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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 13 September 2016

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Education Governance Review, Common Agricultural Policy Payments, More Homes Scotland (Investment), Decision Time, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (Services)


Topical Question Time

Homophobic Bullying (Schools)

1. Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to tackle homophobic bullying in schools in light of the recent survey by the time for inclusive education group. (S5T-00059)

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

Bullying of any kind, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, is unacceptable and must be addressed swiftly and effectively whenever it arises. It is the responsibility of headteachers, teachers and other school staff and local authorities to decide on the specific actions to address cases of bullying in their schools.

The Scottish Government established and wholly funds respect me, a national anti-bullying service, to build confidence and capacity to address all bullying effectively, aligned to the national approach to anti-bullying in Scotland. Respect me provides direct support to local authorities, schools, youth groups and all those working with children and young people. It is jointly managed by the Scottish Association for Mental Health and LGBT Youth Scotland.

The national approach to anti-bullying for Scotland’s children and young people is being updated. It sets out a common vision and aims to make sure that work across all agencies and communities is consistently and coherently contributing to a whole-school approach to anti-bullying in Scotland. LGBT Youth Scotland and Stonewall Scotland are part of the working group, and the updated guidance will be published soon.

Jamie Greene

Clearly, there is broad consensus across this place on the need to tackle this issue. The survey paints a deeply worrying picture of homophobic and transphobic bullying. It reveals that 27 per cent of respondents have attempted suicide, that more than 90 per cent have experienced bullying and that only 4 per cent thought that the Scottish Government was doing enough. Will the Government accept that the current approach is simply not enough? Will it commit to a change of tack?

John Swinney

First things first—I agree with Mr Greene that any bullying, including homophobic bullying, is repugnant and must be tackled, addressed and confronted.

The Government has put in place a range of interventions, which I set out in my original answer, particularly around the establishment of respect me, which is designed to provide the resources, the materials, the information and the capacity to equip schools to handle this issue.

The national approach to anti-bullying for Scotland’s children and young people has been in place since 2010. As part of the review work, it is being updated to make sure that it is effective. Obviously, we will consider carefully the issues raised by the time for inclusive education group’s survey. I am meeting the group in the next few weeks, and I will listen carefully to the points that it advances. I assure Mr Greene that the Government has every intention of ensuring that the measures that we put in place are effective to address a situation that is clearly causing distress and anxiety to some young people in our society.

Jamie Greene

I thank the minister for his clarity on the matter and for telling us that he intends to meet the group that conducted the survey. The survey highlights that we are not getting it right for every child. The current postcode lottery means that some schools are training teachers while others are not. Given that the majority of teachers who were polled in the survey feel that they have not been adequately trained to tackle lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in school, what specific plans does the Government have to address that teacher training issue?

John Swinney

We make a wide range of interventions to enhance the professional capabilities of teachers once they are through the teacher training qualification and are practising in our schools. The national approach to anti-bullying for Scotland’s children and young people is the framework within which various resources are put in place to enable work to happen. Education Scotland has specific materials available for teachers to access and utilise, to ensure that they can undertake the development that is necessary if they are to tackle the issues that we are talking about.

Of course, that fits into the wider wellbeing agenda. I am glad that Mr Greene referred to the importance of getting it right for every child, because, as I made clear to the Parliament last week, that will be my ethos and vision as I fulfil my responsibility as education secretary to ensure that every single child in our country, whatever their circumstances, has their needs met by our services, particularly our education services, as they are entitled to expect.

I hope that that reassures Mr Greene about the steps that the Government is taking. As I said, we have a framework in place, which is currently being updated. In due course, when the update is complete, I will of course be happy to discuss with the Parliament the further steps that we can take to ensure that the circumstances that are highlighted in the survey are not experienced by young people in Scotland in future.

Mountain Weather Forecasting

2. Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to ensure the long-term future of mountain weather forecasting. (S5T-00064)

The Minister for Public Health and Sport (Aileen Campbell)

Our clear priority is to ensure the long-term provision of critical mountain weather forecasting and to ensure the future safety of all those who are active in Scotland’s hills and mountains.

The mountain weather information service has delivered an excellent service over the years and has provided an accurate and essential service to all who use Scotland’s mountains. Sportscotland has been involved in discussions with the Met Office and the MWIS about building a resilient mountain weather forecast provision for Scotland. We are committed to ensuring that everyone can continue to receive vital forecasts and to building on the skills and expertise in the MWIS.

In the short term, sportscotland and my officials will continue discussions with the MWIS about the provision of its service while we develop a sustainable mountain weather forecast. We recognise that that familiar and trusted forecast should be available to all who enjoy Scottish mountains and wild landscapes. This morning, my officials spoke to Geoff Monk, the lead forecaster at the MWIS, to ensure that we take account of the concerns that have been raised and find a long-term solution.

I will meet sportscotland to discuss developments and examine the provision of mountain weather forecasting, to ensure that the MWIS’s concerns are fully addressed. As part of that, I will also formally meet the mountain weather information service, to ensure that it is part of the solution and that there is a long-term legacy of its fantastic service, which has undoubtedly saved lives and improved safety for everyone who has enjoyed Scotland’s wild landscapes.

Andy Wightman

The minister is aware of the concerns that were expressed over the weekend at reports that sportscotland is to end its funding of the mountain weather information service. As she confirmed, the service has provided trusted, detailed forecasting for mountain users for 13 years, and sportscotland has funded it since 2007. The service is trusted and relied on by hundreds of thousands of users of Scotland’s mountains every year.

There is confusion in the outdoor community about the MWIS’s future, and there is concern at reports that the service will end just as winter begins. Does the minister agree that the safety and enjoyment of people who use Scotland’s mountains utterly depend on their having access to accurate, reliable and, above all, trusted weather forecasting sources? Will she confirm that sportscotland told the MWIS that its funding will end on 31 December 2016? Does she agree with her predecessor sports minister, Stewart Maxwell, who applauded Geoff Monk and his colleagues for their selfless work in helping to ensure the safety of all those who make use of our wonderful natural environment?

Aileen Campbell

I happily put on record my thanks to Geoff Monk for the dedication and commitment that he has shown over the past 13 years. He has been providing an excellent service, which has undoubtedly saved a number of lives. His work to forecast the weather accurately has enabled people to enjoy Scotland’s mountains and wild landscapes.

We are in discussions about how we ensure that we have a sustainable mountain weather forecast, and Geoff Monk and the expertise that he brings from the MWIS will need to be part of those discussions. We have invested significantly to ensure that people can go out and safely enjoy Scotland’s wild landscapes and mountains, with accurate weather forecasts, and we will continue the dialogue, so that people can continue to do so and are reassured in that regard. I think that that is what we all want. I will engage with the member on how the discussions are progressing.

Andy Wightman

Together with the Scottish avalanche information service, the MWIS has contributed to saving lives and providing more informed decision making among walkers, mountaineers and skiers. Does the minister agree with the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, which on Sunday called for all parties to reconvene their dialogue to ensure that there is continuity, especially with the onset of winter? Does she agree there should be continuity in future for the daily production of Scottish mountain weather forecasts that are publicly funded and available free to users, and which provide at least the same range of forecast features as the MWIS does? Will she answer my previous question and confirm whether sportscotland told the MWIS that its funding would end on 31 December 2016? Will she engage with the outdoor community to keep it informed and commit to keeping Parliament informed of progress?

Aileen Campbell

I will absolutely ensure that members who have an expressed interest are kept informed. All of us will have an interest in the issue, because we all want people to go out and know that they can enjoy the outdoors as safely as they can. We want to make sure that, in future, there is a sustainable way of giving people daily accurate reports about the condition of the weather so that they can go out and use the mountains safely, and we will continue to have discussions and dialogue about the investment that needs to be provided. The member mentioned the avalanche service. I will be happy to meet those people so that they can contribute their views to the on-going dialogue.

I again put on record my thanks to Geoff Monk, who has shown complete commitment in providing a service that has undoubtedly saved a number of lives across the country, and who has expertise and knowledge for which we should all be grateful. He and my officials are in discussions, and I will meet him and sportscotland to make sure that we find a sustainable solution for the future to ensure the continued safety of people who use Scotland’s mountains.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

The past two winters have certainly proved the value of the MWIS, and to take it away would put tens of thousands of those of us who enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle in increased danger. The service is funded through sportscotland which, in turn, is funded through the Scottish Government, so it is within the scope and the power of the Government to safeguard this important service. Will it do that?

Aileen Campbell

I have said a number of times that we want to ensure that there is a sustainable way in which we can forecast the weather so that people can go out and enjoy the mountains safely. I have put on record my gratitude to Geoff Monk for the work, effort and dedication of the MWIS, and we will continue to work with him and others to find a sustainable way to continue to provide such forecasts in the future. It is in our best interests to make sure that we have that long-term vision.

In the meantime, as I said in answer to Andy Wightman, I will meet the MWIS and sportscotland to discuss the issue, and we will make sure that we find a solution to some of the concerns that have been raised by the MWIS.