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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 8, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 08 November 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Motion of Remembrance, Care Homes (South Lanarkshire), Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Inclusive Education, Business Motion, Prescription (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Prescription (Scotland) Bill, Code of Conduct (Breach), Decision Time, Point of Order


Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Inclusive Education

The next item of business is a statement by John Swinney on Scotland’s plan to improve the educational experience of lesbian, gay, transgender and intersex young people. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.


The aim of the Government’s education policy is to achieve excellence and equity for all our children and young people in a high-performing education system. Equity for all can be achieved only through an inclusive education system. Today, I am delighted to inform Parliament of the progressive and world-leading set of recommendations to improve the educational experience of our LGBTI young people.

I am proud of the Government’s record on LGBTI rights, but we must recognise that there is more to do. We rightly abhor homophobia, biphobia and transphobia whenever it occurs, but exclusion, isolation, underrepresentation and silence are more subtle forms of discrimination. They can be equally damaging to children and young people’s health and wellbeing and have no place in our education system.

It was to address the passionate and powerful campaigning of Jordan Daly and Liam Stevenson of the Time for Inclusive Education campaign that, on 19 April 2017, the Government announced our intention to form an expert group to provide advice and recommendations on the aims and pledges of TIE. That advice, which would also include the voices of organisations that have campaigned tirelessly for LGBTI equality for decades, would provide a foundation to improve the educational experience of LGBTI children and young people in Scotland.

I am grateful to Christina McKelvie MSP, here today as Minister for Older People and Equalities, for the key role that she played during her time as convener of the Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee in helping to establish the working group. Christina McKelvie has staunchly supported the aims and objectives of the TIE campaign over many years. She ensured that LGBTI issues remained at the top of the political agenda, galvanising Parliament, and, through my party’s policy process, helping to ensure that we make changes for the better.

Today, I can inform Parliament that the Scottish Government will accept in full all the recommendations of the “LGBTI Inclusive Education Working Group: Report to the Scottish Ministers”. I am delighted that, in the year of young people, we can present to thousands of children and young people across the country a strong and powerful message of inclusivity, tolerance, respect and equality.

The groundbreaking report includes 33 detailed recommendations outlining how we can, in partnership, improve the educational experience of LGBTI children and young people in Scotland and hopefully provide other countries around the world with a model for improving the learning experience of LGBTI pupils.

The availability of appropriate guidance for local authorities, schools and other education providers is essential. I can confirm that the Scottish Government, in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, will provide initial guidance to education authorities, making it clear that education should be LGBTI inclusive and encouraging schools to work together and in partnership with children and young people to enhance LGBTI inclusion. The guidance will signpost teachers towards supporting resources.

In addition, we will work with key partners to fully update the existing statutory guidance, “Conduct of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood Education in Schools”, originally published in 2014, to use a thematic outcomes-based approach and to ensure that it covers themes relating to LGBTI equality and inclusion.

Those themes include understanding LGBTI terminology and identities; representations of LGBTI people and their relationships; recognising, understanding and addressing homophobia, biphobia and transphobia; and an awareness of LGBTI equalities movements. The Scottish Government will evaluate the impact of the updated guidance within five years of its publication.

To assist with the inclusion of LGBTI content in curriculum for excellence, Education Scotland will review and develop specific LGBTI experiences and outcomes, as well as benchmarks that are appropriate to learners’ ages and their stages of development. Those will be developed in collaboration with schools, teachers and LGBTI organisations. Education Scotland will also work with the Scottish Qualifications Authority to ensure the appropriate inclusion of LGBTI content in the development of new or adapted course specifications and relevant guidance, which will ensure that LGBTI inclusion is embedded across the curriculum.

I recognise and value the work that has been undertaken throughout the country by initial teacher education providers in relation to LGBTI inclusion. Nevertheless, the Scottish Government can provide additional, valuable support. Therefore, we will work with our colleagues in further and higher education to ensure a long-term sustainable approach to LGBTI-inclusive education within initial teacher education provision. That will ensure that our teachers of the future are equipped with the skills and attributes that they need to deliver LGBTI inclusion within any education setting and to better support the children and young people whose lives they set out to positively influence.

I also recognise the importance of developing suitable, career-long professional learning opportunities for our existing education staff. I confirm that the Scottish Government will fund sustainable LGBTI training that is accessible to all teachers and school staff in Scotland. We will also lead and resource a new, free-to-access, basic awareness LGBTI inclusion training course that will be suitable for all schools in Scotland. That course will be piloted in 2019 and, following evaluation, made nationally available during 2020. The Scottish Government will ensure that adequate funding is in place in order to enable those programmes to meet demand.

To ensure that all schools have appropriate LGBTI teaching resources, we will review existing resources and fund the development of new teaching resources to support LGBTI-inclusive education. Those new learning resources will focus on LGBTI curricular inclusion from the early years to the senior phase. We will also work with our partners to develop a new toolkit to enhance LGBTI-inclusive education at a whole-school level, which will help to increase staff confidence in addressing instances of prejudice and bullying and in engaging with parents and carers of LGBTI children and young people. The toolkit will build on respect for all, which is our national anti-bullying approach.

Inspection has an important role in evaluating how well schools are developing and improving LGBTI inclusion. I confirm that Education Scotland will continue to provide training for school inspectors to ensure that they are able to engage in professional dialogue about LGBTI equality and inclusion and have an understanding of what LGBTI-inclusive education looks like in different educational settings.

Those actions comprise a new national framework to support the consistent and effective delivery of LGBTI-inclusive education in all Scottish schools. The working group recommended those actions as an alternative to legislation as it believes that they are achievable by the end of the current parliamentary session. The Scottish Government will consult the working group on further measures should progress be insufficient within that timescale.

The Scottish Government and COSLA have demonstrated, through the successful implementation of the school clothing grant and educational psychologists’ training, that swift and effective progress can be made through partnership working in the place of legislation.

As outlined in the debate in the chamber in April last year, action is needed now. The Scottish Government and COSLA will shortly plan the practical delivery of the recommendations. The working group recognises the Government’s desire to implement its recommendations as quickly as possible to ensure that they are implemented before the end of the current parliamentary session in May 2021. Therefore, the group will reconvene as an implementation group to drive that work forward and to provide accountability and oversight.

I am aware that some might say that LGBTI-inclusive education could undermine the values of their faith or beliefs. I do not take that view. Human rights and the values of respect and tolerance are universal. Children and young people should feel happy, safe, respected and included in their learning environment, and all staff should be proactive in promoting positive relationships and behaviour in the playground, classroom, wider learning community and society. That is central to the delivery of the curriculum for excellence and the implementation of getting it right for every child. Education remains by far the most effective means that we have to improve the life chances of all young people. The actions that I have outlined will ensure that all young people have the opportunity to excel in a way that works for them as individuals. I am confident that that is the right approach for Scotland so that we continue to get it right for every child.

Finally, I thank each member of the group, and all who have contributed over the past year, for their energy, commitment and determination to improve LGBTI-inclusive education. Reaching consensus among such a diverse group was not easy. Individuals understandably came to the table with their own perspectives, priorities and concerns. Around that table, there was great strength of feeling, which was driven by the passion and importance that individuals attach to their work and their roles—and nobody is wrong to feel like that. However, through a process of patient and respectful dialogue, members of deeply varied perspectives unanimously agreed the delivery of a world-leading set of recommendations that will make a real difference to the educational experience of not just LGBTI young people, but all children and young people in Scotland. That is an immense achievement that each member of the group has contributed to, of which each member should be immensely proud and that Parliament should value, commend and embrace.

One of the most enduring and, for me, inspiring characteristics of Scottish society is our belief in equality. It is the beating heart of our country’s approach to education. It is a value that is enshrined in our approach to social security. It drives our route to creating an inclusive economy. It is central to the importance that we attach to our human rights. Today, we take another step forward, by ensuring that all our children and young people will have the opportunity to better appreciate LGBTI issues within our education system, and our country will be the better for it.

Before we move on, I say to the people in the gallery that we do not allow clapping, cheering or jeering, so please refrain from doing so.

The cabinet secretary will now take questions on the issues that were raised in his statement, for which I intend to allow about 20 minutes. I invite members who wish to ask questions to press their request-to-speak buttons.

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

As someone who has been on board with improving the education experience of LGBTI young people since day 1 of my being a member of the Scottish Parliament, I sincerely welcome today’s statement. I, too, record my thanks to the individuals and organisations who have helped us to reach this point.

I appreciate that the aim is to ensure that the report’s recommendations are in place by the end of the parliamentary session. However, when does the cabinet secretary expect us to see a published timetable for implementation? How will the Scottish Government ensure consistency across all local authorities, and that the approach is not led just by individual teachers and headteachers who are passionate about the cause?

Will teacher training be mandatory and accessible to all school staff? Finally, will parliamentarians have the opportunity to review progress regularly, in an entirely transparent process? At what stage will the cabinet secretary step in if not enough progress has been made?

I thank Annie Wells for her endorsement of the direction of travel. I assure her now—as, I hope, my statement did—that the Government and our partners who have worked with us to produce the report are serious about ensuring that the recommendations happen, and as quickly as possible. The nature of the recommendations from the working group is that early and swift progress should be made. I embrace that as an objective. I assure Annie Wells that we will come to Parliament with a timetable for implementation as soon as we agree it with our partners.

As I have said, the working group will continue to oversee the process as the implementation group. I suspect that if there is any slacking in the timescale, I will hear about it not only from Annie Wells but from the implementation group—and rightly so.

As for consistency across all local authorities, that brings us to the nub of some of the dilemmas that we in this institution wrestle with all the time. The Government sets out guidance and looks to local authorities to take it forward in a consistent fashion. However, there are checks and balances in the system, such as the inspection role that is played by Education Scotland, which can give feedback on whether practice is changing on the ground in our school community.

Training will, of course, be accessible to all staff. I am in Parliament’s hands as to the amount of information that it wants on the matter. I am happy to report to Parliament periodically by placing information in the Scottish Parliament information centre. Perhaps we should also, in due course, use Government time for a debate to enable us to take stock and to see whether sufficient progress has been made. I give Annie Wells a commitment on behalf of the Government to doing all that we can to move swiftly on the agenda.

I, too, thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of his statement.

I begin by associating the Labour group with the cabinet secretary’s praise for Jordan Daly, Liam Stevenson and the TIE campaign, which was not only powerful and passionate, but tactically astute and carefully cross-party. As a result, it has—as we have heard today—been very effective indeed. The formation of the Government’s expert group and the Government’s acceptance of the group’s recommendations should certainly mean that we will make a significant stride forward in LGBTI young people’s right to a fair, inclusive and equal educational experience, safe from bullying and discrimination. We can all be proud of that, and no one more so than Liam and Jordan.

I have two questions for clarification. First, what resource does the cabinet secretary envisage will be made available to cover in-service training, learning materials and other costs? Secondly, when the cabinet secretary says that he will work with key partners to update statutory guidance for schools, which key partners does he mean and can he assure us about the breadth of that engagement?

On resources, the costs will be conditional on the manner and method of implementation, so we will take time to discuss with our local authority partners how best to proceed. Consistent with my answer to Annie Wells, I say that I am happy to come back to Parliament in due course to share that information.

As for further guidance, I have tried to take as broadly inclusive an approach as possible, and I am profoundly grateful to organisations of various backgrounds and perspectives for coming together to take forward the agenda. That is the spirit in which I want to proceed in the further stages. I think that that is by far the healthiest way to proceed.

Our local authority partners will be absolutely central in implementation of the agenda, as will our work with professional associations, interested stakeholder organisations and the implementation group, with which I continue to work. I assure Parliament that I intend to be as inclusive as possible in order to ensure that we reach the kind of agreement on how to proceed that we have already managed to reach in order to get to this point.

A lot of members wish to ask questions, so I ask everyone to be concise in their questions and answers.

I support the TIE campaign, because I believe that our young people have the right to see themselves and their families being respectfully and honestly reflected in what they are taught in school. I agree with the cabinet secretary that human rights and values of respect and tolerance are universal.

How will the Scottish Government monitor private schools to ensure that their provision of relationship, sexual health and parenthood education is inclusive, appropriate and respectful and, which is important, that it meets the needs of all the young people who are in their care?

That was a very good question, but it was hardly concise. [Laughter.]

I will try to do slightly better, Presiding Officer, so that I do not incur comments like that.

Education Scotland obviously has a role in undertaking school inspections of private schools, and the issues that I have raised and the perspectives that I have brought to Parliament will be reflected in inspections. In many respects, independent schools have a lot of good practice in this area. A number of independent schools have been recognised with LGBT Youth Scotland gold charter awards as an indication of their commitment to the agenda, and I am quite sure that independent schools will wish to be part of the inclusive approach that the Government is taking.

Although the fact that we need statements like today’s still saddens me, the fact that we have had it greatly encourages me, so I thank the cabinet secretary for his words today.

I want to push a little bit further and get clarification. The guidance and training that have been announced today will be mandatory in all schools for all teachers and school staff. If the cabinet secretary is not happy that the spirit behind today’s announcement is being delivered in practice, will there be additional legislative options available to him to ensure that every pupil in every school receives the support that they deserve?

Jamie Greene’s question gets to the nub of some of the challenging issues in how our education system operates. As I have rehearsed in Parliament on various topics, our education system operates on the basis that we create a framework within which individual schools operate, and we expect individual schools to operate in a way that is consistent with that framework, but without all individual schools having to deliver exactly the same practice, because the context will vary from school to school.

Two elements should give Parliament confidence. The first is that we have gone to great lengths to create an inclusive process across all the different perspectives to get us to the strongest point of agreeing the framework. We have now reached that point, and I very much welcome the fact that Jamie Greene also welcomes the process.

The second thing that should give us confidence is that the guidance that we take forward on all aspects of education is, in my opinion, broadly taken forward by individual schools. When we look at Education Scotland inspection reports—I see them every single week of my life, as they are published—we see that they demonstrate how schools are operating within the framework of the advice that we give, and we expect schools to be able to do that. I hope that that gives Parliament some confidence.

On the final question about what other mechanisms are available to me, there is always the mechanism of legislation that we can enforce. The approach that we are taking now allows us, however, to get on with things faster than that. We demonstrated with school clothing grants that we could within six months go from identification of the challenge to a solution. That is the kind of pace that I want to set to advance this process.

The news from the cabinet secretary is very welcome. I led a debate in Parliament on the TIE campaign last year to promote its aims, and today’s statement is a monumental victory for the vibrant campaign that has been led by Jordan Daly, Liam Stevenson and others.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is crucial that the momentum behind the TIE campaign be not lost? How will the Scottish Government help to ensure that the movement to secure long-lasting change in our society continues to go from strength to strength?

The measures that I have set out today in responding to and accepting all the recommendations of the working group are designed to give us that opportunity to proceed and to advance in the matter. I have put in place sufficient checks and balances to ensure that that is the case, but as I said in my response to Annie Wells, I will be happy to come back to Parliament in due course for a stocktaking debate, using Government time, to assess progress and to ensure that the commitments that have been made are being reflected by practice on the ground.

In fairness to many of our schools around the country, I say that I already see a lot of practice on the ground reflecting the commitments. I say with the greatest of respect to the working group that many schools have not waited for its fine words and have already embarked on that activity. I saw some fabulous work in that respect at Prestwick academy when I was there last week, and I see it in many other schools across the country. Kirkcaldy high school has just won a prestigious award from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities for work that it has done on LGBTI awareness, and I had the opportunity just the other day to congratulate the headteacher on the school receiving that award.

I remind members to be brief.

I, too, welcome the statement this afternoon, both as a member of Scotland’s LGBTI community and as a former teacher.

Under curriculum for excellence, health and wellbeing are the responsibility of all. Therefore, how will the Scottish Government ensure that all teaching staff have the necessary knowledge, skills and expertise to deliver LGBTI-inclusive education in every single one of Scotland’s secondary schools? Will the Government seek to monitor the impact of any agreed training on people’s experience of their educational journey?

There are two critical aspects to how we proceed in relation to teacher education. First, we must ensure that initial teacher education is correctly focused to accommodate all those questions. That will be a priority for new teachers. Secondly, many current members of staff will require support. I was very pleased to see the comments made by the Educational Institute of Scotland, which recognised the approach that the Government intends to take to support its work.

On Jenny Gilruth’s point about the opinions of pupils, a priority that I am keen to develop is the strengthening of the pupil voice in our education system. I see many strong elements of the articulation of that pupil voice during the time that I spend in schools. I saw that vividly yesterday at Newbattle high school in Midlothian. I would expect to hear that articulation of pupil experience through the channel of pupil voices—it is vital that we listen to and hear that experience.

I congratulate Jordan Daly, Liam Stevenson and everyone who has delivered something that will not just transform lives but save lives. The cabinet secretary says that Education Scotland will continue to provide training for school inspectors, but will that training change in line with the higher expectations that we now have for our schools? Will the framework for inspections change as well as the training for inspectors?

The framework for inspection reflects the priorities that we expect to see in Scottish education, so that change will follow from the statement that I set out to Parliament today.

On the support for inspectors, we want to ensure that our inspectors assess whether the education system is consistent with the frameworks that we have in place on this important question, as they do on all activities.

I congratulate those involved in the TIE campaign and I look forward to celebrating with them all later.

Is the cabinet secretary aware of the unspoken pressure that is still felt by some teachers in Scottish faith schools to avoid inclusive education, which is caused by the tension that is felt to exist between the promotion of LGBTI rights and the teachings of the church? Further to Ross Greer’s question, will the cabinet secretary expand on the working group’s recommendations 30 and 31, so that the delivery of inclusive education is a key standard against which schools are scored in the inspection regime?

First of all, I want to make it crystal clear that schools are not scored. That is a very old-fashioned concept—if I may say so to Mr Cole-Hamilton. The purpose of inspection is to assist schools in improving performance to meet the needs of young people as described in the frameworks of education. That is the purpose of inspection.

In relation to the issues in faith schools, I have been deeply appreciative of the breadth of opinion that has come together in the working group. In my statement, I highlighted the fact that the working group includes people from very different perspectives and backgrounds. The success of the working group is that members of the group, including the Scottish Catholic Education Service, have been able to reach a point of agreement. That is deeply valued by the Government and I commend every organisation that contributed to that work. That indicates the willingness of everyone across the broad cross-section of education to make progress on the vital issue of LGBTI-inclusive education and to see it reflected in every educational setting.

I, too, add my warmest congratulations to everyone in the TIE campaign. What a day!

How will the Scottish Government ensure that the implementation of the whole report is delivered consistently in all schools so that young people can receive an education that is inclusive of the wider LGBTI community, its history and its contributions to our society?

That will be reflected in a combination of the guidance and the resources that we make available, which will be a significant part of the work that needs to be done. I assure Gail Ross that many of those practical and operational questions flow directly from the working group’s recommendations and will be addressed as part of the implementation programme.

Campaigners in third sector organisations have been instrumental in getting us to this point. Will the cabinet secretary outline the day-to-day role that he sees them playing in the practical delivery of the recommendations?

I would like those organisations not only to be involved in ensuring that we deliver all of this—which is very important—but to give us the benefit of their input in shaping the approaches that are taken, to make sure that the materials, resources, training and approaches that are designed are appropriate to achieve the objectives that have been set out in the report. Consistent with what I said to Iain Gray a few moments ago, I am keen to ensure that the process is inclusive of the organisations that have contributed so much to get us to where we are today. I want that sentiment to continue to underpin the approach to implementation.

I welcome today’s announcement and congratulate the TIE campaign—Jordan, Liam and everybody else who is involved—for all that it has achieved. Scotland is widely recognised as one of the most progressive countries in Europe on LGBTI rights. Today’s announcement only reinforces that position. However, what other action has the Scottish Government taken to protect and promote the rights of the LGBTI community?

The Government has introduced a range of measures through the funding and support that we make available to organisations that advance the issues and concerns of the LGBTI community. We undertake work to tackle hate crime and prejudice, and we have a very explicit approach to tackling inequalities. The approach on education will be another component of the wider agenda that the Government advances in this respect.

What a day and what a distance we have come from section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986. I offer my sincerest congratulations to all those involved. Does the cabinet secretary accept that cultural attitudes to sexuality have advanced far faster than attitudes to gender identity? What are his plans to address that and the growing contention around the self-declaration of gender in schools?

I recognise the significant progress that has been made on the question of sexuality and, as I hope that I conveyed adequately in my statement, I think that the country is the better for it.

We are taking care to make sure that schools are well supported in dealing with issues of sexual identity. The matter is under active consideration in the Government and ministers will come back to the Parliament with updates on progress in that respect. I assure Kezia Dugdale of the Government’s determination—again, I hope that I conveyed this in my statement—to ensure that we are in no way tolerant of the exercise of prejudice towards individuals for the choices that they make. We should take people for who they are and who they believe themselves to be, and that should be reflected in the approaches that we take.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that schools can learn from one another and share good practice, and that groups such as the LGBT+ group in Kirkcaldy high school, in my constituency, which recently won the president’s award at the 2018 COSLA excellence awards for its work to provide a safe space for pupils who are tackling homophobia and for its campaigning and training work with groups and organisations across Fife and the rest of the country, set an example for other schools to follow?

I got to Kirkcaldy high school before Mr Torrance did, but his question allows me to reiterate Kirkcaldy high school’s very significant achievement in winning the president’s award at the 2018 COSLA excellence awards. That illustrates the point that I made to members a few moments ago, which is that many schools are advancing on the agenda far faster than our wider society is doing, because they are listening to pupils’ voices and making sure that our schools are safe places where young people can feel at ease and comfortable.

I unreservedly commend Kirkcaldy high school for its tremendous achievement. Mr Torrance is entitled to be very proud of the achievement of one of the secondary schools in his constituency.