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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)


Contents


Education Governance Review

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is a statement by John Swinney on the launch of the education governance review. The Deputy First Minister will take questions at the end of his statement.

14:18  

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

Last week in the chamber, the First Minister spoke about the defining mission of this Government: delivering excellence and equity in education. In delivering excellence we will raise the bar for all, and in delivering equity we will close the attainment gap. We have put specific timescales against our work on the attainment gap. We will make significant progress within this session of Parliament, and we will substantially eliminate that gap by the end of the next session of Parliament.

We have set ourselves the task of ensuring that every child, no matter where they are from or how well-off their family is, has the same opportunities and an equal chance to succeed. Avis Glaze, the world-renowned educationist who now sits on our international council of education advisers, put it simply: “Poverty is not destiny.” Our task is to make sure that that is the case in Scotland, and we have made a strong start.

We have expanded our attainment Scotland fund to £750 million over this session of Parliament, through which we are providing direct support to those schools with the biggest attainment gap challenge. We have also introduced the national improvement framework. Standardised assessment will be introduced to inform teacher judgment about the performance of young people, and new, transparent reporting on school performance will allow us to measure the attainment gap more accurately and to set clear targets for closing it. We have also moved decisively to free teachers to teach by removing unnecessary bureaucracy and workload. We have provided a definitive statement of priorities for Scotland’s schools that sets out clearly and concisely what teachers should and should not be focusing on. It will empower them to spend their time teaching and giving our children the best possible opportunities to learn. Those are strong foundations for Scottish education.

In its review of Scottish education, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that Scotland is above the international average in reading and science; that attainment is improving; that Scottish schools are inclusive; and that our children are resilient and have positive attitudes towards school. That is a testament to the bold reform of curriculum for excellence and the energy applied by many to ensure success for Scotland’s young people.

However, the OECD also told us to continue to be bold. Andy Hargreaves of the OECD review team set out the challenge at the recent education summit, telling us

“not only to remain ahead of the global curve in education but actually become the curve that others will refer to around the world”.

We accept that challenge. We will create the world-leading education system that our children and young people deserve. Our next step in that challenge is to ask ourselves how school education should be run, and our governance review will seek to answer that question over the coming months.

We do not ask that question in a vacuum, however. Today I will set out our vision for the most critically important part of our early years and school education system: our teachers and practitioners and their relationship with our children. That relationship is at the heart of every story of success. In every school that succeeds, we find great teachers who are able to reach out and touch the lives of the children in their classrooms. In every story of a child who has been lifted out of poverty by the power of education, we find teachers and the bond that they formed with that child. Nothing is more critical.

In the 118 days since becoming the education secretary, I have been deeply impressed by the excellent work that I have seen from teachers and early years practitioners across the country, but I have also heard about the barriers and challenges that they face in delivering great education. Our guiding principle for the way that our schools are run is simple: decisions should be taken at the school level. That will be our presumption, and we will place it at the heart of the review.

We want to empower our teachers and our early years workers to make the best decisions for children and young people. They have the expertise that we need and they are the professionals who are charged with using the power of education to change a child’s destiny. We will place them at the heart of a system that makes decisions about children’s learning and school life within the schools themselves, supported by parents and the local community.

This is a vision of empowerment and devolution: devolution from local authorities to schools—to include teachers, headteachers, parents and communities—and devolution from a national to a local or regional level. Let us ensure that decisions about a child’s learning are taken as close to the child as possible.

Devolution of decision making must be allied to devolution of resources. We have begun that process with the allocation of £100 million from council tax reform directly to schools to support their work to close the equity gap, but we are committed to going much further. We are committed to establishing a fair and transparent needs-based funding formula for schools. We will consult on proposals for a funding formula in March 2017, but the review offers an opportunity to comment on how funding can be made fairer and can support decision making by teachers at a school level.

We know that improvement in education is driven by co-operation and collaboration, not competition or marketisation. The Scottish Government is committed to a publicly funded comprehensive education system that enables every child and young person to achieve. We will not—we will never—go down the route of the divisive academy model, and we will never allow children to be labelled as failures at the age of 11. There will be no policy of selection or grammar schools in Scotland; our reform will be based on evidence of what works, not right-wing ideological dogma.

The evidence shows that systematic collaborative engagement at every level of education is what builds capacity and delivers the best outcomes for children and young people. School clusters are a way in which schools can work together, and we want to hear how that type of collaboration, among others, can be encouraged so that it is supported and sustained. By working together, we can achieve more. We will not set school against school, parent against parent or pupil against pupil; we will bring people together to pursue the world-class education that every child deserves.

I have set out our presumption that decisions should be taken at the school level. That will inevitably lead to some elements of our system having to be the responsibility of other organisations. The questions that the review poses are what elements they will be and where those responsibilities should sit. Sometimes the answer will be obvious. For example, there will always be a need for a national examinations body. No one would suggest that schools should set their own highers, but some elements will be a matter of genuine debate.

Some of the support that schools need is best delivered at a local or regional level. Currently, many of those services are delivered by local authorities. Let me be clear: local authorities will continue to exercise democratic control over Scottish education at a local level but we must question how the role of local government can become more effective. Devolving responsibilities to our schools means that we must question the support that is provided at every level of our education system to ensure that it delivers what teachers need.

Although there are some examples of partnership working across local authorities, the OECD highlighted the need for more effective partnership and collaboration between them. This Government will, therefore, introduce new educational regions to ensure that good practice is shared across education and that we deliver best value. The governance review offers the opportunity to shape that approach.

Local authorities are accountable to their electorates. I am accountable to the electorate and to the Parliament. Schools should primarily be accountable to parents and their local communities. We need a system of accountability and governance that is clear to parents, teachers and communities—to every one of us, whether we have a formal role in our education system or a stake in its success. The governance review is our opportunity to make that a reality.

In the weeks and months ahead, I want to hear views from across every part of Scotland. I want to hear from children and young people, parents, teachers, practitioners and the wider community. There will be opportunities to engage directly with the questions in the review and online, and we will publish on our website information about engagement events that will take place around the country. During the review, I will also meet monthly with my counterpart in the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Councillor Stephanie Primrose, to share emerging findings and build consensus where possible.

I plan to spend a significant amount of time over the next three months in talking and listening to teachers, children and young people and partners about how education is run. I also want to hear from members of this Parliament, and I invite every member to engage with and contribute to the review.

Closing the attainment gap and raising standards for all—delivering excellence and equity for all our children and young people—is our national mission as a Government. We are ready to take the next steps in making Scotland’s school education world class. I invite every member of the Parliament to join us in that effort.

The Presiding Officer

Thank you, cabinet secretary. I call Liz Smith.

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I thank the Deputy First Minister for prior sight of the statement.

The announcement that is central to the statement is on page 6, where we learn that the Government will introduce “new educational regions” that operate above local authorities. Does the cabinet secretary accept that that looks a little bit like centralisation of education, which seems to be at odds with the statement on page 3 that

“Decisions should be taken at school level”?

Secondly, on the crucial issue of the related funding, the Scottish Government appears to be suggesting that the £100 million attainment fund will be paid for by council tax and allocated to pupils according to whatever the Scottish Government sees as the appropriate measure of deprivation. Will the cabinet secretary clarify exactly whether that money to be raised from council tax will be spent in the particular local authority area, in the relevant region or by a free-for-all system overseen by the Scottish Government?

Finally, the cabinet secretary says that he wants schools that work and deliver good results. So do we. Does he intend to make legislative changes to allow more Jordanhill-type schools or schools where parents want state education but not provided by local authorities?

John Swinney

On Liz Smith’s first question, the educational regions are a direct response from the Government to the OECD challenge to us to encourage more collaboration within the education system in Scotland. So when Liz Smith says that they will be regions operating above local authorities, I would encourage her to think of the concept as co-operation between local authorities.

I make it absolutely clear that I do not want to run every school in the country—that is not the purpose of the review. It is about discussing what are the right powers and responsibilities to be exercised at school level to ensure that our teaching leadership, in whom we are investing, frankly, our hopes as a country for educating our young people, are able to take the decisions that best suit the needs of the children in individual schools.

Our message about the collaboration that needs to exist between authorities is about encouraging joint working and collaboration between individual local authorities, as we see in certain parts of the country, to ensure that the direct teaching experience of pupils is enhanced by the adding of value and greater collaboration across the education service. I would therefore characterise the Government’s agenda as being one that combines encouragement of decentralisation and encouragement of collaboration within education. Those are the values at the heart of the governance review that I am setting out today.

On the £100 million to be raised from council tax, the resources that are raised by each local authority by the changes that are made to the council tax will of course be collected in their entirety in those local authority areas. However, clearly, there will be a distribution of those resources to ensure that the £100 million is allocated to support young people who are living in poverty and who require additional support to address the consequences of their background for closing the achievement gap. That was what the Government set out to the public in the election campaign and that is exactly what we will make provision for.

Finally—I suppose that this is a point of great debate within the review but there is also a measure of agreement on it—like Liz Smith, I of course want schools that work. I see much excellence in schools in Scotland today and it is right that that is acknowledged in today’s statement—there is much excellence in our school system today. What I want to ensure is that every single school that the young people of Scotland enter is an excellent school, and I want to empower the schools of Scotland to enable that to be the case. So the debate that we are going to have is about how we take the necessary steps in reforming the governance of Scottish education to make sure that we create excellent schools in every single part of the country to guarantee that young people can fulfil their educational potential. That is the question at the heart of the review and that is what the Government will engage on in the course of the next few months.

The Presiding Officer

I encourage members to press their request-to-speak buttons. Iain Gray will be followed by Jenny Gilruth.

Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab)

I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of his statement.

Empowering teachers, parents and communities to achieve excellence and equity in education is a laudable aim and one that we share, but we recognise that we must have enough teachers and resources in our schools to pursue it properly. Today, we were told that councils might face cuts of £1 billion by the end of this session of Parliament. As I have asked often before, will the cabinet secretary commit to using the powers of this Parliament to protect the budgets of schools as he reviews their governance?

Mr Swinney has made it clear in his statement that local authorities will continue to exercise democratic control over Scottish education at a local level, which is very welcome. Welcome, also, is his ruling out of selection and the grammar school model, and his ruling out of the academy model here in Scotland. However, for clarity and completeness—which he failed to give in response to Ms Smith—will he rule out the idea that schools should be able to opt out from local authority control?

John Swinney

On Iain Gray’s point about appropriate resources, he will of course have heard from the Government the position that we set out at the outset of the election campaign and the propositions that we would put to the people of Scotland. The Government is now fulfilling those commitments with the governance review and the agenda that I have set out in the Government’s delivery plan.

We will ensure that new resources are allocated to education to support the achievement of the Government’s agenda of closing the attainment gap. That was the promise that the Government made at the election, and we will fulfil it by injecting new resources into Scottish education.

It is important that we take decisions to ensure that the support is in place to assist us in tackling the attainment gap in Scottish education. The welcome that Mr Gray has given to a number of the provisions that I have set out should be extended to the additional resources that the Government is putting in place in that respect.

On Mr Gray’s second question, which was about governance, it is not part of my plan that schools should opt out of local authority control. I want to ensure that schools have the necessary powers and responsibilities to be able to create excellence and to take the decisive decisions that will deliver quality education and attainment for the young people in those schools. My plans are about ensuring that schools are part of the democratic fibre and fabric of Scottish society and that they operate in the local authority context, but I also want to ensure that the school leadership of Scotland is able to take the decisive decisions that will transform the life chances of young people. That strikes me as an agenda that can be broadly supported in Scotland.

The Presiding Officer

I am sure that members are very appreciative of the cabinet secretary’s thoughtful remarks but, in the interests of brevity, I point out that 10 members are trying to get in.

Jenny Gilruth (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)

We know that greater parental and community involvement has been shown to promote children’s attainment and achievement, and I welcome the cabinet secretary’s plans to involve parents and the wider community more with the review. Can the cabinet secretary confirm that teachers, parents and communities will also be involved in the creation of a fair funding formula for our schools?

John Swinney

I am determined to engage widely in Scotland on all those questions. It is important that we have a broad debate about them to ensure that the Government’s thinking and approach are informed by a wide selection of opinion. I give the assurance that we will make every effort to capture that input and report to Parliament on the changes that we intend to make as a consequence of that dialogue.

Ross Thomson (North East Scotland) (Con)

I do not want to labour the point too much, but will the cabinet secretary please clarify that, if a school is producing top-class results and parents want to opt out of local authority control, he will allow them to do so?

John Swinney

In my statement, I made a number of commitments on the centrality of the Government’s view on the establishment of a comprehensive education system in Scotland that is under democratic control, and I reiterated those points in response to Mr Gray. My objective is to empower schools to be able to deliver in a comprehensive education system the excellence that every single child in Scotland has a right to expect. The governance review is about how we can empower schools to enable them to do that so that, wherever a child lives and goes to school in Scotland, they have access to an excellent education system with their interests, needs and aspirations at the heart of its design.

James Dornan (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s commitment to stay away from the academy model and grammar schools. Does he agree that the conclusion of a recent Institute for Fiscal Studies report that grammar schools can

“stretch the brightest pupils, but seem likely to come at the cost of increasing inequality”

shows how right that decision is?

John Swinney

I started my statement by referring to the importance of achieving excellence and equity within Scottish education. Those values and aspirations are right at the heart of the agenda that we will take forward. We are determined to ensure that every effort is made to focus on our mission of closing the attainment gap in Scottish education and I do not believe for a moment that that would be made any easier—in fact, I think that it would be made a great deal more difficult—by undertaking some of the reforms that we hear are taking place elsewhere.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

I do not know how many times the Deputy First Minister mentioned “devolution” in his statement, but I certainly welcome his conversion to the cause.

Teachers’ pay and conditions are currently negotiated and set out nationally. With regard to the powers that he is considering handing down to regions and schools, will the Deputy First Minister confirm that pay and conditions will continue to be set at national level?

John Swinney

In the governance review, my presumption is that teachers’ terms and conditions will remain a national issue. I want to ensure that we have an open and participative debate about the factors that will make a real difference at school level, and which will ensure the creation and delivery of excellence and equity for all in the education system.

I have deliberately made the consultation exercise open to enable a debate to be had about the right levers to be located at school level and to determine how we can best improve the performance of Scottish education and deliver on the expectations of young people in every part of the country.

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

The cabinet secretary said that he wants to engage with as many people as possible and to hear views from every part of Scotland in the review. It is crucial that young people have their say, so I was pleased to hear the cabinet secretary confirm in his statement that they will. Will the cabinet secretary elaborate on what plans there are to facilitate that?

John Swinney

A range of engagement opportunities will be taken forward to ensure that we capture the views of young people. They are the ones who can most effectively tell us about the issues that they face in the development of their educational journey, so it is important that we use every mechanism that is available to us to capture their input. Specific consultations will be held and measures taken to capture that input from young people to inform the discussions that the Government takes forward.

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD)

I thank the cabinet secretary for the advance copy of his statement.

If the big idea for Scottish education is educational regions, will they be imposed? Have ministers forgotten the human and financial cost of centralising the police? Why was there no mention of Education Scotland in the cabinet secretary’s statement today? Will he agree to separate school inspectors from ministerial policy and advice? On funding, a needs-based funding formula for schools is very different from government funding to deliver education in a council area. Is that not centralisation of funding by another name?

John Swinney

On Tavish Scott’s first point, the question of educational regions is, as I explained to Liz Smith, a product of the issues that were raised with us by the OECD review, which encouraged us to support a more collaborative model for delivery of education. The OECD encourages the sharing of best practice and expertise around different areas of the country and in different parts of the education system. In the review, we are trying to respond to that challenge because although the OECD review said that Scottish education is strong, it also said that we have to continue to reform it, so we must respond to that challenge.

On the question about how educational regions will come about, as I indicated in one of my earlier answers, collaboration is already emerging among local authorities on delivery of education around the country. That is a discussion that we want to have with local authorities, which is why I will see my counterpart in COSLA regularly to advance the discussions.

On the second point—the role of Education Scotland—I appreciate that there has not been much time to consume the consultation document, but Tavish Scott will see that the document raises the role of different bodies at different levels within Scotland. There is adequate opportunity for those issues to be examined and tested as part of the consultation exercise.

On the needs-based formula, the complete text that I used was that it had to be

“a fair ... needs-based ... formula”.

That means that a variety of different issues have to be taken into account in arriving at an appropriate funding formula that meets the needs, the challenges and the aspirations of different areas of the country within the education system. The Government will consult on that issue in March next year and we will continue that discussion. However, I stress that any analysis has to be underpinned by an acceptance of my point that there has to be a fair approach to that needs-based funding formula.

Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

As the cabinet secretary rightly pointed out, Scottish education has very strong foundations. Does he agree with the director general of the Confederation of British Industry, who recently said:

“On qualifications, Scotland has a proud record”,

and added that

“Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence is leading the way”?

John Swinney

There is a very strong body of opinion—not least of which is the OECD review—that indicates that curriculum for excellence has been a bold and successful reform. The challenge is that we have to make sure that curriculum for excellence works effectively alongside other policy interventions that the Government makes, particularly in relation to skills and on developing Scotland’s young workforce.

The work that Mr Hepburn and I are doing to integrate school education and the skills agenda with the work that Ms Somerville is doing with the higher and further education sectors is vital to ensuring that all our interventions are aligned in order that we can create the strongest possible skills base, which will be relevant and applicable to the development of the Scottish economy.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

The cabinet secretary wants councils to collect £100 million, which he will then divvy up, and he will form new national and regional bodies. How is that not more centralisation?

John Swinney

The first thing that I will say to Mr Simpson is that there is a democratic point: the Government went to the electorate to seek a mandate for the proposals, and the Government was given a mandate to take forward the proposals. We are now engaging in consultation on implementation of our manifesto commitments. I invite—and have already invited—local government to take part in the dialogue on pursuit of that agenda.

I commit myself to engaging purposefully with that agenda and to ensuring that we make the necessary progress in delivering excellence and equity within our education system. Those are the values and the aspirations that underpin the policy commitments around reforming the council taxes in order to generate revenue, and reforming the structures of Scottish education to deliver the collaboration that I have talked about in response to the OECD review.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I draw to members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests; I am a local councillor for South Lanarkshire Council.

Today’s announcement acknowledges local authority control of schools, but it also surely signals a diminished role for local government in delivery of education. What assurances can the Deputy First Minister give that the creation of educational regions will not put pressure on, or divert vital funding away from, local government budgets, and that it will not lead to unintended bureaucracy?

John Swinney

I will certainly be taking steps to ensure that the reforms do not generate unintended bureaucracy. I am spending a significant proportion of my life removing unintended bureaucracy from the system, as things stand.

The arguments about education regions are about collaboration to encourage educational excellence. That is the purpose of the reforms—they are not to overlay bureaucracy, but to ensure that we have the resources and the capability to enhance the quality of Scottish education. That is what the OECD challenged us to consider and that is what the Government is consulting about today.

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

I am extremely pleased to see the Scottish Government delivering on yet another manifesto commitment and continuing to make progress on giving every child the same opportunity to succeed. Will the cabinet secretary outline how long the review will last, and the role that the national improvement framework will have in supporting parents and communities?

John Swinney

The national improvement framework is predicated on a number of key themes, one of which is parental involvement. I will have the opportunity to discuss many of the questions with the national parent forum of Scotland when I meet it this coming Saturday.

The national improvement framework also provides guidance on how we take forward the agenda and how it supports in every respect the closing of the attainment gap. The steps that we have today set out in the governance review are integral to ensuring that the message of excellence and equity that is at the heart of the national improvement framework is delivered as a consequence.

The Presiding Officer

I apologise to Ross Greer for not being able to call him, and I thank the cabinet secretary for his admirable acceleration.