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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 27 September 2017

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Air Quality, City of Culture Bids (Paisley and Dundee), Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Levenmouth Rail Link


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Education and Skills


University Commercial Activities (Charitable Status)

1. Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking regarding the charitable status of university commercial activities. (S5O-01285)

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

There are no plans to review the charitable status of universities or their commercial activities. The Scottish Government responded to the recent Barclay review on 12 September and indicated that it will engage further on the recommendation to remove charity rates relief from certain types of university activity. Barclay was clear that the recommendation did not relate to the core functions of universities, including the provision of education and research and development. The Barclay review was also clear that it was not recommending that charitable status should be removed.

Alexander Stewart

The Scottish Government is still consulting on the decision whether to remove charitable status for commercial elements of universities, as laid out in the Barclay review. Will the minister comment on the advice that she has taken on that and on whether the Government has considered the possible financial impact on universities and local communities, in an era of very tight local government budgets?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

As Mr Mackay set out when he responded to the Barclay review, the Scottish Government will undertake a thorough consultation on the charity rates relief recommendation and other recommendations in the review. I am sure that Mr Mackay and I will have numerous conversations with Universities Scotland and different institutions to seek their views. I look forward to taking part in that process.


University of the Highlands and Islands (Inverness College)

2. Maree Todd (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what engagement it has with Inverness College UHI. (S5O-01286)

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

The Scottish Government is engaging regularly with Inverness College, along with four other colleges, as part of the colleges improvement project on retention and attainment. The Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council also engages with Inverness College, as part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, through the annual outcome agreement process.

Maree Todd

In a recent newspaper article, the new principal and chief executive of Inverness College UHI, Professor Chris O’Neil, is reported as saying that

“the cloud of uncertainty about the nature of the final Brexit deal meant he still did not know what he was going to have to do to support his EU colleagues and UHI’s cohort of 374 EU students.”

The article continued:

“And expressing particular fears for the future of science industries, he said: ‘It was interesting that ... Brexit leader David Davis was talking about the way in which he wants to negotiate a relationship with Europe that preserves our extraordinary capacity to attract and to develop world-class science.’”

UHI would not have come into existence without European Union support. Does the minister agree with Professor O’Neil’s description of the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU as “a tragedy”?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

Yes—I agree with the principal’s statements. We welcome the UK Government’s wish to continue to participate in EU science and innovation programmes, but it is difficult to see how our institutions will be able to do that effectively without continued freedom of movement for our academics, researchers and students. I am afraid that that is yet another example of the lack of long-term planning and joined-up thinking in the UK Government’s decisions about Brexit. Combining that with the UK Government’s student visa policies and its intention to still tighten the grip on immigration for international students continues to send a negative message to students who are considering Scotland for their studies. The Scottish Government is determined to work against such an approach.


Diversity and Inclusion (Showpeople)

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

I refer members to my entry in the register of interests as I am the convener of the cross-party group on the Scottish Showmen’s Guild and a member of the Scottish Showmen’s Guild.

To ask the Scottish Government what action it takes when drafting educational documentation, equality monitoring and learning tools to ensure that showpeople are considered. (S5O-01287)

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

As part of our commitment to excellence and equity in education and in planning and policy development processes, we routinely consider the needs of a wide range of stakeholders and groups. A recent example is the work to develop guidance on improving the educational outcomes of children and young people from Travelling cultures. My officials worked with a diverse group of stakeholders, with a breadth of experience and skills in working with a range of Travellers, to prepare the draft guidance that has been consulted on. My officials made sure that the Scottish Showmen’s Guild was aware of the consultation, invited its input and met its representatives to hear their views directly.

Richard Lyle

I thank the cabinet secretary for the work that he is carrying out with the Showmen’s Guild. Through my work as the convener of the cross-party group, I frequently come across issues that relate to the representation of showpeople in formal school documents. What further action can the Scottish Government take, perhaps through guidance, to deliver for showpeople by ensuring that they are represented as an ethnic group—they are not Travellers or Gypsies—in relevant school records and documentation?

John Swinney

Some of the issues that Mr Lyle raises are material to the decisions on the composition of the census, which is the responsibility of the registrar general for Scotland, and I will ensure that the registrar general hears the points that he has made. The issues that he raises were touched on in the meeting that he and I had on 15 March with Christine Stirling, who is the education liaison officer at the Showmen’s Guild.

Having made those points about the classification issues, I assure Mr Lyle that the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 places duties on education authorities to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of their pupils, whatever the reason is for those support needs. The act does not require a child to be identified as belonging to any particular defined group for the duties to apply. The issues and concerns that Mr Lyle raises should be taken into account by the provision that is designed to fulfil the statutory obligations on local authorities under that act.


Primary Schools (Guidance on Use of Mobile Phones)

4. Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government when it will review its guidance on mobile phone use in primary schools. (S5O-01288)

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

The Scottish Government has no plans to review its guidance on mobile phone use in schools. We urge schools and local authorities to think carefully about how they can best utilise mobile phones to enhance education while educating learners about their appropriate use.

Jeremy Balfour

Is the cabinet secretary aware that two studies have identified a risk in allowing primary children access to mobile phones while attending school? Research that was carried out by the London School of Economics found that schools that restricted access to mobiles on average improved test scores by 14.2 per cent. In the USA, it has been shown that children between eight and 11 are significantly more likely to be the victims of cyberbullies if they own a mobile phone and take it to school. Given those and other findings, does the cabinet secretary agree that it is now time to ban mobile phones in all primary schools in this country?

John Swinney

No—I do not share that opinion. The research that Mr Balfour cites from the London School of Economics indicates what he ascribed to it, but it also notes that structured use of mobile phone technology can enhance learning and teaching.

Fundamentally, the issue comes down to the arrangements that are put in place for appropriate mobile phone use in our school system. I do not think that that should be prescribed from St Andrew’s house; it should be decided by teachers in the classrooms of our schools, who should have the freedom to determine the appropriate approach to take and how mobile phones can contribute towards enhancing the learning environment.

Mr Balfour raises the significant issue of exposure to cyberbullying. I in no way minimise that, which is a significant point to be addressed. The Government needs to be part of the education process of equipping young people with the resilience to resist bullying in any circumstance—in relation to the question, that includes bullying in cyberspace. We also need to make sure that young people are educated in the proper and effective use of technology that can enhance their learning opportunities. That is how the Government will take forward the issues.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Question 5 has not been lodged.


Teacher Training (University of Aberdeen)

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

To ask the Scottish Government how the number of teacher training places at the University of Aberdeen in the current academic year compares with last year. (S5O-01290)

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

Student teacher intake targets are agreed annually between the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council and universities. The agreement is dependent on capacity in individual universities and subject requirements. The number of initial teacher education places available at the University of Aberdeen in the current academic year is 578, compared to 565 in 2016.

Lewis Macdonald

The cabinet secretary will know that across Scotland there has been a reduction in the number of postgraduate places for primary teachers, including a disappointing reduction by six places at the University of Aberdeen. Will he undertake that there will be no further reduction in the number of primary education training places at Aberdeen, and that the workforce planning model that is used for the purpose will take proper account of the continuing challenge in recruiting and retaining primary teachers in the north and north-east?

John Swinney

On the last question that Mr Macdonald asked, I assure him that the workforce planning model will be designed to address the requirement for recruitment to the teaching profession around the country. The model is informed by various strands of information, including the anticipated number of pupils in our schools, the level of retirement from the profession, the level of voluntary exit from the profession and a variety of other factors. The workforce planning model then drives the decisions that are made about initial teacher education intake to individual institutions. The work is undertaken openly and comprehensively using a range of information sources to enable us to arrive at the best assessment of the appropriate level of intake. That model is applied every year, and will be applied in future years.

Ash Denham (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP)

Will the cabinet secretary outline what impact the teaching makes people campaign has had on the profession, and whether recent trends show an increase in the proportion of post-probationer teachers in employment?

John Swinney

Last year, the increase in teacher intake as a consequence of all our efforts, including the teaching makes people campaign, was a 19 per cent increase in the number of postgraduate diploma in education students in Scottish universities. The campaign has resulted in a 21 per cent increase in the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics undergraduates who are considering teaching as a profession. The efforts that we have put into promoting the profession and encouraging people to see teaching as an opportunity to transform the life chances of individuals is proving to be successful.

I can share with Parliament that the census has indicated that the percentage of post-probationer teachers in employment increased from 58 per cent in 2010 to 87 per cent in 2016, which is a significant increase in post-probationer employment.

Tom Mason (North East Scotland) (Con)

The cabinet secretary promised that secondary school class sizes would be no more than 25. Recently it has been reported that the number of classes with more than 30 pupils has gone up by 25 per cent. Does he have any comment on that? Will the teacher places be filled by enough people coming from colleges to reduce that gap sufficiently, so that the current generation of children will not be disadvantaged?

John Swinney

Recruitment into the teaching profession is a significant priority for the Government, which is why the level of places available in initial teacher education settings has increased by 77 per cent since 2010. The Government is making determined efforts to ensure that we have the appropriate number of teachers in our schools.

As I explained in my answer to Mr Macdonald a moment ago, we work with local authorities to identify the appropriate number of teachers that we need to recruit to ensure that we have an adequate supply. I am, of course, aware that there are challenges in certain subjects and in certain areas of the country, which is why the Government has put in place a number of specific measures that are designed to encourage individuals to come in to teach STEM subjects, home economics and English. We will continue to assess the scale of the workforce, and that will be driven by the information and data that come from our dialogue with local authorities on recruitment of teachers.

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD)

Will the cabinet secretary clarify whether teacher training applications now include Scottish index of multiple deprivation data in respect of the criteria for widening access to universities? Is that data now used in assessing whether an undergraduate gets a place?

John Swinney

Obviously, the widening access agenda is comprehensive across all areas of recruitment to our universities. There will not be specific targets that relate to the teaching profession, but there are particular objectives that the commission on widening access set for us across the range of institutions.

As Tavish Scott will be aware, on Tuesday the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council published the information on the approach to widening access that the commission on widening access asked it to produce. That will now become an annual source of transparent reporting.

Obviously, ministers are encouraging institutions to engage strongly on the widening access agenda. That is a central part of the guidance letter that the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science issued to the sector, and it will be the subject of scrutiny of progress on the fulfilment of outcome agreements by institutions.


Foundation Apprenticeships

7. Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how many foundation apprenticeships there are. (S5O-01291)

The Minister for Employability and Training (Jamie Hepburn)

We are committed to providing up to 5,000 foundation apprenticeship places by 2019. This year, we are already expanding the availability of foundation apprenticeships, and we are ensuring that they are available in all local authority areas.

Foundation apprenticeships are an additional choice for every pupil who sees the value in work-based learning. They are a new way for young people to learn, with the chance to get a head start in a career by gaining industry-recognised qualifications, working on real projects and gaining real experience that employers look for. The programme is designed to provide a challenging vocational learning experience with a focus on developing skills that employers and learners need.

For 2016-18, a total of 354 foundation apprenticeship starts were registered by the end of September 2016. In the coming weeks, we will be in a position to confirm the number of requested starts for 2017-19 foundation apprenticeships.

Gail Ross

The developing the young workforce initiative and the foundation apprenticeship scheme are bringing together schools, colleges and the business sector to give young people more opportunities when they are at school and when they leave it. Are there any barriers to accessing foundation apprenticeships? Are there any plans to introduce them in other sectors?

Jamie Hepburn

Gail Ross mentioned the developing the young workforce initiative. That is, of course, a critical element in ensuring that pupils come out of school better prepared for the world of work, and does indeed involve close engagement with employers. Ms Ross was quite right to talk about the business sector, but the initiative is, of course, across all sectors—the public, private and third sectors. It brings close engagement between employers and the educational environment.

I have been very fortunate and privileged to have gone to the Highlands and Islands to see some of the great work that is being done there. I was not in Ms Ross’s specific area, but if she would like me to visit there, I would be very happy to do so.

Foundation apprenticeships are a critical element of our developing the young workforce offer. About 400 foundation apprenticeship places are being provided in the Highlands and Islands this year. That offer is increasingly important. We are determined to grow not only the number of foundation apprenticeships, but the number of opportunities. Currently, 10 frameworks are in place, and there will shortly be 12: from 2018, there will be two new frameworks in accountancy and in food and drink operations. That demonstrates our commitment to the scheme and our determination to further embed it as an important part of the school experience.

Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab)

It was interesting to hear the minister’s reply to the question. Unlike with modern apprenticeships, no statistics or numbers are published on a regular quarterly or even annual basis for foundation apprenticeships or, indeed, for graduate apprenticeships. Will the minister undertake to ensure that that information is made available, as the programme develops?

Jamie Hepburn

Yes, I will.

Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I am glad that the minister mentioned the Highlands and Islands. Unlike in the two pilot projects, in which there were seven choices, there are only two subject choices for young people in Kirkwall, Lerwick, Stornoway and Thurso, and young people in Elgin currently have only three. Can the minister assure me that the Scottish Government is committed to increasing the subject choices that are available for young people in Scotland’s remote and rural communities?

Jamie Hepburn

Yes, I can.

The Presiding Officer

That was admirably brief.


Continuing Care

8. Kezia Dugdale (Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government how many care-experienced and accommodated young people are eligible for continuing care, and how this compares with the number receiving it. (S5O-01292)

The Minister for Childcare and Early Years (Mark McDonald)

Since 1 April 2015, 16-year-olds who have been looked after in foster, kinship or residential care have been eligible for continuing care. Entitlement is being increased annually for that initial group of eligible young people until they reach the age of 21. Thereafter, all young people who are in these care placements will be eligible for continuing care between 16 and 21.

The first full year of data on continuing care will be published in the National Statistics publication “Children’s Social Work Statistics” in 2019. We will consider that data and other information from local authorities to consider what is working well and what more we might need to do to ensure that looked-after young people are able to exercise their right to choose to continue living in care until 21.

Kezia Dugdale

I was incredibly proud of the Scottish Parliament when it introduced the continuing care provisions. I did my own freedom of information request on how well that was going and asked all Scotland’s 32 local authorities about it. So far, 20 have replied, showing that 3,177 young people are eligible for continuing care but only 177 are actually receiving it. That is 99 per cent of people who are eligible to receive the provision not getting it.

Will the minister therefore agree to look at the findings of this FOI request and sit down with me to consider what we can do collectively to increase uptake of the continuing care provision?

Mark McDonald

I am more than happy to meet Kezia Dugdale. I am aware that she has lodged a number of written questions on the issue and she worked constructively with my predecessor during the passage of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. I can therefore give her that assurance.

We must remember that, as well as continuing care, there is after care. In the 2014 act, we estimated an approximate uptake of around 74 placements per year. I am more than happy to sit down with Kezia Dugdale and look at some of the detail that she received in the FOI responses. Obviously, we are waiting for the comprehensive picture from National Statistics before we can start to think about the different approaches that might need to be taken, but I am more than happy to discuss that.


University Education (Access)

9. Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that young people from Scotland are not limited in their ability to go to university. (S5O-01293)

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

The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that all our young people have an equal chance of going to university. That is why we established the commission on widening access and why we have accepted all 34 of its recommendations in full.

Good progress on the implementation of the recommendations is being made, with all five of the Commission’s foundational recommendations either delivered or on track for delivery by the recommended dates. That includes a full bursary for students with a care experience and appointment of the commissioner for fair access in December last year.

I have also established the access delivery group, which will coordinate and monitor progress on implementation of the recommendations across all parts of the education system. The group brings together all those who are responsible for delivering the recommendations, those leading delivery projects and other key stakeholders.

Jamie Greene

We already know that, in England, twice as many students from disadvantaged areas are going to university as in Scotland. Now we learn that the number of Scottish students enrolling at the University of Edinburgh has fallen, and there has been a 20 per cent rise in admissions of fee-paying students from the rest of the United Kingdom. Given that the number of Scottish students who are admitted is capped by the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council, what is the minister doing to ensure that Scottish students are not being left behind?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

That is why I was pleased that the total number of Scotland domiciled, full-time, first degree university entrants rose by 12 per cent from 25,790 in 2006-07 to 28,770 in 2015-16. Regardless, I am not complacent about the need to ensure that every young person in Scotland has the opportunity to apply to university and receive a place. That is why, in my role, I take widening access seriously and I will continue to do so.

Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

Can the minister advise how student debt levels differ here in Scotland under a Scottish National Party Government compared to those in England under a Tory Government and in Wales under a Labour Administration?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

The latest student loan company figures, published on 15 June this year, showed that, in England, under the Conservatives, average student loan debt has risen to £32,220 and in Wales, under Labour, it is £19,280. In Northern Ireland, the average debt is almost £21,000. By contrast, Scotland has the lowest average student loan debt by some considerable margin, at £11,740.

I am not complacent about student debt, however. As well as widening access, the Government is taking a serious look at it. That is why we have established the independent review to look into student debt, and I look forward to receiving the recommendations from that independent review later this year.

Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab)

Removing barriers to access to university is important, but so is support to complete courses. The Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council tells us that 13 per cent of students from the most disadvantaged families drop out of university, which is almost twice the equivalent percentage of those from the most affluent backgrounds. Will the minister undertake to restore her Government’s cuts to student grants in order to help poorer students see their studies through to completion?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

As I said in my previous answer, I await the recommendations of the independent review into student support. However, I point to the work that is already being done by this Government to seriously address the issue of retention. We have already developed recruitment and retention improvement work with our colleges and, in relation to our universities, I made it clear when I chaired the delivery group that retention was extremely important and that we are looking to widen access not to freshers fair, but to graduation. That point was taken up by the delivery group, and we will look to that in our work programme.


Anti-Bullying Week

10. James Dornan (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how it will support the respectme anti-bullying week in November 2017 to help promote respect for lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and intersex people in schools. (S5O-01294)

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

Anti-bullying week aims to raise awareness of the bullying of children and young people in schools and elsewhere, and to highlight ways of preventing and responding to it. Bullying of any kind, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, is entirely unacceptable and must be addressed swiftly and effectively whenever it arises.

The theme for this year’s anti-bullying week is the promotion of difference and equality in schools, and the tag line is “All different, all equal”. The Scottish Government and Education Scotland will be encouraging young people, practitioners, parents and carers to share on social media what respect means to them. In addition, respectme will undertake a number of activities during anti-bullying week, including organising a conference that will create a forum in which to showcase, share and discuss different examples of anti-bullying practice.

James Dornan

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, although Scotland has made great progress towards respecting members of the LBGTI community, the Scottish Government’s policies can and must continue to help to create a more positive and respectful culture to help eradicate bullying in and outwith the school?

John Swinney

I associate the Government with those aspirations. The work that we are doing is designed to support that agenda. The findings of the most recent Scottish social attitudes survey show that discriminatory attitudes towards transgender people in Scotland are on the decline. We have taken forward a number of policy steps in that respect and we will continue with that agenda during this session of Parliament.

The progress that has been made towards inclusion for all is at the heart of our education agenda. Obviously, I have taken a number of steps, including the establishment of the inclusive education working group, to provide some of the steps forward that will be necessary to address this important question.

Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

New figures show that cybersex crime offending numbers have jumped by 50 per cent in the past three years, with the analysis showing the median age of victims to be 14. How will the respectme anti-bullying week incorporate the spreading of awareness about that subject?

John Swinney

That approach will be at the heart of the approach to anti-bullying week. A couple of weeks ago, in Glasgow, I had the opportunity to participate in a summit on education issues in relation to sexual crime. It was organised by the Solicitor General for Scotland and was an effective opportunity to bring together a number of interested parties. The most crucial point that was made during the day concerned the importance of education and prevention to equip young people with the knowledge that they need to avoid getting into the situation of either being the victims or the perpetrators of such sexual crimes, because, as we all know, that can lead to people becoming involved in the criminal justice system, with damaging outcomes.

At the heart of the professional advice that was given to the summit was the importance of education and prevention to our ability to ensure that people avoid those negative outcomes. I am happy to assure Annie Wells of the importance that the Government attaches to the issue, and I am grateful to the Solicitor General for taking the initiative to establish that summit and for bringing together officials from various disciplines, not just those in the criminal justice system, to work collaboratively to try to address the issue.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

At my first state secondary school, the smallest boy in my class ran over to the tallest, jumped up and head-butted him without provocation, knocking him to the ground. Bullying can be inflicted on people, causing them great pain and distress, for a host of reasons—for how they look or behave, or because of a speech impediment, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. However, in this Parliament, it seems that we seek to elevate the latter over all other sorts of bullying. I am pleased that the cabinet secretary agrees that all bullying is wrong. Does he also agree that schools should do more to deter and deal with bullying, regardless of who is being bullied and why?

John Swinney

One of the fundamental characteristics of our education system, which is essential if young people are to learn effectively, is that they must, at all times, feel safe in their schools. If we do not have that feeling of safety for young people in our schools, the prospects of their being able to learn will be diminished as a consequence.

Therefore I accept the fundamental premise of Mr Gibson’s question—that it is important that bullying is tackled in any circumstance in which it prevails and for whatever cause—because it will undermine the personal esteem of the young people involved and will affect their learning capability. That has the potential to blight the life chances of young people, which our education system is focused on enhancing and fulfilling.


Schools for the Future Programme (Dumfries Learning Town)

11. Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to provide additional funding for the schools for the future programme to allow phase 2 of the Dumfries learning town project to go ahead. (S5O-01295)

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

Through the £1.8 billion Scotland’s schools for the future programme, Dumfries and Galloway Council has been awarded significant funding of £24.5 million for the north-west campus and St Joseph’s college, which form part of the Dumfries learning town project, and Dalbeattie high school.

We recognise that there is more work to be done on the school estate, which is why we will introduce new proposals to build on the success of the programme. Options are being developed and we will announce details later this year.

Colin Smyth

The projects that the cabinet secretary has mentioned—the new north-west campus and Dalbeattie high school—are part of phase 1 of that project. Phase 2 proposes a new Dumfries high school, the refurbishment of Dumfries academy and new Loreburn, Laurieknowe and Noblehill primaries, not to mention innovative work that will take place with partners in business and further and higher education to make Dumfries truly the learning town. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the project will transform education in Dumfries, and will he ensure that phase 2 becomes a reality by making it a priority for future Government funding?

John Swinney

I am very familiar with the issues. I visited Dumfries high school just the other week, and I saw, and was briefed on, the work that is being undertaken on the learning town project. I recognise the very good work that is being done at the local level to advance such a proposition.

As I indicated in my initial answer, we are considering options in relation to the development of the schools for the future programme, and further announcements will be made by the Government in due course, when the details are to hand. However, I hear the points that Mr Smyth makes about the Dumfries learning town proposal.

Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

I share the Labour member’s aspirations for learning. Does the cabinet secretary agree that there would be far more opportunity for such developments were we not saddled with the private finance debt that was left by the Labour Government, which now costs Scottish taxpayers more than £1 billion a year?

John Swinney

We certainly are saddled with a tremendous amount of private finance initiative debt, which the Government, along with our local authority partners, has to service. The investment that the Government is making is designed to create a sustainable school estate. The school estate would have been more sustainable had we not been burdened with the PFI obligations that were bequeathed to us by the Labour Party.


Support for Young People (Paisley)

12. George Adam (Paisley) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is investing in supporting young people in Paisley. (S5O-01296)

The Minister for Employability and Training (Jamie Hepburn)

Improving the education and life chances of children and young people is the defining mission of the Government. The Scottish Government provides to young people in Paisley a range of support that is aimed at improving educational outcomes and employment prospects. This year, the Scottish attainment challenge is providing almost £7.8 million of extra resources for schools in Renfrewshire through pupil equity funding and the challenge authorities programme, which provides support to schools that support children and young people who live in communities affected by high levels of deprivation.

In addition, Renfrewshire Council received £275,000 from the innovation fund in 2016-17, which was used in schools to continue to build on approaches that are already making a difference, such as family learning projects within schools. That was done in partnership with the local authority and external partners.

Since April 2017, there have been 140 modern apprenticeship starts and more than 90 starts under the employability fund in Renfrewshire. As of June 2017, there were almost 650 apprentices in training in the area. The community jobs Scotland programme has 32 employers in the Renfrewshire area and more than 160 young people have benefited from a job training opportunity.

George Adam

Does the minister agree that the invest in Renfrewshire programme—which recently relocated to Paisley’s historic Russell institute building in the town centre along with Skills Development Scotland and is part funded by the European social fund—is a perfect example of how training and the resulting skills can encourage employability, and that that approach can be sustained in towns such as Paisley?

Jamie Hepburn

I am aware of the invest in Renfrewshire initiative and its recent relocation and co-location with Skills Development Scotland. The best way to illustrate its success is to point out that, when the programme was launched in July 2012, Renfrewshire was 27th out of the 32 local authorities for youth unemployment, that it is currently fourth in Scotland and that it saw the biggest youth employment growth in Scotland for three years running. That says something about the programme’s success.

I am also hugely enthusiastic about the initiative’s recent co-location with Skills Development Scotland at the Russell institute. That is a good approach that builds on the success of the initiative and uses Skills Development Scotland’s skill set.

George Adam correctly identified that European Union funds had been used for the invest in Renfrewshire initiative. Of course, there is significant concern about the long-term funding prospects as a result of Brexit. We continue to look for clarity on that matter from the United Kingdom Government.


Teachers’ Working Conditions

13. Ross Greer (West Scotland) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government what consideration it has given to recent research from Bath Spa University suggesting that exposure to high levels of organisational change without listening to the views of teachers is contributing to extremely poor working conditions for teachers in Scotland. (S5O-01297)

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

The Scottish Government welcomes all discussion on how to improve conditions for teachers in Scotland and will give the report full consideration. We want to create a world-class education system that helps all our children to succeed. Highly skilled, motivated and appropriately rewarded teaching professionals are, of course, an integral part of that. The Scottish Government has been working with teachers, teacher trade unions, local authorities and other partners to address concerns around workload levels, and that will continue to be a key theme of our education reforms.

Ross Greer

The report is not the only one to say what it said; in fact, it was not the only one in the week that it was published to say it. The Scottish Government’s own international education advisers, as well as academics who responded to its consultation, have indicated that there is no evidence that organisational reform links directly to improved education outcomes. If people in the education sector are so hostile to the Government’s reforms, and if academics say that there is no evidence for them, why is the Government not taking an evidence-led approach to education reform?

John Swinney

The Government is taking an evidence-led approach to education reform. We engage strongly in the pursuit of that objective. The evidence suggests that greater empowerment for schools will significantly enhance the performance of our education system. School empowerment is at the heart of the Government’s education reform agenda in order to ensure that more decisions that affect the learning of young people can be taken as close as possible to those young people.

I am also taking an evidence-led approach to the provision of professional and pedagogical support to the school community. The professional associations have been clear that the regional collaboration that the Government proposes will be of assistance in strengthening that support for professional practice.

The Government will continue to engage with all interested parties on that agenda. However, our objective is clear: to ensure that we strengthen the effectiveness of the education system by putting in place greater professional support and by empowering the teaching profession.


Medical School Places

14. Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to expand the number of places at medical schools for Scottish-domiciled students. (S5O-01298)

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

We are committed to building a sustainable medical workforce for the future and welcome students from Scotland, the rest of the United Kingdom and the European Union who want to study and work here. We are taking action to increase the supply of Scottish medical school graduates and to retain those graduates working in NHS Scotland.

We have invested £23 million in a medical education package, which has increased medical undergraduate places by 50 over 2016. Scotland’s first graduate medical entry programme—ScotGEM—will commence next year and will create an additional 40 places.

Part 1 of the national health and social care workforce plan, which was published in June, commits to a further increase in undergraduate numbers of 50 to 100

“throughout the course of this Parliamentary term”.

Miles Briggs

Does the minister accept that, under the SNP Government, the percentage of Scotland-domiciled students studying clinical medicine has fallen sharply, from almost two thirds to just 50 per cent, and that too many bright young Scots are being denied the chance to study medicine at Scottish universities? Given that ministers themselves now acknowledge that Scotland-domiciled medical students are more likely than others to choose to work in our national health service when they qualify, will the Scottish Government urgently look at the matter, to ensure that more Scottish students are able to study medicine in our universities?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

Although the Scottish Government sets the annual intake into medicine, in line with academic freedom the selection and recruitment of individual students admitted to study medicine is a matter for individual universities.

However, as I told Miles Briggs in my first answer, the work that has already been undertaken by this Government to encourage and ensure that we have further recruitment of Scotland-domiciled students includes the increase in medical undergraduate places, the introduction of a graduate entry medical programme, and the introduction of a pre-medical entry programme that is focused on students from socially deprived backgrounds. Therefore, the Government is already taking action in this area.