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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 28 September 2016

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Local National Health Services, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Residential Road Safety


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Education and Skills


School Governance Reforms (Attainment Gap)

1. Mairi Evans (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how its reforms of school governance will contribute to closing the attainment gap between pupils from the poorest and wealthiest backgrounds. (S5O-00181)

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

The defining mission of this Government is to close the attainment gap.

We believe that decisions about children’s learning and school life should be decided at school level. We want to empower teachers, parents, children and communities to drive improvement in education, and we will oversee the biggest devolution of powers to our schools.

It is right that we consider the role that every part of our education system plays to support the crucial interaction between teacher and child, and that we question whether how we are currently organised supports educational improvement. We know that it is the quality of teaching and excellent school leadership that will close the gap.

Mairi Evans

Will the cabinet secretary explain how the removal of unit assessments at national 5 and higher level will contribute to closing the attainment gap? Will he say how the reduction in internal assessments will be quality assured, to ensure that teachers continue to monitor and track pupil progress appropriately?

John Swinney

I have listened carefully to the arguments around the presence of unit assessments, which were applied to the new qualifications by agreement across the education system. The changes to national 5 and higher that I have announced, which I will put to the curriculum for excellence management board tomorrow, are part of a package of measures that is designed to address unnecessary bureaucracy and—crucially—to liberate teachers and enable them to concentrate on teaching, changing the balance between assessment and learning in the education system so that more time can be allocated to the learning experience.

The whole issue of quality assessment is intrinsic to the exercising of teacher judgment in our education system, which is the crucial part of curriculum for excellence. It is important that that principle is made central to the delivery of education in Scotland’s schools.

Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab)

The cabinet secretary’s reform of school governance suggests a new funding formula for schools. What guarantee can he give us that no school will see a real-terms reduction in its budget as a result?

John Swinney

The purpose of the funding formula is to ensure that resources are deployed effectively where they are required to support attainment in our schools. I would have thought that Labour Party members would support that principle, given what they have said in the Parliament about the importance of ensuring that there is adequate and effective support to close the attainment gap in Scotland’s education.

The Government has put forward proposals, which are under consideration by the Parliament, for increased resources to be made available to education through the rebanding of the council tax. I hope that the Labour Party is able to support us in that measure, to ensure that new resources can be allocated to Scottish education—I thought that the Labour Party believed in doing that.

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD)

At this morning’s meeting of the Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee, the Royal Society of Edinburgh suggested that separating the inspectorate and policy advice functions in Education Scotland would be an important reform for education in Scotland. Does the cabinet secretary agree?

John Swinney

Mr Scott has raised the issue before, and I am interested in what the Royal Society of Edinburgh said at this morning’s committee meeting. As Mr Scott knows, the governance review sets out the issues to be considered in relation to the range of national bodies that are involved in the improvement of education. In my view, the functions of Education Scotland, whether we are talking about its role as the inspectorate or its role in education development, are all focused on improving the quality of Scottish education.

I will of course consider representations on the matter that are made to me through the consultation exercise, including from the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Mr Scott.


Attainment Scotland Fund

2. Gil Paterson (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on progress with the attainment Scotland fund. (S5O-00182)

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

More than 300 primary schools across 21 local authority areas were supported in 2015-16 through the Scottish attainment fund. In that period, £11.7 million was allocated to seven challenge authorities with the greatest concentration of primary age children living in the 20 per cent most deprived areas in Scotland, and a further £2.5 million was allocated to 57 schools across 14 local authorities through the attainment Scotland fund schools programme.

Following the election, we expanded the Scottish attainment fund to £750 million over the next five years, which has allowed us to double the funding for our existing challenge authorities and schools programme to £50 million per year and extend the reach of the challenge to include secondary schools and two additional challenge authorities.

From financial year 2017-18, the additional £100 million per annum that will be raised each year from our council tax reforms will be allocated directly to schools, with headteachers given the freedom to invest the extra resources in the ways that they consider will have the biggest impact on raising attainment in their schools.

Gil Paterson

Will every school in Scotland benefit from the attainment fund in this parliamentary session? That would allow every child to benefit directly from the additional educational spend.

John Swinney

The Scottish attainment challenge is about achieving equity in educational outcomes, with a particular focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap. The attainment Scotland fund is targeted at the significant number of children in Scotland whose educational outcomes are adversely affected by poverty, so funding has been directed at those schools and authorities with the highest levels of deprivation. In 2017-18, that will be extended to all schools that have children who are eligible for free school meals, which will extend the reach much more widely across Scotland.

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I ask the cabinet secretary for some clarification on the point about free school meals. In primaries 1 to 3, all children are eligible for free school meals. Does he intend to use the existing measure for eligibility, or will some adjustment be made to that?

John Swinney

There is a well-established methodology for calculating entitlement to free school meals. That is one measure that the Government could use in this respect, and we set out in our manifesto that we would do that.

I have made it clear to interested parties that if there is viewed to be a more effective measurement to target resources to address deprivation, I am prepared to consider it. However, in the absence of any alternative, eligibility for free school meals is the most robust and reliable mechanism available to us to do that.


Teacher Training (Inclusive Education)

3. Ivan McKee (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on making it mandatory to train teachers about inclusive education. (S5O-00183)

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

The standard for full registration, which the General Teaching Council for Scotland manages, requires all teachers to show in their day-to-day practice a commitment to social justice, inclusion and caring for and protecting children. The Scottish Government will work with the General Teaching Council for Scotland to provide more support to teachers on equality issues by August 2017. In addition, we will require all new guidance teachers and promoted teachers—and eventually all teachers—to undertake training so that they are confident in tackling prejudice-based bullying in schools. We will ensure that schools address the important issues that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex young people face and that teachers have the skills, knowledge and confidence to embed inclusive approaches in their schools.

Ivan McKee

As the cabinet secretary will be aware, the Scottish Government’s strategy is to issue LGBT-inclusive guidance to schools and local authorities, but there is no requirement for schools to deliver on that. There is clear evidence from the research by the time for inclusive education campaign that that approach has led to a situation in which some schools are LGBT inclusive and others are not. Will the Scottish Government advise us whether there are plans to rectify that and ensure that all schools deliver an LGBT-inclusive education?

John Swinney

I agree whole-heartedly with the aspiration that Ivan McKee set out in the latter part of his question. It is vital that every school in the country has the capability to ensure that LGBTI issues are dealt with properly and effectively, that young people who in any way experience such prejudice are supported and that unacceptable practice is tackled.

We address the issue mainly through the guidance that is made available to schools. The principal guidance in that regard is the relationships, sexual health and parenthood education material that is made available to schools.

The Government is reviewing our publication “A National Approach to Anti-Bullying for Scotland’s Children and Young People”. We want that guidance to be relevant and current for all schools. Wide dialogue is being undertaken with LGBTI groups to ensure that the work to review the guidance is effective and that it creates the approach that Mr McKee said has to be the case in every school in our country, on which I whole-heartedly agree with him.

Ross Thomson (North East Scotland) (Con)

Research by the TIE campaign that was published earlier this month suggests that 90 per cent of LGBT pupils have experienced homophobia and 42 per cent have attempted to commit suicide. To follow on from the questions by Ivan McKee, given that mandatory training and guidance are given to schools on identifying radicalisation in the classroom, why cannot a similar mechanism for identifying homophobia and bullying in the classroom also be rolled out?

John Swinney

As I set out to Mr McKee and in answer to a topical question a couple of weeks ago, the approach is to ensure that schools are properly and fully equipped with trained personnel and have guidance so that such issues can be handled properly. It is intolerable that young people should face bullying of any description in our schools, and it is particularly intolerable that young people should experience homophobic bullying. The guidance that the Government issues and the approach that we take to teacher training are designed to ensure that that approach is taken in all schools in the country.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I welcome the commitment to roll out training by August 2017, but that is quite a long time away. We know that only 55 per cent of teachers are aware of the guidance that is in place. Today, the time for inclusive education campaign has a simple ask—it is looking for our help and asking MSPs to sign a campaign pledge. It takes a couple of seconds to do that on Twitter, and I am really pleased that members from across the chamber have already done so. Will education front benchers do the same today? That would send an important signal to the TIE campaign and to young people in the classroom.

John Swinney

I have put on record my position in relation to LGBTI issues and any form of bullying. I will look at the material that Monica Lennon has drawn to my attention. I re-emphasise, from the education front bench, the Government’s absolute determination to do everything that we can to support young people who are in any way affected by prejudice-based bullying and to ensure that we have the proper support in place in our schools to enable that to be the case.

Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

When the cabinet secretary looks at the guidelines and schemes, will he also look at bullying of disabled people in our schools? There seems to be underreporting of that form of bullying of people in the disabled community who have been mainstreamed. Many disability groups are concerned that that is going unreported and that teachers cannot give the appropriate education to those with obvious disability and hidden disability.

John Swinney

The points that I covered in my earlier answer are as relevant in dealing with Mr Balfour’s question as they are to the issues for the LGBTI community. I said in my first answer that the Government is intolerant of any bullying and that we must ensure that schools are equipped to support young people who are in any way affected by that, whatever their circumstances and whatever excuse for the bullying is put forward.

I have seen in different schools tremendous empathy and support for young people with disabilities. Although I do not doubt the existence of the concerns that Mr Balfour has raised, I have also seen tremendous practice in our schools to support young people with disabilities and to ensure that they are assisted effectively in every way possible. However, I will certainly ensure that the guidance is comprehensive and effective and that it meets the needs of young people who are the victims of bullying, regardless of the excuse that is used for that bullying.


Student Support (European Union)

4. Gordon MacDonald (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to help and support students from Scotland who want to study elsewhere in the European Union. (S5O-00184)

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

In 2014-15, we launched a pilot project to support Scotland-domiciled undergraduates to attend a number of universities in other European Union countries. Students who take part do not pay tuition fees and are entitled to apply for the same living cost support as those who study in Scotland. We also provide support for a small number of postgraduate students to study at selected European higher education institutions.

The Scottish Government continues to support the Erasmus plus programme and the British Council’s International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience programmes.

Over the past four years, the Scottish Government has—with matched funding from universities, colleges and student associations—invested more than £500,000 through its outward mobility fund to support 50 projects and more than 600 student places of varying duration and type in Europe, Canada, China, the USA and India.

Gordon MacDonald

The Scottish Government’s portability pilot is due to run until the end of the academic year 2016-17. Constituents who have contacted the Student Awards Agency for Scotland have been informed that,

“because of possible constraints as a result of the EU referendum result, we cannot at present state our funding position for any new students starting undergraduate degrees from 2017-2018.”

Given that Scotland-domiciled students who study at eligible European universities can apply for the same bursary and loan support as students who attend university in Scotland, what steps will the Government take to ensure that that very valuable link to Europe will remain open for future generations of young Scots?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

As I said, the pilot project is due to end with the 2016-17 intake of students, and we will then evaluate it. I make it clear that all students who are currently taking part, and those who are beginning an eligible course this year, will be supported to complete their whole course of studies. Before we confirm the continuation of the pilot, it is important that we assess the overall impact of the programme and its success. As part of that, we will look at the potential impact of Brexit on student mobility in Europe.

The member should at least be reassured that this Government continues to want Scottish students to play their full part in the European Union and to study and seek benefit from that, whatever the particular programme may be.

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD)

In pursuing that question, I encourage the minister to address the issue of college students with apprentice skills, more of whom will be needed. If Brexit happens in the way in which we believe it may happen, the number of apprentices that we need, particularly in the construction industry, will increase. Will the minister undertake to look into that with the relevant colleges to ensure that the growth in apprentices continues in order that we can meet the skills needs that are evident in industry throughout Scotland even now?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

Tavish Scott raises an important point about the implications of Brexit and the requirements for various parts of the economy, including the construction sector. Apprenticeships have played a very important part in the Scottish Government’s commitment to its offerings for young people. We have made a commitment to increase the number of apprenticeships, and construction will play an important part in that. I will take on board the points that Tavish Scott has made.


University Admissions (Equality)

5. Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it takes to ensure that there is equality in admissions to university places for people who meet the entrance requirements. (S5O-00185)

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

As autonomous institutions, universities are ultimately responsible for their own admissions procedures and decisions. That said, we invest more than £51 million every year to support around 7,000 places that are targeted at disadvantaged learners and those progressing from college. We have welcomed the final report of the commission on widening access, which commented extensively on how admissions could be made fairer. We will continue to work closely with the university sector on how best to take forward the implementation of the commission’s recommendations.

Willie Coffey

I understand that there is little or no centralised data showing where the successful and, in particular, the unsuccessful applicants who meet the entrance requirements for courses such as medicine, law and dentistry come from. Will the Government seek to address that as it takes forward the attainment agenda to ensure that equality of access is achieved?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

Although data on entrance to university by socioeconomic background is available, the commission on widening access recognised the need for enhanced data and analysis on access. My officials are therefore working with the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council to deliver the commission’s recommendations for better monitoring of fair access at key stages of the learner journey, including applications, offers and acceptances to university. We are working closely with the sector and the funding council to progress the commission’s recommendations on admissions. I hope that that will address Willie Coffey’s concerns on that point.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

The final report of the commission on widening access was widely welcomed across the chamber. With that in mind, can the minister confirm what steps have been taken to appoint a commissioner for fair access and when we might expect a commissioner to be in post?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

Appointing a commissioner was an important part of the commission’s recommendations and the Government is keen to make an appointment. It has to be the right appointment. We want somebody who can challenge not just the sector but the Government, so we are looking for someone who will independently scrutinise both the Government and what is happening in the wider university sector. We hope to make an appointment soon, but it is important that we speak to a number of people and continue to do so until we are sure that we have the right person to hold to account not only the Government but the rest of the sector.


Brexit (College Sector Implications)

6. Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the implications of Brexit for the college sector. (S5O-00186)

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

The Scottish Government is determined to protect our place in Europe and will explore all options to do so. The United Kingdom vote to leave the European Union presents a period of uncertainty for our education sector, including our colleges. The Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council and other partner bodies such as Skills Development Scotland are working to establish the potential impact on the sector in relation to EU funding, EU students and EU staff. We will also expect agencies to work with the college sector to explore opportunities to continue its relationship with Europe and to seek ways to mitigate the potential impacts at this time of great change.

Graeme Dey

The minister will be aware, from her recent visit there, of the success story that is Dundee and Angus College. However, the progress that has been made post-regionalisation faces being undermined by Brexit, with the college being confronted by the loss of £2 million of annual funding from the European social fund and the European regional development fund as a consequence of the UK leaving the EU. Are there any specific steps that the Scottish Government can take to try to protect the college sector from the ravages of Brexit?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I very much enjoyed my visit to the college during the summer recess. I saw at first hand what is going on within the college on employability and I had a chance to speak to EU students while I was there.

Of course, our ability to fully assess the different options will be constrained until we start to gain some clarity about what the UK Government is seeking to achieve with Brexit. As I mentioned to the member, the funding council will work with both colleges and universities to assess the impact and I will continue to discuss those issues with colleges and universities to ensure that I am fully appraised of the impact of the referendum result and how we can ensure that Scotland’s colleges and universities remain attractive and enhance their competitiveness in a global education market.


Physical Education and Extracurricular Activity

7. Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether the provision of physical education and extracurricular activity in schools is encouraging children to lead active and healthy lifestyles. (S5O-00187)

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

Quality physical education provides children and young people with the fundamental competencies and skills that are necessary for lifelong participation in sport and physical activity. Ninety-eight per cent of primary and secondary schools across Scotland are now providing at least two hours or two periods of PE a week. That is a key part of our sport strategy for children and young people, giving children and young people a sporting chance in their future lives.

Brian Whittle

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer. The reality is that there is a decreasing number of opportunities for all youngsters to participate, in that school PE has a very limited time allocated to it and, worryingly, is being squeezed out of the curriculum more and more. Time allocated to PE is advisory rather than compulsory and in many cases the school gates are shut at 4 pm and therefore access to facilities is cut off.

Increasingly, clubs have waiting lists and we are turning away many who are eager to take part. Will the Government look at opening up school facilities after school hours across the country to give children an accessible opportunity to get active?

John Swinney

The first thing that I would say to Mr Whittle is that I am a little perplexed by the doom-laden character of his question. I said in my initial answer that 98 per cent of primary and secondary schools across Scotland are providing at least two hours or two periods of PE a week. That is a significant improvement on what used to be the position in the country.

The second point that I would make is that Mr Whittle comes here and complains about the difficulties of school opening hours, but his party has been a great advocate of the private finance initiative. PFI arrangements for schools have been one of the significant factors restricting the availability and opening of schools, because of the restrictive nature of the contracts.

Thirdly, I witness across the country the tremendous amount of voluntary energy and enthusiasm that is given to encourage our young people to be active and healthy. Nobody obliges the primary school that my son attends to take part in the daily mile; it does it because of the enthusiasm and energy of the teaching staff. I know that Mr Whittle has a lot of interest in and enthusiasm for encouraging children to lead active and healthy lives, and I share his aspiration, but I encourage him to be slightly more positive in expressing his point of view.

Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

My question relates to the daily mile. Can the cabinet secretary give an update on the progress in rolling out the daily mile not just to primary and other schools but also in pre-school provision, and can he say whether getting young people more physically active could address the attainment gap?

John Swinney

The Government is committed to Scotland becoming the first daily mile nation. Since the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport wrote to all headteachers in Scotland in November 2015 to inform them of the initiative, at least 800 primary schools in Scotland—that is 41 per cent of the total number—are now participating in the daily mile programme, adapting the basic idea to meet their own circumstances. I highlight to Mr Doris and to other members, including Mr Whittle, that in the period since November 2015, 41 per cent of primary schools in Scotland have adopted the daily mile or adapted it to their programme, which I think is a welcome indication of progress on physical activity in our schools.


Attainment Scotland Fund (Distribution)

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

To ask the Scottish Government what the mechanism will be for distributing moneys from the attainment Scotland fund to schools. (S5O-00188)

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

During the first two years of the Scottish attainment challenge, we used the Scottish index of multiple deprivation, which is a long-established set of indicators that show levels of deprivation in communities across Scotland, to identify the authorities and schools with the greatest concentration of school-age children living in the 20 per cent most deprived areas in Scotland. This mechanism has been used to allocate funding through our existing challenge authorities and schools programme to more than 300 primary schools and 100 secondary schools across 21 local authorities.

We secured a mandate at the recent election to raise an additional £100 million per year, through our council tax reforms, specifically for raising educational attainment. Our manifesto proposed that that additional funding should be allocated directly to schools, based on eligibility for free school meals, from 2017-18. We are engaging with local government representatives—the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers—on the key principles underpinning that additional £100 million, and those discussions will inform the approach to determining eligibility and distribution of the funds.

Ross Thomson

Given that the money will be removed from council grants to be spent nationally elsewhere, what percentage of that funding will be spent in the north-east of Scotland, and can the cabinet secretary guarantee that disadvantaged pupils in the region will not lose out?

John Swinney

I say two things to Mr Thomson. First, all council tax income that is raised in all local authority areas will be retained in those local authority areas. Secondly, the mechanism that I set out in my answer—the utilisation of the eligibility for free school meals, which is a development of our existing position of using the Scottish index of multiple deprivation—is designed to ensure that we reach every young person who is living in poverty, so that they receive the support to which they are entitled regardless of the part of the country in which they live.

Kate Forbes (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)

Can the cabinet secretary provide reassurance to local authorities across Scotland that what they raise in council tax will stay in their local authority area?

John Swinney

I am happy to give that confirmation. All council tax revenue that is raised in all local authority areas will be retained in those local authority areas. That is the principle of local authority taxation, and that is what will continue after the reforms that we have undertaken.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

The cabinet secretary is saying exactly the same thing as Derek Mackay said last week.

John Swinney

Consistency.

Graham Simpson

Yes, it is consistent, but it is slightly misleading. It is accurate to say that councils will retain all of the council tax that they raise, but the money will be clawed back through a cut in grants. My question for Mr Swinney is, will the cut in grants in particular areas be more than is raised in council tax?

John Swinney

Mr Simpson has rather got the wrong end of the stick. The £100 million is going to be new revenue that is raised. It will be part of the council tax that is raised in every local authority area. As has been normal practice in all aspects of local government finance throughout all time—certainly, for all the time in which I have had anything to do with local authority finance—the level of revenue support grant for individual local authorities is a product of how much is raised in council tax and non-domestic rates in local authority areas.

Mr Simpson should be reassured that all the money that is raised in council tax in each local authority area will be retained in that local authority area. I hope that, as a consequence of that absolute clarity, he will be able to sleep a bit easier in his bed tonight.

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

The point is that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities is absolutely clear that we are seeing local finances being pulled back, with £100 million being taken away and distributed across Scotland. The Government is playing with words. The truth is that it is taking council tax money off local authorities, because it is taking £100 million of the grant and telling them that they can make up the shortfall by raising council tax. We have to have a degree of pulling together and working together in terms of transparency on this issue.

John Swinney

There are two specific parts in terms of the Government’s commitments on local authority taxation. The first concerns the rebanding of the council tax and the extension of the bands, an order concerning which is currently being considered by Parliament. There is also the Government’s manifesto commitment to enable local authorities to raise the council tax by 3 per cent, which is entirely separate from the process of the banding exercise. Derek Mackay and I were just talking about this issue with COSLA at one of our regular meetings this morning.

Two separate processes are under way. Mr Rowley has been the leader of a local authority in the past and he knows how local authority finances work. Revenue support grant is a product of the amount of revenue that is raised by local authorities in council tax and non-domestic rates, and is influenced by factors around how much revenue is generated from those two sources of local authority income.


Autism Support (Attainment Gap)

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

To ask the Scottish Government what contribution improving support at school for young children with autism will make towards meeting its ambition to close the educational attainment gap. (S5O-00189)

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

Our ambition is to deliver equity and excellence for all children and young people, supporting them to reach their full potential, including those affected by autism. The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2009 provides the legal framework for the identification of, provision for, and review of personalised support for children and young people who face barriers to learning, including those arising from autism.

In order to help schools meet the needs of those pupils, the Scottish Government has supported the development of “The Autism Toolbox: An Autism Resource for Scottish Schools”. Published in 2014, the toolbox provides guidance on planning, pupil support and staff training, as well as sharing examples of best practice. The toolbox’s online resource also provides a forum for continually updating and disseminating good practice.

Bob Doris

In recent months, a number of families in my constituency have raised with me concerns about the support that is available for their children, particularly as they transition from nursery school to primary 1, where a presumption of mainstreaming applies but is not always backed up with the support that is required. I am concerned that a lack of support might impact on the educational attainment of some of our most vulnerable children. I suspect that the situation is not isolated to Glasgow. As part of addressing the attainment gap, will the cabinet secretary review how local authorities provide such support for vulnerable children?

John Swinney

I certainly believe that the framework that we have in place, including the legislative framework of the 2009 act, should address exactly Mr Doris’s point. I am obviously happy to look at any particular examples and experiences that he has to ensure that that is happening. Fundamentally, the Government and the public sector have an obligation to work to get it right for every child in Scotland. That means meeting the needs of young people, whatever their circumstances. Young people who have autism will have particular support requirements and, in fulfilling their responsibilities, all public authorities should take account of that within the legislative framework of the 2009 act.

If Mr Doris cares to write to me with any further detail, I would be happy to explore the issue on his behalf.


Education Governance Review

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

To ask the Scottish Government when it will provide an update on the progress of its education governance review. (S5O-00190)

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

I launched the governance review on 13 September, and it will run until 6 January 2017.

The governance review is an opportunity to engage in a positive debate. We want to hear from children and young people, parents, teachers, practitioners and the wider community. We want to hear from those with a formal role in our education system and those who share a stake in its success.

I will of course update Parliament following the conclusion of the review to set out the Government’s actions in relation to the consultation exercise.

Lewis Macdonald

The cabinet secretary will be well aware that the statutory responsibility for these matters lies with education authorities, and a number of those authorities in the north and north-east of Scotland are already working together to address joint concerns, particularly about the recruitment and retention of teachers. In looking at the issues, will the Government consider shifting the focus of its workforce planning from an approach that simply focuses on the national picture to one that focuses the needs of individual education authorities in meeting their objectives for the recruitment and retention of teaching staff?

John Swinney

Mr Macdonald raises a significant point. The experience of what has emerged as the northern alliance of authorities in part of the area that Mr Macdonald represents and into Highland and island communities is a welcome example of local authorities collaborating to find solutions to common problems. Teacher recruitment is one such issue, but there are others. Those authorities are also looking at ways of enhancing educational provision as a consequence of collaboration between local authorities. That type of working is very much what is in my mind in relation to the issues that I raise in the consultation exercise around the regional education boards and the collaborations that we have talked about in that respect. That approach enables solutions to be developed that might, for example, meet the teacher recruitment challenges that we face in the north of Scotland.

Mr Macdonald raises a thoughtful point about the consultation and I look forward to hearing more from him and the authorities that he represents about that.


College Buildings (Condition Assessment)

11. Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent assessment it has made of the condition of college buildings. (S5O-00191)

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

It is the responsibility of the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council to advise ministers on the condition of college buildings. The SFC undertook an assessment of college estates in 2014 and refreshed that exercise earlier this year.

Richard Leonard

Audit Scotland has reported that Scotland’s colleges face major funding challenges in financing capital improvements to their estate. The Scottish funding council study, to which the minister referred, looked at a third of the college sector and estimated that it would cost £256 million, or more than a quarter of a billion pounds, to bring those properties alone up to a decent standard. However, during the past four years, the Scottish Government has reduced its capital funding to colleges by more than 70 per cent—a drop from £90 million to £26.6 million. Does the minister agree that the staff and students of Scotland’s colleges need decent buildings to teach and learn in? Will she reverse those capital cuts?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

Capital funding to the Scottish Government as a whole has fallen quite dramatically, given the Westminster austerity measures.

A dose of realism needs to be brought to the chamber. Every single time an Opposition member makes claims for capital and revenue against the Government, they should at least bring a bit of reality to the debate.

We have invested £550 million in the college estate between 2007 and 2015, and we have continued to support the further education sector by supporting more than £300 million-worth of investment in the non-profit-distributing pipeline.

The member will also have noticed that, in the programme for government announcement, colleges were awarded an additional £10 million of accelerated capital funding to help to improve existing estate. I would expect him to welcome that progress.