Election 2021

The Scottish Parliament is in recess ahead of the election on 6 May.

Because of Covid-19, there are some changes to how the Parliament prepares for the election.

Find out more in our Election 2021 pages

Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Loading…

Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 03 May 2017

Agenda: First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, General Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Business Motions, Point of Order


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Education and Skills


University Medical Courses (Applicants from Islands)

1. Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it offers to people from island communities who want to access university medical courses. (S5O-00919)

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

I call the minister, Shirley-Anne Somerville. [Interruption.] Sorry, minister—I should have given you a few more minutes to get ready.

The Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science (Shirley-Anne Somerville)

The Scottish Government supports a number of initiatives to encourage those from island communities to access high-demand professions such as medicine. In March this year, we announced funding of £330,000 to deliver pre-entry courses in medicine, with the remoteness and rurality criterion being a key component in the University of Aberdeen programme’s target group.

The Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council provides additional funding to universities to improve access to high-demand professions. There is also a reach programme linked to each medical school in Scotland to assist pupils from low-progression schools who wish to access medical courses.

The Presiding Officer

My apologies—I thought that the cabinet secretary was about to answer.

Liam McArthur

The minister will recognise that recruiting and training staff for island health services presents specific challenges. All the evidence shows, however, that students with an island connection are more likely to work in island areas. Getting to medical school is difficult, and school pupils need to believe that they can achieve it, otherwise they will not apply. Work experience is essential but not easy to access. Students may know many of the patients, which gives rise to confidentiality issues. Travelling for work experience and interviews can cost £1,000 or more, and can take students out of school for two or three days at a time when they need to focus on getting the five grade As that they need.

Does the minister accept that island students face specific disadvantage? Does she believe that further steps can be taken to level the playing field, to ensure that island students have the same opportunities to access medical courses and, in turn, to improve the likelihood that island health boards will be able to recruit and retain the staff that they need?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I readily agree with the premise of Liam McArthur’s question. When I recently visited the University of Glasgow, I discussed that very challenge and the university’s efforts to encourage those from rural, remote and island communities to access courses such as medicine.

As I mentioned in my original answer, the pre-medical entry programme looks specifically at rurality and remote communities. We also have a graduate entry medical programme that—again—ensures that there is a remote and rural focus with regard to the people going through that course.

I am also aware of continuing collaborations with the national health service to ensure that important careers events and other events take place in schools so that those in rural, remote and island communities can access all the information and encouragement that we would expect to be available in any of our schools. I am happy to carry on a dialogue with Liam McArthur if there are particular aspects in his constituency that he thinks the Government ought to look at.

Kate Forbes (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)

How does the campus model of the University of the Highlands and Islands help islanders and people from the rural west coast, which shares characteristics with the islands, to train as healthcare professionals? We know that making it easier to train healthcare professionals from the Highlands and Islands will make it easier to bring them back.

Shirley-Anne Somerville

With UHI as a key partner, we are taking action to enhance access to medical education and training for people in remote and rural areas. I mentioned to Liam McArthur the Scottish graduate entry medicine programme—ScotGEM—which was announced in June 2016 and will be delivered by the schools of medicine at the University of St Andrews and the University of Dundee, in collaboration with the University of the Highlands and Islands. The programme will expose students to careers in primary care in remote and rural areas and will help to deliver a more sustainable health workforce for Scotland and its communities.

On nursing and midwifery, the University of Stirling will transfer 100 pre-registration nursing places to UHI from the 2017-18 academic year. I look forward to visiting the campus in Inverness in October to see that work.


School Meals (Guidance)

2. Linda Fabiani (East Kilbride) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government when the 2014 guidance on school meals will be reviewed. (S5O-00920)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

There are currently no plans to review the 2014 guidance, “Better Eating, Better Learning—A New Context for School Food”. However, the 2008 guidance, “Healthy Eating in Schools: A Guide to Implementing the Nutritional Requirements for Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2008”, which provides guidance on food standards in schools, will be updated following any changes that come out of a review of the 2008 regulations.

“Better Eating, Better Learning”, which supports local authorities in driving further improvement to school food provision and food education more broadly, is unlikely to require to be updated in light of the review of nutritional standards.

Linda Fabiani

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s news. I am concerned that when parents complain about the nutritional standard of school meals in my area, Government guidance is very often quoted to them almost as if it were regulation and the local authority were hidebound in what it is able to offer. Will the cabinet secretary confirm that the guidance is indeed guidance and not regulation?

John Swinney

The guidance that we provide in “Healthy Eating in Schools” and “Better Eating, Better Learning” is designed to support local authorities as they deliver catering services and food education in schools, but local authorities have flexibility to provide food and drink services as they deem appropriate to meet local needs and local priorities, provided that they have first fulfilled their statutory obligations in that respect.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

We legislate for our farmers to produce the highest-quality produce under the highest animal welfare protocols, we ensure that they pay the living wage and we give them custodianship of the countryside. However, when it comes to produce for schools, we find that, under central Government Scotland excel procurement contracts, foodstuffs are imported from all over the world that can be and are being produced to a higher standard by our local farmers.

With that in mind, will the cabinet secretary commit to ensuring that food that can be produced locally in Scotland makes it on to our schoolchildren’s plates, for the sake of their health and to support the rural economy?

John Swinney

This is an area in which my colleague Richard Lochhead, when he was rural affairs secretary, invested a significant amount of time and energy, working with me, when I had responsibilities in procurement, to ensure that there was as much opportunity as possible for the farming community in Scotland to access procurement contracts in Scotland in general. Of course, school food contracts account for a substantial proportion of public procurement.

In principle, I agree with Mr Whittle on the importance of ensuring that high-quality agricultural produce in Scotland can find its way into the procurement contracts in the public sector and particularly into our schools. I am also keen that, as part of their learning experience, young people gain a better understanding of the origins of their food and the routes by which it is produced, as part of the health and wellbeing aspect of the curriculum in our schools.


Teacher Vacancies

3. Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what measures it is taking to ensure that schools can fill teacher vacancies. (S5O-00921)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

The Scottish Government is taking a number of actions to help to recruit teachers. We are spending £88 million this year to make sure that every school has access to the right number of teachers; we have increased student teacher intake targets for the sixth year in a row; and we are setting targets for training teachers in the subjects in which they are needed most. We are also supporting innovative new routes into teaching, including work with the University of the Highlands and Islands. We launched a new teacher recruitment campaign on 8 February under the title “Teaching Makes People”. That builds on the success of last year’s inspiring teachers campaign, which helped to drive an increase in professional graduate diploma in education applications to Scottish universities.

Rhoda Grant

It is clear that none of that is working. The cabinet secretary will be aware that there are currently 700 teacher vacancies, which is having a direct impact on children’s education. Along with that, there is a marked increase in headteachers being asked to lead more than one school—indeed, that is becoming the norm in some areas. How on earth can someone lead a school when they are not there on a daily basis? How far will our once-excellent education service fall before the Government acts? Children do not get a second chance at their education.

John Swinney

I will address a number of the points that Rhoda Grant made. First, I recognise that there are shortages in available teachers in certain parts of the country and in certain subjects. I have set out to Rhoda Grant a number of the steps that the Government is taking to rectify the situation. We have increased the number of places that are available for teacher training by 370 in 2017-18 to begin to address the issue. Workforce planning is a complex and difficult process, and shortages clearly arise out of that.

I assure Rhoda Grant that I have had discussions with the General Teaching Council for Scotland, which regulates who teaches in our schools, to ensure that registered teachers who are not active in teaching are contacted and that efforts are made to motivate them to become active in teaching. I want to ensure that the GTCS takes an efficient approach to considering registration applications from teachers who are trained to teach in other jurisdictions, so that it assesses and evaluates the contribution that they could make to Scottish education if they wish to do so.

The second issue that Rhoda Grant raised was that some headteachers may operate across more than one school. I fundamentally disagree with her point. With the right support models in place, it is perfectly possible and tangible for exceptional headteachers to deploy their skills across more than one school.

For example, one headteacher of a large secondary school—Gerry Lyons of St Andrew’s secondary school in the east end of Glasgow—who is regarded as one of the most experienced and effective headteachers in the country, has been invited by the director of education of Glasgow City Council not only to continue to provide leadership at St Andrew’s but to provide it at Holyrood secondary school, which is a slightly smaller but still significant secondary school. My response to that is that it is advantageous for pupils in as many parts of our country as possible to experience distinguished and effective leadership for the enhancement of their education. I accept that the initiative must be properly supported, but I fully support and endorse the arrangements that Glasgow City Council has put in place, because they are beneficial for young people in Scotland.

Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

Will the cabinet secretary outline what progress is being made to develop new routes into teaching?

John Swinney

At my instigation, a number of new projects were identified to encourage people to enter the teaching profession, and the General Teaching Council for Scotland has been assessing 11 of those routes. Some of that assessment is complete and we are able to recruit teachers on the basis of those new routes into teaching. That is an example of how the Government has responded positively to the demand for innovative approaches, and I welcome the input that we have had from the colleges of education in responding to the challenge that the Government has set.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

The cabinet secretary acknowledges that it takes time to fill teacher vacancies. Supply teachers are often used when a teacher is absent, but the number of supply teachers is falling. In Angus, the number has fallen from 430 to 331 since 2011. What urgent action is the Scottish Government taking to deal with the falling number of supply teachers?

John Swinney

The measures that I set out—particularly the work that the GTCS can undertake on our behalf in contacting registered teachers who are not active in teaching but who could contribute in some way to the supply pool—form one of the most significant areas where we can take action. However, the question that Mr Kerr raises highlights the general challenge that exists.

Just before the Easter recess, I spent two days at the international summit on the teaching profession. My two predecessors took part in such summits in New Zealand and in Canada; I took part in Morrison Street in Edinburgh. Members will understand how attractive Morrison Street is compared with Wellington in New Zealand and Banff in Canada.

All the contributions from the countries that were represented at the international summit had a common theme. It was clear from my counterpart from England, Nick Gibb, and from my counterparts from Singapore, Finland, Canada and New Zealand—where the education systems are well regarded—that there is a systemic challenge in recruiting individuals to the teaching profession, which is not just a Scottish issue.

We have to think inventively and creatively about how we motivate more people to come into the teaching profession. It is part of my general work to raise the value, credibility and esteem of the teaching profession, because our young people need to have a good flow of individuals entering the teaching profession to deliver the education on which they depend.


Anti-bullying Strategy

4. Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on when it will publish a new anti-bullying strategy for schools. (S5O-00922)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

The Government will issue its refreshed national anti-bullying guidance when the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee has concluded its investigation into bullying in schools. I am grateful to the committee for its offer to consider further evidence on the matter. We will carefully consider its views and any further evidence that is gathered prior to the publication of our strategy.

Richard Leonard

Every good strategy needs a vision, but it also needs a plan of action and the allocation of appropriate resources. Although bullying is not confined to young people or even to schools alone, does the cabinet secretary consider that the cut by more than 1,000 in classroom assistants and the cut by more than 4,000 in teachers in Scotland’s classrooms since his party took office will help or hinder the effective implementation of the delayed anti-bullying strategy?

John Swinney

Mr Leonard added the word “delayed” and, perhaps I am being sensitive this afternoon, but it sounded as though it was added in rather a pejorative way. The Government responded positively to a request from a parliamentary committee that wanted to take further evidence on the issue. I could have published the strategy months ago, but the committee asked whether I could delay publication until it had taken further evidence. I thought that the respectful thing for me to do was to delay publication and to hear what the committee had to say to me. I am grateful for the efforts of the committee’s convener to engage on the subject and will give due consideration to the issues that get raised.

We recognise the necessity of appropriate resources being in place in all our schools to support young people. Mr Leonard can be assured that at the heart of the strategy will be an absolute intolerance of the bullying of any young people in our schools, in any aspect of our society or in any situation in our society. The Government will map out exactly how we intend to take forward the strategy as a consequence of our engagement with many stakeholders and the parliamentary committee.


Basic Tools of Learning

5. Kate Forbes (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what requirements local authorities have to provide children with the basic tools of learning at school. (S5O-00923)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

Education authorities have a duty under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 to provide

“books, writing materials, stationery, mathematical instruments, practice material and other articles which are necessary to enable”

pupils in their area who receive free education, whether in public schools or through other arrangements made by the education authority,

“to take full advantage of ... education”.

Kate Forbes

The cabinet secretary may be aware that, due to decisions that have been taken by the independent-led Highland Council, Fortrose academy parent council has had to fund some basic school provisions. In the light of its being the council’s statutory duty to provide pupils with the necessary books and materials, and in the light of the election tomorrow, what is the cabinet secretary’s view on that situation and on how education can be the top priority for the next administration in the Highlands?

John Swinney

I reiterate my earlier answer to Kate Forbes, in which I said that it could not be clearer that education authorities have a statutory duty under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 to provide

“books, writing materials, stationery, mathematical instruments, practice material and other articles which are necessary to enable pupils”

to receive free education.

In relation to the resources that are available, for 2017-18, Highland Council received an increase of more than £20 million in the resources that are available to it, which equates to a 4.4 per cent increase on its budget in 2016-17. Highland Council will have to make specific decisions about allocation of its resources, but that backdrop indicates that a very strong settlement has been delivered to Highland Council to enable it to fund education properly. Across Highland, £3,924,000 in pupil equity funding has been delivered to schools, of which Fortrose academy has received £30,000. Against the backdrop of a very strong settlement from the Government, I hope that the local authority, working in partnership with schools, will take the necessary resourcing decisions to fund education properly in the Highlands.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

I refer the cabinet secretary to the report that was published in March by the Accounts Commission entitled “Local government in Scotland: Performance and challenges 2017”, which set out spend-per-pupil figures. The figures show that, since 2010, spending per pupil in secondary schools has fallen by more than £150 and has fallen in primary schools by almost £500 per pupil, which is almost 10 per cent. Does the cabinet secretary recognise those numbers? Surely they reflect the overall funding from the Scottish Government to local government, which has been cut by £1.5 billion.

John Swinney

The key analysis that Mr Johnson needs to look for is one that the Accounts Commission undertook—I think that it was published just before the turn of the year—in which it said that the funding settlement for local authorities has been largely on a par with the funding settlement that has been received by the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government has treated local government very fairly, within the resources that have been available to it.

As an example, as I just said in response to the question that Kate Forbes asked me, Highland Council received an additional 4.4 per cent in 2017-18, which in the current financial climate would be viewed as a strong boost to local authority funding. The Government is delighted to have been able to make such funding available to Highland Council and, of course, to other authorities around the country.


Literacy Rates

6. Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what action it is taking to improve literacy rates. (S5O-00924)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

The Scottish Government is taking a wide range of action to improve literacy rates across all age groups. That includes action in the early years, through the significant expansion of early learning and childcare; the relentless focus on literacy and numeracy in schools through the Scottish attainment challenge, supported by pupil equity funding; and the expansion of programmes such as the First Minister’s reading challenge and the read, write, count campaign. The new literacy and English benchmarks and the introduction of national standardised assessments will support robust assessment of young people’s progress.

Monica Lennon

I should at the start of my question have referred members to my entry in the register of interests, as I am still a councillor in South Lanarkshire Council.

Linda Fabiani (East Kilbride) (SNP)

Not for long.

Monica Lennon

I know. That is probably the last time that I will get to say that.

The cabinet secretary might be aware that a recent report in The Times revealed that pupils are facing a postcode lottery when it comes to accessing school library services, and that official Scottish Government statistics show that specialist school library staff have been cut by a third since 2010. I understand that the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals recently expressed concerns to the cabinet secretary. Given the decline in professionally staffed libraries, can the cabinet secretary explain how his stated aim of closing the shameful attainment gap between the richest and the poorest children in Scotland will be achieved?

John Swinney

This is a very emotional afternoon for us all, because it is the last time that Monica Lennon will share with us the fact that she is a member of South Lanarkshire Council. I am sure that there will be weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth as a consequence of that auspicious moment passing.

On the substance of Monica Lennon’s question, I say that I value enormously the role of school libraries. I was recently at the Public Petitions Committee when it was hearing a petition on concern about the diminution of school library services, and I committed to developing a national strategy for public libraries that will reinforce my view that school libraries are crucial to the development of the capability of young people.

A few months ago, the member for Moray, Richard Lochhead, invited me to visit Elgin academy. When I went there, the first place the headteacher took me to was the school library. It became apparent that that was because the school library, which had been configured and led by a distinguished and effective librarian, had been designed to be, in essence, the epicentre of the school, where many good things happened and where many contributions to young people’s wellbeing were delivered by engagement between the academy’s younger and older pupils. I cite that example because it is about choice: the school and the local authority decided to go down that route. I know that other authorities are taking a different route.

I want to come down very firmly on the side that says that the role of our school libraries is significant and valuable in enhancing the learning of young people and improving literacy, which is at the heart of the Government’s efforts to close the attainment gap in Scottish education.

Ross Thomson (North East Scotland) (Con)

For the final time, I declare an interest as a councillor on Aberdeen City Council.

The Scottish Government’s statistics show that in the city of Aberdeen, not even half of pupils reach the expected standard of writing by primary 7. Is it not about time that the Scottish Government got back to the day job, which is to make sure that our children can read and write properly, and that it admitted that under it, implementation of curriculum for excellence has resulted in children leaving primary school not properly equipped for secondary school?

John Swinney

In among the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth in Aberdeen City Council at Ross Thomson’s departure from the council tomorrow, there will be a lot of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth about other issues that have been handled by the council in a spectacularly unceremonious fashion, and which have been of public note in the past few days.

Ross Thomson

Will the cabinet secretary answer my question?

John Swinney

I am coming to the question, Mr Thomson—or Councillor Thomson, as I should perhaps say for the last time.

In her responses to Ruth Davidson today, the First Minister commented on some of the challenges that are experienced in Scottish education. The Government is focused entirely on addressing them.

To be blunt, I do not think that it is good enough for Ross Thomson to come here and try to absolve himself of having any responsibility for, or of making any contribution to, the process. Mr Thomson has been the vice-convener of education in Aberdeen City Council, and statute says that our local authorities are the ones to deliver education. My question for Mr Thomson is this: what has he been doing about it? What has Mr Thomson, in his long service on Aberdeen City Council, done to improve educational performance? Maybe if he had concentrated on his day job and not tried to get other day jobs, he would have made a bit more progress.


Extra-curricular Activities (Participation)

7. Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what action it is taking to ensure that all pupils can participate in extra-curricular activities irrespective of background or personal circumstances. (S5O-00925)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

We want all children and young people to be included fully in their learning. That means ensuring that those who are at risk of being marginalised in education, whether in the classroom or in the wider school experience, are as fully engaged in their learning as they can be. For example, our 2014 guidance “Planning improvements for disabled pupils’ access to education” clearly sets out school clubs and activities, school trips and school sports as learning activities that may carry duties under the Equality Act 2010.

Brian Whittle

A recent Reform Scotland report entitled “After school activities: Another opportunity gap” stated:

“Extracurricular activities are an important part of a child’s development. It can help them socialise outside the classroom; learn and develop new skills; exercise; and generally help in development of a well-rounded individual.”

It also stated:

“SportScotland works with councils to deliver Active Schools activities, which SportScotland believe should be free of charge ... However, many local authorities charge.”

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, when such activities are charged for, the pupils most in need of that type of opportunity are most likely to be excluded, thus making it more difficult to close the health inequality and attainment gaps? What can the Scottish Government do to ensure that access for all means exactly that?

John Swinney

Generally, I agree with Mr Whittle’s point and I agree fundamentally that out-of-school activities can have a very profound impact on the achievement of young people and on their overcoming the many difficulties that they face.

What the Government can do about that is territory that I have explored before with Mr Whittle and some of his colleagues. It is the territory of what the right level of direction for Government is with regard to what goes on in local government. If I start directing local authorities to do this or that, there might be complaints—I do not want to put words into the mouths of the Conservatives—that I am interfering in local government business. There is a sensitive balance to be struck about what the level of Government direction should be in that respect.

I have no difficulty in supporting the aspirations that Mr Whittle set out in his question and I encourage local authorities, working within the guidance that we issued in 2014, to ensure that those ambitions can be realised by young people in our schools.

Jenny Gilruth (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)

I remind members that I am the parliamentary liaison officer to the cabinet secretary.

The contrast is stark. In Scotland, the Scottish National Party Government is putting more money into education and investing an additional £750 million to close the attainment gap but, in England, funding per pupil is shrinking in real terms. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee warned that schools are having to cut spending by £3 billion by 2019-20, which is directly affecting extra-curricular opportunities, according to headteachers in England. Does the Deputy First Minister agree that, if people want to protect from Tory education cuts our children’s education in Scotland’s schools, they need to vote SNP in the local government elections tomorrow?

John Swinney

I agree.


Primary Postgraduate Diploma in Education (Number of Places)

8. Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Back in the real world.

To ask the Scottish Government for what reason there has been a 62 per cent reduction in the target number of primary postgraduate diploma in education places between 2017-18 and 2018-19. (S5O-00926)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

No such reduction has taken place.

Murdo Fraser

That is an interesting response. There are currently 274 vacant primary school teaching posts in Scotland and many councils and headteachers believe that additional teachers will be required on top of that number as a result of the new pupil equity funding that will potentially be spent on more teachers, especially those with a specialism in additional support needs. The universities say that they have difficulties in future planning because of a potential reduction in the number of training places. Can the cabinet secretary guarantee not only that there will be no reduction in the number of available training places, but that there will be an active increase to make up for the shortage in teachers?

John Swinney

The point that Mr Fraser made about the recruitment of teachers for a postgraduate diploma in education is an important contribution to establishing the strength of the teaching population in Scotland and I reiterate my earlier answer that there has been no 62 per cent reduction in the target number of primary postgraduate places between the two years that were quoted.

The Government has to go through an exercise with the teacher workforce planning advisory group, which looks at a range of factors such as the teacher census, local demand, the number of teachers leaving or returning to the profession and the number of students not completing their course, before making any decisions on teacher training intake targets for 2018-19. That is why the premise of Mr Fraser’s question is wrong.

As I acknowledged in my answer to Rhoda Grant’s question, I recognise the shortages that exist in the number of available teachers. That is why I increased the intake into teacher training this year by 370 places and we will continue to look at those issues as we plan for the years ahead. I am acutely aware that, as we deploy pupil equity funding around the country, there will be the possibility of more opportunities for teacher recruitment and the Government will bear that in mind as we set the target intake for postgraduate diploma in education places.

James Dornan (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)

The cabinet secretary will be aware that the First Minister put Ruth Davidson in her place when she pointed out the fact that the Conservative Party’s leaflets show just how much it cares about education, despite the fact that its members go on about it all the time. Does the cabinet secretary agree that that disregard for education shows that the Scottish Conservatives are probably not capable of running a menodge—as they would say in Glasgow—let alone a local authority?

The Presiding Officer

I urge members to be respectful to other members.

John Swinney

I thought that the First Minister made her point extremely well at First Minister’s question time earlier today, and I reiterate that the Government is focused on taking the necessary steps to improve and strengthen the delivery of education in Scotland. That will be at the heart of our reform agenda.


School Leavers (North Ayrshire)

9. Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what percentage of school leavers in North Ayrshire in 2016 continued in education, went on to training or entered employment. (S5O-00927)

The Minister for Employability and Training (Jamie Hepburn)

In October 2016, 94.8 per cent of 2015-16 senior phase school leavers in North Ayrshire were in a positive initial destination.

Ruth Maguire

While Scottish National Party policies help young people in North Ayrshire into work, education and training and have delivered the lowest youth unemployment rate in the United Kingdom, planned Tory cuts will hurt young people further. Does the minister agree with me that voting SNP in the upcoming local and general elections is the only way to keep Theresa May in check and make the voice of Scotland’s young people heard?

The Presiding Officer

Minister, I would recommend that you stick to education advice rather than voting advice.

Jamie Hepburn

Of course I will stick to education advice, Presiding Officer.

Ruth Maguire makes a very effective point. I heard Opposition members groan, but they will all have seen the figures, and they will know that we have made significant progress over the past five years on positive destinations across all socioeconomic quintiles. The greatest progress has been among the 20 per cent most deprived.

There has been a range of changes to social security provision by the UK Government, some of which we debated last week. We know that, by 2021, about 50,000 families in Scotland could be affected by the policy of the two-child cap on tax credits, pushing more young people into poverty and directly deepening the attainment challenge that we have here in Scotland.

Of course we will continue to respond. The Administration has committed £750 million to an attainment fund over five years, including about £4.4 million for this financial year, through pupil equity funding, for North Ayrshire. We will do all that we can. Of course, we need a strong and effective voice in other places, too.

Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab)

Could the minister confirm that, when the positive destination statistics, such as those that he just spoken about, are recorded, school leavers moving into a job on a zero-hours contract are counted as being in a positive destination?

Jamie Hepburn

We do not have control over employment law, although we in Scotland are fortunate in that the proportion of the workforce on zero-hours contracts here is lower than the UK level. Clearly, anyone entering employment is ending up in a positive destination, but Mr Gray will well understand our high ambitions for fair work here in Scotland. We have published our labour market strategy, and the jobs that we want to see in the future will be well remunerated and they will contribute to the fair work challenge. I look forward to Mr Gray signing up to that progress.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

For those leaving school who choose not to go into further education, there must be other opportunities available. In North Ayrshire, however, unemployment is significantly higher than in the rest of the UK, with recent figures putting it at 11.6 per cent. What confidence can the young people of North Ayrshire have that the Scottish Government and the SNP, after 10 years in government, really take the issue of unemployment seriously?

Jamie Hepburn

They can have a lot more confidence in our Administration than in the UK Government, which, in devolving the employment programme, which will support many people into work, cut the funding available to the Scottish Government by about 87 per cent, resulting in our Administration having to leverage in an additional £20 million. We are doing a lot more to support young people, in North Ayrshire and elsewhere, than the UK Government is.