Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 19 June 2019

Agenda: Mental Health (Young People Entering and in Custody), Portfolio Question Time, Planning (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 (Day 2), Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Point of Order, Children and Young People (Health-harming Products)


Portfolio Question Time

Education and Skills

Trade Unions (Skills Training and Lifelong Learning)

1. Tom Arthur (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)

I remind members that I am a member of the Musicians’ Union and a co-chair of the collective learning partnership group in the Parliament.

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports trade unions to deliver skills training and lifelong learning. (S5O-03405)

The Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills (Jamie Hepburn)

Trade unions play a key role in supporting the learning needs of workers. That is why, in 2019-20, we are maintaining funding of £2.262 million to Scottish union learning to support workforce development and £100,000 for its programme on fair work: leadership and equalities. Scottish union learning is also using £85,000, which is being provided over 2017 to 2019 from Scotland’s allocation of the national cyber security programme fund, to build the cyber-resilience capacity of unions.

Tom Arthur

I thank the Scottish Government for its continued commitment to Scottish union learning.

Given that the quickening pace of change in the world of work—which is being driven by increasing automation and greater adoption of artificial intelligence technologies—could mean that the people who enter the labour market today might be employed in a range of different jobs over their working lives, does the minister agree that trade unions can play a valuable role in ensuring that Scotland’s workforce is supported in skills development through what some people have characterised as the fourth industrial revolution?

Jamie Hepburn

On the member’s final point, there has to be an increased focus on what must be a major area of our activity on skills more widely. We need to ensure that we are well placed to respond to the challenges and opportunities that automation presents. We will shortly publish our future skills action plan, and the work that we are doing on the national retraining partnership will feed into that.

I chair the strategic labour market group, which recently discussed the fact that where we have more cohesive labour markets and good industrial relations, the workforce is less fearful of the impact of automation. Trade unions are hugely important to the agenda, and the Scottish union learning initiative is important, too.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

There are members in the chamber who were not here when I said that, although the clocks are running at real time, I have a clock that tells me exactly how long people are taking. I again ask for succinct questions and answers—it is something to do with the continuing stage 3 debate, but do not ask me what: I do not understand it, and really I think that it is ridiculous, but there we go.

Eco Schools (Stirling Council)

2. Bruce Crawford (Stirling) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how many eco schools there are in the Stirling Council area. (S5O-03406)

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

There are currently 27 eco schools in the Stirling Council area.

Bruce Crawford

Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is the younger generations that will suffer most from the effects of climate change, particularly if we allow our planet to continue to be harmed in the way that it has been harmed? Will he say what more schools can do to educate young people about the importance of protecting our delicately balanced natural environment?

John Swinney

The nature of curriculum for excellence is that it relies heavily on the concept of interdisciplinary learning. Through the broad general education, an understanding of climate change encompasses an understanding of science, life in the outdoors, the use of resources and the science behind all the questions about the use of resources. There are broad opportunities in that regard.

This morning, I launched “Learning for sustainability: Vision 2030+ action plan”, which reinforces many of those concepts. I am delighted by the cross-sectoral endorsement that we have had of that work, which provides schools with a great opportunity to take forward the vital work that the many eco schools in Scotland are doing, which creates a clear aspiration among young people in our society for the urgent action to tackle climate change that this Government is determined to take.

New School (Butterstone)

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

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update regarding the status of the New School Butterstone. (S5O-03407)

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

The proprietor of the New School Butterstone, which provided education and care for 24 learners, closed the school on 23 November 2018. The priority of the local authorities was then to ensure that a long-term solution was in place for every young person. Every family was offered support and education by their local authority, including alternative places or interim provision.

Moore House, which operated another independent school, has successfully registered an independent day school on the site of the former New School Butterstone. As a result, Butterstone House School was registered on 9 May 2019, and opened its doors to 13 students for secondary school provision on 13 May. Eleven of those pupils previously attended the New School Butterstone.

Mark Ruskell

The cabinet secretary will be aware that many families are still looking for answers, particularly on why, in some cases, the children did not receive education for over six months. Will the Government commit to supporting an independent inquiry into the actions of Perth and Kinross Council, the Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland in inspecting, reporting and advising on the closure of the New School Butterstone?

John Swinney

I am now giving consideration to that issue. I indicated to families that my priority was to ensure that young people had continuity of education. As I said in my earlier answer, every effort was made to do that. However, I acknowledge that that has been difficult for a number of the young people involved, because of the very specific nature of the education that they received at the New School Butterstone.

I highlight to Mr Ruskell and the chamber that the priority has always been to make sure that young people are educated in a safe and appropriate educational environment. The inspectorates have particular statutory functions to exercise in that respect, and at no stage did Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education or the Care Commission require the closure of the New School Butterstone. I am happy to put that point on the parliamentary record.

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

The cabinet secretary has been very helpful—if I may say so—over the New School Butterstone issue. It has, as he knows, raised questions about the availability of places in special schools, and particularly about whether all the available places are being taken up. Is the Scottish Government having discussions with local authorities to ensure that there is an awareness of how many places are available at any one time, and of whether they are being taken up?

John Swinney

There are a number of points in that very legitimate question. Liz Smith will appreciate that it is a fine judgement as to the appropriateness of mainstream educational provision for all young people, and, where that does not address the needs of young people, as to the specific characteristics of education that should be available to them. A range of special educational provision is available in Scotland. We have to be satisfied, and local authorities have to satisfy themselves by statute, that they are best meeting the needs of every individual child by the decisions that they take, in consultation with families.

As Liz Smith will know, we are looking at the whole area of the deployment of the mainstreaming principle, and all the issues that she raises are legitimate issues to consider as part of that process. I will keep Parliament updated about the course of the discussions with local authorities.

Net Zero Target (Skills Strategy)

4. Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment the Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills has made of an initial and transferable skills strategy for meeting the net zero greenhouse gas emissions target. (S5O-03408)

The Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills (Jamie Hepburn)

We established the just transition commission, which has expertise in the labour market and skills, to advise ministers on the move to a net zero economy. The commission’s work plan has identified skills as a key topic. Analysis of current and future labour requirements, including skills, will form an on-going part of its considerations.

Claudia Beamish

The minister will be aware of Scottish Labour’s position that such a strategy should be on a statutory footing. I highlight that it is often the North Sea industries that are looked at in relation to a just transition. I will give two other examples: there is the opportunity in textiles to embed recycled materials into fashion and furnishing, and in farming to embed agroforestry in the future. Can the minister update me—in writing, if that is more appropriate—on how assessments are being coordinated and the results maximised and shared in this climate and environment emergency?

Jamie Hepburn

I am happy to commit to writing to Claudia Beamish with more detail. I agree with the thrust of her question. We must ensure that, as we transition to a net zero carbon economy, we think about not only the energy sector but all sectors. In that regard, it is important that we are geared up to ensure that our entire population is flexible and is able to upskill and reskill.

Multilevel Teaching

5. Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether multilevel teaching is the most effective way for pupils to learn. (S5O-03409)

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

Multilevel teaching has long been part of Scottish education, and teachers are well skilled to take account of the different needs of their pupils. We want to ensure that teachers are empowered to decide what is right in their individual settings. There will be varying levels of prior attainment in any class and we have yet to see any firm evidence of educational disadvantage due to multilevel teaching.

I am aware that the issue of multilevel teaching has come up in the Education and Skills Committee’s inquiry into subject choice. I will, of course, consider the committee’s conclusions on the range of issues that it has been exploring when it reports in due course.

Peter Chapman

At least 26 schools in the north-east are running combined classes in which three or more qualifications are taught, including two out of the 11 schools in Scotland that are running classes in which four or more qualifications are taught. Further, in September, at the start of the school year, north-east schools were 140 teachers short.

Will the cabinet secretary commit to giving the north-east a fair deal and north-east kids the best possible education?

John Swinney

I am certainly devoted to ensuring that children in the north-east of Scotland and the whole of the rest of Scotland get a first-class education. Mr Chapman will know that there are some specific challenges in recruiting teachers in the north-east. Similar challenges face other public services, for all of the reasons that he will be familiar with.

I am pleased to say that we have a rising number of teachers in Scotland, with teacher numbers at their highest level since 2010. I am determined to ensure that we have in place the necessary resources and approaches. That is why I have made investment to support the delivery of the e-school venture, which is designed to deliver flexible approaches to learning in order to meet the needs of young people in circumstances in which staff are not available. I am glad to see that a number of mainland local authorities are using the e-Sgoil model, which is a great development by Western Isles Council and is actively supported by the Scottish Government.

Mary Fee (West Scotland) (Lab)

Teachers who gave evidence to the Education and Skills Committee noted that multilevel teaching is becoming commonplace. Every school that was represented in the evidence sessions had instances of it, and some teachers commented that teaching successfully in such circumstances is almost impossible.

If the cabinet secretary is right that multilevel teaching poses no disadvantage, those teachers must be wrong. Why are they?

John Swinney

Let us look at all the evidence that the Education and Skills Committee has taken. It has taken evidence from individuals such as Dr Alan Britton, from the University of Glasgow, who told the committee on 24 April that, when he was teaching in Scottish secondary schools in the 1990s, he was involved in multilevel teaching. The approach has been a feature of Scottish education for some time.

I look to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education to consider the quality and effectiveness of teaching. I do not see identified in inspection reports particular problems or challenges that come with multilevel teaching. Obviously, we will continue to consider inspection evidence on the question, but we have to acknowledge that the approach has been a characteristic of Scottish education for many years, and I do not think that the evidence has been marshalled to show that it is disadvantaging pupils, particularly as attainment is rising in Scottish schools.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I want to get the last three questions in, so I ask for short supplementaries.

Reading Opportunities (Under-fives)

6. Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how it seeks to support reading opportunities for under-fives across the Maryhill and Springburn constituency. (S5O-03410)

The Minister for Children and Young People (Maree Todd)

Under-fives across Scotland will benefit from our transformational investment in early learning and childcare. Children in Maryhill and Springburn are already benefiting from early phasing of the expanded offer. In addition, there are 11 equity and excellence leads currently working in the constituency. Those additional graduate professionals provide support to children in our most disadvantaged communities, including support with literacy.

The bookbug programme delivers free sessions across Scotland, including in Springburn library, and we have invested £7 million in the play, talk, read campaign on the importance of playing, talking and reading with children in the early years.

Bob Doris

I thank the minister for that answer. The Scottish Government has a partnership with the Imagination Library; so does Blochairn Housing Association in my constituency. It provides free reading books to all under-five children every single month, direct to all resident children in the Blochairn Housing Association area. It is a fantastic scheme. Will the minister meet Blochairn Housing Association, the Imagination Library and me to hear how that successful partnership with Blochairn Housing Association has benefited young people—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The minister has got the message, Mr Doris.

Bob Doris

But finally—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

No—no “finally”. Do not try that on.

Bob Doris

No, she got half the message—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Sit down, please.

Maree Todd

Yes, I am aware of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. On a personal basis, I am a huge fan of her music but her passion for reading and the work that she has done to improve literacy have been incredible and worldwide. The initiative was launched in Scotland in 2011 and, to date, the Scottish Government has provided funding for the programme to operate nationally. In the last year, 33,451 books have been provided to 2,309 looked-after and adopted children aged nought to five in Scotland. If it would be helpful, I am happy to meet the member to discuss that further.

Medical School Places (Scottish Universities)

7. Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what measures it is taking to ensure that Scottish students can access medical school places at Scottish universities. (S5O-03411)

The Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science (Richard Lochhead)

The Scottish Government is taking a number of measures to ensure that Scottish students from all sectors of society can access medical places. We are, for instance, funding 50 ring-fenced widening access places, focused on applicants from the 20 per cent most-deprived council wards. As of 2019, we are also increasing numbers from 40 to 50 on our targeted pre-medical entry courses, which are focused on socially disadvantaged as well as remote and rural applicants.

Lewis Macdonald

I recently raised the case of a young person who was offered a place as an international, fee-paying student but when his residency led to him being reclassified as a home student, the offer was withdrawn. Does the minister agree that that is unacceptable and discriminates against my constituent?

Richard Lochhead

As autonomous institutions, universities and colleges have responsibility for managing their affairs, which includes decisions made on the fee status of individual students. Institutions assess students based on the criteria that are laid out in regulations and on evidence that students provide. As a result, on rare occasions, those decisions vary from institution to institution. In the case that Lewis Macdonald cited, the institution concerned took a decision on who is a home-based or fee-paying student. I take it that he has raised the issue with the institution. If he feels that there is anything that I should do to investigate it, he should send me the details, and I will do that.

University Applications (People with Leave to Remain)

8. Maureen Watt (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what the criteria are for people applying to university who have leave to remain when assessing their home or overseas status. (S5O-03412)

The Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science (Richard Lochhead)

As autonomous bodies, it is for universities to determine the tuition-fee status of students who apply for higher education courses, in accordance with the Education (Fees) (Scotland) Regulations 2011. Eligibility for home-rate fees is determined with reference to an applicant’s residence rather than their nationality or place of birth.

Maureen Watt

In my constituency, there is a family who came to this country in 2002; all its members have leave to remain. Two of the children currently attend university and receive home fees. However, when the daughter applied for higher education, certain universities and colleges classed her as an overseas student, which meant that she would have to pay fees. Does the minister agree that the criteria should be applied equally over all Scotland’s higher education institutions?

Richard Lochhead

That question is similar to the previous question. I reiterate that residency rules, which are laid out in legislation, set out eligibility for tuition fees and living costs loan support. As I also said before, we are speaking about autonomous institutions. On rare occasions, decisions vary from institution to institution. I make a similar offer and ask Maureen Watt to send me more details of the case. If there is a case for my intervention, in order to have more consistency across the institutions, I will look at it carefully.