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Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, February 1, 2024


Portfolio Question Time

Education and Skills

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

Good afternoon. The next item of business is portfolio question time. The portfolio this afternoon is education and skills. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or enter “RTS” in the chat function during the relevant question.

Teaching (Class Contact Time)

1. Willie Rennie (Mid Scotland and Fife) (LD)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on when it will deliver its commitment to reduce teacher class contact time by 90 minutes per week. (S6O-03038)

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Jenny Gilruth)

The Government is committed to reducing class contact time for teachers by 90 minutes per week by the end of the current parliamentary session, and work is on-going with our key stakeholders to achieve that aim.

To inform those discussions, I have commissioned an external modelling and research exercise, which will consider a range of factors including current teacher numbers, pupil to teacher ratios and the projected decline in the number of school-age children in Scotland. Any reduction in class contact time will require the agreement of the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers.

Willie Rennie

That is so slow. To claim that the manifesto commitment that was so breathlessly delivered in 2021 was never intended to be implemented for another five years is, frankly, to take teachers for fools. Teachers are struggling now, and they need the promise to be delivered now. Will the cabinet secretary set out exactly what she has done, since she came to her post, to deliver the policy much sooner than she has indicated?

Jenny Gilruth

In my initial response to Willie Rennie, I set out the action that I have taken since coming to post as cabinet secretary. I have commissioned the external modelling work that we require at a national level to look at class contact time at local level. We do not yet have that detail. I do not yet have that report, which will inform the progress that needs to be made in delivering the commitment.

However, I absolutely agree with the sentiment behind Mr Rennie’s question. Reducing class contact time is vital, particularly when it comes to workload, but also when it comes to school reform, which is another substantive issue to which the profession will respond in due course. I look forward to working with Mr Rennie to that end.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

The workload reduction task force in England has made a number of recommendations to address teacher workload pressures. Many suggest that those are easily mappable on to a Scottish situation. Which of those recommendations does the cabinet secretary think are particularly worthy of consideration, and what is she doing to implement them?

Jenny Gilruth

I have to confess that I have not seen that group for England, nor its recommendations, and I am not sure that recommendations that have been made in other parts of the United Kingdom would necessarily always apply to the Scottish system. That being said, I would be more than happy to look at recommendations that have been made in other parts of the UK, albeit that I recognise that education is devolved.

Pam Duncan-Glancy (Glasgow) (Lab)

The cabinet secretary will be aware that similar reports were written in Scotland almost 10 years ago. The workload reduction task force and the working group on tackling bureaucracy highlighted a number of areas—including forward planning, assessment, monitoring and so forth—that could help to reduce workload. I know that trade unions have written to the cabinet secretary about that. Will she revisit the actions in the report, and is she willing to meet trade unions and me to discuss the matter?

Jenny Gilruth

I regularly meet teaching trade unions, and I am keen to work with them on the issue, which is part of our wider response to school reform in a post-Covid environment. I recognise the challenge, and I will continue to engage with trade unions and with Pam Duncan-Glancy on the issue.

Annie Wells joins us remotely.

Glasgow Primary Schools (Staff Retention and Wellbeing)

2. Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to support staff retention and wellbeing in primary schools in Glasgow. (S6O-03039)

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Jenny Gilruth)

Glasgow City Council is responsible for the employment of teachers in its area. That includes staff retention and wellbeing. Notwithstanding that, we are supporting the recruitment and retention of teachers by providing councils with £145.5 million to protect teacher numbers. In addition, the strategic board for teacher education is considering issues relating to the recruitment and retention of teachers.

The Scottish Government has allocated more than £2 million to support the wellbeing of the education workforce, in addition to our investment in the historic pay deal for teachers, which means that they are the best paid anywhere in the United Kingdom. Ultimately, however, primary school staff retention and wellbeing are matters for the respective employers.

Annie Wells

Toryglen primary school, in my Glasgow region, has had no fewer than five headteachers in just three years. Inspectors have noted that, despite the hard work and dedication of staff, the school suffered from a lack of leadership. Although individual circumstances are, of course, a factor in every school, that example, combined with the fact that, in Glasgow alone, almost 37,500 days were lost to staff mental health absence in 2022-23, certainly gives cause for concern. Does the cabinet secretary agree that more substantive action is required to improve staff wellbeing in primary schools across Glasgow and beyond?

Jenny Gilruth

Annie Wells raises an important point about teacher wellbeing. Since October 2020, we have allocated £2 million specifically to support the wellbeing of the teacher education workforce. It is vital that staff in our schools and nurseries are able to access the right support that they need when carrying out their important duties. In this instance, Glasgow City Council is, of course, the employer. In relation to wellbeing, we have invested an additional £200,000 this year to support coaching for staff who work in schools and in early learning and childcare.

I will continue to engage with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on the issue, but I am also happy to engage with Annie Wells and, if required, Glasgow City Council directly, because I recognise and support the points that Annie Wells made.

Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

The cabinet secretary talked about the retention of staff across Scotland. Is the Scottish Government leveraging data and insights about teacher numbers to inform future budgetary considerations and policy design, particularly to address concerns raised by the stand up for quality education campaign regarding funding and resources for schools?

Jenny Gilruth

We already undertake our annual teacher workforce planning exercise, which is done at a national level but is informed by local requirements. It involves a statistical model that estimates the number of initial teachers required to maintain pupil to teacher ratios, which, as Martin Whitfield will know, are at a record low. The model is based on inputs and projections on the number of pupils in the education system, the churn in teacher numbers—for example, in relation to retirement and maternity leave—and the retention rates of initial teacher education students.

There has been consultation on that exercise, which takes place in partnership with key stakeholders—namely, COSLA, but there are also representatives from the General Teaching Council for Scotland, our universities, our teaching unions, which relates to Martin Whitfield’s point, and the Scottish Funding Council.

I will continue to work with our workforce planning partners to that end, but I recognise Martin Whitfield’s point about forward planning to meet the needs of the sector and our teachers.

I will take a supplementary question from James Dornan, who—I hope—joins us online.

A big aspect of attracting staff to work in Scottish schools is competitive pay. Will the cabinet secretary outline how pay in Scotland compares with that elsewhere in the UK?

Jenny Gilruth

We have been proud to support pay deals for the public sector across the board. The current teacher pay deal is the most generous since 2001. The 28-month deal has had a cumulative value of 14.6 per cent and means that pay for the majority of classroom teachers will increase overall by more than £6,100. Unpromoted teachers at the top of the main grade scale are also better paid in Scotland, with a salary of £48,516. That is certainly welcome news and shows how this Government values our teachers in Scotland.

Innovation Centres (Funding)

3. Ivan McKee (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the Scottish Funding Council’s decision to stop funding three—almost half—of Scotland’s seven innovation centres. (S6O-03040)

The Minister for Higher and Further Education; and Minister for Veterans (Graeme Dey)

Scotland has a rich research and innovation ecosystem that drives the creation of new knowledge and delivers economic, social and environmental benefits across the country. The innovation centre programme forms an important part of that ecosystem.

Since its launch, close to £175 million has been invested in the programme by the Scottish Government and delivered by the SFC. The programme has supported and will continue to support the seven existing innovation centres until late 2024. However, it was always envisaged that, beyond that period, funding for the innovation centre programme would be reviewed by the SFC to determine future approaches to investment.

Following completion of that review, four centres will receive further funding from the SFC. The other three centres have benefited from 10 years of public funding, which has built their capacity and will enable them to explore new models of public and private investment and continue to deliver impact.

In addition, the Scottish Government, via the SFC, will continue to support research and innovation in aquaculture, precision medicine and sensors and enabling technologies through its core funding for universities and colleges.

Ivan McKee

Last year, the Scottish Government launched its innovation strategy, recognising that its seven innovation centres have been at the heart of the delivery landscape. The strategy is based on identifying where Scotland has genuine world-leading potential in supporting those technologies, and it calls for joined-up delivery across the innovation ecosystem.

Clearly, the Scottish Funding Council did not get the memo. Will the Government be rewriting its innovation strategy, given that a significant part of the delivery landscape that it relies on will no longer exist?

Graeme Dey

Scotland’s network of innovation assets is extensive and includes a number of centres of excellence funded by the Government in addition to the SFC-funded innovation centre programme. As the member knows, they include the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland, the Net Zero Technology Centre, the medicines manufacturing innovation centre and a number of centres of excellence funded through the city region and growth deals.

As the member rightly points out, the innovation centre programme is an important part of that landscape. The key aims of the SFC’s recent review of the programme were to promote greater alignment between centre activity and the Scottish Government’s ambitions, including those outlined in the national innovation strategy. Public sector support for innovation is provided through our enterprise agencies, as part of the national innovation strategy’s implementation work with those agencies on a public sector innovation funding review, which is under way and focuses on increasing the alignment of funds, reducing unnecessary duplication and addressing any gaps in the funding landscape.

Marie McNair (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP)

There are clearly pressures on all aspects of the Scottish Government, including the Scottish Funding Council. In light of those financial challenges, will the minister commit to continuing the Scottish Government’s prioritisation of the widening access agenda?

Graeme Dey

I was delighted to see the progress that we have made being highlighted this week by the commissioner for fair access, who pointed out that the increase that has been made has not been at the expense of other cohorts of Scottish students, with increases in the number of home students across the board. That directly contradicts claims that we have heard previously from Labour and Tory members. Perhaps they might want to reflect on what they have heard from that independent source and consider correcting the record. In the same week that that progress has been confirmed, we have heard calls from members of the Tory front bench to bring back tuition fees, which would put that progress at risk, and Keir Starmer is U-turning on free tuition.

On widening access, we will not rest on our laurels. There is much work still to be done, and we will set about doing it.

University and College Courses (Skills Matching)

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

To ask the Scottish Government how it matches up the skills required in the economy with the courses on offer at Scotland’s colleges and universities. (S6O-03041)

The Minister for Higher and Further Education; and Minister for Veterans (Graeme Dey)

As I confirmed to Parliament recently, and as is set out in “Purpose and Principles for Post-School Education Research and Skills”, the Scottish Government will lead skills planning at the national level and will support the development of skills planning at regional levels, in recognition that we must better align our education and skills system offering with the strategic skills need of the economy. We are developing those approaches in close collaboration with colleges and universities, along with other partners—particularly employers—and we are looking to get the clearest possible picture of the skills need across Government portfolios, now and for the future.

Willie Coffey

We know the self-inflicted, damaging effect that Brexit is having in this area, and the refusal by Labour and the Tories to support returning to the European Union any time soon will not help that one bit. Could the minister give some indication of what more we can reasonably do to help bridge the gap between what our local economies need and the capacity of our colleges and universities to deliver? In particular, how can we encourage more young people to start their own businesses in the trades that our economy so desperately needs?

Graeme Dey

Willie Coffey makes a number of important points there. In all this, we need to draw a clear distinction between skill shortages and labour shortages. That is incredibly important. There is an issue about access to workforce, and Brexit has been a large part of that. We are trying to mitigate the damage that has been done to an extent. We are undertaking an exercise across Government at the moment, whereby I am asking colleagues across portfolios to engage with employers, colleges and universities to identify whether the cause behind some of the shortages relates to provision—and, if so, what we can do to address such causes.

The Government has taken a number of other measures, but Willie Coffey makes an interesting point about how we encourage young people to start up businesses. I have seen some good, leading examples of that in a number of our universities, which I think we could roll out more widely.

Audrey Nicoll (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

Ensuring fair access to higher education is clearly critical in ensuring that Scotland has the skilled workforce that we need for the future. I ask the minister for his response to the report from the Commissioner for Fair Access that was published earlier this week.

Graeme Dey

I think that I covered most of that a moment ago. There is no doubt that the report makes positive reading—and even our political opponents would have to acknowledge that. However, we have some ground to make up to complete the journey that we set out on. Therefore, within days of receiving the report, I have tasked officials with considering how we build on the achievements so far, including how we overcome some of the data-sharing issues that are an impediment, so that we can move forward, as we all want to do.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I am afraid that, although Ms Chapman was hoping to join us online for question 5, we have noted that the internet connection has been coming in and out. I do not think that there is any point in starting off something that we might not be able to complete. I apologise to members who were seeking to ask supplementaries, but the internet connection is not stable. We will move to question 6.

Museums (Education on Racism and Colonialism)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it has taken to ensure that pupils can interact with museums as part of their education to help address racism and the legacy of colonialism. (S6O-03043)

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Jenny Gilruth)

Pupils engage with museums and exhibitions in a number of ways. For example, young people co-curated the “Glasgow—City of Empire” exhibition at Kelvingrove art gallery and museum that was launched in November last year. It is important that we build on that approach, which is why the Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development accepted all the recommendations of the “Empire, Slavery and Scotland’s museums” report last week. They include the recommendation that

“Museums should support efforts to promote and embed race equality and anti-racism in the curricula in a meaningful, effective, and sustainable way.”

We will continue to work with Museums Galleries Scotland to implement that recommendation, which aligns with our new breaking-the-mould anti-racist curriculum principles and supports our programme for government commitment to advance inclusive education and promote a decolonised curriculum.

Foysol Choudhury

Last week, I visited Kelvingrove art gallery, which has recently launched the exhibition that the cabinet secretary mentioned. The organisers worked with communities to tell the story of the empire and how it still affects communities in Scotland today. What discussion has the Scottish Government had with Education Scotland regarding access for children across Scotland to such educational exhibitions? How will it ensure that pupils leave school with a robust understanding of racism and colonialism and the impact that they have had on our society?

Jenny Gilruth

Mr Choudhury and I have previously exchanged comments in the chamber on that matter, so I recognise his interest in it.

I should say that it is for local authorities to support schools in developing partnerships with Kelvingrove art gallery or other museums in their local areas. However, Education Scotland has an important role to play in facilitating and encouraging links between museums and schools and local authorities. For example, it is planning an online webinar for April this year to raise schools’ awareness about education resources in museums and how to make use of museums as part of the school curriculum. Important practical materials are contained in National Museums Scotland’s Atlantic slave trade learning resources, which support the learning and teaching of the transatlantic slave trade component of a national 5 qualification. Education Scotland will continue to promote such resources to schools.

As we embark on a period of reform in Scottish education, we should be cognisant of the work that Education Scotland has undertaken, and we should support that through the curriculum development that will happen in the coming weeks and months.

Secondary Schools (Special Educational Needs Staff)

7. Alasdair Allan

To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting local authorities to provide appropriate levels of special educational needs staff for secondary schools to ensure a safe and encouraging learning environment for all pupils. (S6O-03044)

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Jenny Gilruth)

The most recently published figures indicate that almost £5.9 billion was spent on education by local government in 2021-22, and that spending on additional support for learning reached a record high of £830 million. We currently have the highest recorded level of pupil support assistance as a direct result of our investment of £15 million each year to help schools to respond to the individual needs of their pupils. We have also outlined in the programme for government our commitment to work with teachers to provide additional professional learning opportunities while seeking to build on the additional support for learning action plan.

Alasdair Allan

Another key factor in ensuring a good learning environment for such education is the fabric of our school buildings. I know that the cabinet secretary is aware of the current significant issues at Castlebay school in my constituency. Will she provide an update on what progress her officials have made on that issue since she met the local authority last month?

Jenny Gilruth

I recognise Alasdair Allan’s continued interest in that matter, given his constituency. We had a helpful meeting on the issue towards the end of last year with the local authority and Alasdair Allan. The Scottish Government and the Scottish Futures Trust continue to engage closely with the local authority, and my officials will meet the council again in the coming weeks to discuss the issues relating to the health elements of the proposed Barra and Vatersay campus. Those sit outwith my responsibilities, of course, but I will write to Alasdair Allan with a further update once that meeting has taken place. I am very much committed to engaging with the council directly on the matter. I recognise the important points that Alasdair Allan has made about the school building.

Sue Webber (Lothian) (Con)

We may have the highest level of pupil support assistance, as outlined in the cabinet secretary’s response, but with a marked rise in the number of students with additional support needs—it is now almost 37 per cent of all pupils—can the cabinet secretary say what further specific measures are in place to increase the number of ASN teachers and support staff without abdicating the responsibility to local authorities?

Jenny Gilruth

Obviously, the number of pupils who have been identified with additional support needs has increased markedly since 2010. Part of the change relates to the way in which we measure additional support needs, which is much more transparent than it has been in the past.

We have invested an additional £15 million a year since 2019-20, and we provide over £11 million of funding to directly support pupils with complex additional support needs and services to children and families. We have a legislative framework that is clear about the responsibilities for the provision of additional support for children and young people, and the additional support for learning action plan, which I mentioned in my previous response, is the way in which we can enact change by working with local authorities and recognising the responsibilities at the local level and also those that sit at the national level.

Regional Colleges (Lanarkshire and Glasgow)

To ask the Scottish Government when a decision will be made regarding the Scottish Funding Council’s recommendation to end the regional colleges arrangement in Lanarkshire and Glasgow. (S6O-03045)

The Minister for Higher and Further Education; and Minister for Veterans (Graeme Dey)

My officials and I continue to work through the advice set out in the SFC’s options appraisal to determine the most suitable way forward in the Lanarkshire and Glasgow college regions.

I met the chair of Glasgow Colleges Regional Board in December, and I am due to meet the chair of the Lanarkshire regional college board next week as we continue to explore, as a first step, what could be achieved within the existing statutory framework to enable timely delivery of improvement. However, it is likely that primary legislation would be required for more substantive reform of regional college boards. We have been clear that any changes must not weaken the oversight and accountability of the colleges; rather, they should further support regional co-ordination of skills planning and pathway provision.

Graham Simpson

At the Public Audit Committee meeting on 11 January, Karen Watt, who is the chief executive of the Scottish Funding Council, spoke of

“a range of other issues”—[Official Report, Public Audit Committee, 11 January 2024; c 34.]

that were delaying the consideration of its recommendations. Does the minister know what those other issues are? Can he further expand on the timescale for delivering that?

Graeme Dey

The chief executive of the SFC would have to explain that herself. As I have indicated, that is a live issue for me. We are working on finalising a position on both matters.

I particularly recognise the urgency on providing clarity in Lanarkshire, and I am entirely mindful of the asks around reform in Glasgow and the rationale behind them. However, if we are to change the existing regional structure, I would want to be satisfied that the governance arrangements that replaced that provide robust oversight of the activities of individual colleges, that the new landscape encourages co-operation and collaboration across the three colleges in Glasgow and beyond, and that it serves to discourage any possible predatory thoughts or activities between institutions. However, the matter is live, and I hope to be able to update members on it in the coming weeks and months.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

There will be a short pause before we move to the next item of business to allow front-bench teams to change positions, should they wish to do so.

Before we move on, I advise members that the next item of business will be follow-on business. Sadly, we appear to be missing a number of members who had indicated that they would be seeking to participate in the debate. As far as I have been advised, they should already have been in the chamber.