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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 22 November 2017

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Burntisland Fabrications, Flood Risk, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Thyroid Conditions


Portfolio Question Time

Fife College (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met Fife College and what issues were discussed. (S5O-01493)

The Scottish Government regularly meets Fife College on a number of matters in the general course of business. My most recent meeting with the college was on 7 November, to mark the college’s status as an accredited living wage employer during living wage week.

I think that the minister is aware of Fife College’s decision to cut its higher national diploma journalism course and no longer offer access to the National Council for the Training of Journalists exams.

I understand from students on the course that they were informed of the decision only recently and that it has been suggested that they transfer to the University of Sunderland. Those students have made an investment in the course and had expectations about their future. For many Fife students, transfer to Sunderland is not a realistic option. As I understand it, the college’s decision will leave Glasgow as the only place in Scotland to offer accredited NCTJ courses.

Does the minister think that it is acceptable for a course to be cut halfway through the programme? Will she raise the matter with Fife College?

Claire Baker is correct to point to the withdrawal of the practical journalism HND course at Fife College. The course was withdrawn due to a lack of demand from students and an analysis of the future needs of employers in the local economy in Fife. The higher national certificate course, which is the same as year 1 of the HND, will continue to run.

When there is any change to course options, the Government expects colleges to work with students at the earliest opportunity to provide support and information about alternative opportunities to continue their studies. I understand that the principal of Fife College is keen to meet the students who are affected, to hear their concerns and explore directly with them the issues that they face. I understand that that meeting will be arranged in due course.

In a recent report, the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council showed that the proportion of Fife College students who come from the most deprived areas has declined in recent years, from 27 per cent in 2014-15 to 23 per cent in 2015-16. What action will be taken to reverse that worrying trend and ensure that all students, whatever their background, have the opportunity to enter further education?

Colleges play a very important role in widening access to further and higher education, and Fife College is no exception.

I know from my experience as a Fife member of the Scottish Parliament that Fife College and its new principal are working hard to ensure that they have the right curriculum in place and can support student applications from across Fife. The principal is concerned about the number of students from the kingdom who come from different backgrounds and wants to take the issue forward. I am pleased to see the positive work that he has taken forward since taking up his position, and the Scottish Government and the Scottish funding council will do everything to support him in that.

Scottish Parent Teacher Council Survey

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Scottish Parent Teacher Council survey of parents, which found that 92 per cent believed that not enough money is being spent on schools. (S5O-01494)

The most recent data show that education budgets in Scotland are increasing by £144 million in 2017-18—a 3 per cent increase on the year before, in cash terms. We have allocated £120 million of pupil equity funding in 2017-18 directly to around 95 per cent of schools, to be spent, at the discretion of teachers and school leaders, on improving attainment. That is a direct investment by the Government to individual schools, to help them to close the attainment gap.

The SPTC is clear in its submission to the fair funding in schools consultation that there has been a 16 per cent drop in spending on education since 2009. The SPTC says explicitly,

“Additional funds”—

such as pupil equity funding—

“are welcome but do not reverse this decline”,

and it talks about parents having to raise funds for basics such as information technology, textbooks and reading schemes. Will the cabinet secretary listen to parents and promise to reverse the decline in school spending over recent years in the forthcoming budget?

I welcome the fact that increased resources are being spent on education. There were increases in 2016-17 and 2017-18 and the Government has put in place the resources to support pupil equity funding.

Earlier today, I had the privilege of meeting the pupil council and other pupil representatives from Murrayburn primary school in Edinburgh. The children explained to me exactly what choices they had made about the allocation of pupil equity funding to enhance their school’s learning environment and to assist them to close the attainment gap. I welcome the creativity and innovation that has been taken forward, which is evidence of the additional resources that the Government is putting into education.

Will the cabinet secretary confirm again that local authorities spent £4.9 billion on education in 2015-16, which is almost 3 per cent more than in the previous year, as he stated, and that spending per pupil is higher in Scotland than in England?

That is, indeed, the case. The Government invests nearly £8 billion in education every year in revenue and capital, including funding to local authorities. Spending on education by councils has risen in each of the past four years in cash terms, and the total revenue spending on schools has risen under this Government since 2006-07 by £350 million, or 7.6 per cent in cash terms.

Special Educational Needs (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it provides to young people with special educational needs. (S5O-01495)

The responsibility for the provision of support to children and young people with additional support needs rests with education authorities. The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 requires education authorities to identify, provide for and review the additional support that their pupils require.

As I announced in the debate on mainstreaming earlier this month, changes to that legislation are forthcoming in January next year. To support authorities to prepare, the Scottish Government will publish revised statutory guidance on the requirements of the act, including those changes, and non-statutory guidance on the new requirements and complaints to ministers, and it will establish a service to support children to exercise their rights on their own behalf. Those are in addition to the consultation on the guidance on the presumption to mainstream education and the research to help us to understand the experiences of children and young people who receive additional support for learning.

Is the cabinet secretary aware that the removal of charitable status from independent schools will have a massive impact on the 20 small private schools that cater specifically for children with complex additional support needs? Already, two of those schools have voiced concerns that removal of their charitable status would mean a rise in fees, placing at risk their futures and those of the children with whom they work. Will the cabinet secretary commit to protecting those schools and ensuring that parents and special needs pupils will not pay the price for that rate increase?

I think that Mr Stewart has muddled up a couple of things in his question. The issue of designating organisations for charitable status is not a decision of mine; it is a decision by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator. It is an issue over which I have no control.

I think that Mr Stewart’s question muddles up that issue with the possibility of rates having to be paid by certain independent schools—if I have understood his question correctly. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution is considering that issue, as he said he would do in response to the review undertaken by Kenneth Barclay. He will, accordingly, report to Parliament on that.

I declare an interest as an adult with an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder diagnosis. Identification of neurodevelopmental disorders, such as ADHD, is a vital first step towards putting in place the right support for children and their learning. Will the Government commit to including ADHD as a distinct category in the pupil census, as is currently the case for autistic spectrum disorder?

First, I have admired Mr Johnson’s courage in expressing those personal issues, and I have appreciated reading about and understanding his experience.

I will give consideration to that question. I confess that I have not looked at those categorisations for the pupil census but, in the light of the issue that Mr Johnson has raised, I will look at them and reply to him in writing.

There are significant issues of inconsistency in identifying young people with additional support needs, as has been noted by the Education and Skills Committee. Current Education Scotland inspection regimes do not appear to give much regard to assessing additional support needs identification and provision. Does the Scottish Government believe that ASN identification and provision should be given greater regard during school inspections?

I consider those issues to be absolutely material to inspections. One of the core aspects of the inspection approach is to consider the measures that have been taken regarding the health and wellbeing of children and young people. I consider the issues that Mr Greer raises to be absolutely material to some of those judgments.

I raised this point in my answer to Mr Stewart. Mr Greer will be aware of the research that we will undertake to help us to understand the experiences of children and young people who receive additional support for learning. Part of that experiential research exercise is to understand how effectively needs are being met and to ensure that the points that Mr Greer raises are properly addressed as part of that commitment.

I reassure members that I consider the meeting of the needs of young people who have additional support needs to be utterly material to the inspection approach. Secondly, the research that we are undertaking needs to be a comprehensive analysis of the experiences of young people so that we can reflect that through policy implementation and guidance, to make sure that what we say in policy and statute is what is happening on the ground.

British Sign Language (Higher Education Courses)

4. Ivan McKee (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the provision, availability and student financial support in Scotland for higher education courses in British Sign Language. (S5O-01496)

BSL courses are taught across a range of levels at college and university in Scotland. Financial support is available within the current student support package for students undertaking eligible BSL courses of further and higher education. We want to make Scotland the best place in the world for BSL users to live, work and visit. Last month, we published Scotland’s first BSL national plan, which sets out 70 actions that we will take over the next three years to make progress towards that ambitious goal. The plan includes a number of actions to increase the opportunities for learning BSL.

The minister might be aware that the only part-time postgraduate course for students of BSL in the United Kingdom is at the University of Central Lancashire. The course is available by distance learning to allow students from as far afield as possible to take part. My understanding of the Student Awards Agency for Scotland regulations is that students of part-time postgraduate courses that are delivered in England could, in principle, attract support from SAAS. However, under current policy, SAAS does not provide it. Will the minister consider whether it might be possible for students of courses such as BSL that are not available in Scotland to be eligible for a funding package?

I fully recognise that many of the improvements that we want to see being delivered through the BSL national plan will depend on the availability of qualified BSL/English interpreters with the right skills and experience. We already support a full-time degree course in BSL/English interpreting at Heriot-Watt University, and a range of vocational opportunities is available at colleges. During the next two years, we will sponsor two new training programmes, one at Heriot-Watt University and one at Queen Margaret University, that are designed to support BSL interpreters to work in the specialist fields of health, mental health and justice.

We are aware that BSL courses are offered at universities in the rest of the UK and there is no equivalent here in Scotland. We recognise the need to ensure that support is available to Scotland-domiciled students to enable them to take up their chosen course. I can therefore announce today that we will address the issue that Mr McKee has raised and that eligible students who wish to study a part-time postgraduate BSL course elsewhere in the UK will now be able to access a tuition fee loan of up to £5,500 from SAAS.

School Inspections

5. Ross Greer (West Scotland) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government what areas will be prioritised for improvement when assessing the school inspection regime. (S5O-01497)

The Scottish Government launched the national improvement framework for Scottish Education on 6 January 2016. The publication sets out four key priorities that everyone in Scottish education should be working towards. The school inspection programme will continue to focus on these areas for improvement in schools: improvement in attainment, particularly in literacy and numeracy; closing the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged children; improvement in children’s and young people’s health and wellbeing, and improvement in employability skills and sustained, positive school leaver destinations for all young people.

In February of this year, George Watson’s college—a private school—underwent an annual engagement visit in which the school submitted self-evaluation information relating to child protection and safeguarding. No areas for improvement were identified at that time but, by September, a special inspection was ordered by the Scottish ministers following a complaint from a parent regarding serious bullying. That special inspection led to ministers imposing conditions on the school due to it being at risk of not adequately safeguarding the welfare of a pupil. Given that, does the Scottish Government believe the inspection regime for private schools to be adequate?

Yes, we do, because we have in place a blended model. There is self-evaluation, which applies right across the board in all schools in Scotland, whether they are private sector or state sector schools, and then there is the opportunity for us to undertake inspections, which are the more traditional inspections that we are all familiar with and which I cited in my answer to Ross Greer.

In some circumstances, those inspections will identify particular issues. They crystallise in a different way in relation to the private sector because there is an independent registrar of independent schools. Through that mechanism, issues will be identified that potentially have to be addressed by individual schools. That was the case with George Watson’s college. That has been communicated to the college and my expectation is that the requirements of that inspection will be fully honoured by the school.

The general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland has raised concerns that a proposed introduction of a programme of young inspectors would be unacceptable because they would not have the skills to evaluate what was going on in schools. Does the Scottish Government support the proposal? If so, how would it ensure the quality of school inspections would not decline as a result?

We need to have a sense of perspective, because the concept of introducing young inspectors is not to replace old inspectors—if I may use that term. It is to ensure that the perspective of young people is fully integrated into our assessment of the performance of education.

I sometimes despair when I am involved in conversations about education and the interests of the children and the young people do not crop up other than when I am introducing the issues into the debate, so I am all for young inspectors having a say about schools. As I said in my answer to Mr Gray, I have just met a fabulous group of young people from Murrayburn primary school who have been decision makers about how pupil equity funding is to be taken forward in their school. They were great advocates for the choices that they had made. It is important that we listen to the voices of young people as part of our assessment of the performance of Scottish education because, ultimately, that education must serve their interests.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Teaching (Greenock and Inverclyde)

6. Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting the teaching of STEM subjects in the Greenock and Inverclyde constituency. (S5O-01498)

We are providing specific support for the teaching of STEM subjects in Greenock and Inverclyde with our funding for the Scottish Schools Education Research Centre. That has included support for the development of primary science mentor teachers and science training for primary teachers in the Inverclyde and Clydeview academy school clusters in the constituency.

We also provide support to generation science and the Scottish Council for Development and Industry’s young engineers and science clubs. In 2016-17, both those initiatives have supported schools in all 32 local authorities. That has included support from the SCDI to young engineers and science clubs in all the primary and secondary schools in Inverclyde and a visit by generation science to all the primary schools in the area, reaching over 1,500 pupils.

With 2019 being the bicentenary of the passing of Greenock-born inventor James Watt, will the minister consider using James Watt commemoration events to highlight the importance of STEM subjects? Will she also consider the introduction of a national James Watt educational prize, which could be won annually by a school that excelled in STEM teaching?

As my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs said in September, events being planned to celebrate the life and achievements of James Watt would be warmly welcomed across Scotland. I understand that West College Scotland, for example, is actively considering its role in such events. That may include provision of a prize for students. I would be happy to hear further details from the member of such proposals in due course.

Headteachers (Recruitment Administration)

I remind the chamber that I am the private liaison officer to the education secretary. To ask the Scottish Government whether it expects the duties of headteachers to include recruitment administration. (S5O-01499)

The consultation that I launched earlier this month on the education bill makes it absolutely clear that the headteachers charter will empower headteachers to be leaders of learning and teaching in their schools. Local authorities will continue to be responsible for providing high-quality education support services to schools, supporting headteachers to make the decisions that most affect learning and teaching in their schools. That will include a significant role as the employer of teaching and non-teaching staff in schools and in the provision of human resources and recruitment support.

Fife Council has recently changed its teaching recruitment policy, putting its headteachers in charge of the administration tasks associated with appointing staff. Concerns have been raised with me about headteachers’ workload, with one headteacher having to sift through more than 200 applications before emailing candidates short-leeted for interview via the talent link programme. Does the cabinet secretary agree that local councils should not expect headteachers to complete additional administration associated with recruitment, and that local councils such as Fife Council should empower their headteachers to lead learning by freeing them of unnecessary bureaucracy?

I certainly think that there should be an approach to removing unnecessary bureaucracy in our education system, because in a variety of respects all organisations need to be mindful of the bureaucratic burdens in the education system. The whole objective of the headteachers charter is to enable headteachers to exercise greater influence over learning and teaching in their schools, and that should extend to choosing the individuals who should be on their staff, so I want to see headteachers fully involved in the recruitment processes that are undertaken. Throughout our approach to education, we will be serving the system well if all of us in all organisations look to minimise the bureaucratic burden that is placed on our schools, to enable more concentration to be applied to learning and teaching.

Does the cabinet secretary intend that headteachers’ recruitment powers should allow them to use untrained and unqualified maths students to teach maths, as The Scotsman today reveals is the case at Trinity academy in this city?

On the question of who should be teaching in a classroom, my position is absolutely clear and consistent. Only General Teaching Council for Scotland-registered teachers should be teaching in the classrooms and that, from what I see from the comments that have been made to The Scotsman by the convener of the education, children and families committee of the City of Edinburgh Council, is exactly what is happening in relation to the case that Mr Gray has raised. The students from the University of Edinburgh who are assisting in the classroom are not undertaking the teaching. Experienced teachers are taking the classes, with students assisting the pupils with their learning. That is what has been set out to The Scotsman by the convener of education for the City of Edinburgh Council.

Will the Deputy First Minister accept that, when I met the Sound primary school pupil council on Monday in Lerwick, it was explained to me that the school is one music teacher short and on its third round of interviews, and that it has an additional support needs post free as well? Is the important thing not to ensure the availability of qualified teaching staff, rather than giving people powers that they simply do not have the time to exercise?

On the point about teacher vacancies, of course I want to ensure that we take every step that we can to ensure that we have an adequate supply of trained and experienced teachers who can be present in the classrooms. Where that is challenging, we must find ways in which we can support the delivery of education to meet the needs of young people. I also believe that it is vital that our schools are able to exercise a greater degree of flexibility, and for headteachers to be able to operate that power of flexibility to ensure that they can best meet the needs of learners in their individual classroom settings. That is what I take from the discussions that I have with people in the education system about the appetite in Scottish schools. It is also the advice of the International Council of Education Advisers, which encouraged public authorities—both Government and local authorities—to give our schools much more freedom to exercise greater discretion over their approach to the delivery of education.

For some headteachers it would be a delight to administer recruitment, because they cannot get people into the classroom to actually teach the children. The administration is not the issue; it is getting the people in who are able to deliver lessons. What is the cabinet secretary doing about that?

We are doing a number of things. We have expanded the number of places that are available for initial teacher education—there was a further increase this year to more than 4,000. We have been unsuccessful in filling all those places, so we have devised new routes for teaching, which have generated more than 200 additional recruits to initial teacher education. Those people would not have come in if we had not developed those new routes into teaching, so I am sure that that will be welcomed by Neil Findlay.

We have also been taking forward the teaching makes people campaign, which is a recruitment campaign to encourage more individuals to come into the profession. Further, the GTCS has taken forward the policy of provisional conditional registration to make it easier and more practical for individuals from other jurisdictions to come into Scottish schools and teach, if they have the requisite qualifications to enable them to do so.

The Government is taking a range of measures to try to encourage and motivate more individuals to come into the profession. For example, last Friday, a tender closed for an additional new route into teaching. We are entirely focused on our measures to encourage more teachers to come into the classroom.

“Working to Widen Access”

8. Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the recent report by Universities Scotland, “Working to Widen Access”. (S5O-01500)

I welcome Universities Scotland’s report, which moves us forward in our shared agenda to widen access. That said, I remain concerned that the report’s recommendations will not allow universities to meet the timescales and policy challenges that are contained in the recommendations of the commission on widening access. For example, the target date of 2020-21 for minimum entry requirements is a year later than the commission recommended, and we need to pick up the pace of change.

Although I note the actions on articulation and bridging programmes, further clarity is needed on how and when they will support more young people from deprived communities into higher education. In particular, I am keen to see how we can ensure that activities and programmes that are already working well in some institutions can be rolled out to others to create the systemic change that is needed across education to provide equal access.

One of the groups of young people that we need to ensure have equal access to the opportunity of higher education are those with care experience. What progress is the Scottish Government making on delivering its commitment specifically to widen access for care-experienced young people?

As of this academic year, students with care experience who are under the age of 26 receive a full non-repayable bursary of £7,625. To date, around 500 students attending university in Scotland are benefiting from that support. We also want every care-experienced young person who meets the entry requirement to be offered a place at a Scottish university. Although I welcome the commitment in Universities Scotland’s paper to progress that, I will continue to press universities to act more urgently so that, as soon as possible, we are all doing everything that we can to give care-experienced young people the opportunity to study at university.

I welcome the report, but I note that the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science is concerned that the recommendations might not allow universities to meet the timescales and policy challenges that were contained in the final report of the commission on widening access. Does the minister agree that the success of the widening access policy ultimately depends on raising attainment in schools, which is patently lacking at present?

If the member speaks to Universities Scotland, he will be told that it recognises that universities have a role to play in that regard. Last week, in the delivery group, which we sit on, we discussed with individuals from primary schools, secondary schools and colleges and other stakeholders the issues of attainment in schools and the whole-systems approach to tackling widening access. We are all aware that, in order to make change in the short term, universities, as autonomous institutions, need to play their part. Many universities are stepping up to that challenge but some are a bit behind the curve—to put it politely—on that aspect.

We will take a whole-systems approach to widening access. As the Deputy First Minister has already described, we are doing a lot to increase attainment in schools. However, there is no excuse for universities sitting back and waiting for something else to happen to deliver widening access. They have taken up that agenda themselves; it is a shame that the Scottish Conservative Party has not done that, too.

Student Teachers

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to increase the number of student teachers. (S5O-01501)

The Scottish Government is taking a range of actions to increase the number of student teachers. We have committed £88 million this year to ensure that every school has access to the right number of teachers with the right skills. We have provided £1 million through the Scottish attainment challenge to support universities in developing new and innovative routes into teaching. We recently announced science, technology, engineering and mathematics bursaries of £20,000 to encourage career changers to train to become teachers of priority STEM subjects. We have also launched the second phase of our teaching makes people recruitment campaign, and we have created a new route into teaching that is designed specifically to attract high-quality graduates in priority areas and subjects. The tender exercise for that new route closed on 16 November and the evaluation process will commence shortly. The number of student teachers has risen by 7.5 per cent in 2017, and, with the new measures in place, we expect that the number of people who are training to be teachers will continue to rise in the years to come.

Figures that were published last week show that the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council’s target for student teacher recruitment was only 70 per cent met. The target for English teachers was just 63 per cent met, and the target for maths teachers was only 47 per cent met. The failure to meet those targets in full is resulting in teacher shortages across the region of Mid-Scotland and Fife, and in Scotland as a whole.

The steps that have been taken by the Scottish Government so far have failed to recruit the necessary number of teachers. What assurances can the cabinet secretary provide that the additional measures that he has set out will be effective in addressing the issue of the 816 vacant teacher posts in Scotland?

For completeness, I should correct Mr Lockhart by advising him that the intake by schools of education for primary teacher training was higher than the target that the Government set originally, so we recruited more primary teacher trainees than was intended. Mr Lockhart is correct in saying that we recruited fewer secondary teacher trainees into the system, but it is important that he does not convey the incorrect impression that the schools of education did not succeed in recruiting all the teacher trainees.

If the Government had not created new routes into teaching through the specific actions that it has taken, we would not have recruited an additional 204 candidates to the teacher education system and the rise in the number of initial teacher training applicants would have been only 2 per cent rather than the 7.5 per cent rise that the Government secured as a consequence of its measures. That 7.5 per cent increase in the intake of student teachers builds on the 19 per cent increase that was secured in 2016.

I am the first to acknowledge that we face challenges in identifying and recruiting all the teachers that we require in our school system but, as the evidence demonstrates, there is an adequacy of places for that to be the case. We have to find new routes to enable individuals to switch careers and enter the teaching profession. That is why I have created STEM bursaries and opened up a new route into teaching, and it is why the Government will look at other measures to address the issue.

Will the cabinet secretary give an update on the proposed scheme to allow those who are moving into teacher training from other sectors to access bursaries? Will he give Parliament an indication of any other measures that have been taken to encourage those who might not be recent graduates and are of a more mature age to consider teaching as a new career?

There is an adequacy of places to enable younger people who are leaving school or university to enter teaching as a career if they wish to do so. However, as we have found that not all those places are taken up, we have to find measures to enable people to change careers, and we have to support them in that process.

For that reason, one of the new routes into teaching that is being taken forward by the University of Strathclyde is aimed particularly at individuals who work in STEM subject areas. It enables them to go through a postgraduate diploma of education, complete their training and enter the teaching profession over a shorter timescale. The STEM bursary route that I have put in place is designed to encourage and support individuals who are already in employment and have commitments to consider changing career and entering the teaching profession. The Government will continue to explore other ways in which we can take forward that agenda to ensure that we have an adequate supply of teachers in our classrooms.

Secondary School Staff (Dundee)

10. Bill Bowman (North East Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that all secondary schools in Dundee have adequate numbers of staff. (S5O-01502)

In my answer to Mr Lockhart, I set out in detail the actions that the Scottish Government is taking to recruit teachers. One of our 11 new routes into teaching is the supported induction route at the University of Dundee, which will increase the number of people who are undertaking teacher education in the Dundee locality.

Over the past year, Dundee secondary schools reported 34 teacher vacancies, which was up on the previous year, with 22 of them being vacant for longer than three months. What guarantee can the cabinet secretary give parents and pupils in Dundee that that increasing trend will not continue next year?

The Government is taking a range of approaches to encourage the recruitment of more individuals into initial teacher education and to encourage individuals to consider switching careers and entering initial teacher education. We are also taking a range of measures through the General Teaching Council for Scotland to encourage teachers who are not actively involved in teaching to return to the profession. In addition, we are in negotiation with the trade unions on the payment of supply staff, with the aim of increasing supply cover in our schools by enabling more options to be taken up to ensure that we have an adequate number of teaching personnel in our classrooms to meet the needs of young people in Dundee and in every other part of the country.

Skills Development Scotland (Hospitality Sector)

11. Richard Lochhead (Moray) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Skills Development Scotland regarding reported skills shortages, such as a shortage of chefs, in the hospitality sector. (S5O-01503)

The industry-led tourism skills group, which is facilitated by Skills Development Scotland, is working to implement the actions that are identified in the refreshed tourism skills investment plan. A group of food and drink experts met for the first time in May 2017 to review the matter of reported chef shortages and to discuss potential next steps. As a result of that meeting, it was proposed that a new working group should be formed under the auspices of the tourism skills group, which is due to meet again on 13 December.

In addition to that work, I have undertaken direct engagement with the sector. In September last year, I attended the first-ever youth tourism conference in Dundee. In June this year, I visited the Busby hotel and met a number of younger members of staff there who are going through training. In August, along with the Deputy First Minister, I met the developing the young workforce national advisory group at the Glasgow Hilton hotel, which is an active member of the regional developing the young workforce group. In September, I met Nick Nairn and representatives from the Dunblane Hilton hotel to discuss the training of chefs and skills shortages. This month, I visited the Fairmont hotel near St Andrews to hear about its ambitious plans to support young people, and I spoke at the Scottish chefs conference about skills in the sector. Only yesterday, I visited the Hilcroft hotel in Whitburn to hear at first hand about its work with the developing the young workforce West Lothian regional group.

I thank the minister for that very full answer—clearly, he is taking the issue seriously. He will be aware that the food and drink sector is worth £14 billion to Scotland and that the hospitality sector is worth £11 billion. For both industries, the availability of chefs is crucial. However, many businesses that I speak to in my constituency and around Scotland tell me that the shortage of chefs is now a severe issue. A number of ways to address it have been suggested, many of which the minister has mentioned. In particular, it has been suggested that there could be support for the Scottish culinary team, which involves budding chefs competing on the international stage and which, in turn, can inspire young people to get involved in the industry. Another suggestion is to rename home economics, calling it something more modern and attractive in order to inspire more young people to learn cooking skills. Will the minister continue to make the issue a priority so that we can make the most of Scotland’s food and drink potential?

I am glad that Mr Lochhead recognised the fullness of my answer, which I wanted to be a vivid demonstration of how seriously we take the agenda. I can certainly commit to ensuring that the issue will remain high on our priority list. As I have set out, a range of activities are under way and will continue. The member mentions the Scottish culinary team, which we have funded to help chefs of the future and to ensure that they are better prepared for the culinary Olympics. I think that I would probably be overstepping the mark if I commented on his suggestion that we rename home economics. I may need to discuss the matter with the Deputy First Minister, and all suggestions would be gratefully received.

Teacher Vacancies (Highlands)

12. Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council’s statistics on teacher vacancies, particularly regarding the Highlands. (S5O-01504)

The number of vacancies across Scotland currently represents 1.6 per cent of the teaching workforce. As I stated in earlier answers, we are taking a number of actions to address the issue and recruit teachers for all local authorities. For example, we are supporting innovative projects with the University of the Highlands and Islands and the University of Aberdeen, which recruit students from the Highland area.

The fact that there has been a sequence of questions on the subject probably tells a story. Given the fact that, over the past two years, the number of teacher vacancies in the Highlands that have been unfilled for more than three months has risen from four to 62, it is obvious that what is happening at the moment is not working. Is the Deputy First Minister going to take any specific steps to encourage teachers to move to the Highlands and to stay there?

The most effective thing that we can do is support the University of the Highlands and Islands in ensuring that it is able to provide initial teacher education in an accessible fashion right across the Highlands and Islands. One of the strengths of the UHI model is that it gives individuals the ability to access higher education within the community in which they live and, once they have secured their initial teacher education, to make a contribution to the education of young people in that locality. That is the new route that I have opened up as part of the measures that the Government is taking forward.

I welcome the initiative that the University of the Highlands and Islands has taken in responding positively to the Government’s invitation to tender in that respect. I look forward to these routes generating the interest and involvement that will ensure that we have a strong supply of teachers to fill vacancies in the Highlands and Islands and in other parts of Scotland in the period to come.

Am I correct in assuming that, given that the data was collected in September, things have probably changed, which means that the statistics do not necessarily reflect the reality today?

There will be variation in the statistics from period to period as vacancies are filled and new vacancies arise. In the most recent analysis that we undertook to inform our workforce planning, the information indicated a vacancy level of around 1.6 per cent across the whole of Scotland. As I have said to Parliament before, recruitment into the teaching profession is a challenge not just for us, in Scotland, but for literally every jurisdiction. We are working hard to find different ways to encourage more people into the teaching profession to make a contribution to raising the performance of our education system in meeting the needs of young people in every part of our country.