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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 18 January 2017

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Trauma Network, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Health, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Point of Order, Caterpillar Plant Occupation (30th Anniversary)


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Education and Skills


Music Education

1. Tom Arthur (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)

I refer members to my entry in the register of interests as a member of the Musicians Union, a former piano teacher and a former director of a function band.

To ask the Scottish Government what contribution music education can make towards closing the attainment gap. (S5O-00549)

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

Curriculum for excellence recognises the value of music education in providing children and young people with opportunities to be creative and imaginative, to experience inspiration and enjoyment, and to develop skills for learning, life and work. Through research, we know that there are many wider benefits of music education and musical experiences, which include the promotion of healthy lives and cognitive benefits such as increasing attainment, improving levels of literacy and numeracy, and the emotional, social and physical wellbeing of our young people.

Tom Arthur

Given that a growing body of evidence suggests that education in music, through enhancing development of a student’s sound-processing abilities, can aid language development, does the cabinet secretary agree that music education for children from the lowest socioeconomic backgrounds could play a crucial and cost-effective role in reducing the word gap?

John Swinney

There is very clear evidence to support the proposition that Mr Arthur puts forward. I have seen a number of ventures in schools around the country that face challenges in engagement with young people in which the medium of music has been used successfully to engage young people in deeper involvement in literacy and numeracy activity. That is an important strand of thinking in our education policy, and that is why it forms an increasing part of the Scottish attainment challenge.

Ross Thomson (North East Scotland) (Con)

What action will the Scottish Government take to address the fall in the number of dedicated primary school music teachers between 2008 and the most recent schools census?

John Swinney

It is important that we focus on the engagement and the involvement of young people in musical education. That will be driven not just by the number of dedicated music teachers we have in primary schools but by the degree to which curriculum for excellence is delivered in a comprehensive and fulfilling way in all educational settings in Scotland. It is a requirement that a broad range of the educational elements of curriculum for excellence are delivered for young people. That is the Government’s expectation, and we look to schools and local authorities to deliver that.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

I thank Tom Arthur for lodging his important question. Like him, I note that recent research in the Journal of Neuroscience provided direct evidence that music training has a biological effect on children’s developing nervous systems. Furthermore, it demonstrated that children who had received music training showed larger improvements in how their brains processed speech and in their reading scores than their peers who had not received such training.

A number of local authorities now charge fees for musical tuition, and I have long been of the view that that is putting many children off taking up a musical instrument. Would the cabinet secretary consider engaging in a dialogue on the issue with local authorities and interested parties? I would be extremely upset if a generation of children were not to get access to music at an important time in their lives because of austerity or budget cuts.

John Swinney

I acknowledge Pauline McNeill’s long-term interest in such matters, and I accept fundamentally the point that she makes about the educational value and benefit of music tuition.

However, I make it clear to Parliament that it is the duty of every education authority to provide adequate and efficient school education without the payment of fees. As I said in my answer to Ross Thomson’s question, that covers music lessons, including when any instrument is taught on a whole-class basis, regardless of who is teaching the class. I think that there is adequate provision in the education system to enable that to be the case, but if members are concerned about the detail of the issue, I would be happy to engage in discussion on that, because engagement in music education has long-term benefits for the attainment of young people in Scotland.

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

Does the cabinet secretary agree that music education is not solely the domain of in-house tuition and that external organisations, such as the Boys Brigade, the scouts and local organised bands, can play their part? Does he agree that consideration of how the many such organisations can assist should not be ruled out, bearing in mind some of the points that have been highlighted on, for example, challenges and engagement?

John Swinney

Mr McMillan makes a fair point. A whole range of voluntary organisations provide an enormous amount of opportunity for young people in every locality of the country to participate in music. One of the great joys that many members have is attending musical competitions in communities around our constituencies, which are invariably led by voluntary sector representatives.

There is a broad range of activity. We have to make sure that in every respect it is encouraged and nurtured, and that the regulatory regime that surrounds it effectively provides the correct safeguards and support for young people, which will enable more to participate in music education, whether formally in the education system or informally in our communities.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

I call Mr Lyle. He will be pleased to see that we have not overlooked question 2.


Bullying

2. Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

I thought that you had, Presiding Officer—my apologies.

To ask the Scottish Government when it plans to publish updated guidance on tackling bullying. (S5O-00550)

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

Along with a wide range of stakeholders, we have been working for some time on a refreshed national anti-bullying strategy for children and young people. Our intention is that it will take a holistic approach to addressing the issue. I recently agreed to a request from the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee for further engagement by the committee on the issue. I will carefully consider the issues that it raises and look to publish the guidance in spring 2017.

Richard Lyle

I welcome the news on the forthcoming guidance on bullying. We must all do what we can to tackle this important issue. What work is being undertaken beyond the guidance to tackle bullying in schools?

John Swinney

As I said in my original answer, work is under way to refresh the guidance and I am keen to hear the committee’s perspectives on how it can be strengthened. In addition to that activity, the Government is funding respectme, Scotland's anti-bullying service, which provides support to all adults working with children and young people to give them the practical skills and the confidence to deal with all bullying behaviour.

We are committed to updating our internet safety action plan by March 2017 to provide adequate protection against online bullying. We fund Childline to provide confidential advice and information to children. We have provided funding to LGBT Youth Scotland to work collaboratively with respectme to produce a resource and to deliver practice seminars to teachers and other professionals to address homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. The Government continues to engage with a range of other organisations, including Stonewall Scotland and the time for inclusive education campaign on all those different issues.

I assure Mr Lyle that a comprehensive approach is being taken to tackling bullying, which includes refreshing the strategy that is in place, which we hope to strengthen through wider dialogue and engagement.


Education Reform

3. Ross Thomson (North East Scotland) (Con)

First of all, I declare an interest as a serving councillor on Aberdeen City Council.

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will clarify what the education and skills secretary meant by “radical reform of Scotland’s education system”, following publication of the recent programme for international student assessment results. (S5O-00551)

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

In my statement to Parliament on 6 December 2016, I reaffirmed the Government’s determination to pursue radical change to improve education in Scotland.

That change includes a wide range of reforms that we have introduced, such as the first-ever national improvement plan for education and our targeted approach to closing the attainment gap through the Scottish attainment challenge. It also includes reforms to governance arrangements on which we have recently consulted. We will introduce proposals that will empower teachers, parents and schools to drive further improvements in education in due course.

Ross Thomson

In its submission, the commission on school reform advocates empowering schools in relation to staffing appointments and budgets, because all the evidence shows that decisions are best taken closest to where they have an effect and that the greater the autonomy of schools, the better the results.

The Government’s governance consultation suggests that the devolution of power is a good thing, but it is not clear on what that will involve. Will the cabinet secretary clarify what the Government really means by greater autonomy and empowering teachers and whether it is prepared to take on all the vested interests to achieve that?

John Swinney

The first thing that I want to say to Mr Thomson is that the Government’s governance review has closed just recently. It attracted just short of 1,100 submissions, which the Government is currently considering. Parliament will accept and understand that I will take the necessary time to consider the review and to do justice to those 1,100 submissions. They cover a range of different perspectives, as is customary—and as I am becoming accustomed to—in any review of this type in Scottish education.

My sense is that Mr Thomson is being mildly critical of the Government for not setting out in detail exactly what it plans to do. The Government undertakes to consider the views of a range of different stakeholders and to come to a considered conclusion in setting out its response to the governance review. That is the correct way to make policy and that is how the Government will proceed on the matter.

Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab)

Does the cabinet secretary not agree that the Education and Skills Committee report that was published earlier this week provides strong evidence that radical reform is needed, as is reform of the Scottish Qualifications Authority and Education Scotland?

John Swinney

Mr Gray will understand that the Government’s consultation on governance included a variety of questions about the role of a range of organisations, including the two that he has mentioned. I give Parliament the assurance that all of those issues will be part of my consideration.

I make the fundamental point to Parliament that if there is as much concern across Parliament about the performance of Scottish education as I heard being expressed in the debate last Thursday, it is right that I should pose hard questions about everybody who is involved in Scottish education. If local authorities are responsible for the delivery of education in Scotland—and that is their statutory responsibility—then, if Parliament is as concerned about education as it says it is, it is right that I should be asking hard questions about local government as well. That is where the performance of Scottish education is at its most acute.

I have asked the questions in an open fashion in the governance review. I will take the time to consider the issues that have been raised, but I want to make it clear to Parliament that I will be asking hard questions of all organisations that are involved in Scottish education to ensure that we have an education system that can deliver on the expectations of every young person in Scotland and their parents, carers and supporters within our country.

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD)

I commend the hard question approach to the issue. One of the hard questions that the cabinet secretary might wish to consider asking is of the curriculum for excellence management board, from which we heard this morning at the Education and Skills Committee, given its inability to answer the question of who was responsible for the implementation of curriculum for excellence. When he is going through his review of these matters, will he undertake to ensure that parents and teachers, in particular, know who is responsible for what in respect of the future of the education system across our country?

John Swinney

I will look very carefully at the Official Report of this morning’s proceedings; I was not able to follow all of them.

Mr Scott’s question gives me the opportunity to rehearse the answer that I gave in closing the debate on Thursday, which I understand that Mr Scott was not able to attend, although it is all in the Official Report if he wants to have a look at it.

My point to Parliament last Thursday was that the curriculum for excellence management board involves—if my memory serves me right—about 20 organisations, which are brought together to try to create consensus and agreement around the implementation of curriculum for excellence. That is the model that it has been customary to use to take forward Scottish education—one that brings together everybody to try to achieve consensus.

Therefore, my answer to Mr Scott’s question about who is ultimately responsible is that nothing in the implementation of the curriculum for excellence has been forced on anybody else and everybody has agreed as we have gone along, with the exception that on one occasion the Educational Institute of Scotland asked for a delay to the implementation of examinations by one year. That is the only occasion on which a minister took a decision contrary to a unanimous view of the curriculum for excellence management board.

I am sorry that this is a long answer to Mr Scott’s question, Presiding Officer, but it is complicated territory. We have drawn together on the curriculum for excellence management board all the relevant stakeholders to seek a consensus on the implementation of curriculum for excellence, and ministers have respected their views.

That is my explanation of how curriculum for excellence has been implemented. I told the Education and Skills Committee in December that, as part of the governance review, I am looking afresh at decisions in that regard. In the months for which I have been the education secretary, I have done a few things to push matters at a faster pace and to take decisions that might otherwise have taken longer. I did so because I felt that it was necessary. Perhaps we need a sharper approach to decision making than we have had in the past, and that is one of the issues that I am currently addressing.

The Presiding Officer

Apologies to James Dornan, but we now move on to question 4.


Attainment Scotland Fund (Falkirk Council)

4. Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with Falkirk Council regarding the attainment Scotland fund. (S5O-00552)

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

We are in regular contact with Falkirk Council, which has received £413,663 from the attainment Scotland fund.

Angus MacDonald

The Deputy First Minister will be aware of concerns that have been raised by Falkirk Council’s education service in its submission to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the governance review regarding the potential for additional bureaucracy for schools following the recently announced attainment fund moneys. Will the cabinet secretary take on board those concerns and ensure that schools are not required to implement cumbersome additional monitoring and reporting mechanisms and that existing accountability arrangements and systems are utilised?

John Swinney

We have to take account of the fact that funding will go directly to schools to enable them to have sharper decision making about how the moneys can be used effectively. I have seen for myself in Falkirk the product of decisions being taken at school level and how that improves the way in which educational performance is delivered in individual schools. The money is public money and has to be properly accounted for. I give Mr MacDonald the assurance that I do not want to have accountability mechanisms that are any more onerous than required, but I have to have accountability mechanisms in place that will satisfy the scrutiny of Parliament and the Auditor General for Scotland in relation to the utilisation of public money.

Alison Harris (Central Scotland) (Con)

The cabinet secretary alluded to this earlier, but what evidence can he provide that will reassure my constituents in Falkirk that the proposed new regional education boards would protect and enhance local accountability?

John Swinney

Educational collaboration across local authority areas, and the discussion in the governance review about regional education boards, is about ensuring that the best expertise is available to enhance educational provision in individual schools and for individual young people. Published information from Education Scotland and the Accounts Commission highlights the fact that not all of our local authorities can add value to the educational provision of individual schools. As education secretary, I cannot ignore that evidence, which is why I am encouraging collaboration and co-operation between authorities through regional education bodies.

I stress to Parliament, as I stressed to Liz Smith when I answered her question on the launch of the governance review, that the bodies will be not an extra layer of bureaucracy but a collaborative area in which to improve performance, so that every school in the country has the same chance to improve education as a consequence of the interaction of education bodies. In the north of Scotland, the northern alliance is a very good example of local authorities coming together to provide services jointly across an area to tackle particular issues, such as numeracy and literacy and staff shortages. There is an argument for that, and that is part of what I am considering in the governance review.


Physical Education

5. Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government how physical education is helping to narrow the attainment gap. (S5O-00553)

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

Physical education can have a positive impact on children’s health, educational attainment and life chances. It encourages the development of movement and thinking skills and, in doing so, contributes to and reinforces learning across the curriculum. I am delighted that 98 per cent of primary and secondary schools across Scotland are providing at least two hours or two periods of PE per week.

Health and wellbeing’s substantial importance is reflected in its position at the centre of the curriculum and at the heart of children’s learning. It is also a central focus of the Scottish attainment challenge and the national improvement framework for education. Along with literacy and numeracy, it is one of the three core areas that are the responsibility of all staff in schools.

Jeremy Balfour

We all agree that sport can help to narrow the attainment gap, yet a report by Reform Scotland recently discovered that some local authorities, including some within the Lothian region, are charging for sports activities that form part of the active schools initiative. Does the cabinet secretary agree with me that, given that the activities are co-ordinated through a Scotland-wide organisation, it seems strange that there is a difference in charging practice, and that pupils from poorer backgrounds are more likely to miss out as a result of what is a postcode lottery?

John Swinney

On the specific point about the charging arrangements, I will, if Mr Balfour will forgive me, take the opportunity to delve into the detail of that and consider whether there is an issue that needs to be addressed.

In general, the Government is taking a number of steps to encourage greater levels of physical activity. I mentioned in my original answer the performance in 98 per cent of primary and secondary schools, where at least two hours or two periods of PE are being provided each week. There are additions to that, such as the daily mile, which has engaged Scottish schools significantly in the process. For completeness I also point out that later this month I will meet Kenny Logan to hear more about the STEP programme, which he is taking forward and in which there is a great deal of active interest.

I reassure Mr Balfour that the Government is strongly reflecting the importance of exercise and health and wellbeing by placing them at the heart of the curriculum and the education of young people.

I will specifically consider the issue that Mr Balfour has raised with me.


City of Glasgow College

6. John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with Glasgow Colleges Regional Board and the City of Glasgow College regarding their relationship with each other. (S5O-00554)

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

The Scottish Government regularly meets the chair of Glasgow Colleges Regional Board. The Government also receives regular updates from the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council on Glasgow colleges.

John Mason

Does the minister agree that the resources for Glasgow colleges must be fairly shared between all three of them, and that the two more community-based colleges, Glasgow Clyde College and Glasgow Kelvin College, should not be disadvantaged just because the City of Glasgow College shouts louder and has a louder voice?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

The allocation of resources to Glasgow colleges is, of course, a matter for the Glasgow Colleges Regional Board and the Scottish funding council, which have well-established systems in place for allocating those resources. All three colleges, the regional board and the funding council are going through due process at the moment, which is the correct and proper way of progressing. I reassure the member that the sole purpose of that approach is to ensure the delivery of high-quality further education throughout Glasgow.

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

On 16 November 2016, I received an answer to a parliamentary question, which confirmed that

“The Scottish Government does not hold information”—[Written Answers, 16 November 2016; S5W-04392.]

to confirm the level of remuneration that is made to the chair of Glasgow Colleges Regional Board. On 1 December 2016, I received a letter from John Kemp, which confirmed that the Scottish funding council does not have that information either. Could the cabinet secretary explain why neither the Scottish Government nor the Scottish funding council has that information?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

It is very important that we have transparency and a full understanding about the system that we are setting up with the regional boards. If Liz Smith is not satisfied with the answer that she got back from John Kemp, I am more than happy to look into that correspondence from the funding council and to get back to her directly.


Skills Gap

7. Rachael Hamilton (South Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to close the skills gap. (S5O-00555)

The Minister for Employability and Training (Jamie Hepburn)

Scotland’s labour market strategy recognises that a skilled workforce will be a key component of a more successful and inclusive economy in the years ahead. Our enterprise and skills review, which is proceeding in partnership with stakeholders and the relevant agencies, aims to bring greater coherence and focus to the delivery of our skills support. It will focus on fully aligning and co-ordinating activity across the agencies to maximise their collective impact in meeting the needs of the labour market.

Skills Development Scotland has taken a strong leadership role to understand the skills needs of the labour market through improved regional skills assessments and skills investment plans. That information base will be vital in aligning future skills provision with business need.

Rachael Hamilton

A survey by the Confederation of British Industry highlighted that 69 per cent of Scottish businesses

“are not confident about filling their high-skilled jobs in future.”

That is supported by the Institute for Public Policy Research in its report, “Equipping Scotland for the future”, which highlighted funding as one of the

“challenges facing the skills system”

in the future.

Will the Scottish Government demonstrate its commitment to skills funding by increasing the longevity of the funding for developing the young workforce to allow greater sustainability, and will it increase the number of apprenticeships to 35,000 to tackle the skills gap that is so evident in the south of Scotland and across Scotland?

Jamie Hepburn

I will pick up on Ms Hamilton’s last point. She will be aware that the United Kingdom Government—her political party’s Government—introduced the apprenticeship levy without prior consultation with the Scottish Government, despite our having responsibility for skills policy. In response to that, we undertook a consultation. One of the questions that we asked was whether our target of 30,000 modern apprenticeship starts by 2020 was the correct one. The clear message back from business, including the CBI, was that it was correct and that we should not go further. We have therefore moved forward on that basis, and that is the target that we will work towards.

Ms Hamilton mentioned the IPPR report and the CBI’s concerns. I am always willing to engage with the IPPR and the CBI; indeed, I met the CBI just yesterday. I am always very willing to discuss those matters with them, but I can tell Ms Hamilton that the CBI very much welcomed our planned introduction of a flexible workforce development fund, as set out in our budget, so I hope that she will vote for the Scottish Government’s budget when it moves ahead.

Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

Could the minister advise on any progress that is being made in increasing the studying of science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related subjects beyond school?

Jamie Hepburn

That is, of course, a very important area for us as an Administration. We know that, in the future, that type of area will be increasingly important for our economic growth. Significant emphasis is placed on increasing the number of apprenticeship opportunities in the STEM sector, and my colleague, Shirley-Anne Somerville, has set out to Parliament the STEM strategy, on which we are currently consulting. We will continue to do all that we can to grow the STEM sector.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

Rachael Hamilton is right to raise the funding of the skills system. Indeed, one of the most important factors in closing the skills gap is supporting young people from low-income families to stay on at school or college. Why, therefore, is the Scottish Government cutting the budget for the education maintenance allowance by £10 million—or 25 per cent—as laid out in the draft budget, and what will be the impact of that measure?

Jamie Hepburn

I urge Mr Johnson to look a bit more closely at the budget. In the budget, we have said that that is a demand-led element and that we will meet every single requirement as a consequence of EMA claims. If there is a claim for EMA, we will meet it.


University Tuition Fees (European Union Students)

8. Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government when it will announce a decision regarding tuition fee support for European Union students applying for courses for 2018-19. (S5O-00556)

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

Despite the United Kingdom Government failing, as yet, to provide adequate reassurance for EU nationals on their immigration status after the point at which the United Kingdom leaves the EU, we have provided a clear commitment regarding the continuation of free tuition for eligible EU students applying to commence study in Scotland in 2017-18.

In order to plan for 2018-19 and beyond, we continue to urge the UK Government to provide assurances that the immigration status and rights of EU nationals who currently live and study in Scotland, or who wish to study or work here in future, will not change. A lack of clarity on UK Government policy in that area is hampering planning. Against that backdrop, it is difficult to point to an exact date when we will be in a position to decide future policy on that issue. However, I can confirm that officials will discuss the matter with representatives of Scotland’s universities in the near future.

Mark Ruskell

I thank the minister for that very clear statement. We obviously share the desire to see more talented EU citizens come to this country, to contribute to our academia and our society—and that jars with the policy at Westminster. However, on the timescale, it is clear that universities are now drawing up prospectuses for next year, and they need that clarity by April. If there is anything that we can do to try to force the Westminster Government to give that clarity at that point, that would be very beneficial to EU citizens who are considering coming to Scotland but who do not yet have clarity on free tuition or, indeed, their immigration status.

Shirley-Anne Somerville

It would be fair to say that it would be good if we could force some clarity from the UK Government on that issue and on many others. I have here a copy of Theresa May’s speech from yesterday, which gives no clarity to EU nationals or, indeed, to the higher education sector in general, which is a concern. However, Mr Ruskell can be reassured that my officials and I are in almost constant dialogue with the universities around that issue and, indeed, the other issues for the sector that they are concerned about regarding Brexit—whether those are to do with research, EU students or, indeed, EU researchers and academic staff, which are also important issues.


Aberdeenshire Council Education and Children’s Services

9. Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

To ask the Scottish Government when it will next meet representatives from Aberdeenshire Council’s education and children’s services. (S5O-00557)

The Minister for Childcare and Early Years (Mark McDonald)

Scottish Government officials met staff from Aberdeenshire Council’s education and children’s services yesterday as part of a meeting of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland.

Mike Rumbles

Last month, Aberdeenshire Council had 42 teaching vacancies, while Aberdeen City Council reported that 96 full-time-equivalent posts were vacant. Does the minister understand that his Government needs to provide the resources to attract adequate numbers of teachers to the north-east and to change the situation whereby both councils constantly receive among the worst levels of resource funding from the Scottish Government?

Mark McDonald

As Mr Rumbles knows, the Government has put in place funding to protect pupil teacher ratios. As well as that, we are working with the councils that are part of the north alliance to look at, for example, expanding opportunities for teacher education places. We are also looking at new routes into teaching, which include offering opportunities to individuals in the oil and gas sector who have recently been made redundant and who wish to look at teaching as a future opportunity.

We are exploring a variety of routes for individuals to get into teaching in north-east Scotland. If Mr Rumbles has any constructive suggestions to bring to the table, the Government will be more than happy to hear from him.

Alexander Burnett (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)

What has happened to full-time-equivalent teacher numbers in schools in Aberdeenshire from 2007 to the present? How has that affected pupil teacher ratios?

Mark McDonald

As Mr Burnett knows, and as I just highlighted to Mr Rumbles, we recognise the pressures that exist in north-east Scotland in relation to teacher recruitment and retention. That is why we have been working closely with Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council to ensure that there are additional places for teacher training and new opportunities for individuals to get into teaching.

I say again that if individuals such as Mr Burnett have constructive suggestions to bring to the table about how we could address those matters further, the Government will be more than happy to listen to them.


Teacher Workload

10. Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce teacher workload. (S5O-00558)

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

Our education delivery plan made clear the Scottish Government’s commitment to tackling bureaucracy and addressing excessive teacher workload. We issued a definitive statement on curriculum for excellence to all teachers that set out clearly what they are and are not required to do. Her Majesty’s inspectors also carried out a focused review of the demands that are placed on schools by each local authority in relation to curriculum for excellence.

We have announced concrete proposals to address workload issues, including the decision to remove mandatory unit assessments for national 5, higher and advanced higher qualifications. The removal of the mandatory units will significantly reduce workload and liberate teachers to focus on teaching their pupils. My priority in all this is to free up teachers to concentrate on learning and teaching.

Donald Cameron

Enable Scotland research found that 62 per cent of subject teachers have experienced anxiety because of a lack of support to help those with additional support needs. Moreover, there has been a 9 per cent drop in the number of teachers in special schools since the Government took power in 2007. What action will be taken to stop teachers being overworked? Does the Scottish Government agree that teachers, whether in mainstream or special schools, deserve better?

John Swinney

There were a number of issues in Mr Cameron’s questions. The first was the general issue of reducing teacher workload to enable teachers to concentrate on learning and teaching. That is my absolute priority and I have demonstrated swift action to ensure that that happens.

The second issue concerned the changing mix of educational provision. Mr Cameron will know that there is a presumption in favour of mainstream education for all young people, with the exception that, when that is not appropriate for a young person, they should be educated in appropriate surroundings. That has led to a significant change in the profile of education, with the reduction in the number of special schools and the much greater integration of young people into our mainstream education.

I accept that teachers must be adequately trained and supported to provide for the educational needs of all young people in their educational setting. On that question, I have engaged with the Enable Scotland research, which is thoughtful. When I discussed the issue with Enable Scotland before the turn of the year, it made it clear to me that its argument is not about having more money in the system but about having more effective training and support to enable the fulfilment of young people’s educational needs. The Government is committed to ensuring that that happens.

Jenny Gilruth (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)

There is a stark contrast between the Scottish National Party Government, which has invested to maintain teacher numbers and reduce workloads, and Donald Cameron’s Tory colleagues in the United Kingdom Government, who say that mainstream schools in England should cut spending on their workforce by £1.7 billion over the next three years. What are the cabinet secretary’s views on that?

John Swinney

Parliament is familiar with the measures that the Government has put in place to enhance the resources that are available for the delivery of education in schools in Scotland. The finance secretary announced an extra £120 million to support the Scottish attainment challenge, which is more than what the Government committed to in our manifesto, to ensure that we can put the resources where they are needed to support young people’s attainment and performance. The Scottish Government believes in investing in education, and that is what our proposals aim to do.


St Margaret’s Primary School

11. Bruce Crawford (Stirling) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how much funding it provided toward the building of the new St Margaret’s primary school in Cowie. (S5O-00559)

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

Through the Scotland’s schools for the future programme, the Scottish Government provided Stirling Council with £2.6 million towards the construction of St Margaret’s primary school in Cowie.

Bruce Crawford

I was fortunate enough to attend the opening of the fantastic new primary and nursery school in Cowie on Friday.

Is the cabinet secretary aware that on 27 January the official opening will take place of yet another new school—St Ninian’s primary in Stirling? How much funding is the Scottish Government contributing to the building of St Ninian’s primary? What other funding has the Scottish Government provided since 2011 for school buildings in the Stirling Council area?

John Swinney

I am delighted that the Government’s construction programme is providing such opportunities to keep Bruce Crawford busy on his constituency Fridays. It is delightful that they are such happy occasions.

I confirm that St Ninian’s primary school received £5 million from the Scottish Government in the award to Stirling Council. Through the same programme, the Scottish Government has awarded Stirling Council funding of £1.9 million towards the refurbishment of Riverside primary school. That is all part of the wider investment programme that the Government is taking forward to support the development of first-class education facilities.


Education Governance Review

12. Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to concerns expressed by the Royal Society of Edinburgh regarding an “absence of a clear rationale” for the school governance review. (S5O-00560)

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

Our education system has many strengths, with thousands of excellent teachers and hard-working children and young people actively involved in it. However, the system faces challenges. The disappointing programme for international student assessment results that were published in December reinforced the need for reform. The PISA results are consistent with the 2014 Scottish survey of literacy and numeracy, which told us that we needed to do more to make our education system one of the best in the world. That is why I am committed to empowering teachers, parents and schools to drive improvements in education and why I launched the education governance review. We owe it to every child and young person in Scotland to ensure that our system supports them to achieve the best possible outcome.

Iain Gray

The RSE did not say that it did not believe that reform of the education system was required; rather, it said that the school governance review missed the mark. It was not just the RSE that said that. The Educational Institute of Scotland, the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, the National Parent Forum of Scotland, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers and even the Scottish National Party-led Dundee Council have all, in one way or another, made submissions to the review that query the whole thrust of the review. When parents, teachers, headteachers, academics and even the SNP’s own councillors tell the Government that it is barking up the wrong tree, is it not time to think again?

John Swinney

Iain Gray confused two things when he said that the RSE did not question the need for reform. The Government accepts the need for reform very clearly; we set out the need for it in our manifesto for the election in May. However, what we undertook in the governance review was an open consultation. The Government did not just say, “Here is our prescribed model. What do you think of it?” We posed a number of searching questions about the performance of every aspect of education.

I return to the points that I made in answer to a Conservative member. If performance is not as we would like it to be, how on earth can the Government conduct a consultation exercise without asking hard questions of everybody who is involved in education, including the Government? Of course, the Government’s agencies are involved and the Government itself is part of the process. The issues that have to be confronted are to do with performance in Scottish education. Is it a surprise that COSLA tells me, “Just leave things the way they are”? Local authorities are responsible for the delivery of education in Scotland and, if that performance is not good enough—which Mr Gray regularly tells me is the case—I should be asking hard questions of local authorities and other bodies. We should not be surprised if local authority bodies tell us not to disturb anything and that everything is fine, because they are the ones who are responsible for the current system.

Iain Gray

That is not what they are saying.

John Swinney

Mr Gray tells me that that is not what they are saying, but I have read COSLA’s submission and that is what it is saying to me.

On the RSE’s comments, the test of whether there is a clear rationale for reform will come from the proposals that the Government produces. That is the test that we must pass. We have to listen to the evidence, and I will take care to do that. I am not going to be in a hurry to address the matter; I will listen carefully and consider the issues carefully. I will then set out a clear rationale for reform of Scottish education that is based on the fact that we must improve performance to give every young person the best possible chance for their future in Scotland. Nobody in Parliament should be in any way shy of confronting that issue.