.

We also know from the research that was published yesterday that support staff are experiencing higher levels of disruptive behaviours than other staff. Support staff are often the lowest-paid staff, but they barely get a mention in the statement. I am, therefore, deeply concerned that not only does the announced £900,000 suggest that the problem is in staff training, but it is unlikely to scratch the surface of the investment that is needed.

At a time when leadership is needed, the statement feels a bit like the cabinet secretary believes that she is a bystander. Although local authorities might be the employer, what is the cabinet secretary going to do to equip them and schools to properly support and resource the whole-community approach that is needed to sort out the problem?

Jenny Gilruth

Similarly to Mr Kerr, Ms Duncan-Glancy raises a number of points, but I will try to respond to them.

I really take issue with her point about being a bystander. We debated the issue substantively in May. From my recollection—although maybe not from the member’s—we had a very good debate at that time. In June, I held a task force with headteachers to talk to the issue of exclusion. In September, I chaired the first behaviour summit, which was focused on recording. In October, the second behaviour summit was focused on some of the variants in the system. Yesterday, I chaired the summit to talk to the evidence, and in that room were parents, teachers and representatives of young people’s organisations. So, I take issue with Pam Duncan-Glancy on that point.

On her second point, in relation to the action plan, as I set out in my statement, I do not employ Scotland’s teachers, nor do I wish to. Some of the action that needs to be taken requires to be taken at local authority level, which is why we will need to come back with the agreed action plan. I am more than happy to write to the member on that. I expect to come back to Parliament, subject to parliamentary approval, to confirm the action plan, but it will need to involve engagement with COSLA, teachers and parents.

The member spoke about parents. I take issue with her point, because I had a very helpful meeting yesterday with Connect, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in the Parliament. I believe that the member was there. Connect is a really worthwhile organisation that we work closely with.

We also support the National Parent Forum of Scotland, which has agreed to support some of our work by considering what it can do to support parents’ understanding of whole-school policies on behaviour, which is hugely important to developing the support that we need to see. Fundamentally, schools have a responsibility to respond to issues such as challenging behaviour, and they usually do that very well. They need support from their local authorities, and I have taken leadership at national level.

So, I have to say to the member that it is now for other partners to come forward and for us to work together on that action plan. I commit to Parliament to doing just that.

We have less than 13 minutes and we have 10 members who want to ask questions, so the questions, and particularly the responses, will need to be briefer.

Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

The cabinet secretary highlighted the need for accurate recording of all incidents in school, even if that means that the figures rise. Does she agree that it is incumbent on all of us in the chamber not to demonise children and young people and to engage with those figures constructively rather than sensationalise them or use them to focus on individual schools, noting that that is precisely what can put teachers off reporting?

Jenny Gilruth

I absolutely agree with the member. There is a level of fear in the teaching population around reporting, because they are concerned that, when they report, their individual school will be identified. All members need to be cognisant of that.

As I indicated in my statement, it is essential that schools—and our councils, of course—base their actions and policies on those issues on the best available evidence. During the summit process, I heard that some schools and school staff were concerned about recording incidents because of the negative perception of increased incidents. However, I am absolutely clear that we must record all incidents in order to address those issues appropriately. That has been a key theme of today’s statement.

Roz McCall (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I received an email from a father in Fife, telling me of the horrendous bullying that his care-experienced son experienced. The attacks were filmed and jeered on by onlookers. Months of physical abuse have been met with empty promises of investigation that have come to nothing, and there have been months of continual attacks, with the boy hiding in the toilets and teachers and staff impotent in the face of classroom behaviour, forcing the family to remove their son on the grounds that the school simply could not keep him safe.

What does the cabinet secretary have to say to teachers, school staff, parents and carers who have waited six months with a promise of action only to hear nothing but talk of yet another future plan that has not been developed yet?

Jenny Gilruth

I am not sure that I agree with that characterisation. However, the member outlines a very sensitive case in Fife. My thoughts are with that family, which must have gone through a very challenging time. I recognise some of the individual challenges that will be associated with that. I am sure that we all hear of examples in our constituencies of similar events, which can be deeply challenging.

In relation to the support that exists for parents and teachers, the local authority has an obligation and responsibility at that level, and it can take a range of actions. Of course, we have national guidance on exclusion. Liam Kerr raised the issue of exclusion specifically but I did not have time to respond to him on that issue. The national action plan is something that we might want to consider in more detail, so that our staff are equipped with a range of different actions that they can take to manage challenging behaviour as and when it occurs. It does occur in classrooms—we all accept that—but it is important that teachers have those actions at their disposal and that they are supported in taking the necessary action when challenging behaviour arises.

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

The cabinet secretary joined me last night at the reception for the parent-led organisation Connect, which was celebrating its 75th anniversary and some of its fantastic achievements over those years. What engagement was there with parents and carers in publishing the report? Does the cabinet secretary think that changing relationships and behaviour in school will truly happen only if there is proper collaboration with those who care for our young people outside school times?

Jenny Gilruth

Last night was a fantastic celebration of Connect’s 75th anniversary, as I mentioned in my response to Pam Duncan-Glancy. Connect is a really powerful organisation that has done a power of work over a number of years campaigning for Scotland’s children. I believe that our parents and carers are absolutely key to driving the improvements in behaviour that we need to see in our schools.

From the start of the process, back in May, I made it very clear that the summits would include parent representatives, who have made a very valuable contribution to our discussions. Their role remains critical to progress and, with that in mind, I have asked Connect and the National Parent Forum for Scotland to contribute directly to the national action plan.

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

The Scottish National Party Government’s statement fails to offer any meaningful actions to tackle the problems in our schools, fails to understand the pressure that staff are working under and fails to recognise the wider consequences for the majority of bad behaviour by a few. Teachers up and down Scotland will be dismayed that point 1 of a five-point plan is to make a plan. How many plans will it take for teachers to get the support that they need? Does the cabinet secretary not recognise that the Government will have to commit far more resources to addressing the challenges in our schools?

Jenny Gilruth

The member seems to think that, as cabinet secretary, I am in charge of Scotland’s schools, but our local authorities have a responsibility to run them and they have to be part of the process of the agreed action plan. In my response to Pam Duncan-Glancy, I committed to updating the Parliament on that action plan, and it is fundamental that local authorities take a role in it.

If the member has read the report, he will know that there is some critique of the current support in Scotland’s schools. Whether that is provided by quality improvement officers or by other education support managers, there are a plethora of different ways that local authorities can provide support for good behaviour in our schools. Education Scotland also has a role to play in that regard. We have 32 attainment advisers who work with our local authorities to provide support on the ground. Today, Education Scotland has provided further advice that will help to support the development of good practice in our schools and will support staff with some of the strategies that they need.

The other thing to be mindful of—

Cabinet secretary, we have seven minutes left and six members want to ask a question. I have to ask you to conclude.

Ben Macpherson (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

The research pointed to worrying increases in the abuse of teachers and support staff by young people, but it also showed that the majority of abuse takes place between pupils. Can the cabinet secretary provide an update on the Government’s anti-bullying guidance “Respect for All” and say how the findings of BISSR can feed in to the planned refresh of that guidance?

Jenny Gilruth

Mr Macpherson is absolutely right to raise the issue of bullying. Roz McCall alluded to an incident in her region that may be related to bullying, and it seemed to be a common theme that came from the summit discussions. We are currently reviewing our anti-bullying guidance and we have established a working group to help with that process. Priorities that have been identified for the review, particularly in the light of BISSR, include online bullying, prejudice-based bullying and the recording and monitoring of incidents. As part of that review, we are engaging with children and young people to ensure that the update reflects their experiences and expectations.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

The statement just misses the point. It is not more training that staff need; it is more support resources, such as educational psychologists and specialist teachers. There is not much new that addresses boundaries and consequences. Does the cabinet secretary think that the plan is going to cut violence in schools by the time that the next survey is done?

Jenny Gilruth

The member asks for additional resources. Of course, we are already providing £145 million in next year’s budget to protect increased teacher numbers and support staff. That is fundamental, because we recognise the role of teachers in supporting good behaviour in our young people. Willie Rennie talks about the plan identifying consequences and how they might be dealt with, but it is not for me, as cabinet secretary, to respond to individual incidents. We need to ensure that we are not disempowering the teaching profession, which has trained professionals who know how to respond to challenging behaviour as and when they see it. What they need is better direction in relation to the national support that is available. They also need support from the local authorities that, unlike the Government, employ them. It is important that we have a joined-up approach. That is why the action plan will set that out in more detail.

Evelyn Tweed (Stirling) (SNP)

Many respondents to an EIS survey on violence and aggression in schools perceived an increase in misogyny against staff. What steps is the Government taking to dismantle gender stereotypes and address sexism in schools?

Jenny Gilruth

The findings of the EIS survey correlate with some of the findings from BISSR. As I indicated in my statement, I will bring forward a joint action plan with partners to fully respond to the findings of the research. The plan will also give us further actions that are specifically targeted to address concerns about gender-based violence. In particular, I reconfirm that the Scottish Government will shortly—in the coming weeks—publish guidance for schools and education authorities that will provide a framework for responding positively to gender-based violence in schools. That framework will provide comprehensive guidance on how to address those concerns, including by challenging inappropriate and abusive language and by responding to incidents of gender-based violence in our schools.

Sue Webber (Lothian) (Con)

The use of mobile phones has been highlighted by secondary school staff as one of the most frequent and disruptive behaviour issues in class. In Edinburgh, the headteacher at the Royal high school has taken the opportunity to strengthen its mobile phone policy that devices are not permitted to be used during the school day, and that policy is being strictly enforced. As a result, there has been a marked improvement in pupil engagement, with pupils talking more and being less heightened about what they are missing on their devices. Does the cabinet secretary agree that a consistent and enforced mobile phone policy that restricts their use is vital if we are serious about tackling behaviour issues in our schools?

Jenny Gilruth

That is a very important point, and we have discussed it very recently. I am aware of the work at the Royal high school on the issue and the impact that it seems to have had on learning and teaching in that school. Of course, it would be a matter for individual headteachers to look at their school context and, in particular, how they could enforce such a policy by working with parents and carers in their wider community.

I am always struck by our own use of mobile devices in this parliamentary chamber. I think that we could all learn a bit of a lesson from some of the work around mobile phone bans. In the previous session, after I was first elected, in 2016, we were not allowed a phone or a laptop. Mr Adam, who is sitting next to me, might recall that. I think that our use of mobile phone technology has changed the way in which all of us—not just our young people—interact with each other. We should be mindful of that, because schools are teaching us how we can go about our business in a more effective way by listening to each other.

Stephanie Callaghan (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

I fully support the Scottish Government’s hard work to successfully reduce pupil exclusions, including removal from school registers, while maintaining education and support when exclusion is necessary and proportionate. However, in “Behaviour in Scottish Schools: research report 2020-23”, teachers warn that a “lack of consequences” is fuelling unacceptable behaviours. Can the cabinet secretary provide reassurance that schools and local authorities can act to exclude a pupil when their persistent, aggressive and violent behaviour poses a risk and an on-going threat to the wellbeing and safety of another pupil?

Jenny Gilruth

In answer to the member’s question—yes. To be specific, the power to exclude pupils from schools rests with education authorities but it is devolved to school leaders—that has not changed. However, our national policy position, which is set out in the guidance “Included, Engaged and Involved Part 2”, confirms that exclusion should be used as a measure of “last resort”, once other responses to such behaviour have been exhausted. As I have already said this afternoon, violence in Scotland’s schools is unacceptable, both for the staff in our schools and for our young people.

Nevertheless, I recognise what the member says about consequences. I have heard that throughout the summit process, and I encourage local authorities and schools to consider their policies in the light of the findings of BISSR. It is also important to be clear that, where it is appropriate, schools are empowered to use the consequences that they have at their disposal.

Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

The summits are all about Scotland’s children, but young people have not been involved in any of the summits. Their voice is absent from the minister’s statement, the report and even the action plan.

Feeling safe in Scotland is the thing that matters most to young people, according to the national discussion on education. In England, one in 10 pupils feels unsafe in school. Does the Scottish Government know how many young people in Scotland feel safe in schools?

Jenny Gilruth

I should say that youth groups were involved in the summit process although young people themselves were not. However, I have committed through the action plan to engage them directly. The member raises an important point.

I do not have the detail to answer the specific question that the member asks, but I would be more than happy to write to him with a little more detail if we have that detail in the Scottish Government.

That concludes the statement. There will be a brief pause before the next item of business, to allow the members on the front benches to change.