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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 03 October 2018

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Remand, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Age Scotland (75th Anniversary)


Portfolio Question Time

Childcare Provision (Expansion to 1,140 hours)

To ask the Scottish Government how the planned increase of childcare provision to 1,140 hours is progressing. (S5O-02419)

We remain on track to deliver the 1,140 hours expansion. The programme is ambitious and challenging, but we are working hard with local authorities and delivery partners to create the required workforce and physical capacity. In April, we reached a landmark agreement with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on a multiyear package to fully fund the expansion, and we recently established a joint delivery board, which I co-chair with Councillor McCabe, to oversee progress and respond to any emerging issues.

Early learning and childcare providers have raised concerns that the planned roll-out is bypassing them. Nurseries that are supposed to be partner providers alongside local authorities are struggling to stay afloat, because the Scottish Government’s roll-out is weighted heavily in favour of local authority nurseries and providers. Will the closure of private nurseries as a result of the growing flaws in that roll-out really help parents and children?

First, let me make it absolutely clear that partner providers are crucial to the delivery of the policy in delivering excellence and flexibility.

Our new provider-neutral funding-follows-the-child model, which we are working towards introducing in 2020, will give private and third sector providers, including childminders, more opportunities to participate in the expansion. That will be underpinned by a national standard that ensures quality. We are simplifying the process and making the bureaucracy much more proportionate than it currently is. We are also about to embark on a programme of communication to parents so that they are absolutely sure that they are able to choose any provider to deliver that early learning and childcare.

Can the minister confirm that nurseries in Scotland are exempt from paying business rates under a scheme that the Scottish National Party Government introduced, but those in England are not under the Tories, and that that approach greatly supports the private nursery sector?

Yes—absolutely. On 1 April 2018, we introduced a new 100 per cent rate relief for private properties that are wholly or mainly used as day nurseries. We have estimated that that relief will have removed the burden of rates from up to 500 businesses. The relief will run for a period of three years. I can confirm that that is contrary to the situation in England, where nurseries are not exempt from paying business rates.

Gillian Martin was quite right to say that, in Scotland, we recognise that our partner providers will be crucial to the successful delivery of the policy. I gather that the National Day Nurseries Association and the Federation of Small Businesses are campaigning down south to urge the United Kingdom Government to follow our example in Scotland.

Will the minister give an update on the size of the early learning and childcare workforce?

I certainly will. As members know, we have been running a recruitment programme for a number of years, and we have already recruited several thousand new entrants. We have been running a campaign to increase the number of places for apprentices and to increase the number of college and university places, and we have run a campaign for school leavers and professional entrants.

In 2017, there were 95,000 registrations for early learning and childcare. Ten per cent of the entire two-year-old population was registered, and we have increased workforce capacity through 650 additional higher national certificate and 350 graduate-level places. We have provided local authorities with £21 million for expanding and training the workforce.

We are meeting our workforce targets, and as I said in my answer to Ms Harris, we have set up a delivery board that will monitor the targets. The first meeting is on 31 October and we will monitor monthly exactly how many staff are in place.

Thank you. I forgot to remind members—but that was a good example—to keep all answers and questions nice and succinct. From the chair, I will not interrupt the members who ask questions.

Postgraduate Certificate in Education (Technical Subjects)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to encourage universities in the north-east to provide postgraduate certificate in education qualifications in technical subjects. (S5O-02420)

The University of Aberdeen offers a postgraduate diploma in education for local authority staff, which was developed using Scottish Government funding. The programme is offered in a range of subjects, including technological education. In addition, the University of Highlands and Islands offers a postgraduate diploma in education. As a new minister, I hope to discuss expansion of that particular provision with universities and local authority partners, always with the caveat that we must maintain the quality of students who undertake teacher education programmes.

The number of technical classes in my constituency has decreased and in some schools they have stopped altogether, due to a lack of technical teachers in the area. Peterhead academy, for example, has lost three of its five technical teachers in the past month, which means that metalwork classes have ceased there. If pupils are not able to take the relevant courses at school to qualify for an apprenticeship, there will be a knock-on effect for local engineering businesses. Will the minister act now to end that cycle and get more teachers trained through local universities to allow young people in the north-east to pursue the careers that they want?

Peter Chapman has highlighted an important subject. He knows the challenge of attracting teachers into science, technology, engineering and mathematics and on to courses at universities and colleges. It is currently a challenge not only in Scotland but in many European countries, which is why Scotland has a STEM strategy. We are taking a number of actions to improve teacher recruitment in those challenging subject areas. We support universities and the development of new routes into teaching, we offer bursaries of £20,000 for career changers to do teacher training in certain STEM subjects and we are delivering our teacher recruitment campaign, teaching makes people, which focuses on STEM and other subjects for which the demand is the greatest at the moment. I assure the member that we are taking a lot of action, but we are always open to new ideas. The subject is very important, as he has highlighted, and it needs to be addressed.

Autistic Children (Exclusion from School)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the report regarding the experiences of autistic children missing school, “Not included, not engaged, not involved”. (S5O-02421)

We welcome the report from Children in Scotland, the National Autistic Society and Scottish Autism into the experiences of children with autism who are missing education. We have a number of interventions under way to try to address the issues that are raised and I want the organisations involved in the survey to have confidence in those measures. I will be meeting the organisations concerned on 1 November to discuss their nine recommendations and determine what further action is required.

At the launch of the report by Scottish Autism, the National Autistic Society and Children in Scotland, we heard emotional and powerful testimony from parents about unlawful exclusion, lack of specialist staff, lack of training and many other ways in which too many young people and their families are being denied the opportunity to learn. As the cabinet secretary has indicated, those experiences were confirmed by the survey research in the report. Will the cabinet secretary commit not just to reading the report and meeting the families—which I very much welcome—but to reporting back to the Parliament on the nine calls for action, which I believe are an essential blueprint to address the problems that families have identified and to ensure that young people achieve their full potential?

I am very happy to make that commitment. I looked with great care at the report, and I studied all the recommendations and mapped them against the interventions that the Government is making. As I said, that is all very well for me to say, but those interventions have to command confidence among the individuals and organisations concerned. I was troubled by the evidence that was marshalled by the report, which is why I will engage with the organisations and happily come back to Parliament to report on my responses to those issues.

Students from the North West community campus in Dumfries have been temporarily moved to neighbouring schools due to the campus closure. Concerned parents have contacted me about the impact that the disruption may have on their child’s learning. Will the cabinet secretary outline what discussions he has had with Dumfries and Galloway Council to ensure that all young people at the schools, particularly those with additional support needs, have adequate support in place to ensure minimal disruption to their learning at this time?

It is vital that the needs of all young people are met by the education system. That is what underpins my approach to the handling of the issue of inclusion. The question about the particular requirements of children with additional support needs is significant in relation to the period of disruption arising out of the North West community campus temporary closure. As Ms Harper will know, I have been in touch with Dumfries and Galloway Council to ensure that the needs of all learners are being met. That is a responsibility for the council, and I assure the member of my on-going interest in making sure that it is the case.

Given that the report that Johann Lamont mentioned is the second report to highlight the widespread use of unlawful exclusions, will the Government urgently investigate the claims and work out just how widespread the problem is? If the reports are confirmed, what action will be taken?

The essential thing is to recognise that the Government’s strategic guidance in the area directly contradicts the practice that is recounted in the report. The Government’s position is that the experience that is recounted in the report should not be happening and that young people should be included in education with proper support. I want to ensure that we properly explore all the concerns that are raised in the report and that we engage with the organisations concerned. If we need to strengthen guidance or investigate practice, we will do so. However, I want to ensure that we properly and fully understand all the issues and, crucially, that we take into account the steps that the Government has already taken to strengthen practice to try to overcome the issues. As I said in my response to Johann Lamont, I will happily report back to Parliament in due course.

Outdoor Learning (Pre-school and Early Primary Settings)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to encourage outdoor learning in pre-school and early years primary settings. (S5O-02422)

The significant expansion of funding for early learning and childcare provides an opportunity to define the type of experience that we offer children during their early years. As part of that, we are supporting eight local authorities across Scotland to develop and increase access to the outdoors as a focus of the expansion. Outdoor play and learning are embedded in curriculum for excellence, within the theme of learning for sustainability. We will work to further promote the prominence of outdoor learning by taking forward all the recommendations of the learning for sustainability national implementation group.

I welcome the increased focus on outdoor learning. My child is at nursery and his weekly curriculum includes a forest school, which is of huge educational value to him. What is being done to further encourage play-based and more general outdoor learning in early primary?

Play-based learning is an effective and appropriate way to deliver education, and curriculum for excellence gives teachers the flexibility to introduce play in early primary and beyond. We have highlighted the importance of active and play-based learning in our national guidance document “Building the Curriculum 2—active learning in the early years”. In addition, to support teachers further in the delivery of play-based learning, Education Scotland continues to provide support and advice on it to schools and local authorities; to engage in professional dialogue with teachers on the subject as part of the inspection process; and to publish good practice examples of play-based learning in the national improvement hub.

Subject Choice (Lothian)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that pupils in Lothian have access to as broad a range of exam level subjects as possible. (S5O-02423)

Education authorities and schools are responsible for the management and delivery of the curriculum in Lothian and across Scotland. We want all our young people to be encouraged to take advantage of the best educational opportunities. We are working with the Scottish Qualifications Authority and others to ensure that a broad range of high-quality awards and offers is available to meet the different needs, abilities and career aspirations of learners, as well as the needs of our economy.

Research by Professor Jim Scott of the University of Dundee found that 54 per cent of Scottish schools offer only six qualifications for secondary 4 pupils. Professor Scott’s previous work found that some schools in Edinburgh were offering as few as five qualifications and that other schools were offering as many as eight. Is the cabinet secretary content with such a postcode lottery in subject choice for pupils who attend schools just a few miles apart from each other in the capital?

The Conservatives often make the case for schools having much more control over choices around the curriculum. I agree with that model, and I am ensuring that that is the case across the country. It is therefore difficult for Mr Briggs to complain about the consequences of decisions that are taken on the composition of the curriculum at school level.

I have looked with great care at Professor Scott’s analysis. I do not think that it looks at the right question, because Professor Scott has looked at S4 experience and outcomes in two entirely different curricular systems. Under curriculum for excellence, we encourage schools to operate a three-year broad general education, so young people experience three years of a broader education than would have been the case when I was at school, and a three-year senior phase. That enables young people to broaden their attainment.

Over the past 10 years, there have been significant rises in attainment in the senior phase in Scottish education, and there has been a near doubling of the number of skills-based qualifications, which are essential attributes for young people who are entering the labour market. As a consequence, those young people’s employability skills have been strengthened.

Two weeks ago, Dr Marina Shapira of the University of Stirling told the Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee:

“In general, the trend is towards a narrowing of the curriculum and, on average, there has been a reduction in the number of subject choices across the entire secondary sector in Scotland. However, the reduction is larger in schools in higher areas of deprivation”.

Dr Shapira said that that was

“quite striking and very worrying.”—[Official Report, Education and Skills Committee, 19 September 2018; c 11.]

Surely the education secretary must be worried about that, too. What is he going to do?

I certainly intend to explore in much closer detail the research that Mr Gray has highlighted, because it indicates a greatly concerning pattern. I want young people in all circumstances and from all backgrounds to have the maximum educational opportunities.

I reiterate that, under curriculum for excellence, young people are exposed to a broader general education for a longer period. Into the bargain, they must also have access to a range of skills-based qualifications. The doubling of skills-based qualifications and the increases in attainment since 2012 are significant indications of the progress that has been made for a number of young people.

I will look with great care at the pattern that Mr Gray mentioned, because I want to ensure that, no matter where young people are educated, our education system is driven by the aspiration of excellence and equity for all. Those are the standards that I intend to apply as I work through the challenges in the education system.

Can the cabinet secretary confirm that the vast majority of pupils now stay on to S6, that the proportion of pupils who get passes at higher level has increased since the changes to the senior phase were introduced and that, crucially, when considering applications, universities will look at the qualifications that a young person has gained when they leave school?

On the detail of Mr MacDonald’s point, in 2007, 44 per cent of S3 pupils stayed on in school to S6. By 2017, that figure was 62 per cent, which is an 18 percentage point increase. Between 2009-10 and 2016-17, there has been a 10 percentage point increase in the proportion of pupils who get passes at higher level or better. That relates to my point on the strengthening of attainment.

With regard to the overall attainment of young people, universities, colleges and employers will look at the range of qualifications that young people have achieved across the whole of the senior phase. That is why it is important to look at national qualifications, and why we need to look at skills-based qualifications not in abstract at S4 but in the totality of the senior phase.

Literacy (School Pupils)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to ensure that school pupils have a high standard of literacy. (S5O-02424)

Literacy is at the heart of the curriculum for excellence, alongside numeracy and health and wellbeing. We are supporting high standards through initiatives such as the First Minister’s reading challenge and the school library strategy. We are investing £750 million during this parliamentary session in closing the poverty-related attainment gap, with many local authorities and schools choosing to use that funding to improve literacy.

Education Scotland supports continued improvement in standards through inspections and work with schools, local authorities and regional improvement collaboratives. Its national improvement hub hosts resources that support literacy and English teaching.

In the 2015 report “Improving Schools in Scotland: An OECD Perspective”, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development argued for a more cohesive approach to using data in the school system to drive improvement. How is the Government acting on that specific OECD recommendation?

The Government’s direct response to the recommendation has been to establish the national improvement framework, which provides a much greater focus on the steps that are required to improve performance in the education system. We have established new mechanisms for gathering data on teachers’ professional judgments of the performance of young people throughout their broad general education. Those judgments are informed by many data factors, not least the new Scottish national standardised assessments.

We are also putting in place a range of measures to support the increased comparability of schools to aid the improvement journey, and to support self-evaluation for improvement in the school system.

During my time teaching in schools, literacy levels were greatly improved by the work of very skilled classroom assistants and teachers who had time to spend with children who needed help. Will increasing class sizes and reducing the number of classroom assistants improve literacy levels or will it have the opposite effect?

I have set out to Parliament the range of measures that the Government is taking to support improvements in literacy, not least of which is the investment of £120 million per annum through pupil equity funding. In my experience, that is being used in focused ways by different schools around the country to support the improvement of literacy. It might involve the recruitment of specialist staff to assist the building of capacity in schools for the teaching of literacy skills, or it might be for wider activities to improve literacy performance—a range of interventions can be taken.

Mr Findlay should be assured that there is a focus in the Government’s educational agenda on improving literacy measures in Scotland, which is demonstrated by the clear action that has been taken in implementing pupil equity funding.

Primary Schools (Teacher Pupil Ratios and Class Sizes)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether the teacher pupil ratio or class sizes in primary schools has an impact on learning outcomes. (S5O-02425)

The quality of teaching is the key factor in improving children’s learning and the outcomes that they achieve. Therefore, having the right number of high-quality teachers with the right skills in the right places is key to achieving excellence and equity for all. That is why we have provided continued funding of £88 million to local government to maintain pupil teacher ratios, which allows local authorities to take decisions flexibly about how best to meet the needs of their schools.

I hear what the Deputy First Minister says, but I raise the question because of the number of parents who have said to me that their kids in primary school are having trouble with numeracy or literacy, and that they are in large classes and their teachers do not have the time to put in with them. In Fife, 307 primary classes have more than 25 children in them and 117 primary classes have more than 30 children in them.

The general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association says that small class sizes are the main selling point for parents who pay for private school places. They see the value in that, which is why they pay for it. The cabinet secretary talks about equity and every child getting the same chances in life. When will children in state schools get the same chances as those in private schools through the Government reducing the pupil teacher ratio?

The pupil teacher ratio for all publicly funded schools in Scotland is 13.6; in 2016, it was 13.7. That tells us that we have stability in pupil teacher ratios in Scotland.

I have just mentioned some of the details on resources in my response to Mr Findlay. The Government has applied pupil equity funding in a fashion that enables schools to make choices in exactly the circumstances that Mr Rowley recounts, so that young people’s needs are met. I have seen excellent teaching practice in which additional resources are put into classrooms and young people who require additional support are given that support in more intimate settings than in the classroom environment; their learning is enhanced as a consequence.

All those measures and interventions are available for schools to deploy and I encourage them to do so.

The Deputy First Minister gave the pupil teacher ratios for the past year or so. How has the ratio moved during the past five years, and are there more or fewer primary school teachers compared with how many there were five years ago?

The number of teachers is rising. Last year, there was an increase of 543 teachers. If my recollection is correct, the number of teachers in Scotland at the moment is the highest that it has been since 2011.

On the history of pupil teacher ratios, the data that I have at my fingertips means that I can go back only to 2016. However, I assure Mr Mason that the Government pays close attention to ensuring that we have a strong teaching cohort in place so that the needs of young people are met within our education system.

Sex Education

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that consent-based sex education is being delivered in all schools. (S5O-02426)

Curriculum for excellence ensures that consent is taught through sexual health and positive relationship learning experiences. A new web-based relationship, sexual heath and parenthood teaching resource, which includes consent resources, will be available during 2019.

We are undertaking a national review of personal and social education, including how sexual consent is taught at all stages of education. The review will be completed by the end of 2018. Furthermore, we are considering how to take forward the recommendations of the young women lead committee’s “Report on Sexual Harassment in Schools”.

I recognise that work is under way in this area, but the reality is that nothing ensures that young people get access to such education. Is the cabinet secretary aware of recent research and surveys that have shown, for example, that across the United Kingdom, the majority of adults believe that once they have reached the point of getting undressed with a partner, it is no longer okay to withdraw consent? There is no evidence to suggest that that is less of a problem in Scotland.

Is the cabinet secretary also aware of HIV Scotland’s work that shows that, although the majority of schools provide sex education, 14 per cent do not provide it at all, and there are serious concerns about the quality of provision in other schools? Does the Government acknowledge how far away we are from all young people getting access to consent-based sex education in Scotland, and the urgency of making rapid progress?

Mr Harvie correctly says that work on this is under way. We have completed phase 2 of the review of personal and social education, which was undertaken by Education Scotland with analysis of PSE in 55 schools across Scotland; I accept that that is a sample.

The analysis indicated that there was strength in existing performance in this area, but there is a need to ensure an appropriate focus on the issue of sexual consent, especially in primary school and the early stages of secondary school. That was one of the key findings of the Education Scotland thematic inspection.

We are working our way through phase 3 of the review, and I am mindful of the need to address that recommendation. I accept Mr Harvie’s point that we need a deeper and stronger understanding of consent issues.

This is not just an educational question. I have looked at the recent crime statistics and seen the rise in the level of sexual crime. There must be a role for better education about the issue of consent in contributing to stopping that increase. I assure Mr Harvie that the issue is a significant priority for me, not least because of the educational reasons and because of what the education portfolio can contribute towards creating a better climate in our country on the understanding of sexual consent, in the hope that that influences the levels of sexual crime in our society. I will be happy to update Parliament on those issues as the work is completed.

Question 9 was not lodged.

Bullying in Schools (Monitoring)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making with implementing the universal monitoring approach that was recommended by the short-life working group on recording and monitoring of bullying incidents in schools. (S5O-02428)

The universal monitoring approach is being delivered through the operational support group, which supports local authorities in the implementation work that is involved. In addition, improvements have been made to the SEEMiS schools management information system, which allows schools and local authorities to record and monitor any instances of prejudice-based bullying that are reported. As part of the first phase, six local authorities are now using the updated system across all their schools and 18 local authorities will start this week, with the remainder starting early in 2019. The new system will be fully implemented by August 2019.

The young women lead inquiry, as well as experience, have made it clear to me that there is inconsistency in approach, practice and reporting in and across local authorities. I am glad to hear from the cabinet secretary that this roll-out is taking place, and I ask that he take all steps to ensure that all victims of bullying have their experiences investigated and dealt with appropriately.

I can give Linda Fabiani that assurance. Some swift work has been undertaken to revise SEEMiS to ensure that that information can be recorded in a comparable and readily accessible fashion in individual schools. Obviously, changes to management systems take time to be applied. I am deeply grateful to those who run the SEEMiS system for the fact that they have given additional priority to advancing this work amongst the other reforms that they have undertaken.

We will ensure that the information is available. I hope that that will improve the culture in a way that ensures that bullying is tackled more visibly and actively in our society, so that young people do not have to experience these dreadful situations.

Pupils with Additional Needs (Co-ordinated Support Plans)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that pupils with additional needs receive co-ordinated support plans where appropriate. (S5O-02429)

Education authorities have a statutory duty under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 to consider whether children or young people for whom they are responsible require a co-ordinated support plan. A CSP enables support to be planned in a co-ordinated way to meet the needs of pupils who have complex or multiple needs that require significant support from education and another agency. In December 2017, to support those considerations, we published a revised code of practice on supporting learners, which includes guidance for authorities on meeting their duties under the act in relation to CSPs.

The cabinet secretary is right to observe that there is a statutory duty on local authorities. However, something is not working here. In 2010, there were 55,000 children with identified additional support needs and in 2017, there were 180,000. In that same period, the number of co-ordinated support plans fell by 1,000. This is not a particular problem in one or even a handful of local authorities; it is happening across the board. Will the Scottish Government commit to at least investigating why it is happening?

I am happy to consider the detail that Mr Greer has put on the record. As I indicated earlier, there is a statutory responsibility on local authorities to undertake the work, and I encourage local authorities to follow that statute carefully. That is why, in December 2017, we put in place the supporting learners code of practice, to assist in that respect. It is important that local authorities realise that the statutory issues involved can be considered in a tribunal scenario, although I am not advocating or encouraging that route, because I think that the run-up to tribunals can be enormously stressful for families who are concerned about these issues.

It is important that the needs of every young person are met in our system under the getting it right for every child principles, and that local authorities act proactively to meet the needs of young people. If that includes producing a co-ordinated support plan, that is exactly what they should do.

Will the cabinet secretary confirm whether education authorities have increased or decreased funding for additional support needs and whether attainment of pupils with additional support needs is increasing?

We are seeing an increase in the attainment of young people with additional support needs. We have seen very encouraging data on that performance over a number of years, which is obviously supported by the further steps that we are taking. In 2017, there were 13,763 support staff supporting pupils with additional support needs in schools—an increase from the previous year’s figure, which was 12,891.

Zero Emissions Economy (Skills Development)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it is making of the development of initial and transferable skills to support a net zero emissions economy. (S5O-02430)

Skills Development Scotland undertakes sectoral planning, which supports the assessment of current and future skills needs. In addition, we are establishing a just transition commission to advise ministers on the move to a low-carbon economy. I anticipate that analysis of current and future labour requirements, including skills, will form part of its considerations.

In my region of South Scotland, there are fantastic opportunities for people who want valuable and forward-facing skills, whether those are opportunities in full-time or part-time education or opportunities to upskill while on the job. Ayrshire College has a full-time course for electrical engineering with renewables and Dumfries and Galloway College has a day-release course on solar thermal domestic water systems.

How can the Scottish Government be sure that it is co-ordinating such courses? Will an audit of what is already there be undertaken in order to ensure that what is available across the country suits all needs? Will the minister also give us an update on the energy skills partnership?

What Claudia Beamish has set out is, to me, a demonstration of the responsiveness of our college sector—it is responding to the demands of the local economy, in this instance in relation to the transition to a low-carbon economy.

As I set out in my initial answer, Skills Development Scotland has a critical role in planning and is working with others to ensure that we can deliver on that. That is always the way that we move forward.

I am aware of a range of other activity that is taking place across the board to support the transition to a low-carbon economy. We have set out the skills requirements in the circular economy strategy, the manufacturing action plan and the switched on Scotland action plan. Claudia Beamish can be assured that we give this the utmost priority and we will continue to do so.

Dundee and Angus College (Part-time Course Places)

To ask the Scottish Government how many part-time course places have been lost at Dundee and Angus College since 2009-10. (S5O-02431)

In the academic year 2016-17, there were 13,879 part-time enrolments at Dundee and Angus College. In 2009-10, there were 29,952 part-time enrolments. That is due to the deprioritisation by the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council of short courses that did not lead to employment or progression.

Short courses continue to be funded and the majority of enrolments—73 per cent—continue to be part-time. In 2016-17, 97.4 per cent of learning hours were delivered on courses that led to a recognised qualification—an 8.7 percentage point increase.

I thank the minister for his response and welcome him to his role.

Since 2010, the head count at Dundee and Angus College has fallen by 41 per cent, but the Scottish National Party says that only full-time equivalent numbers matter. Full-time equivalents are down by 11 per cent, but the SNP says that that is mainly from courses that are five hours long. In Scotland, for every hour cut from courses lasting five hours, 78 hours were cut from courses over 10 hours long in the same period. Will the new minister for further education commit to reversing the destructive college funding cuts that the SNP has inflicted so far?

I commit to doing what is right for our students, our colleges and the Scottish economy. The Scottish Government attaches great value to short courses that lead to employment or progression, given that colleges make a vital contribution to the upskilling and reskilling of Scotland’s workforce, which is what we absolutely must focus on. That is why, as I said, the majority of total enrolments in colleges are still on part-time courses—73 per cent was the figure in 2016-17.

I reiterate what I said in my initial answer. This is about ensuring that our colleges are focused on what is best for our students’ long-term future in respect of fulfilling their potential and contributing to the Scottish economy. That is why the Scottish funding council took a decision to reduce the number of part-time courses in favour of other types of courses or full-time courses that allow for better progression for each student.

I should also say that the Scottish funding council has ensured that Dundee and Angus College can continue to deliver impactful learning by increasing its core teaching funding allocation to more than £27 million in 2018-19—an increase of 9.3 per cent on the previous year.

Question 14 has been withdrawn.

School Exclusions

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its approach to preventing and managing school exclusions. (S5O-02433)

In June 2017, the Scottish Government published its refreshed guidance on preventing and managing school exclusions, “Included, Engaged and Involved Part 2”. Since then, the Scottish Government has held a number of engagement sessions with more than 400 stakeholders across Scotland to support implementation of the guidance. Education authorities are responsible for developing their own policies on exclusion, taking that guidance into account. Exclusions have continued to fall and the number of exclusions is less than half the comparable figure in 2006-07.

The cabinet secretary will know that the number of school exclusions for physical assaults involving weapons has risen to a five-year high. What measures is he taking to reduce unacceptable levels of violence against pupils and staff in Scotland’s schools?

That work is actively explored by the Scottish advisory group for relationships and behaviour in schools—SAGRABIS—which has looked in great detail at the implications of particular behaviours in our schools and the dangers associated with the carrying of weapons. The guidance that I talked about was the subject of extensive consultation and dialogue with that group and many stakeholders. We work very hard in those areas, to ensure that we get to agreed ways of proceeding that command confidence across the education system. I am confident that the guidance that we issued last year carries that confidence.

The Government is focused on making sure that our schools are safe and supportive places of learning where young people are included. As a consequence of that, we have seen significant reductions in the level of exclusions and we see the purposeful involvement of young people in their learning in the education system.

That concludes portfolio questions.