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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 13 June 2018

Agenda: Scottish Information Commissioner: Intervention Report, Portfolio Question Time, Mental Health, Sustainable Growth Commission, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Energy Drinks (Under-16s)


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Attainment Gap (Adverse Childhood Experiences)

To ask the Scottish Government how its cross-portfolio work on tackling adverse childhood experiences is contributing to closing the attainment gap. (S5O-02207)

I remind members that I am the parliamentary liaison officer to the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills.

The Scottish Government recognises the negative impact of adverse childhood experiences on the wellbeing of children, which in turn has a direct impact on their attainment. The Scottish attainment challenge has a specific focus on health and wellbeing, alongside literacy and numeracy. Using funding from the £750 million attainment Scotland fund, schools are delivering a variety of health and wellbeing interventions to support their pupils, including those who have been impacted by adverse childhood experiences.

In addition, I hosted an event in March along with the First Minister and other ministerial colleagues to hear from people working across sectors about the actions that are needed to drive progress on ACEs. We have published a report on what we heard and I have committed to build on that important dialogue.

Research published last month by the Educational Institute of Scotland detailed the impact of poverty on Scottish education. Children are unable to afford school trips, they come to school hungry and they arrive at school in dirty clothes. Does the cabinet secretary plan to address the impact of adverse childhood experiences with his United Kingdom counterpart? Does he agree that the Tories’ ideological obsession with austerity is damaging the—

No—you have had your question. I am sorry, but we are short of time.

Austerity is undoubtedly having an effect on the circumstances of young people, and the Government is taking a number of measures to try to address that through various interventions. We spend more than £100 million a year mitigating the effects of austerity. In the tackling child poverty delivery plan, we have set out a range of measures across Government to try to tackle those issues. Some of the substantial issues that Jenny Gilruth raised about young people missing out on opportunities can be alleviated by the utilisation of Scottish attainment challenge funding.

The Government recently reached an agreement with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to establish a minimum school clothing grant of £100, which will be a significant benefit to an overwhelming majority of those young people in Scottish schools. I appreciate the agreement that we have reached with local government to take that step to assist in tackling the issues that Ms Gilruth has raised.

The cabinet secretary referred to the engagement with COSLA. Obviously, local authorities are key to the delivery of the aspirations that he has set out. Will he outline the work that is being done with COSLA and the process for managing that on-going engagement?

We have regular discussions with COSLA at individual portfolio level and I met the COSLA education spokesperson just yesterday. Last week, as a team of ministers, we met the leadership of COSLA—the president, the vice-president and political group leaders across the political spectrum, including the leader of Orkney Islands Council, who was there on behalf of the independent group—to focus on how our combined efforts can support the same policy direction.

There was a very good example of that on Monday with the launch of the national performance framework, which has been endorsed by COSLA. Indeed, COSLA has been actively involved in its preparation, as have members of Parliament across the spectrum, to ensure that we overcome any effects of compartmentalisation in Government policy making. There is a need for cross-portfolio work to address the issues that are raised by adverse childhood experiences, as we will only address those questions if we work across boundaries.


School Leaver Transitions

To ask the Scottish Government what support it gives to school leavers regarding the transition to further education, training and work. (S5O-02208)

A broad range of support is available to school leavers, including careers advice that is offered by Skills Development Scotland to help pupils move into further education, training and work. SDS also works closely with pastoral care staff in schools to identify those leavers who are less likely to engage with mainstream opportunities and, together with local partners, it offers targeted transitional support to that vulnerable group.

We heard last week that a survey commissioned by the Education and Skills Committee found that just 3 per cent of school leavers were told more about how to get on to a training programme than other post-school options, whereas 60 per cent were told more about how to get into university than other options. What action is being taken by the minister and the Scottish Government to ensure that all school leavers receive adequate information and advice about transition into non-university routes such as apprenticeships—

Briefly, please, minister—I meant, briefly, please, Mr Balfour.

I will still try to be brief, Presiding Officer.

I recognise and understand Mr Balfour’s points, and that is exactly why we are taking forward our developing the young workforce programme. There is a historic challenge for us around ensuring that there is parity of esteem across all options for young people. It is a big challenge. We are committed to taking forward that work through our developing the young workforce programme. I have seen that beginning to make a difference, and I will take it further still with the recommendations from the learner journey review.

Will the minister outline what advice is given to young people who go straight from school to work and might end up in exploitative and insecure work? What advice is given about what is reasonable for them to expect in terms of contracts? What advice is given about the role of trade unions in protecting young people from the exploitative practices that they might experience?

Advice about the world of work is provided through the careers advice that is available in every school environment. We need to reflect on the issue of what young people might expect in the world of work. We probably can do better in ensuring that we know what they expect and we should work towards that. We discussed that just yesterday at a meeting of the strategic labour market group, which I chair.


Further Education (Dumfries and Galloway)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it provides for the funding of further education courses in Dumfries and Galloway. (S5O-02209)

In the 2018-19 academic year, through the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council, the Scottish Government will provide a real-terms increase of over 8 per cent to support the teaching of further and higher education courses at Dumfries and Galloway College, with the funding totalling £9.73 million. Additionally, we will provide £1.78 million in student support as part of the college’s initial allocation.

At a recent consultation that was carried out with the south of Scotland economic partnership, the chairman mentioned that a good funding application had been submitted by the south of Scotland colleges. Why did the colleges have to do that? Is that not the role of the Scottish funding council?

The colleges in that area should be commended for the innovative work that they are taking forward together and in partnership, and for taking full advantage of the new opportunities that are available in the south of Scotland because of the work that is going on there in not just education but skills, and because of the general economic recovery.

I look forward to hearing more about the suggestions that the colleges are taking to the south of Scotland economic partnership, and I encourage the colleges to continue that work.


Educational Campuses (Accessibility)

To ask the Scottish Government how it ensures that educational campuses have appropriate and adequate levels of accessibility for disabled students. (S5O-02210)

We have in place a range of legislation and guidance to ensure adequate levels of accessibility for disabled students. Responsible bodies, including education authorities and independent and grant-aided schools, are required to develop and publish accessibility strategies to improve, over time, access to the curriculum, the physical environment and school information for pupils with disabilities.

I know a bright young woman who attends the cross-party group on muscular dystrophy who is applying for university. Her choices should be completely unlimited. However, because she is in a wheelchair, her choices are limited by the accessibility of campuses. What action will the Government take to improve accessibility and to inform disabled students about accessibility, particularly in higher education institutions?

I am concerned to hear the detail that Jackie Baillie recounts. If she writes to me and the minister, we will look directly into that case.

Separate supports are in place, either through the student awards agency or the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council, in which funding is allocated to try to address some of those issues in a practical way. Individual students will present for courses where there may be challenges in the existing physical estate, or there may be other issues where resources should be applied to try to ensure that there are no barriers to their learning.

I think that measures are in place to try to address the scenario that Jackie Baillie paints but, as I have said, if she writes to me with the details, we will look into the matter and see what we can do to address the issue.


Universities and Schools (Engagement)

To ask the Scottish Government how it encourages engagement between universities and secondary education establishments. (S5O-02211)

We expect schools and other partners to work collaboratively with one another, and there are many examples of schools doing that effectively with universities, colleges, employers and others to the clear benefit of their young people.

In response to the recommendations from the commission on widening access, the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council is developing a new school engagement framework to provide more targeted and enhanced engagement with schools. We invest £2.5 million a year through the funding council to support the access to higher demand professions and schools for higher education programmes.

Does the minister agree that the University of the West of Scotland, which is based in Paisley, leads the way on this issue and that other universities should try to find ways of working with that institution to mirror its many successes?

I very much commend the work of the University of the West of Scotland in this and other areas relating to widening access. As I have stressed before in the chamber, it is imperative that all universities play their role in achieving our widening access ambitions, because it will only be through the schools, the colleges, the universities, the funding council and the Government working together that we will achieve the widening access targets and the ambitions that we all share. I commend the University of the West of Scotland for its great work and encourage it to carry on. I am sure that it is a great source of good practice that other universities can follow.

The minister will be aware that an innovative way in which universities and other further education establishments interact with the secondary sector is the Dumfries learning town project.

After the summer, pupils will move out of Langlands school, Lochside primary school and my former schools, St Ninians primary school and Maxwelltown high school, and into their new north-west Dumfries community campus. Will the minister join me in paying tribute to the enormous contribution that those four schools have made over the past few decades to the community, in particular that of north-west Dumfries, and wish all the pupils and the staff well as they embark on life at their new campus?

I wish the pupils and staff well in their endeavours at their new campus. The Deputy First Minister will visit the campus, which he is looking forward to.


Pupil Equity Fund (Headteacher Feedback)

To ask the Scottish Government what feedback it has had from headteachers regarding the pupil equity fund. (S5O-02212)

The Scottish Government regularly engages with headteachers and headteacher representatives about pupil equity funding. For example, the Association of Heads and Deputes in Scotland fed into the development of the national operational guidance that was published to support headteachers on pupil equity funding. The attainment advisers who are appointed to take forward the wider work on attainment are in regular dialogue with headteachers about the Scottish attainment challenge and pupil equity funding.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the continued attempts by North Lanarkshire Council’s Labour and Tory administration to raid the pupil equity fund, last year for classroom assistants and this year for swimming lessons. Does he agree that it is important that headteachers are allowed to choose how they spend the money to lower the attainment gap, rather than being pressured into giving up some of that welcome funding to pay for services that were previously supplied as part of the overall education budgets for councils?

The guidance makes it clear that pupil equity funding cannot be used to replace services that were provided by local authorities in the period immediately before the one in which decisions are made. I have taken action in relation to that question on one occasion, and my officials monitor the situation carefully.

It is important that headteachers can choose how to spend pupil equity funding, and the feedback that I have had from around the education system is that headteachers welcome the opportunity that it gives them to exercise greater discretion in meeting the needs of the young people whom they are trying to support. I encourage headteachers to continue in their efforts to utilise those resources effectively to help us in our national effort to close the poverty-related attainment gap.

As the cabinet secretary is well aware, there are very positive signs on pupil equity funding, and the Education and Skills Committee has received a lot of good evidence in that respect. However, it has also received evidence that there has been some confusion about whether schools can spend that money on teachers. For the avoidance of any doubt, could the cabinet secretary confirm that schools can use pupil equity funding to take on additional teachers?

I am very happy to confirm to Parliament that pupil equity funding can be used to take on teachers, and I encourage headteachers to take such decisions if that is appropriate. As I think I said at the most recent portfolio question time and might also have said to the Education and Skills Committee, pupil equity funding is already supporting a number of teachers—if my memory serves me right, of the 600 teachers by which the number of teachers has increased in the past 12 months, 500 have been paid for using pupil equity funding.

One issue that was raised with me by the Education and Skills Committee was the longevity of contracts. The Government has given an absolute commitment that there will be £120 million of pupil equity funding in each financial year until the end of the parliamentary session. That should enable any school to take on a member of staff for a longer period of time than just 12 months. I have heard some evidence of 12-month contracts being offered. I give a commitment that that funding will be there until the end of the session, which I hope will encourage the offering of longer-term contracts to members of staff.

I welcome that last point. However, the cabinet secretary will recognise that the allocation of PEF is based on eligibility for free school meals and that, in some areas of Scotland—rural and isolated areas, in particular—use of that mechanism can be difficult because of the stigma that is attached to eligibility for free meals. How does he plan to address that point?

I will respond to that in two ways. First, although the level of free school meal entitlement in an individual school might vary from year to year, which might result in a difference in pupil equity funding, I have applied some constraints to the degree of variability that can apply, because I recognise that, if schools are to make long-term commitments of the type that I encouraged them to make in my answer to Liz Smith, they need to know that the level of PEF will not vary by that much from year to year. If my memory serves me right, I think that a tolerance level of 5 per cent is applied, but if that is incorrect, I will confirm that to Mr Scott in writing.

My second point is about eligibility for free school meals, which I accept is not perfect, although it is a more finely grained measure than the Scottish index of multiple deprivation in detecting the existence of poverty. Last week, I had a discussion with the Scottish Borders Council about work that it is undertaking to look at a variety of elements of information that could provide a more finely grained measure. The Scottish Government’s statisticians will engage with the Scottish Borders Council on that mechanism. I am open to alternative mechanisms; it is just that, so far, we have not been able to develop a better and more reliable mechanism, statistically speaking, than entitlement to free school meals. I accept Mr Scott’s point that, in rural areas, people are sometimes reluctant to apply for free school meals because of the danger of stigma.

The Education and Skills Committee also heard evidence of headteachers in, I think, two local authorities using pupil equity funding to employ campus police officers. Does the education secretary feel that that is an appropriate use of the funding?

If a headteacher believes that the most appropriate intervention that they should make is to recruit a campus police officer, I am not in a position to question their judgment on that matter. I have one caveat, which is the point that I made in answer to Fulton MacGregor’s question. It would not be possible to use the funding to employ a campus police officer if one was employed by the local authority in the previous year, because that would be replacing a service that was previously provided and funded by the local authority. However, in principle, if a headteacher believed that recruiting a campus police officer is the right step to take, I would accept the judgment of the headteacher on that question.


Sectarianism

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking in schools to address sectarianism. (S5O-02213)

Sectarianism must be challenged wherever it occurs, and the Government has delivered an unprecedented range of activities to tackle the issue across Scotland.

Since 2012, we have invested £13.5 million to support 108 organisations to deliver work to tackle sectarianism. That work has included a wide range of educational activities, including developing Scotland’s first national resource on tackling sectarianism and delivering free continuing professional development training sessions through the sense over sectarianism programme to support teachers to deliver anti-sectarian education. Our investment supported the development of the Nil by Mouth champions for change school programme, and I was pleased to learn that it is now available in all 32 local authority areas.

The cabinet secretary might know that, last week, I hosted an event that involved two schools in my constituency—St Columba’s high school and Clydeview academy in Gourock—that are working jointly on an anti-sectarian project with Nil by Mouth. Does the cabinet secretary consider that the existing collaborative projects could be worked on? Has he also given any consideration to making similar projects mandatory when it is considered that local communities could benefit?

In relation to the event to which Stuart McMillan referred, two pupils from St Columba’s high school delivered time for reflection yesterday, and it was a pleasure to see such fine young people contributing to our parliamentary proceedings.

Nil by Mouth has taken forward very welcome initiatives. As I said in my previous answer, I am very pleased that all 32 local authorities are now taking forward work with Nil by Mouth, and it is appropriate for that work to be deployed in all parts of the country.

Whether such projects should be mandatory is a different question. It is up to individual schools to decide what steps they should take to tackle sectarianism. The issue will be of greater or lesser significance in different parts of the country. What is important is that we make available to schools the materials and the approaches to tackle sectarianism.


Prejudice-based Bullying

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its progress in eliminating prejudice-based bullying in schools. (S5O-02214)

On 28 May, the Scottish Government published supplementary guidance for schools and local authorities on the recording and monitoring of bullying incidents in schools. The purpose of that guidance is to develop a consistent and uniform approach to recording and monitoring. To complement the guidance, we are working with SEEMIS—the schools’ information management system—to update the current bullying and equalities module to enable improved recording and monitoring of prejudice-based bullying in schools.

I welcome all the advances that have been made through the work that the Government has undertaken. Last week, the cabinet secretary visited St John Ogilvie high school, in my constituency, to see the pupil-led work that has led to the establishment and implementation of its new school anti-bullying policy. Does the cabinet secretary agree that pupil-led peer education is to be encouraged and that headteacher leadership can make the difference in ensuring a whole-school approach to ending prejudice-based bullying in schools? Will he also commend the work of St John Ogilvie high school’s headteacher, Eddie Morrison, and wish him well for his well-earned retirement?

I had the pleasure of passing on my good wishes to Mr Morrison when I visited St John Ogilvie high school last Wednesday. I took a great deal of heart from witnessing young people leading the process of formulating the school’s anti-bullying policy. A very engaged and sometimes very forthright conversation involving a lot of pupils was going on, and it was well shepherded and steered by senior pupils in the school. That is a very good example of pupil engagement and the expression of the pupil voice, which lies at the heart of curriculum for excellence. I saw similar work the week before, at Holy Cross high school in Hamilton. That demonstrated a similar approach to engaging young people in the formulation of effective anti-bullying policies.


Early Learning and Childcare (Expansion)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making in delivering the expansion of early learning and childcare. (S5O-02215)

The Scottish Government is on track to deliver our ambitious programme to almost double funded early learning and childcare entitlement to 1,140 hours by August 2020. We are committed to fully funding the expansion, and we reached a landmark agreement with Convention of Scottish Local Authorities leaders on 27 April on a multiyear revenue and capital package. That agreement means that annual revenue investment will increase by £567 million from 2016-17 levels by 2021-22 and that £467 million of capital funding will be provided over four years.

That real partnership working is further evidenced by our joint consultation with COSLA, which was launched on 29 March and which sets out the details of the national standard that will underpin the new funding-follows-the-child model, which will be introduced in 2020. That consultation is open until the end of this month.

We are also working with our partners to support the expansion of the early years workforce. In October 2017, we launched the first phase of our recruitment marketing campaign, which was targeted at school leavers. The second phase, which is to attract career changers and parental returners to ELC, was launched last month.

The minister will, no doubt, be aware of the recent National Day Nurseries Association survey in which four out of five independent and voluntary sector nurseries said that the amount of money that they receive for the current funded places—£3.72 an hour per child—is too low. They said that they are £2 an hour per child short, which is no surprise if we consider the living wage and staff ratios. Does the minister recognise that figure? If so, how will she tackle the situation? I fear that, if she does not do so, the 1,140 hours target will not be met or real damage will be done to the small and independently managed nurseries that are important to that provision.

We will introduce the new funding-follows-the-child model in 2020. A key aspect of that model is that all providers that deliver the funded early learning and childcare entitlement will receive a sustainable funding rate that is set at the local level, that reflects the cost of delivering in a setting and that allows the delivery of national priorities including the payment of a real living wage.

As I said yesterday, we have introduced a new 100 per cent rate relief for private properties that are wholly or mainly used as day nurseries, and the sector has really welcomed that. It is estimated that that relief will remove the burden of rates from up to 500 businesses to support an inclusive workforce and benefit the economy as a whole.

We have engaged with, and we continue to engage with, providers on the development of that incredible expansion. Indeed, we have engaged with them multiple times. At the ELC strategic forum yesterday, I received a commitment from my COSLA colleagues, whom we have worked with in close partnership. We and COSLA colleagues have committed to tackling any difficulties that people encounter with individual local authorities. We have a really solid working agreement, a really solid partnership, a shared vision and a shared commitment, and we are willing to help the sector to solve any problems that it might face. It is absolutely essential to our delivery of the programme that those nurseries and childminders receive the payment that they require.

What impact does the minister expect the deposit guarantee trial to have on Dumfries and Galloway? How will the Government evaluate that trial?

The deposit guarantee pilot will guarantee the deposit of participating families in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dumfries and Galloway. That means that up to 44 per cent of families with children under three will not have to pay a deposit up front.

Our recent survey found that families can experience difficulties in paying the up-front costs associated with nurseries, including deposits, and some nurseries have told us that the deposit guarantee scheme will help them to change their pricing model. If nurseries are able to use the deposit guarantee, they will no longer have to charge fees in advance, which families can struggle to pay and which can be a barrier to people returning to the labour market. The nurseries have said that they will be able to charge fees in arrears, which means that families will have received their first pay cheque before they have to pay their childcare costs.

We are working with NHS Health Scotland to ensure that the pilot is fully evaluated, and that will include understanding exactly how families and providers use the scheme and the impact that it has had.

Thank you. If we have shorter answers and short supplementary questions, we will perhaps get a move on.


“The Right to Recover”

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the findings of the report by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in Scotland, “The Right to Recover”. (S5O-02216)

Child-centred and trauma-informed healthcare is at the heart of the current paediatric services that are provided to children in Scotland who experience sexual assault. The Scottish Government’s child protection improvement programme is undertaking work to ensure that effective protection is in place for all children who are at risk from abuse and neglect. We have established a task force for improving services for adults and children who have experienced rape and sexual assault, which is led by the chief medical officer for Scotland. In addition, we have established an expert group for preventing sexual offending involving children and young people in order to identify actions to better prevent sexual crime involving children and young people.

In May last year, the Scottish Government and NHS Education for Scotland published a national trauma skills and knowledge framework to support strategic planning and delivery of training for those who have contact with people who have been affected by trauma across all parts of the Scottish workforce.

The report says clearly that there is a lack of services for children following sexual abuse in most local authorities across Scotland and that, where services exist, they are patchy, inadequate and unable to meet demand. What exactly is the minister doing to ensure that the resources that she has match the rhetoric that she has just used?

Getting it right for child victims is a priority in our on-going reform of our justice system. I assure the member that we are working across portfolios with our health and justice colleagues. We have made significant progress in recent months in improving the support for child victims. I know, from my constituency, that the issue has been raised of the distances that people have to travel from Orkney and Shetland, but there have been great strides forward in improving that. The Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill has just been introduced in the Scottish Parliament and will deliver on the commitment that we made in the programme for government. The bill will create, among other things, a new rule that children who are due to give evidence in the most serious solemn cases should have their evidence pre-recorded in advance of the trial. That is an important step towards achieving the Scottish Government’s vision that, where possible, child witnesses should not have to give evidence at trial.


Colleges (Private Finance Initiative)

To ask the Scottish Government which Scottish colleges carry a private finance initiative burden and what it is doing to alleviate that. (S5O-02217)

The Kilwinning campus of Ayrshire college is the only Scottish college with a PFI arrangement in place. The PFI contract obligations of around £2.2 million per year for the campus at Kilwinning will continue until 2025.

The previous Labour-Liberal Democrat Administration saddled the then James Watt college with a £50 million PFI burden following a £7 million investment in Kilwinning, which Ayrshire college subsequently inherited following regionalisation. Does the minister agree that it is unfair that, uniquely among Scottish colleges, Ayrshire college must make annual PFI payments of £2.18 million and that such a burden makes it increasingly difficult for the college to continue delivering outstanding outcomes for students, many of whom are from challenging backgrounds?

I commend Ayrshire college for the outstanding outcomes that it has achieved for its students. I had the pleasure of attending an event on Monday evening in Ayrshire college to encourage women to go into science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers. I thank Ayrshire college for the hospitality that night.

The Deputy First Minister has written to the college to confirm the proceeds from the college disposing of its former Kilmarnock campus, with expected net proceeds of around £1.2 million to be retained by the college to be used towards the PFI costs on a one-year basis only. The Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council will continue to work closely with the college to ensure that it takes appropriate steps to ensure that it has a financially stable position going forward.


Sexual Harassment

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the young women lead report on sexual harassment in schools. (S5O-02218)

We want every child and young person in Scotland to develop mutually respectful, responsible and confident relationships. No pupil should feel unsafe, threatened or harassed at school. That is why we welcome the work of the young women lead committee in investigating and highlighting the unacceptable issues that many young people are facing.

I thank the Scottish Government for the positive way that it engaged in the project. Will the cabinet secretary look very carefully at the findings in the report of the young women lead committee, some of which are shocking? Does he recognise that we still have a big issue with sexual harassment in schools, which has been exacerbated by the use of social media? Will he respond in full to the report?

I acknowledge the significance and seriousness of the issues that Linda Fabiani raises and I recognise that they need to be pursued consistently. There are a number of areas where our policy is developing, particularly around the importance of healthy relationships, the question of consent and ensuring that the personal and social education in schools is fit for the current period in which we are living, not to mention the advent of social media. All of those issues are relevant to the agenda that is raised so powerfully by the young women lead committee. I assure Linda Fabiani and the committee that the Government will engage seriously on the contents of its report.


School Meals

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to ensure that school meals are of the highest quality and that the uptake of these is maximised. (S5O-02219)

School meals are healthier and more popular than they have ever been. We are now seeing uptake of more than 50 million school meals each year. Last week, I launched a consultation on recommendations to further improve the school food regulations, at the new Broomlands primary school in Kelso. That is an excellent example of a school that is working to promote healthy eating habits in pupils.

Of course, the recent report would argue that school meals are not of the highest quality. Can I help the cabinet secretary in relation to his consultation? What we are looking to do here is to procure food locally, prepare it on site and allow pupils input to the menu to apply their learning. When will we stop having consultations on consultations and actually implement the obvious? Looking at the children eating—

I must have brief questions so that I can let other members in. Thank you.

First, the Government has had regulations about school meals and their nutritional standards in place since 2008. There is a statutory footing to the guidance, so we expect it to be followed in individual circumstances.

Secondly, it is desirable for food to be prepared on site. In the example that I cited, the food was being prepared at Broomlands primary school that day by members of staff and presented very positively to young people.

Thirdly, the consultation that I have just launched is not about fundamentally reviewing the standards, because they are judged by the group that has just undertaken the technical work on my behalf to be of the highest level. They are applying some further changes in relation to the reduction of sugar intake and ensuring that there is a greater presence of fruit and vegetables within the menus that are available to young people.

Finally, on Mr Whittle’s point about the engagement and involvement of young people, I would heartily encourage that. It is one of the many ways in which young people must have their voices heard in our education system. Any school, I think, will be serving its pupils very well by engaging them in discussions about the quality of school meals and their aspirations for the type of food that they want to consume.


University Access

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university. (S5O-02220)

We are committed to ensuring that all our young people, no matter their background, have an equal chance of going to university. Our target is for 20 per cent of students who enter university to be from Scotland’s 20 per cent most deprived backgrounds by 2030. The 2017 Universities and Colleges Admissions Service statistics on entrants demonstrate that we are making good progress towards that goal, with a 13 per cent increase in the number of Scots from the most deprived communities who are getting places to study at Scottish universities. That means 605 additional people from the most deprived communities being accepted to study.

Through the access delivery group, we will continue to work with universities to push forward our fair access agenda.

The supplementary must be brief.

Despite the Government’s rhetoric, recent UCAS stats show that the percentage of applicants who are from disadvantaged backgrounds is declining, whereas the percentage from advantaged backgrounds is increasing. What action is the Government taking to reverse that worrying trend and give pupils from all areas of Scotland equal access to university?

As I said in my original answer, the latest stats from UCAS demonstrate progress on the widening access agenda. The Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council’s report on widening access produced baseline figures for 2016-17 that refer to university applications before the report of the commission on widening access was implemented. The Government is carrying out that report’s recommendations and we expect further progress in future years.

We started late, so I will take question 15 briefly.


Co-ordinated Support Plans

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to address the reported low uptake of co-ordinated support plans among pupils with additional needs. (S5O-02221)

Under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004, education authorities have a statutory duty to consider whether children or young people for whom they are responsible require a co-ordinated support plan. The CSP’s purpose is to enable 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 the education authority and any other agency. To support authorities in those considerations, we published in December 2017 the revised code of practice on supporting learners, which includes guidance for authorities on meeting their duties under the 2004 act in relation to CSPs.

The supplementary question and answer must be short, please.

Does the cabinet secretary accept that there is a direct link between the loss of hundreds of specialist additional support needs teachers and the exceptionally low uptake of co-ordinated support plans for young people who have additional support needs?

I do not accept such a relationship, because local authorities have a statutory duty to ensure that any child whose needs require a co-ordinated support plan receives such a plan. The two processes are entirely separate. Local authorities have a statutory duty and obligation to fulfil what is expected of them under the 2004 act, and members of the public and young people and their families have a right to expect that of local authorities.

I apologise to the five members I could not call. I will move straight on so that we lose no time.