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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 11 January 2017

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, International Development, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, STEP Physical Literacy Programme


Contents


STEP Physical Literacy Programme

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-02327, in the name of Liz Smith, on the STEP physical literacy programme. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament is impressed by the STEP physical literacy programme; understands that its results have demonstrated that the children who take part in it have been proven to learn more efficiently, socialise more easily and participate more positively both inside and outside the classroom; is encouraged that local authorities and schools throughout Scotland are showing an interest in the programme; considers that introducing it would be of benefit to all state primary schools in Mid Scotland and Fife and across the country, and notes the view that the Scottish Government, local authorities, teachers and parents should consider the merits of the programme for primary school children as a valuable contribution to pupils’ education and self-esteem and to help close the attainment gap.

17:03  

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I am delighted to bring the motion to the chamber. I thank all the members who have given me the requisite cross-party support to host the debate. I welcome Kenny Logan and his STEP team to the public gallery. Kenny Logan has become an excellent ambassador for our young people, as a great star of Scottish rugby. He has also—very bravely in my opinion—shared the story of his struggle with dyslexia throughout his school years. Many members will have heard his moving interview on Radio Scotland some weeks ago, when he told us about his experience of the stigma of living with an undiagnosed learning disability and, more important, how that experience led him, in his words, to be labelled “stupid” by a teacher and then to go on to leave school at 15 without reaching his full potential. He has spoken passionately about how he would have benefited from a programme such as STEP, which has fuelled his determination to ensure that every child has the opportunity to improve their physical literacy.

The STEP programme is a bespoke, school-based literacy programme that is aimed at pupils in primary 4 and 5. It helps children to develop the fundamental skills that are needed to learn successfully. Physical literacy assesses a child’s core physical capabilities and is thus different from general physical education or sport.

We know only too well that, for many children, basic learning skills such as sitting still, maintaining concentration and physically following letters when reading are not automatic tasks, and an inability to do those things usually means that those children are at an immediate disadvantage in the classroom. The STEP programme focuses on tackling that by improving three main skills: balance, eye tracking and co-ordination. Each pupil completes two short exercises focusing on one or more of those skills. The programme has been shown to have benefits for almost any pupil, but the greatest impact is shown to be on those in the lowest quartile of classroom performance.

The exercises are completed twice per day during the school week and are overseen by a trained member of staff such as a learning assistant or a teacher with additional needs specialism. The huge advantage is the fact that the STEP programme is highly personalised, so that each child enrolled can focus on particular strengths and weaknesses, and that is what makes it unique among physical literacy programmes. The accompanying software platform can be delivered online and the software that is used generates exercises for a pupil based on their previous day’s performance. Because the programme is personalised, pupils do not have to compete against one another but are made aware of the daily improvements that they are making.

As members know, the programme has been used successfully in both England and the United States, and it has been empirically evidenced to reduce the attainment gap in primary school pupils. Pupils who have completed STEP have shown significant improvements academically, behaviourally, physically and socially. A United Kingdom pilot last year compared more than 100 below-attainment primary school pupils who were on the STEP programme to a group of pupils at the same attainment level who were not. The improved learning outcomes that the study showed are extremely impressive: 86 per cent of pupils on the programme moved to on or above target in reading, compared with 56 per cent of the non-STEP group; 70 per cent of STEP pupils met their target for maths, compared with 30 per cent of the non-STEP group; and 75 per cent and 62 per cent of STEP pupils were on or above target for English comprehension and spelling respectively, compared with 43 per cent and 30 per cent of the non-STEP group.

In Mississippi, in the USA, more than 1,000 pupils have completed the programme over the past three years, and it is no coincidence that that state has seen significant improvement in fourth grade—which is the equivalent of P6—reading and maths, which has resulted in the state being awarded a commendation for educational innovation. John Moore, of the Mississippi House of Representatives, said that STEP

“was one of the missing components we’ve been searching for in the dynamic to assist struggling students to get the training they need ... STEP had made an amazing difference”.

In addition to improving their academic results, pupils on the programme have shown significant and marked improvement in emotional control, behaviour, balance, concentration, co-ordination, attention and wellbeing. Ninety-four per cent of pupils said that they found their school work easier and believed that they now had the ability to achieve at school. Furthermore, although STEP is certainly not intended to replace physical education lessons, pupils on the programme also benefit from an extra 100 minutes of physical activity per week, which complements other physical initiatives such as the daily mile.

As we know, the First Minister has stated that education and, specifically, reducing the attainment gap are her top priority, and that we should judge her on her record on that. Although some of us in the chamber may disagree about the details of the disbursement of the attainment fund, narrowing the attainment gap and boosting pupil performance is something that we all agree about and which we want to put above party politics. The First Minister has stated in the chamber on numerous occasions that she is “open to suggestions” on ways to reduce the attainment gap, so I very much hope that this is one that she and John Swinney will consider.

Indeed, we are delighted to hear that the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills has agreed to meet STEP directors to discuss the programme later in the month. As the cabinet secretary has remarked, the recently released programme for international student assessment figures “made for uncomfortable reading”. The programme could help us make great strides towards boosting numeracy and literacy results among the weakest 20 per cent of pupils.

We already know that some Scottish councils are taking a very strong interest in STEP, and we have no hesitation in recommending that others do so too. How good it would be to see the cabinet secretary commit to a significant pilot study of Scottish pupils in primary 4 and 5, beginning in the autumn of 2017.

I know from my teacher training days what the devastating impact for life can be if children are written off simply because of a misdiagnosis of their problems. I can empathise wholly with the experiences of Kenny Logan, so we wish him and his team every success in their endeavours and thank them for the work that they are doing to improve opportunities for all children and to make a real STEP change in Scottish education.

17:10  

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

I thank Liz Smith for bringing the debate to the chamber. I also welcome Kenny Logan and his team to the gallery.

It is fitting in some ways for me to speak in this debate, as the members’ business debate that I brought to the chamber at the end of last year highlighted the year of walking and the benefits that physical exercise can have for a number of health outcomes. Brian Whittle also spoke in that debate.

The Scottish Government is committed to increasing the physical activity of our young people. Some 200,000 primary school-aged children across Scotland now take part in the daily mile initiative, which Liz Smith mentioned. That is in line with the curriculum for excellence agenda, which places emphasis on sport and physical education as key elements of learning.

I always think that this type of debate offers a good opportunity to talk about the great work that goes on in our constituencies. When I decided to speak in tonight’s debate, my office contacted four of my local primary schools to find out whether they were doing anything like STEP or the daily mile and, if so, how they found it. I am pleased to say that all four schools that we contacted are doing the daily mile and find it an extremely beneficial part of the curriculum.

For example, Greenhill primary school is involved in the national walk to school week, in addition to having a play leader scheme to promote physical activity in the playground. It also works in partnership with Albion Rovers Football Club and Parent Action for Safe Play, which is carrying out an eight-week programme with primary 2 pupils in the near future.

At St Patrick’s primary school nearby, which I visited recently and I am pleased to say was the first school whose assembly I attended as an MSP, as part of the daily mile each week the children walk or run around Dunbeth park, which is the park that I mentioned in my members’ business debate; it now has a designated 1-mile walk route, through the work and initiative of the New College Lanarkshire students association. It also has a health week every June, when local sport groups come into the school and discuss healthy eating, fitness and exercise. Those include the Bannan fitness club and dance groups.

It would be fair to say that most schools have a similar ethos and promote exercise and health through a number of means, including their after-school clubs and the like. The other two schools that I contacted specifically for today’s purposes—Chryston primary and Cambroe primary—both do the daily mile and have other activities, such as, in Chryston, running the active schools course through the local authority.

As it happens, Cambroe primary is where two of my young nephews attend. I always think that there is nothing better than asking pupils directly what they think, so, about an hour and a half ago, when they got in from school, I phoned them both and asked them what they thought. I asked a simple question: whether they did the daily mile—not the Royal Mile; that is outside here—at school and what they thought of it. My older nephew, Brayden, said:

“It’s good because it keeps us out of school. I run around the school eight times and it makes me feel good.”

My younger nephew, Flynn, said:

“Eh, it’s good. I get to run around the school with my class and it keeps me fit.”

Those are two good endorsements for the daily mile.

The daily mile is free and therefore it is inclusive, which can be important, especially in areas of deprivation such as some of those served by the schools mentioned. That said, Liz Smith has talked at length about the STEP programme, which sounds very impressive, as are other initiatives. Those initiatives should not be in competition with each other, and I do not believe that they are. Every school should be able to decide which initiative best meets its needs for its young people and the area that it serves. I fully believe that headteachers make those decisions every day.

At the end of the day, the most important thing for me is that the children in our schools are offered an opportunity to be involved in regular exercise, as we know that it improves a whole range of outcomes for them.

17:15  

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

I congratulate my colleague Liz Smith on bringing the motion to Parliament. She well knows that the STEP programme is an issue that I am passionate about. It is also nice to see Kenny Logan and his team in the gallery.

When I was in primary 4, in my school days, we played football at every opportunity—with a tennis ball, because that was all that we were allowed to play with. It was one primary 4 class against the other—30-a-side for a week before we reset the score. The game started at 8.30 am every day. Truanting? Kids were dragging their parents out to get them to school to get to the game. The P5s, P6s and P7s were doing the same, criss-crossing the playground at full pelt. It was like playing football on Sauchiehall Street on a Saturday. I sense all the health and safety officers passing out, but nobody got mashed or killed. I played in goal for the school in the interschool tournaments, but it was a football career that was cut tragically short through severe lack of talent.

Do members remember British bulldogs? The school sports day was also a big deal in those days. All the school turned out—as well as parents in their droves. For weeks before, we practised in the playground. We would get home and practise some more, put the jumpers down for goalposts or race each other on our bikes. That is when I discovered that I could put one foot in front of the other faster than most and joined a running club.

We were very excited about going to secondary school because we would get to play rugby. The thing is, by the time we got there we already had hand-eye co-ordination, movement skills, agility, speed and basic fitness. In other words, we had a good grounding in physical literacy.

Much as I may lament the fact that it is not my day any more, and that times have moved on, physical literacy and activity remain as important to development of our children as they have ever been. The kind of activities that I described have all but disappeared. We even have reports of schools where running in the playground is banned in case pupils bump into each other. Competitive sport has somehow been eliminated from some quarters—which might be the most ridiculous idea that I have ever heard.

In other words, in the interests of progress, inactivity has now become the norm. Our kids are more likely to be inactive, more likely to have weight issues, more likely to have mental health problems and less likely to take part in sport—especially those who live in less-affluent areas. Lack of leadership and lack of opportunity are setting them up for an inactive and potentially unhealthy lifestyle.

I used to chair Athletics Coaches Scotland and am a member of the European Athletics Coaches Association. I often hear coaches say that kids today are not like they used to be. That is undoubtedly true. Although I accept that we cannot set the clock back, we must endeavour to ensure that physical literacy pathways are as integral a part of a child’s education as reading and writing because, as is widely recognised, there is an intrinsic correlation between physical literacy and academic achievement—not to mention the positive effect that it has on behaviour patterns in the classroom. We cannot go back, but to go forward we must find a delivery framework for the physical literacy education of our children that is universally accessible but also specific to the individual.

The STEP programme is tried and tested, with measured physical, emotional and academic outcomes, especially in the lower percentiles. It speaks directly to balance, co-ordination, eye tracking and proprioception. Just as important, it is simple to deliver and time efficient. That is not to mention the fact that it delivers inclusivity, increased opportunity, self-awareness and achievement, confidence, aspiration and self-belief—all of which are eminently transferable skills.

“The attainment gap”, “health inequality” and “inequality of opportunity” are buzzwords that are often heard in this chamber. The reality is that we are as far from tackling those issues as we ever were. In fact, despite the genuine will that exists across the chamber and despite investment from all parties over the years, the gap continues to grow. Let us be brave and do something different. If we are prepared to accept declining physical literacy and activity among our children, with the impact that that has on their potential achievement and long-term health, those issues cannot be resolved.

There is no need for us to reinvent the wheel. The STEP programme is successful, available and ready to be rolled out in our schools. Let us at least trial it and give our children—irrespective of background and personal circumstance—the opportunity to have an active and healthy lifestyle.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you very much, Mr Whittle. I got exhausted just listening to your energetic speech.

17:19  

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

I, too, welcome Liz Smith’s role in bringing this important debate to the chamber. She put the issue very well: if we are serious about tackling the attainment gap and improving education for all, it is vital that we broaden and deepen our understanding of what education is, what it contains and what it is for.

When I was preparing for the debate, I was a little bit put off by the definition of physical literacy, which is:

“the mastering of the core physical skills of balance, co-ordination, and eye tracking through personalised exercise.”

I say that because, as anyone who has watched me play tennis will know, I know little about those things.

In all seriousness, the Kenny Logan story has echoes for me. At the age of 35, I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In looking at the STEP programme’s contents, I recognise the benefits that such a programme could have had for somebody like me, which would be better than experiencing the frustrations that I had with much of my education. It is vital that we introduce—in a renewed way—the idea of physicality into our education system. It is vital that we understand that there is a direct link between physical understanding, learning, knowledge and ability and educational ability. Overall—and specifically—there would be key benefits for people who have conditions such as ADHD and dyslexia.

The STEP programme is interesting. As Liz Smith outlined, it is a tailored programme that looks at key elements of physical understanding and capability. More important than that were the report’s findings—this is what impressed me—about the sense of achievement and the changes in attitude that the programme has brought about. We all know and have discussed many times how important those things are for attainment in school. They are being delivered through a programme of twice-daily exercises of 10 minutes.

As I said, we need to improve our understanding of the physical being part of our education. As Brian Whittle has just outlined, we live in the physical world. Our ability to engage in our daily lives is dependent on that physical understanding and capability, but we have increasingly sedentary lifestyles and occupations that put us behind desks. I can see how programmes such as STEP can change habits and form behaviours and norms for the rest of people’s lives.

If people are to have truly fulfilled lives and if we are serious about wellbeing being a key objective for education, the importance of physical literacy is all too clear. Other examples include forest school training in our schools. There was also an interesting recent report about the improvements on mental health that simply being involved in the Scouts can have. We need to look at all those things in the round as we consider what our education system should and should not do.

Perhaps most impressive is the STEP programme’s achievements on academic improvement—it has led to improved English for 76 per cent of participants, and to improved maths, reading and spelling for 70 per cent of participants. The benefits that physical literacy can bring to academic attainment are clear.

However, there are also bottom-line health improvements that must be made. We all know the importance of tackling childhood obesity. That was—again—an issue that Brian Whittle outlined well.

I will briefly mention ADHD and dyslexia. We are at the beginning of a revolution in our understanding of how the brain works and how neural pathways are altered and formed. The notion that the brain is static once a person reaches adulthood is not true. Exercise is proven to improve and to promote neuron growth.

There is a growing body of evidence about the link between spatial awareness and physical ability and dyslexia. Likewise, the improvements on focus and concentration that exercises such as those that are outlined in the STEP programme can have for people with ADHD are clear. Improvements in those areas are linked not only to training the mind to concentrate, but to the impacts on brain chemistry.

I commend Liz Smith for securing the debate, and I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about the issues.

17:24  

Oliver Mundell (Dumfriesshire) (Con)

I, too, commend Liz Smith for securing the time for this important debate. It is an issue that she is—rightly—passionate about.

As someone who has struggled with both dyspraxia and dyslexia, I know all too well the challenges that some young people and their families face and how often those with additional learning needs find themselves victims of the attainment gap. I empathise with many of the remarks that Kenny Logan has made in relation to his own experiences, and I thank him for the time, energy and commitment he has given to this cause. It does make a difference for young people to have successful role models and to see those from outside politics bringing forward ideas such as the STEP programme.

From speaking with my constituents, particularly at a time when learning support resources are under strain, it is clear to me that many highly capable children are being denied the support that they need to fulfil their potential. That is not good enough, and I hope that we can all recognise that something needs to change. If we do not take advantage of the STEP programme, I believe that we will be missing a major opportunity to support not just those with specific learning difficulties but all those who are struggling with numeracy and literacy.

I was very lucky in the support that I received from a great many people, particularly during my time at Moffat academy. The list of those who helped me is too long to name everyone, but I have no doubt whatsoever that I would not be making this speech, never mind have made it to university, if it had not been for Douglas Lipton, Lillias Nichol, Donald Hastings and my first classroom assistant, Mrs Rowley. They were all dedicated individuals who went above and beyond, and were always looking for new ideas to help me to learn.

I was also very lucky to have determined parents who were not willing to take no for an answer or to accept, at my first parents’ evening, that the reason none of my school work was on display with that of the rest of my class was that I was too slow or lazy. However, the problem is that not everyone is as fortunate as I was. Not all teachers, support staff and schools are as well equipped as mine was. As results and peoples’ experiences show, far too many children are being left behind.

It is through my experiences, too, that I came across physical literacy and saw its benefits at first hand. I remember sitting at the STEP programme launch last year and recognising many of the exercises that feature in the video explaining the programme’s work. The beauty of STEP and what makes it so important is not just that it brings together a range of exercises and activities and combines them into a coherent and measurable programme, but that rather than having to go out and search for them, the exercises are immediately available from a single source and are tailored to the needs and ability level of the child. What is more, the STEP programme has been shown to work and is popular with both the teachers and the pupils who have benefited from it in England and the USA.

My colleagues have highlighted much of the evidence of the programme’s success, so I will refrain from repeating it. However, I stress that at a time when new ideas are badly needed and we want improved use of technology in school education, the STEP programme provides a clear opportunity for action. I therefore hope that the minister will reflect carefully on this debate and will do what she can to enable and encourage schools to take part in the STEP programme and to promote the benefits of physical literacy more generally.

17:28  

Elaine Smith (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I congratulate Liz Smith on securing the debate. I apologise for not being able to attend the launch of the STEP programme last year. I had intended to attend it, but was unfortunately unable to do so.

It is fitting that at the start of the new year we are discussing education, as it is a good resolution to have bolder ambitions for children in Scotland. Members’ business debates traditionally tend to be less confrontational, and it is also prudent in these debates not to challenge the minister too much if we hope to achieve a favourable outcome. However, that does not mean completely letting the Government off the hook. I therefore think that before I talk further about the STEP programme, we should consider the background of education in Scotland at the moment.

In this month of January, it is pertinent to quote our national bard, Robert Burns, who pointed out that

“facts are chiels that winna ding”.

One extremely concerning fact is that our education system is currently failing some of our children. Scotland has slipped from sixth in the world for reading to 23rd since 2000, from ninth in mathematics to 24th since 2003 and from 10th in science to 19th since 2006. We agree across the chamber that that is not good enough and that urgent attention and investment are needed to restore our once world-class education system to its former success.

The attainment gap is a problem for all children, but it is particularly concerning for those with additional support needs.

We also need to consider the importance of the whole-school environment in learning. For example, we know that being hungry and thirsty impacts massively on children’s ability to learn, which is one reason why I have been a long-time campaigner for free school meals, fruit and water provision in our schools. We also know that physical literacy can specifically help children with additional needs by improving their concentration and awareness; alongside that, it helps to improve general health by highlighting the importance of physical activity in our children’s learning process. We must not underestimate the importance of that, particularly in light of the active healthy kids Scotland report card, a study of 38 countries across the world, which recently placed Scotland last in physical activity among children.

With regard to STEP, we have already heard that it is a programme of exercises performed twice a day for 10 minutes and focuses in particular on balance, eye tracking and co-ordination with the aim of making physical activity part of children’s everyday learning. Improving physical literacy is particularly advantageous for children and young people who can find it difficult to concentrate, such as those with dyslexia and autism.

As deputy convener of the cross-party group on dyslexia and the mother of a rugby-playing dyslexic son, I was particularly pleased to see the STEP programme being championed by Kenny Logan, the former Scotland international rugby player, who is also dyslexic. Like others, I welcome Kenny to the gallery this evening.

STEP also has the backing of the British Dyslexia Association, which supported the findings of the pilot study. It is worth repeating that 86 per cent of kids who took part in the UK pilot study had improved reading after 12 months; 76 per cent had improved English; and 70 per cent had improved maths. Anything that helps children learn more efficiently, socialise more easily and participate more positively both inside and outside the classroom should be worthy of our attention. The programme would certainly have helped my son, who I am happy to say got a reasonably early diagnosis and is now at university, studying engineering. I should say that getting that early diagnosis and support very much helps.

In conclusion, I must once again return to the Government’s responsibility and address the key barrier to any such programme—funding. The Government must be prepared not only to invest more in our education system but to consider centrally funding programmes such as STEP to allow schools to take advantage of innovative ways of helping all children to learn and grow. I do not think that, given the good outcomes, expenditure of about £1 a day per child is particularly over the top.

Once again, I congratulate Liz Smith, and I hope that the programme can be considered across Scotland so that physical literacy becomes a core part of the school day.

17:32  

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

I, too, thank Liz Smith for bringing this motion to the chamber and welcome the contributions that have been made. It is always a pleasure to listen to Brian Whittle talk in the chamber, particularly on such a subject, given, as the Presiding Officer pointed out, the clear energy and passion that he brings. I also found the remarks made by Daniel Johnson and Oliver Mundell about their personal experiences very pertinent, and in talking about how they had dealt with those experiences and, in Mr Mundell’s case, highlighting the individuals at school who had helped him, they added a great deal to the debate.

As others have said, it is great to see Kenny Logan and others in the chamber, and I am very pleased to close this debate on the STEP programme for the Government. It is important that when we hear about such initiatives we acknowledge that they make a contribution to the ability of children and young people to realise their full potential.

As has been mentioned by others, health and wellbeing is one of the eight curricular areas in the curriculum for excellence, and one of its key components is physical education, physical activity and sport. The substantial importance of health and wellbeing is reflected in its position at the centre of the curriculum and at the heart of children’s learning. It is a central focus of the Scottish attainment challenge and the national improvement framework for education and it is, along with literacy and numeracy, one of the three core areas that are the responsibility of all school staff.

The Government is very clear that creating a culture in which healthy behaviours are the norm must start in the very early years so that children and young people can develop a genuine lifelong habit of activity. Such activity has many health, social and economic benefits, which members have already spoken about. Research shows that it is vital that children are active before they reach school age. That can be through active play, which improves not only co-ordination, but social skills with peers, siblings, parents, grandparents and nursery workers.

I am delighted to say that 98 per cent of schools provide their pupils with two hours or two periods of physical education a week. That compares with fewer than 10 per cent of schools in 2004-05.

I know that Brian Whittle had a rather despairing picture of the young people of today but, in 2015, 73 per cent of children did an average of 60 minutes or more of physical activity, including school-based activity, a day. Therefore, there is hope yet for our children and young people.

We are not complacent. As Brian Whittle and others have said, there is much more that needs to be done. That is why we will continue to support PE provision to maintain and improve the quality of PE and physical activity, ensure that it is inclusive, and position that in the Government’s overarching aim of raising attainment.

Members have mentioned the daily mile. The Government’s manifesto included an ambition that Scotland would become the first daily mile nation, of course. More than 800 primary schools across the country have now started their own daily mile programme and adapted the basic idea to meet their own circumstances and needs. It was great to hear about some of the work that is going on in constituencies, including Fulton MacGregor’s constituency, and the direct feedback from young people. I think that my daughters view it as a good opportunity for gossip in the playground. That certainly encourages them on their daily mile. Whatever a person’s reasons are for enjoying the daily mile, it seems to be going down well in primary schools, and the young people in primary schools seem to enjoy it.

The daily mile can and does work for many schools, but there are, of course, other examples that can be explored of how physical activity can be embedded into the daily life of a school. One example is the better movers and thinkers—or BMT—programme, which is an innovative and exciting movement and learning programme that is delivered free by Education Scotland. BMT has raised performance standards and created a step change in the learning and teaching of PE.

The BMT approach is completely inclusive, as it supports children and young people to identify and achieve their individual physical and cognitive potential. It has been developed from a range of evidence-based fields, including child development, cognitive neuroscience and pedagogy, and the approach has a positive effect on all children by encouraging and supporting their engagement in the learning process, regardless of their starting ability or any additional support needs that they might have. Children like BMT as an approach to physical education, and using the approach in the gym and the classroom has prompted teachers to report improvements in concentration and better peer engagement in all aspects of the curriculum.

Liz Smith

The minister is quite right to make those points. On that specific issue, we were delighted to learn that the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills will meet the STEP group at the end of the month. Will the Government make a commitment today? The minister has just named improvements for another impressive programme. Can the same thing be done with the STEP programme? As I have said, the feedback from teachers is very good, and it is clear that some very positive comments are coming from local authorities. Can we have a commitment from the Government to at least examine that programme in full?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

As Liz Smith mentioned in her opening speech, the cabinet secretary is due to meet Kenny Logan and others on 25 January, I think, to discuss the matter. I do not want to pre-empt that discussion and make an announcement today.

The final decision on what approaches are to be used in schools, whether on the daily mile or other initiatives, rests with teachers and local authorities. As members have said, they are very well placed to decide how the curriculum is delivered in the area. I am sure that the cabinet secretary will discuss that matter in much greater detail with Kenny Logan when he meets him at the end of this month.

We are aware that the STEP programme has been promoted for children who have dyslexia. I want to be clear that, as well as ensuring that our children and young people have an active start in life, the Government is committed to ensuring that all children and young people get the support that they need to realise their full potential. To ensure that that happens, the Scottish Government has taken forward a range of actions, including the Doran review, the recommendations from the Education and Culture Committee’s report on the attainment of pupils with sensory impairment and the mainstream review.

With regard to children and young people with dyslexia, education authorities have a duty to identify, meet and review the additional support needs of all their pupils. Education Scotland considers that duty as part of its inspection programme.

To help all teachers address the needs of their pupils with dyslexia, the Government supported the development of the addressing dyslexia toolkit, which includes material on effectively identifying and supporting pupils and increasing accessibility for teachers, as well as information for education authorities on implementation of the toolkit. The dyslexia making sense working group supports delivery of the five workstreams, including the toolkit, that were recommended by the “Making Sense” review report that was published by Education Scotland in 2014.

The Government provides grant funding of £100,000 per year to Dyslexia Scotland to assist with its critical work towards carrying out the recommendations of the review report, in addition to its wide range of valued support services across Scotland and its network of volunteer-led branches. Provision of such support networks and services will allow every pupil in Scotland to experience the broad general education that they are entitled to under the curriculum for excellence.

The Government does not doubt the benefits of a programme such as STEP, and it believes that it and initiatives like it have a positive impact on the learning needs of our children and young people. The Deputy First Minister will meet Kenny Logan to discuss the STEP programme on 25 January, and I am sure that we all look forward to finding out about their discussion and what will follow from it.

I thank Liz Smith again for bringing this issue to the chamber. I look forward to continuing the debate along with the cabinet secretary at the end of this month.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That concludes the debate. I thank members for their very interesting contributions.

Meeting closed at 17:41.