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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, December 2, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament 02 December 2021

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Point of Order, Portfolio Question Time, Covid-19: Preparing for Winter and Priorities for Recovery, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


Portfolio Question Time

Education and Skills

The next item of business is portfolio question time on education and skills. I remind members that questions 4 and 5 are grouped together, so I will take any supplementary questions on those questions after both have been answered. If a member wishes to raise a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or indicate so in the chat function by entering the letter R during the relevant question.

Violence Prevention Programmes (Dating and Relationships)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether there should be more programmes in the school curriculum that aim to prevent violence in dating and intimate partner relationships. (S6O-00472)

The Scottish Government is clear that harassment or abuse of any form whether in the workplace, schools, the home or society is completely reprehensible and must stop.

We are taking forward a range of actions such as teaching our children and young people about safe and healthy relationships through relationships, sexual health and parenthood education, and we are funding programmes such as mentors in violence prevention, which is aimed at reducing and preventing sexual harassment and violence in schools.

We are committed to publishing national guidance for schools on addressing gender-based violence. That work is being advanced by the gender-based violence in schools working group, which will review existing resources and develop new resources where needed. That work is expected to be completed by 2022.

Evidence from Canada and the US shows that school-based programmes that seek to prevent violence in dating and intimate partner relationships are effective, so I welcome that answer. A recent report by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills said that in the 32 schools in England that were inspected, nine out of 10 girls said that unsolicited explicit pictures or videos were sent to them or their friends, and the chief inspector of schools in England, Amanda Spielman, stated that it is

“alarming that many children and young people, particularly girls, feel that they have to accept sexual harassment as part of growing up.”

Can the minister tell me whether that is happening to any extent in Scottish schools? It would be deeply concerning if it was. Can she investigate the matter if she does not know? Will she keep me informed of the development of the programme that she referred to?

Pauline McNeill raises an important point, which would concern anyone. We all want children and young people to be able to develop mutually respectful, responsible and confident relationships.

We will continue to fund a range of school-based programmes, which I heard that the member welcomes, and organisations including Rape Crisis Scotland, whose national sexual violence prevention programme in local authority secondary schools across the country has reached 48,000 pupils.

We all realise that the conduct and behaviour of perpetrators need to change if we are to end harassment and abuse across society, including among our young people. We must tackle the underlying attitudes and inequalities that perpetuate that behaviour, and I welcome Pauline McNeill’s support in that endeavour.

Dyslexia (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support people in education or training in rural areas who have dyslexia. (S6O-00473)

We work with Dyslexia Scotland to provide support across the country to people with dyslexia. In January 2020, we published a final report marking the delivery of the recommendations in the 2014 review “Making Sense: Education for Children and Young People with Dyslexia in Scotland” to improve outcomes for learners with dyslexia.

Learners can access support under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004, and financial assistance is available in colleges and universities to tailor support to the individual needs of students.

Skills development and training opportunities are available to people with dyslexia through Skills Development Scotland’s modern apprenticeship programme and its careers, information, advice and guidance service.

Adult dyslexia assessment is crucial in supporting people who have not been identified in further education or training, but the Scottish National Party Government still does not offer free dyslexia assessment to adults. Over the past 18 months, I have repeatedly pushed the Government to provide such a service.

Young people and adults with unidentified dyslexia need access to free assessment and support because, without it, their life chances are potentially being hindered. Will the minister back the campaign to provide free dyslexia assessments for all adults in education and training? Will she also commit to undertake an assessment of unidentified dyslexia in colleges, universities and workplaces?

I believe that Rachael Hamilton wrote to my colleague Richard Lochhead on the matter last month, given his portfolio responsibilities, and received a response from him. I will not add to that here.

However, we are assured of the fact that there is support available to people with dyslexia in all parts of the country, including rural communities such as the one that Rachael Hamilton represents. That includes access to Dyslexia Scotland’s services and support at every stage of a person’s education and during apprenticeships, as well as access to Skills Development Scotland’s careers support services.

Over the past decade, there has been an erosion in the number of additional support needs teachers, which declined by 578 between 2010 and 2020, the date of the report to which the minister referred. The number of ASN teachers reduced from 56 to 35 in East Lothian, from 136 to 100 in Dumfries and Galloway, from 191 to 161 in the Highlands, and from 103 to 83 in Moray. That is despite a 90 per cent increase over the same period in the number of pupils who were identified as having ASN. Should we be proud of that record in Scotland?

It is important to understand that, under the Additional Support for Learning (Scotland) Act 2004, local authorities are responsible for identifying and meeting the additional support needs of their pupils and that local authorities and schools should prioritise personalised support to meet the individual physical and emotional needs of all children and young people, especially in the light of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Climate Issues (Engagement)

To ask the Scottish Government what teaching and resources schools are providing to encourage pupils to engage in climate issues and ensure their experiences and ideas are acted on, including through the Climate Assembly. (S6O-00474)

Education Scotland’s national improvement hub provides a range of resources that schools can use to support and facilitate pupil engagement with climate education. Initiatives such as eco-schools and climate-ready classrooms also support schools with that work.

The Scottish Government and Education Scotland have reflected on the recommendations and commentary from the Climate Assembly report, and continue to engage with young climate activists through the Teach the Future campaign and others, as a key part of ensuring that our curriculum and resources reflect the latest science and are as engaging as they can be for children and young people.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the Scottish Youth Film Foundation’s work at the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—where it created documentary films on climate change, interviewed guests and edited and presented programmes through the COP TV initiative. She will also be aware that Education Scotland agreed to show COP TV in schools, following my request earlier last month.

Building on the recently announced funding that will go towards the Children’s Parliament’s climate changemakers programme, what engagement will take place with young people in schools so that discussions about climate change can continue and the views of our young people can be heard?

I commend the work that was undertaken by the Scottish Youth Film Foundation at COP26. It was great to see that initiative come to fruition.

We are absolutely committed to ensuring that the views of children and young people form the bedrock of our policy development in all areas of policy. It is important to me that that is done properly. The specialist support provided by the Children’s Parliament and the climate changemakers programme will mean that the ideas and comments of younger children will be directly available to officials and to me and other ministers, which is particularly important at present, while we are refreshing the learning for sustainability action plan, as that will allow us to build their ideas in from the beginning of that project.

Scottish Attainment Challenge (Equality Impact Assessment)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it has carried out an equality impact assessment following reports that it plans to cease funding for the schools programme as part of the Scottish attainment challenge. (S6O-00475)

The Scottish Government has fully considered the impact of all changes to the refreshed Scottish attainment challenge and will publish its EQIA ahead of implementation next year.

The impact on the 73 schools is significant. Of those affected, 34 are set to lose around or more than £100,000 in direct funding, and 13 schools will lose more than £150,000. Yesterday, the Education, Children and Young People Committee heard what the Scottish attainment challenge funds in schools. It pays for staffing, support for pupils with additional support needs and a vast range of important interventions such as speech and language therapy. What would the cabinet secretary advise headteachers in those schools to cut?

As we refreshed the Scottish attainment challenge, we looked carefully at how to ensure that we are providing a fair assessment of needs across the country. No less funding will be provided to schools and local authorities, but it will now be distributed more equitably across the country.

For example, 97 per cent of Scottish schools will receive pupil equity funding from a total of £420 million over four years. Where work has been going on through the schools programme, local authorities and Education Scotland are there to assist with any transition process.

Scottish Attainment Challenge (Local Authority Funding Allocations)

To ask the Scottish Government what the local authority funding allocations are for the Scottish attainment challenge, following the review of the programme. (S6O-00476)

Funding allocations for all 32 local authorities for the refreshed Scottish attainment challenge were sent to directors of education for each local authority and were published on Thursday 25 November.

As part of the refreshed £1 billion Scottish attainment challenge programme from 2022-23, and on top of annual pupil equity fund investment of up to £130 million and additional support for care-experienced children and young people, that totals £172 million in the next four years. Allocations have been confirmed on a multiyear basis for the first time, covering the period from 2022-23 to 2025-26 and enabling better longer-term and strategic planning across the education system.

The cabinet secretary may wish to examine the figures in her answers to me and to my colleague Paul O’Kane. As I understand it, there is a reduction in funding from last year to this year and funding has been top sliced.

The nine previous challenge authorities—those assessed to have the deepest and most condensed multiple deprivation—are facing cuts of 60 per cent to their attainment challenge funding by 2026. In my home city of Dundee, there will be a cut from £6.2 million to £1.3 million. Hundreds of jobs, and many transformative projects, are at risk, which will undoubtedly have an impact on attainment.

Has the cabinet secretary abandoned any analysis of the role of concentrated, multiple deprivation on educational performance?

In this session of Parliament, £1 billion will go into the Scottish attainment challenge. That is significantly more than the £750 million that went into the challenge during the previous session of Parliament.

The Scottish Government has taken a decision, backed by local authorities and leaders from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, to ensure that we provide a way to recognise that poverty exists in all parts of Scotland—rural, urban and remote—and that the impact of the pandemic is being felt in all parts of Scotland. It is important that we recognise that fact and that we have acted on it.

The cabinet secretary mentioned that a small but not insignificant number of schools still do not benefit from that funding. Many of them are small, rural schools and, even on a measure of low-income families, there may be hidden poverty and deprivation. What more will be done to give headteachers in those schools flexibility to support their young people?

The implementation of the pupil equity fund has been an important part of the work. That is based on free school meals. Through the agreement with COSLA, we have ensured that every local authority is now receiving funding. That is based on the number of children in low-income families—a direct and, I think, better way of making those decisions—rather than on the Scottish index of multiple deprivation, which has been used in the past. We were, rightly, asked by Audit Scotland to look at the use of SIMD. The agreement will ensure that money goes to all 32 local authorities, which will then work with any school that does not get the PEF directly to ensure that it is being supported. As I say, the money is available right across the country.

Before I call question 6, which is from Alasdair Allan, I draw members’ attention to the fact that those who wish to use the headphones should plug them into the side of the console. They should press “menu”, then “audio” and then “channel 1”. I hope that is clear. I feel that I should be doing some air stewardess emergency exit signals. I hope that everybody is online with that.


A dh'fhaighneachd de Riaghaltas na h-Alba ciamar a tha e a’ smaointinn a bhios iomairt ùr SpeakGaelic a’ toirt àrdachadh air an àireamh de dhaoine a bhios a’ bruidhinn Gàidhlig agus ga dhèanamh nas fhasa do dhaoine an cànan ionnsachadh.

Following is the translation:

To ask the Scottish Government how it anticipates the new SpeakGaelic language learning initiative will help increase the number of people speaking Gaelic and make learning the language more accessible. (S6O-00477)

I am afraid that the interpretation did not come through my audio, so I am going to presume that the question is as per the Business Bulletin and go along with that for the moment. Perhaps we can seek some guidance for the supplementary question.

The Scottish Government is proud to have provided financial support to MG Alba for the development of the new SpeakGaelic initiative. That free, multiplatform approach to language learning will allow anyone who is interested in learning Gaelic to access a high-quality course at any time that suits them. I commend everyone involved in bringing SpeakGaelic to this stage and look forward to the continued development of further phases.

There are other Gaelic learning resources that have proved to be very popular, such as Duolingo and LearnGaelic, with high numbers signing up to learn. We expect that SpeakGaelic will also benefit from the increase in interest.

I do not know whether other members heard the interpretation, but, as someone who wants to use Gaelic in Parliament, as is my right, I am beginning to weary of waiting for an occasion when I will get simultaneous translation either at a cross-party group or when I begin my contribution in the chamber. My question is—

Dr Allan, please resume your seat for a second. I appreciate the point that you raise. My understanding is that the prior arrangement was, rightly or wrongly, that the question in the Business Bulletin would be read out in English and then the supplementary would be translated into Gaelic. That may be an issue to look at, but it might explain the problem that some members experienced. I hope that that answer is helpful.

I thank the Presiding Officer and take that point. I suppose that I was referring to the fact that there have been numerous occasions—in cross-party groups, in the chamber, and in many other places—when it has been impossible to obtain the simultaneous interpretation. I thank you for your time.

I ask, as a supplementary to that question, what difference the cabinet secretary thinks the new SpeakGaelic facility will make across Scotland and the world.

Dr Allan continued in Gaelic:

Tha mi a’ cur fàilte air an iomairt seo, a bhios a’ dèanamh diofair mòr do luchd-ionnsachaidh na Gàidhlig anns an sgìre agam fhèin, air feadh Alba agus air feadh an t-saoghail. An toir am Ministear beachd seachad air ruigsinneachd nan goireasan seo, gu nàiseanta agus gu h-eadar-nàiseanta?

Following is the simultaneous interpretation:

I welcome the development of this initiative, which will make a big difference to Gaelic learners in my own constituency, as well as throughout Scotland and, indeed, around the globe. Will the minister give an indication of the international, as well as the national, scope of these resources?

Thank you, Dr Allan. Cabinet secretary, I think that you got the gist of the subject matter in Dr Allan’s first posing of the question.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. On the point that Dr Allan raises, I really hope that this is something that we can see develop and come to fruition. These resources are freely available on a variety of platforms, which makes them available to learners right across the world. I hope that they will attract people to pick up the language not just here, at home, but more widely. We can point to the pupils in the new Gaelic school in Nova Scotia, for example, who may use it as part of their language learning.

I was certainly pleased to see that, in the first two weeks of the project, the website alone had 11,000 unique visitors, 77 per cent of whom were from the United Kingdom, which means, of course, that others came from further afield.

Teaching Gaelic is intrinsic to increasing the number of Gaelic speakers. Since 2016-17, only 25 new Gaelic teachers have been recruited from postgraduate diploma in secondary education courses, which falls short of the Scottish Funding Council’s target of 31 in the period. Given the need to fill vacancies in Gaelic education, what action is the Scottish Government taking to ensure that the 2021-22 target is not only met but exceeded?

I thank Donald Cameron for that important question. I absolutely agree that we need to do more to encourage people into teaching, particularly in Gaelic-medium education. That has been discussed regularly with me and officials, and I know that there has been work, for example, with which the General Teaching Council for Scotland has been assisting. I would be happy to provide much more detail in writing to Mr Cameron, to ensure that we see further progress on the matter. Of course, once he has received that letter, if there is more work that he thinks we should be doing, I would be more than happy to hear whether there are some practical examples of how we can take that up.

For the record, and as a matter of clarification, the interpretation of Dr Allan’s supplementary question did, in fact, come through the headphones.

School Curriculum (Business Needs Alignment)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that the school curriculum and courses delivered by higher and further education establishments are aligned with the needs of businesses as they transition to a net zero economy. (S6O-00479)

We recognise the importance of preparing our learners so that they have the skills required to meet our ambitions on transitioning to net zero. In schools, our learning for sustainability action plan sets out how we are working to enable pupils and teachers to build a socially just, sustainable and equitable society.

In further and higher education, Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council, through their joint skills alignment team, will ensure that our annual investment in skills through work-based learning, upskilling and reskilling is fully aligned behind our aims for a net zero transition.

As the minister said, delivering the future skill set that is required to deliver a net zero economy will take the upskilling of existing teachers and lecturers. What is the Scottish Government doing practically to ensure that all our educators have access to such training and upskilling?

I recognise that point. Of course, just as we seek to upskill the workforce who will be practically applying the skill set, we also need to make sure that educators have that skill set too, as Brian Whittle is correct to say. Set out in our climate emergency skills action plan is a commitment to taking forward the green jobs workforce academy, which will play an important role in the upskilling and retraining of people to meet the challenge. That is just as important for those who will provide those skills. When we talk about upskilling people, that includes our educators, and that will be a priority area for us as we take the work forward.

That concludes portfolio question time. I will allow a very short pause to enable the relevant spokespeople to move to their seats safely.