Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Seòmar agus comataidhean

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, November 17, 2022


Portfolio Question Time

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

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

Question 1 is from Mark Griffin, who is joining us remotely.

National Qualifications (Appeals)

1. Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the processing of appeals for the 2022 national qualifications exams. (S6O-01556)

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Shirley-Anne Somerville)

Outcomes for priority appeals, where outcomes were needed for progression to further education, higher education, employment or training this year, were issued to centres by the Scottish Qualifications Authority on 5 September. Outcomes for the remaining 2022 appeals process were issued on 31 October, with some appeals having been expedited to 15 October for learners who were accessing the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service early applicant process for 2023 for courses such as medicine or dentistry. The SQA published a high-level summary of the 2022 appeals outcomes on 3 November, and it will publish a more detailed report in December.

Mark Griffin

With one third of appeals in 2022 having been successful, the process has helped to ensure fairness and to mitigate the on-going effects of the global pandemic. With the pandemic still affecting young people’s education, can the cabinet secretary say whether she agrees that the SQA should commit to an appeals process for 2023, based on valid and reliable alternative evidence of demonstrated attainment?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

The SQA still has a number of decisions to make, particularly about the appeals process. It is currently undertaking consultation, research and evidence work to explore the implications of the appeals process last year and how appeals have worked in previous years. The SQA’s work in that area is on-going. The SQA will keep in close contact with the national qualifications 2023 group, which includes a number of stakeholders such as learners, to see what the group’s views are before it makes any decisions for 2023.

English as an Additional Language (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it provides to learners of English as an additional language. (S6O-01557)

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Shirley-Anne Somerville)

The responsibility for the provision of support for children and young people who have English as an additional language rests with education authorities. Under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2009, education authorities are legally required to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of their pupils. That includes pupils who have English as an additional language. The Scottish Government has provided statutory guidance to education authorities and schools to support them in fulfilling their duties. English as an additional language has been specifically identified as a potential additional support need within the code of practice.

Miles Briggs

In the past decade in Edinburgh, the number of children in schools who are new to English has increased from 595 to more than 760, and children who require early acquisition of English as an additional language has increased from 800 to more than 1,800. However, we have not seen an increase in English as an additional language teachers in our schools. What assurance can the cabinet secretary provide that councils such as Edinburgh will be given the funding that is needed for English as an additional language teachers so that we can make the most of our multilingual classrooms?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I appreciate where Miles Briggs is coming from with his question about ensuring that we are providing support for pupils for whom English is an additional language. As I said in my original answer, many of the responsibilities to identify need and ensure that the correct support is available lie with local authorities. The Scottish Government and, indeed, Education Scotland work very closely with our local authorities to ensure that anything that can be done at the national level to assist with that is done.

There are a number of ways in which funding is given to local authorities, through general expenditure or for particular education aspects of policy. Many of those go through the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and there is an agreement with it about how that money is distributed. However, I will certainly ensure that, in future years, we bear in mind the importance of the issue, as we have done in the past.

Michael Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

The question is particularly important given that today is international students day, when we reflect on the contribution that our international community makes in Scotland and on the position more broadly as our students go around the world. To be frank, the cabinet secretary’s answer is not good enough. The number of teachers of English as an additional language in Scotland has decreased by 82 per cent since 2008. It is clear that the system that she outlined is not working and that the Government needs to take an active role in addressing the problem. What more can she commit to do in order to put in place a Government programme to sort out the situation?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

The Government continues to invest in teachers and in the teaching estate. Teacher numbers are at their highest since 2008, and the most recent figures available show that more than 16,000 pupil support assistants are providing invaluable support to pupils, including those with English as an additional language.

Further and Higher Education Institutions (Fair Work First)

3. Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how further and higher education institutions that receive public funding via the Scottish Funding Council are expected to implement fair work first principles. (S6O-01558)

The Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training (Jamie Hepburn)

The Scottish Government strongly believes that all employers should practise fair work. The Scottish Funding Council asks institutions that receive public funding to comply with fair work first criteria through a number of mechanisms, and the criteria were included in the institutional funding letters that were issued in May 2022 and in the conditions of grant for non-core programme funds. In addition, the SFC outcome agreement guidance for the academic year 2022-23 asks institutions to demonstrate how they are meeting fair work first criteria.

SFC accounts directions require colleges and universities to report on fair work practices that have been developed in agreement with their workforce and on the progress that colleges and universities have made on implementation. The SFC is due to receive the 2021-22 accounts from institutions at the end of this calendar year.

Maggie Chapman

The minister will be aware that effective voice is one of the five dimensions of fair work, as defined by the Fair Work Convention, which says that the gold standard of effective voice is employers having clear recognition of and respect for strong trade unions.

Yesterday marked the end of 12 weeks of strike action, and today is day 613 since the pensions dispute between Unite the union and the University of Dundee began. Workers are going back to work without any resolution. University management has comprehensively failed in its obligations—

Ms Chapman, can we have a question please? Thank you.

—under the fair work effective voice criterion. Management has refused to engage with the unions.

Ms Chapman, I really do need a question. Please get to the question.

Maggie Chapman

Does the minister believe that it is a fair work practice to in effect derecognise campus unions? What can he do through the SFC outcome agreement discussions with the University of Dundee to ensure that workers’ voices are heard and that workers are treated with dignity and respect—

Ms Chapman, I think that we have got the gist. Thank you very much.

—in work and in retirement?

Ms Chapman, thank you.

Jamie Hepburn

As a former fair work minister, I take such issues seriously. I agree that trade union recognition and the organisation of workers through trade unions are an important mechanism for effective voice.

Throughout this dispute, I have urged both sides to continue constructive and meaningful dialogue. I have engaged regularly with management and trade unions, and that is on-going. Most recently, I spoke on 3 November with Iain Gillespie, the university’s principal, to encourage further dialogue between the university and the trade unions. That followed previous engagement with him and the trade unions more widely.

Pam Gosal (West Scotland) (Con)

Colleges need £25 million for life-cycle maintenance for 2023-24, and a further £250 million is needed to make all Scotland’s college buildings wind and watertight. Does the minister agree that a warm and dry environment that is suitable for learning is the bare minimum that staff and students should expect? Will he make room in the budget to ensure that bare minimum of working conditions for college staff and students?

Jamie Hepburn

I am aware of challenges that we face in our college estate. We have asked the SFC to take forward a programme to set out the priorities for investment. I await that, and we will respond once after I have received it. I recognise the challenges, and we will continue to invest. The significant uplift in the capital grant this year demonstrates our commitment to investing in the college estate. I recognise that more requires to be done, and we will continue to engage with the sector on that basis.

Probationary Primary Teachers (Full-time Employment)

To ask the Scottish Government what proportion of 2021 graduate probationary primary teachers have secured full-time employment in Scottish state schools after completing their probation. (S6O-01559)

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Shirley-Anne Somerville)

For primary teachers in the 2020-21 cohort of teacher induction scheme probationers, 70 per cent had secured full-time employment in a publicly funded school in Scotland by the time of the September 2021 census. Statistics on the employment of the 2021-22 cohort of teacher induction scheme probationers will be published on 13 December.

Colin Smyth

Primary teachers who carry out their probation in Dumfries and Galloway have one of the lowest rates of permanent employment. Only three teachers—just 6 per cent—of the 2020-21 cohort secured a permanent teaching position. One of the many teachers who is stuck on the supply list wrote to me and said:

“Myself like many others have worked hard to get to where we are. Teachers are feeling very unvalued at the moment and so many are currently looking at leaving the profession. I feel like my life is on hold and I cannot plan for the future. Do you think this is fair?”

Cabinet secretary, there is a problem across Scotland, especially in rural areas. What additional steps will the Government take to support local authorities, particularly in rural areas, to fill teaching vacancies and enable those newly qualified teachers to pursue the career that they want? My constituent is right to say that it is not fair.

Shirley-Anne Somerville

The recruitment and retention of teachers is a matter for the local authority as the employer. However, at a national level, we clearly have a role in supporting our local authorities. That is exactly why I took the step of ensuring that we provided additional permanent funding of £145.5 million per year to support the recruitment of extra teachers. In the past, local authorities told me that one of the reasons that they could not allow permanent contracts was that some of our funding was temporary. I have changed that; the funding is now permanent, so local authorities should be allowing contracts on a permanent basis.

Three members are seeking to ask a supplementary question. I will take all three questions, but I hope that there will not be endless sub-clauses before we get to a question.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

To give the cabinet secretary credit, she did baseline that funding, which has helped to mitigate some of the problems. However, there continues to be a mismatch between the number of teachers who are available and the number of posts that are available. What changes is she making to workforce planning? What discussions has she had with the universities? What further steps will she take to make sure that those people find jobs?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I continue to be in close contact with unions and teachers directly, whom I have heard from, once again, quite recently, about some of the challenges that they face with regard to permanent contracts. We are looking at the numbers that are required for initial teacher education. At this point, those deliberations are still on-going, but that feeds into our wider workforce plans, through which we are looking at the number of teachers who are in the system at the moment and at the requirement for additional teachers in different places. That work obviously includes people in our university sector who provide the initial teacher education. Once the work is completed, those figures will be published in due course.

Stephen Kerr (Central Scotland) (Con)

The cabinet secretary’s response is really not good enough. None of her responses to the question have been good enough, because we know that thousands of newly qualified teachers have left the profession or are on temporary contracts. The figures that have been reported by The Times should be a source of shame for the cabinet secretary. We have a situation whereby teachers have reached the end of their tether, so they have quit the profession, or they have been left in limbo for too long on temporary contracts. Those issues have been raised for years in this chamber and it simply is not good enough for the cabinet secretary to sit on her—

Could we have a question, please, Mr Kerr?

I promise that I will get to the question.

It simply is not good enough for the cabinet secretary to sit on her hands. What will she do now to fix it?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

Clearly, as I have already stated in my previous answers, we have done a lot, particularly this year. The change that we have made amounts to £145.5 million. Again, I stress to all members that they are perfectly entitled to challenge the Scottish Government on that, but none of the questions today have recognised the role of councils in looking at the permanency of the issue and the fact that they have responsibility for recruitment and retention. I take my responsibilities very seriously, and that is why I took the decision that I did not long after getting into post. However, councils also have a responsibility around recruitment and retention, and I feel that the members do not recognise that. Certainly, Mr Kerr did not.

I welcome the support that the Scottish Government is providing for the continued employment of teachers. What is the latest pupil teacher ratio? How does it compare with the ratio in the rest of the UK?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

The ratio of pupils to teachers is at its lowest since 2009, with more teachers than at any time since 2008. We have the most teachers per pupil of any UK nation. The most recent comparable statistics are for 2021, and they show a pupil teacher ratio of 13.3 for Scotland, 18 for England, 19.2 for Wales and 18 for Northern Ireland.

Disabled People Leaving School (Positive Destinations)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to improve positive destinations for disabled people leaving school. (S6O-01560)

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Shirley-Anne Somerville)

Since November 2020, we have invested funding of up to £175 million through the young persons guarantee to create additional opportunities, with a focus on those furthest from a positive destination. That includes up to £90 million for local authorities through local employability partnerships, which are focused on early intervention and prevention by providing supported employment opportunities, training and employer recruitment initiatives.

The Scottish Government is also committed to introducing Scotland’s first national transitions to adulthood strategy in this parliamentary term, to ensure that there is a joined-up approach to supporting our disabled young people as they make the transition to adult life.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

When it comes to positive destinations for young disabled people, the picture is not good. Six months after leaving school, disabled people are twice as likely not to be in education, employment or training than their non-disabled peers. At the age of 16, the aspirations of disabled and non-disabled young people are the same; by 26, disabled people are three times more likely to feel hopeless, no matter what they do. We are failing them at a time when we should be helping them to fulfil their dreams.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, to improve positive destinations for disabled people leaving school, a national transition strategy with a plan for all young disabled people should be put on a statutory footing, thereby giving everyone a fighting chance at a future?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I recognise the work that has been undertaken by Pam Duncan-Glancy on the bill on this issue, and I recognise that it is an on-going process. We absolutely support the bill’s intention to improve the transition for disabled children and young people. We are at a point where we need to collectively consider where matters stand, given the consultation and work that are on-going. However, I genuinely look forward to working collaboratively with Pam Duncan-Glancy on the issue, as do my colleagues Clare Haughey and Christina McKelvie, who are working on the bill and the wider issues around transitions.

Karen Adam (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I welcome the update from the Scottish Government on what it is doing to improve positive destinations for disabled people leaving school. How many people are accessing modern apprenticeships and how does the number compare with pre-pandemic numbers?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

Skills Development Scotland has operational responsibility for our modern apprenticeship programme, and it publishes quarterly official modern apprenticeship statistics, including the number of starts, with a full-year report being available at the end of each financial year.

The most recent statistics were published on 8 November. There were 12,593 modern apprenticeship starts by the end of quarter 2—which shows considerable progress towards getting back to pre-pandemic levels—and 1,822 modern apprenticeship starts in the second quarter have a known disability or have self-identified with an impairment, a health condition or a learning difficulty. That number is up from 1,334 at the same point last year, which is an increase of 36.6 per cent.

Safety at School (Teachers and Pupils)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to keep teachers and pupils safe while at school. (S6O-01561)

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Shirley-Anne Somerville)

The safety of our children, young people and staff in school is of paramount importance. The Scottish Government and partners across education advocate for schools and local authorities to work with pupils in identifying the underlying reasons for inappropriate behaviour.

We all want pupils to behave in a respectful manner towards their peers and staff, and we have produced guidance for local authorities and schools to prevent exclusions and manage behaviour. However, it is for schools to decide what action should be taken, depending on the individual circumstances of each case.

Russell Findlay

In Renfrewshire, over a single year, 36 teachers were assaulted by pupils, with 28 of those attacks being in primary schools. Violence has reached such extreme levels in one Glasgow secondary school that teachers have voted for strike action because they do not feel safe. There remains a real risk that proposed Scottish National Party budget cuts to justice will lead to the loss of police officers in school. Will the cabinet secretary explain how cutting campus cops will help teachers to stay safe?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

For the avoidance of doubt, and particularly for the benefit of Mr Rennie, we do not have campus cops in our schools. Mr Rennie has left the chamber, but he has had an interest in this area in the past. We do not have campus cops in our schools. We have police officers who work with a school—primary or secondary—on issues that are of interest and use.

It is important, of course, to ensure that police officers support our schools wherever necessary. Where there is a requirement for a police officer to carry out that type of role in a school, they do just that very well and with great support at the moment. We will continue to support our teachers to ensure that no one is suffering verbal or physical abuse in our schools.

Schools and local authorities have an absolute responsibility to decide what actions should be taken. Those actions might include involving the police, if that is appropriate, but that is a decision for the school. That would be very different from using pupil equity funding to support joint work with a police officer.

Where does violence in schools sit with the Scottish Government in terms of the green-amber-red risk register?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I said in my previous answer that there is absolutely no excuse for violence in our schools. All forms of violence are absolutely unacceptable. There is a clear policy, at Government level and, I think, at local government level, that that type of behaviour is absolutely unacceptable. That is why we have in place the guidance that we have, and it is why we continue to have very close dialogue with the unions and local authorities to see whether anything else can be done on the issue.

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

On the back of Russell Findlay’s question and the cabinet secretary’s answer, can we have an update on when we should expect the next iteration of the behaviour in Scottish schools research—BISSR—and how the findings of the first research impacts on Scottish Government policy?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I am pleased to confirm that, after a delay caused by the pandemic, we have recently awarded the contract for the next phase of behaviour in Scottish schools research to ScotCen Social Research. Officials are working with analysts and the contractor to make arrangements for the fieldwork, which will start next year. They expect the research report by the end of 2023.

Support in Schools (Staff and Pupils)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is ensuring adequate support provision is available for staff and pupils in schools. (S6O-01562)

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Shirley-Anne Somerville)

All children and young people should receive the support that they need to reach their full potential. I recognise the critical role of all school staff in achieving that aim, and remain committed to supporting them in their work.

Local authorities are responsible for identifying and meeting the additional support needs of their pupils. We are working closely with local government partners, through the additional support for learning project board, to ensure that we continue to see progress in the delivery of the recommendations from Angela Morgan’s review. An updated action plan and progress report will be published shortly.

Claire Baker

The latest Scottish Government figures show that over 12,000 children and young people accessed school counselling services during the last six months of the past year. What assurances can the cabinet secretary offer regarding the continued provision of pupil support services? Can she guarantee that the Government funding that came with the national mental health strategy for the school counselling service, which is due to be reviewed in March, will be continued? The need is obviously there. Many of the counsellors are on fixed-term contracts, and we need to make sure that they have some certainty so that the service can be maintained.

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I strongly recognise the work that has gone on in our schools, and particularly the work of the school counselling service, which, as Claire Baker said, the Scottish Government had committed funding for. The funding for that is in the health budget and not the education budget. As we move into the new budget process for the next year, ministers across Government will be analysing how our budgets should be spent. On these issues, the Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care and I will, of course, be in close contact about what will happen in future years.

I recognise that the scheme has been important and significant. It is not the only scheme out there to assist children and young people, but it is one that we will look at in the budget process.

Early Learning and Childcare (Argyll and Bute)

To ask the Scottish Government how many children in Argyll and Bute are currently receiving funded early learning and childcare. (S6O-01563)

The Minister for Children and Young People (Clare Haughey)

The most recently published figures showing numbers of children receiving funded early learning and childcare at the local authority level are included in the Summary Statistics for Schools in Scotland report for 2021. That was published in December 2021 and showed that, in September 2021, there were 1,303 registrations for funded ELC in Argyll and Bute, a rise of 4.6 per cent from the previous year. The figure for September 2020 was 1,246.

In December, the Scottish Government will publish the Summary Statistics for Schools in Scotland report for 2022. That report will include figures to show the number of child registrations for funded early learning and childcare in September 2022 at national and local authority level, including Argyll and Bute.

Jenni Minto

I have had the privilege of visiting the wonderful outdoor ELC facilities at Lochgilphead in my constituency and I have seen the benefits to children’s education that they provide. Will the minister advise what the Scottish Government can do to promote outdoor education for nursery-age children?

Clare Haughey

Outdoor play and learning is already an integral everyday part of ELC in Scotland and we know the benefits of high-quality outdoor play for children’s positive physical and mental development. It is our vision that children in Scotland’s ELC sector will spend as much time outdoors as they do indoors, and time outdoors will happen every day in every setting. As outlined in the “Best Start: Strategic early learning and school age childcare plan for Scotland 2022-2026”, which was published on 6 October, we will continue to work with our partners to build on the range of outdoor learning support for providers that we put in place during the pandemic. That will include publishing a new chapter of our popular “Out to Play” ELC practitioner guidance series in the new year, entitled “caring for our outdoor places”. The guidance will set out sustainable ways to explore, look after and care for our outdoor spaces.

There is a supplementary from Sue Webber.

Sue Webber (Lothian) (Con)

Argyll and Bute is leading the way when it comes to funding following the child with some of its cross-border early learning childcare placement arrangements, offering real flexibility to suit the child and, equally important, the working parents and carers. However, that is not the case nationally.

I have a constituent who lives in south-west Edinburgh but works as a teacher in East Lothian. The care available to her from the City of Edinburgh Council does not suit her work or her commuter challenges and she might be best suited with a placement in a neighbouring authority—for example, East Lothian. Does the minister agree that, given the pressures of juggling work and childcare, local government should be looking to remove obstacles and make it easier for families to access the 1,140 hours that they need by actively encouraging local authorities to facilitate cross-boundary placements?

Clare Haughey

Provider neutrality is absolutely central to our approach to delivering ELC, which means that parents and carers can choose to access their child’s ELC entitlement in any provider that meets our key quality criteria, whether that is a childminder, a private or third sector setting, or a local authority nursery. I would certainly be happy, if Sue Webber wants to write to me with the specific details, to come back to her on anything that we can do to assist.

That concludes portfolio questions on education and skills. There will be a short pause before we move on to the next item of business to allow front bench teams to change positions, should they wish.