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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 15, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 15 June 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Stink Pits, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Education Governance, Edinburgh Festivals, Business Motion, Decision Time


Education Governance

The next item of business is a statement by John Swinney on education governance—next steps. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.


The Government was elected last year on a platform of radical and bold action to make Scottish education world class for all our young people. That commitment has driven the changes that we have already made and it drives the reforms that we now propose. In particular, we pledged to

“give more power and resources direct to schools, to put teachers, parents and communities in the driving seat of school improvement.”

Today, with the publication of our paper on school reform “Education Governance: Next Steps—Empowering Our Teachers, Parents and Communities to Deliver Excellence and Equity for Our Children”, we make good on that pledge. The aim is to deliver excellence and equity by raising the bar for all and closing the attainment gap. A simple powerful premise sits at the heart of our proposals: the best decisions about a child’s education are taken by the people who know that child best—their parents, their teachers, their school and their community.

We are determined to build an education system from the classroom out. We will reform the system so that the key decisions in a child’s education are taken by our schools. Schools will be free to improve learning and teaching and to make decisions as they think best within a broad national framework. All other parts of the education system will share a collective responsibility and work within a strong framework to support schools to succeed.

We have excellent teachers, who are hard working and committed to raising attainment for all. Many children and young people fulfil their potential. Exam results are very good and are improving, and the overwhelming majority of young people leave school to go into a job or training, or to continue their studies. We have a strong curriculum, which has the needs of children and young people at its centre.

However, those strengths do not mask the challenges that we face. There is still too much bureaucracy, generating unnecessary workload for our teachers. We remain committed to freeing teachers to teach, and we continue to work with their professional associations on further steps that we can take to achieve that.

We fully recognise the message of the programme for international student assessment and Scottish survey of literacy and numeracy results. They reveal the significant hurdles to be overcome if we are to make progress on raising the bar and closing the attainment gap.

We can, and we must, achieve more. That is why we embarked on a programme of reform. The national improvement framework and the attainment fund have laid the foundations for what I am setting out today. In particular, the pupil equity fund has put £120 million directly into the hands of our headteachers.

When we launched the governance review last September, we set out to engage directly with teachers, practitioners, parents and professional bodies across Scotland. I formally place on the parliamentary record how grateful I am to the many individuals who spoke to us and for the written responses that we received. I am publishing our analysis of those responses today.

No one will be surprised to hear that many of the respondents from within the education system argued against change. However, very few respondents expressed satisfaction with the status quo, and many expressed real concern about elements of the current system.

We also examined a wide range of evidence to inform our approach, including from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the international council of education advisers, and children and young people in Scotland themselves. Advice from the international council has been clear: to improve our education system we must tackle culture, capacity and structure. I am taking a blended approach, to address all three.

The centrepiece of these reforms is a package of sweeping new powers for schools, so that education is led by teachers, parents and communities. We will put the power to change lives into the hands of those with the expertise and the insight to target resources at the greatest need. Schools have the expertise and the insight to target resources to greatest effect, so they will be responsible for attainment, delivering improvement and transforming children’s lives. That will be supported by a new structure, with three key pillars: enhanced career and development opportunities for teachers; improvement services, delivered by new regional collaboratives; and support services from councils.

There is clear evidence that the strength and quality of leadership in our schools is crucial to delivering improvement. We know that headteachers want to focus on the delivery of learning and teaching and do not want to be chief administrators of their schools. We will therefore give headteachers more power over decisions on learning and teaching, freeing them to make a real difference to the lives of children and young people.

At the heart of this will be a statutory headteachers charter. Headteachers will be the leaders of learning in their schools, responsible for raising attainment and closing the attainment gap. They will be free to select and manage the teachers and staff in their school, determine their own school management and staffing structure, decide on curriculum content and directly control a significantly increased proportion of school funding.

International evidence shows that involving parents, families and communities fully in schools improves attainment, so that is what we will do. We will enhance parent councils and modernise and strengthen the legislation on parental involvement, to enable all parents to play a role in their local school and particularly in their children’s learning. To ensure that schools interact more effectively with families who find it difficult to engage, every school will have access to a home-to-school worker, to make and maintain such links.

Children and young people must be at the heart of our education system. We will strengthen their voice, through more effective and consistent pupil participation.

Parents should be involved in the wider running of schools. We have seen an increased desire for autonomy in the proposals that have been put to us, including from St Joseph’s primary school in Milngavie. As part of the governance review, we have carefully considered each proposal on its merits. I recognise what the parents are trying to achieve for their schools and their children, but I am acutely conscious that schools also need support frameworks to function well.

The reforms that I am setting out today will significantly increase the autonomy of our schools and the role of parents in school life and ensure our schools are rooted in their communities. Crucially, however, our reforms deliver that within a clear national and local framework of policy and support. Such a collaborative approach is a key strength of the Scottish system, and it is critical to improving attainment and closing the attainment gap.

I therefore cannot agree to pursue the specific proposals from parents at St Joseph’s and elsewhere as they would remove schools from that crucial support structure. I consider, however, that we are delivering on the autonomy and increased parental involvement that lie behind many people’s support for the plans that have been proposed in good faith by the parents of St Joseph’s and other schools.

Schools will lead, but they must have the support that they require to succeed, so we will back them with a new support structure around the three pillars that I mentioned earlier. The first pillar—enhanced professional development and career opportunities for teachers—will see teachers strongly supported throughout their careers. Professional learning and collaboration are key to that. We will streamline and enhance professional learning so that there is a coherent learning offer for teachers. Improved support through collaborative practice in new regional models and school clusters will also build the capacity of teachers significantly.

We also know that some teachers have been frustrated at the lack of opportunities to progress in their careers, so we will work with the profession to design new career pathways to develop and reward leadership skills, pedagogic expertise and subject specialities. We will also undertake reforms to initial teacher education to ensure that new teachers are well prepared, with consistently well-developed skills, to teach in key areas such as literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing. Finally, we will continue to develop new routes into teaching that attract a broader range of high-quality graduates, including in priority areas and subjects.

A formal procurement process will shortly begin for new routes into teaching. However, I can be clear today that any new route into teaching will require to meet the General Teaching Council for Scotland tests, including partnership with a university to maintain credibility and academic rigour. This Government will not remove the crucial guarantee of the quality of teaching in Scotland.

We recognise that the success of a school and teacher-led system rests on the availability of the right support, which is not currently available consistently across the country. We must build capacity for educational improvement in the system by putting in place the second pillar—a revolutionised offer of support and improvement.

We will establish regional improvement collaboratives to pool and strengthen resources to support learning and teaching in Scotland’s schools. Led by a new regional director who will report to the chief inspector of education, the collaboratives will provide educational improvement support through dedicated teams of professionals and will draw on Education Scotland staff, local authority staff and others. They will facilitate collaborative working, share best practice and support collaborative networks and partnership approaches tailored to their local area. I welcome the steps that have already been taken by some local authorities to embrace that approach, and we will work with local government to expand and deepen that work.

The collaboratives will provide a coherent focus across all parts of the system through an annual regional plan for educational improvement that is aligned with the national improvement framework. We know that our teachers want to improve continuously, for the simple reason that they want to do better for our children; this will help them do that.

The third pillar of support will be delivered exclusively by local government. Local authorities will retain a vital role in our education system, with responsibility for a wide range of education support services, including the number and catchment areas of schools in their area; the provision of denominational and Gaelic-medium schools; the administration of placing and admissions procedures, including for children who have additional support needs; the provision of back-office support services such as human resources; and securing excellent headteachers for the schools in their area. Taken together, that all makes for a crucial role for councils in ensuring that schools have the support framework and services they need. Retaining important local accountability means that we retain vital democratic accountability for the leadership of Scotland’s schools.

Councils will also have new statutory duties. They will have a duty to collaborate to support improvement on a regional basis and to provide staff, including headteachers and teachers, to work within the regional improvement collaborative in partnership with other local authorities and national agencies.

An empowered system that is underpinned by collaborative working and a strong improvement support function will operate within a clear national framework. The Scottish Government and national bodies have a key role to play in that regard.

As part of the reforms, Education Scotland will undergo significant change, with strengthened inspection and improvement functions. The improvement functions will remain with inspection, acting as a crucial tool to support the system-wide goal of continuous improvement.

We will give Education Scotland a renewed focus on professional learning and leadership, providing clarity and coherence to the national landscape. That will incorporate the functions of the Scottish College for Educational Leadership and will be delivered via the new regional improvement collaboratives. That will mean that hands-on advice, support and guidance can flow directly to more schools to support improvement. We know that current support can feel either inconsistent or distant, and we must reverse that.

As Parliament will be aware, Bill Maxwell, the chief executive of Education Scotland, is retiring on 30 June. I can confirm that Karen Reid, the chief executive of the Care Inspectorate, will lead both organisations on an interim basis, supported by Graeme Logan as interim chief inspector and chief education adviser. The process for the appointment of a permanent chief inspector of education, who will also lead Education Scotland and be my principal education adviser, will start in the summer.

One of the strengths of our education system is that we have national teacher professional standards, underpinned by a national registration scheme. We recognise that there are many other professionals, such as education support staff, who play a key role in educating our children and supporting our teachers but who are not currently part of a national registration scheme. We will therefore consult on establishing an education workforce council for Scotland to take on the responsibilities of the GTCS and the Standards Council for Community Learning and Development for Scotland and registering other education professionals.

To support those system-wide changes, we must have an approach to funding that ensures that control over resources for schools sits with schools. The consultation on fair funding that I am publishing today seeks views on how we can achieve that. As our proposals make clear, I have ruled out the development of a fixed national funding formula.

It is clear that the reforms that I have set out today cannot be delivered by Government alone. They will require partnership working, shared effort and real focus on delivering change in every part of the system. I commit the Government to active engagement with our local authority partners, the professional associations and other stakeholders to take this agenda forward. I also acknowledge that the Government does not command a majority in this Parliament, so we will work with other parties to build agreement around the reforms. Some changes can be delivered without legislation and we will work with partners to deliver those quickly. For changes that need legislation, we will introduce an education governance bill in 2018.

At the heart of all our reforms is a simple plan. We will free our teachers to teach; we will put new powers in the hands of our headteachers; we will ensure that parents, families and communities play a bigger role in school life and in their children’s learning; and we will all—Government, councils and agencies—support our schools to do what they do best: transform the life chances of our children. That must be the vision of us all for the future of Scotland’s schools.

The Parliament knows that, for several decades, the Scottish Conservatives have wanted to see a school system that involves real devolution to headteachers. We are pleased to see that the Scottish National Party is now supporting that direction of travel in the general principles of these reforms.

The cabinet secretary is right to say that the status quo is not an option—how could anyone argue otherwise given the incontrovertible evidence that Scotland’s schools face many fundamental challenges, especially over standards of literacy and numeracy? He will, however, not be surprised to hear that we do not believe that the reforms go far enough—in particular, when it comes to extending choice and allowing schools to opt out of local authority control if that is what parents and teachers want.

I will ask the cabinet secretary three specific questions. First, why will headteachers not receive full autonomy in spending the pupil equity fund but will instead have to abide by both local government and national Government guidelines on how the money should be spent?

Secondly, given all the evidence that has been submitted to the Education and Skills Committee in recent months, does the cabinet secretary really believe that it is credible to have the inspectorate remain part of Education Scotland when that body is also undertaking the development of curriculum for excellence and when there are many question marks over the delivery of the curriculum in our classrooms?

Thirdly, is the introduction of regional education boards not completely counter to the Scottish Government’s stated aim of devolving powers down to local communities?

I welcome Liz Smith’s comments about empowering schools and headteachers. I believe that that is the right step to take to ensure that decisions about the education of our young people can be taken by those whom we trust to lead the education process and who have the greatest opportunity to effect the approach.

I will deal with the three specific points that Liz Smith raises in order. First, pupil equity funding has already made a huge impact on Scottish education by giving headteachers the flexibility to address the needs of young people in their care. They will do that along with schools and communities, because headteachers who act wisely will engage them in determining how best to proceed with pupil equity funding.

In the reforms that I am making, I am trying to strike a balance between providing schools with the autonomy to make the decisions that matter to young people and providing the support to enable headteachers to make wise decisions. Any guidelines that are available on PEF must be supportive and advisory; they cannot be the type of restrictive instrument that prevents headteachers from exercising sensible educational judgment about how the money should be distributed. From my conversations with headteachers, I know that they value guidance on how to utilise those resources but value equally having the freedom to spend the resources in a fashion that they can justify educationally.

Secondly, I recognise that the issue relating to Education Scotland has been debated extensively in Parliament. Indeed, I considered the question substantially in the debate that we had on the subject some months ago. If we were to separate the inspection and improvement functions, with leadership of those functions being held separately in our education system, we would be requiring schools to work out whether they should follow the signals of the inspectorate or those of the improvement organisations. Inspection is all about being part of the improvement function in education—that is our vision for inspection, which is a contributory factor in the design of improvement mechanisms in education.

Thirdly, regional collaboratives are what I say they are: mandatory collaborations between local authorities and Education Scotland that will enable us to pool our combined resources in order for them to have more effect in improving education in individual schools. Why is that important? It is important because not all schools can currently rely on a strong, specialist and effective improvement function being available in their part of the country, and that is not good enough. Every school in our country must be able to rely on such a resource. Through joint working between local authorities, Education Scotland and experienced educationalists, we intend to create regional education collaboratives that will fulfil that purpose.

The cabinet secretary will expect me to begin by welcoming something that he has done, so I am delighted to welcome the fact that he has dropped the idea of centralising school funding in a national funding formula. Well done. I also welcome the end of his flirtation with the idea of opt-out schools.

However, the first of the two funding options on which he is now consulting, which would enshrine a national approach to the devolution of funding, appears to suggest that he still wants to decide individual school budgets nationally. How is that different from a national funding formula?

I have always had an open mind on regional collaboration as long as it is aimed at providing pedagogical and subject-based support in the way that the old advisory services used to, which could really support classroom teachers in their work. Nevertheless, can the cabinet secretary explain how regional improvement collaboratives, centrally appointed regional directors and annual plans are not just another layer of bureaucracy? How will they support the teacher in the classroom?

Consultation responses from teachers, parents, educationalists and councils have all said the same thing: the first reform that we need is more teachers who are properly paid, properly supported and properly resourced. Why has his statement nothing to say about that?

I welcome Iain Gray’s two points of welcome. Even he will acknowledge that it is the fundamental duty of a minister to consider propositions that are put to him by members of the public. Considering proposals that have been put to me by organisations around the country is not a “flirtation” with particular concepts but the exercise of a duty that the Parliament would be surprised if I did not exercise.

The first of his three questions was on funding mechanisms. The first option in the consultation document—which, I stress, is an opportunity for members and interested parties to make their contributions to the process—would give more control to individual schools within a framework that was designed from particular components of education expenditure. It would flow through local government into particular schools with conditions attached in the process. It would not be a national approach, because we would not decide all the elements of the process.

In response to Mr Gray’s second question, I hope that we can make progress on common ground, because the vision that Mr Gray outlined of a pedagogical and advisory support arrangement to enhance the quality of learning and teaching is exactly what I want to create. I want the arrangement to have the pace and drive to improve education in Scotland. That is why I want the regional directors to be accountable to the chief inspector of education, who will have responsibility to ensure that we constantly pursue improvement in Scottish education. The vision for its purpose that Mr Gray spoke about is exactly what I want to see in place, because we need more specialist expertise to be available to enhance learning and teaching at a local level in individual schools.

Mr Gray’s final question was about the teaching profession. The Government has put in place the resources that are now leading to an increased number of teachers in the profession. Through the mechanisms that I have set out here, we are strengthening the educational development functions of the system to ensure that we enhance learning and teaching. Those are some of the elements that the teaching profession has called for, and I have responded positively to enhance the pedagogical and advisory influence that is available.

There are 13 more members who want to ask questions—the clue is in the word “questions”. I call Jenny Gilruth, to be followed by Jeremy Balfour.

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

Is the cabinet secretary aware of the recent report by the National Parent Forum of Scotland? The report suggests that

“Moves to engage parents in their children’s education have been largely successful, but need to go further”?

Will he outline what impact he expects strengthened parent councils to have on our children’s learning?

The National Parent Forum of Scotland undertook a very good and rigorous review of the legislation that is in place and has made a number of recommendations, which the Government will take forward as part of addressing the commitments that we have given in the governance review.

I will make two points in response to Ms Gilruth’s questions. The first is that parent councils are an opportunity for headteachers to engage in creating a real community of interest to advance education. As I indicated in my response to Liz Smith, there is already a lot of very good evidence that parent councils have been heavily involved in the design of pupil equity funding and how it can be used to make the biggest impact on the system.

My second point, which is as important as the first, is about engagement of parents in their children’s learning. Again, active involvement, and steps to ensure that parents are more actively involved in their children’s learning, have been proved by the international studies—which we cite in the consultation document response—to have significantly enhanced young people’s achievement and attainment, and to have contributed to the development of stronger performance within education systems. I would like us to take action in both those respects.

I thank the cabinet secretary for his statement. I ask him to clarify three points. Will headteachers have the power to employ and sack teachers in their schools, and if not, where will that power lie? How many regional collaboratives will there be? Will councillors be part of the regional groupings?

Under the charter, headteachers will be responsible for selection of staff in their schools, but they will not be the employers of their staff. Local authorities will continue to be the employers. My judgment is that if 32 human resources systems is too many, I do not want to move to having 2,500. Local authorities will be the employers of teachers and will deal with HR matters, but headteachers will be free to select the teachers who will teach in their schools. Where there are performance issues or other such matters, the local authority will have to be involved, but that will be at the instigation of the headteacher.

Secondly, I am not prescribing how many regional collaboratives there should be, but they will have to involve a number of local authorities. I will consult local government on the matter. I have it in mind that there should probably be six or seven regional collaboratives, but I am not wedded to those numbers.

Thirdly, I do not envisage councillors being on the collaboratives; rather, I envisage the collaboratives being composed of education professionals who will work together to enhance the support that I talked about to Mr Gray, and ensure that pedagogical expertise is available to schools. Again, however, I am prepared to discuss the issues with our local authority partners.

The Education and Skills Committee recently took from teachers evidence in which workload was a recurring theme. I welcome the reassurance that the cabinet secretary has provided that teachers will continue to be the leaders of learning, but will he expand a wee bit on the support that will be available to teachers and how it will improve their current situation?

First, I say to Mr Dornan that I remain focused on reducing workload because that is a necessary step to free up the space to enable teachers to enhance learning and teaching.

That brings me on to my second point in response to Mr Dornan. The enhancement of learning and teaching is at the heart of the governance review, and that is why we are taking steps to draw together the work of Education Scotland and local authorities in the regional collaboratives to ensure that classroom teachers have available to them a range of expertise and specialism that will enhance the quality of learning and teaching. We believe that that blend will significantly assist teachers in fulfilling their potential.

Regarding the cabinet secretary’s remarks about alternative routes to teaching, can he say what the minimum amount of time spent in lectures and on supervised placements will be under the plans? How will that compare with the professional graduate diploma in education and other current teaching qualifications? As a procurement-process model will be followed, can he advise us what criteria will be used to assess the bids and make awards? What are the—

No, Mr Johnson. One question, not a whole sequence of them.

With no disrespect to Mr Johnson, I say that I suspect that we could have a long parliamentary committee session exploring the detail of those questions. They are all valid points to raise.

Let me say two things. First, some of the questions that Mr Johnson asks are material to the composition of initial teacher education courses. He knows from my appearance at the Education and Skills Committee that I have a question in mind about variability in those components. That is an issue that we need to explore with the colleges of education.

Secondly, whatever steps we take on any of the detailed questions that Mr Johnson raises, we must have assurance on the quality of the propositions. That is why there must be an academic partner and GTCS assessment of the particular routes, so that we can be satisfied that the quality of the route into teaching is of a sufficiently high standard. We need to have confidence that in identifying a new route into teaching, which may be shorter, quality is not compromised in any way.

I will follow up Jenny Gilruth’s question. We have areas in Glasgow—particularly poorer areas—in which there are schools that have no parent council because parents have been very reluctant to get involved. Can the cabinet secretary suggest how we can deal with that?

The way to deal with that is to encourage parents to be involved in the school as part of the learning process.

I think it was on Monday that I was in St Thomas’ RC primary school in the east end of Glasgow—

Cabinet secretary, you are speaking away from your microphone. I know that you are doing so out of politeness to a member who is sitting at the back, but no one can hear you.

I apologise because that was disrespectful to you, Presiding Officer.

I was in St Thomas’ RC primary school in the east end of Glasgow at Smithycroft, on Monday. I visited a marvellous project in which young people were articulating their understanding and experience of the Holocaust—in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s and in Darfur in recent times. I saw at first hand magnificent learning and expression by the young people, but I also saw significant parental engagement in the project and process. That is one very good way to encourage parents to be involved in the school. It may be that the learning process encourages more parents to become involved in the development of the school: I certainly saw a very good example of that on Monday.

I, too, thank the cabinet secretary for giving us advance sight of his statement. He began by saying that headteachers do not want to become chief administrators, but then announced new responsibilities in recruitment, management of staff and budgeting, which they will have to take on. Is not that an example of the wider problem, given that the exercise is not one that was asked for and will not resolve the key issue in Scottish education, which is that over the past 10 years we have lost 4,000 teachers, more than a third of school librarians, more than 500 additional support needs teachers and hundreds of support staff?

I hope that you heard my sigh.

I did, Presiding Officer. That was my question.

Yes. You have asked your question. Please sit down.

I reiterate to Mr Greer that I have absolutely no intention of turning headteachers into chief administrators of their schools—I want them to be leaders of learning. They want to be leaders of learning—I do not meet headteachers who do not want to be leaders of learning—instead of the chief administrator of their school. Many headteachers say to me that they cannot be leaders of learning because they do not have sufficient control over what they are able to do in the school and in their selection of staff.

In my answer to Mr Balfour I made it clear that I am not going to set up HR systems in individual schools. That is not what is envisaged. Local authorities will continue to provide HR support services to individual schools. However, I want headteachers to have the discretion to choose the staff who will work in their school so that they can design the most effective way to deliver an effective curriculum for the young people in their care. That is the sensible route that will enable headteachers to make a profound impact on the lives of young people.

I agree with the cabinet secretary’s direction of travel but not his logic on Education Scotland. Will he confirm that under the proposals, education regions—and, indeed, schools—will have to follow the national improvement plan, that the improvement plan is the education secretary’s, and that the chief inspector of education, who is now to be the principal adviser to the education secretary, will be his education policeman? Rather than decisions being taken at the school level—which I entirely agree with—many people see the proposals as a top-down structure, in which Scotland’s educational future is determined by ministers here in Edinburgh.

I do not accept that characterisation. I am happy to discuss those questions in some detail, because I do not think that Mr Scott and I are in disagreement in any way. I want schools to be properly empowered to take the decisions that will shape the learning of young people in their care, but I want them to be well supported in undertaking those functions. I am undertaking reforms at national and regional levels to ensure that all of us—whether we are in local government, Education Scotland or the Government—are taking part in that process of support.

One of the interesting things with which we wrestle in education is the level to which issues should be prescribed. I do not want to prescribe issues, because that would be alien to curriculum for excellence. I want schools to be able to take those decisions and to take them well supported by the regional and national infrastructure that is in place.

I have come to my conclusions on Education Scotland and on inspection and improvement activities on the basis of good analysis and sound reason. I am very happy to discuss that at length with Tavish Scott and anyone else who tries to get to a point of agreement, because I want to proceed with these reforms with as much agreement as possible.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that moves by councils such as the Labour-Tory-run North Lanarkshire Council to divert pupil equity funding from its intended purpose into core education funding will do nothing to close the attainment gap or free up teachers’ time? Does he share my anger—

No, no. You have had your question, Mr MacGregor.

—at the decision of the administration in North Lanarkshire to cut hundreds of classroom assistants from schools, removing support from the children and young people who need it most?

You have had your question about diverting funds, Mr MacGregor. Please sit down.

Pupil equity funding has been allocated to make what I hope will be a profound impact on the education of young people, and it should be used for that purpose. The Government is in active discussion with all local authorities, many of which have responded to the approach effectively, to make sure that the pupil equity funding is used in the effective way that it should be, to enhance learning and teaching for young people and to close the attainment gap.

Before I call Brian Whittle, I say to Fulton MacGregor that when I tell you to stop, you stop. You do not keep speaking. That goes for all members.

I call Brian Whittle.

I note that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities is committed to moving forward regional collaboration in co-production with the Scottish Government, building on the collaboration that already occurs between local authorities. With that in mind, I ask the cabinet secretary what relationship new regional collaborations will have with local authorities and what role they will play in deciding school policy.

I welcome COSLA’s statements on regional collaborations. There is a very good example in the north of Scotland, with which members will be familiar: the northern alliance, in which seven local authorities have come together in a voluntary collaboration. They are pooling resources to ensure that the seven authorities have access to resources that can enhance the quality of learning and teaching. It is not about deciding policy; it is about how to provide support for individual school development. A key part of the reform agenda that I am putting before Parliament is to create the support that will enhance the quality of learning and teaching in our schools, so that pupils in classrooms can receive enhanced support in the delivery of education. If we can make progress on that swiftly—and there is no reason why we cannot—we will begin to see the fruits of it in Scottish education very quickly.

I welcome what the cabinet secretary has said about children and young people being at the heart of our education system. How has the Scottish Government ensured that their voice has been heard throughout this process and will continue to be heard?

I attended a number of sessions with young people, and I think that Mr McDonald and Ms Somerville attended some as well. They were facilitated by Young Scot and Children in Scotland. The format of those events was conducive to allowing us to understand and appreciate the perspective of young people, which has been reflected in the Government’s announcements today.

I intend to continue that type of dialogue. I also gave a commitment to Mr Greer in earlier discussions that we will involve young people in some of our national deliberations on key questions to make sure that the perspective of young people is heard very directly on those points.

I welcome recognition in the cabinet secretary’s statement that international evidence shows that involving parents, families and communities fully in schools improves attainment. The announcement that every school will have access to a home-school worker sounds very positive.

I do not hear a question.

It is just coming, Presiding Officer.

I am not waiting any longer. Let us have the question.

Can the cabinet secretary say how many of those workers we will have and what the cost will be and, while he is in the mood to talk about evidence, will he talk about the proposal for school-based counselling as well?

Those are all questions that I am happy to explore as we move to the detailed implementation, which we will take forward in partnership with our local authority colleagues and other stakeholders.

There is very good evidence on establishing home-to-school link workers, which some schools have already done through the attainment challenge. I saw some very good evidence of how successful it has been on a visit to the Inzievar primary school, which is in my colleague Shirley-Anne Somerville’s constituency. It has had very good success there and has enhanced the access to learning for young people.

We will explore those questions in detail with our local authority partners.

The cabinet secretary says that he cannot agree to the proposals from St Joseph’s in Milngavie and others because it would remove such schools from crucial support structures. Does he not accept that headteachers must have the freedoms that those proposals call for? Which support structures does he think an autonomous school might lack?

The point that I am making is that I have looked carefully at the demands that have been made and the proposals that have been put forward and, although I understand exactly and do not in any way question the motivation of anyone who has made them, I am providing through this statement a level of flexibility and autonomy in schools that substantively meets the aspirations of the groups to which Mr Greene refers.

What concerns me is that our system operates on the basis of there being an amount of discretion and flexibility in schools, but also on schools being able to rely on quality support to enhance education. We must be able to give a guarantee of effective education to children in all parts of our country.

In that balance, where there are competing points of view, my judgment is that the amount of flexibility and autonomy that is being proposed under these reforms substantively addresses the issues that have been raised by the parents of pupils at St Joseph’s primary school. On that basis, I have come to my conclusions on ensuring that the schools in our system are able to rely on quality support from the reforms that I set out today to Parliament.

In his speech, the cabinet secretary said:

“At the heart of this will be a statutory headteachers charter.”

Can he confirm that a headteachers charter will be developed in partnership with the profession?

It will.

If there are to be no councillors on the new regional bodies, who will they be accountable to? Will it be to the cabinet secretary?

No. There will be collaborations between local authorities. It is about sharing expertise; it is not about top-down control. The problem that we have today is that in some parts of the country our schools are not able to rely on a sufficiently strong pedagogical and educational support service. I cannot allow that to continue, so I am doing something about it, and this is my solution. This is not about me controlling it but about me making sure that every school in every single part of the country can rely on strong expertise to support the delivery of education. That is the point of the reform.

That concludes questions to the minister.