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Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, January 27, 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, Holocaust Memorial Day, Portfolio Question Time, Budget (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Adverse Childhood Experiences


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Education and Skills

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

I remind members that Covid-related measures are still in place and that face masks should be worn while moving around the chamber and the wider Holyrood campus.

The next item of business is portfolio questions, and the portfolio is education and skills. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or put the letter R in the chat function during the relevant question. As ever, I appeal to members and ministers to ask brief questions and give brief responses.

Question 1 is from Elena Whitham, who joins us remotely.


Outdoor Clothing (Support)

1. Elena Whitham (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to extend financial support for outdoor clothing to early learning and childcare settings. (S6O-00676)

The Minister for Children and Young People (Clare Haughey)

Childcare providers have worked creatively over the pandemic to increase opportunities for outdoor learning, as evidence shows that the risk of transmission is reduced outdoors. To support that, we launched in December 2020 a £1 million outdoor clothing fund for providers of funded early learning and childcare as part of our wider winter support package. The fund was used to buy outdoor winter clothing for children who needed it most. A total of 1,040 childcare providers successfully bid for that funding, and children continue to benefit from the clothing this year.

We continue to work closely with the childcare sector to monitor the impacts of the pandemic and to keep the need for further financial support under review.

Elena Whitham

I thank the minister for that answer. Will she outline what steps are being taken to increase children’s access to outdoor play?

Clare Haughey

We are supporting the growth of outdoor learning and practitioner confidence in that area in a number of ways. During the pandemic, we funded a virtual nature school programme, which supported more than 2,000 practitioners and 40,000 children and family members to have quality outdoor experiences. We funded Inspiring Scotland through the early learning and childcare expansion to increase outdoor play and learning activities. We continue to add to our “Out to Play” practitioner guidance series, and the national practice guidance “Realising the Ambition” is also supporting practitioners to deliver more outdoor play. We will work with practitioners to develop strong communities of practice.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We have a supplementary question from Colin Smyth, who joins us remotely.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

The minister will know that, at the moment, pupils are not just in need of warm clothing outdoors. To be frank, they are freezing indoors in classrooms. What additional financial help is being made available for parents to keep their children warm inside schools? Teachers are having to open windows in the middle of winter in place of proper classroom ventilation.

Clare Haughey

As Mr Smyth will be aware, the Scottish Government provides school clothing grants to school-age children. That provision has increased over the years, and we will continue to support families who need our assistance to provide adequate school clothing.


Free School Meal Provision (East Kilbride)

2. Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how many pupils in East Kilbride will be included in the roll-out of free school breakfasts and the expansion of free school lunches. (S6O-00677)

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The cabinet secretary joins us remotely.

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

We are committed to expanding free school meals and providing breakfasts to all primary school pupils during the course of the current session of Parliament. Once free school meals have been expanded to include primaries 6 and 7, the total number of pupils who are offered free school lunches in Scotland will be about 390,000, based on the most recent pupil census figures. We have already expanded free school meals universally to primary 4 and 5 pupils from January this year.

I cannot provide specific information on the number of pupils who will be eligible for those important benefits in East Kilbride. However, in South Lanarkshire, there are 17,627 pupils in primaries 1 to 5 and special schools, and just over 25,000 pupils in primary and special schools, who will benefit from free school meals and breakfast expansion in due course.

Collette Stevenson

Will the cabinet secretary outline how the Scottish Government will work with local authorities and organisations such as Magic Breakfast to deliver the expansion? What nutritional and wellbeing benefits for pupils will the provision have?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

The Scottish Government works closely with our local authority partners on an on-going basis to support them as they deliver food and drink in schools. We will continue to do so as universal school meals provision is expanded. All food and drink in schools, including for lunch and breakfast, must meet the school food and drink regulations, which are designed to ensure that children and young people are provided with balanced and nutritious food and drink to support their growth and development.

As they deliver school meals, local authorities can, of course, choose to partner with organisations, such as Magic Breakfast in the member’s constituency, taking account of local needs and priorities.


Access to Further Education (Covid-19)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of how access to further education by students from the most deprived areas has been impacted by Covid-19. (S6O-00678)

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

I am clear that every young person should have an equal chance of success, no matter their background or circumstance.

Scottish Funding Council college data that was published this week shows that 32.2 per cent of credits for FE college courses in 2020-21 were provided to learners from the 20 per cent most deprived areas in Scotland. Higher Education Student Data university student statistics, which were also published this week, show that, in 2021, a record high of 16.7 per cent of full-time first degree entrants to university came from those same areas. That maintains the previous year’s position by exceeding our interim target of 16 per cent by 2021.

Financial support to students over the course of the pandemic has been substantial. More than £96 million has been provided via hardship funding and support for digital access, mental health and student associations.

Bob Doris

Glasgow Kelvin College in my constituency has informed me that, over the past two years, Covid-19 has had a disproportionate impact on the part-time, community-based and non-advanced further education programmes that the college would normally be involved in. The impact has been most pronounced for learners in the most deprived 20 per cent of postcodes in the Scottish index of multiple deprivation. Will the minister ensure that that is taken into account when allocating resources for the coming year, to ensure that those from our most deprived communities who are most impacted by Covid-19 can access the educational pathways that they require to help to close the attainment gap? Will he accept my invitation to visit Glasgow Kelvin College to discuss those challenges further?

Jamie Hepburn

I am, of course, happy to accept my friend Bob Doris’s invitation. I have always been impressed by Glasgow Kelvin College and the work that it undertakes, particularly on apprenticeships and the community learning and development work that Bob Doris mentioned.

The SFC is currently identifying the best split of available funding resources for the coming financial year, taking into account our priorities and the needs of the sector, with a view to providing indicative institutional allocations in March. My clear expectation is that those allocations should be responsive to our social and economic needs but also to community requirements. In that regard, the issues that Mr Doris has raised are pertinent.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call James Dornan, who joins us remotely, to ask a brief supplementary question.

Does the minister share my concern that the most recent—[Inaudible.]—statistics show a continued drop in the number of European Union students who come to study here, in Scotland?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Did the minister catch that question?

Jamie Hepburn

I think that Mr Dornan might have been referring to the drop in the number of EU students who come to Scotland to study.

The impact of Brexit, magnified by the pandemic, has contributed to a significant drop in the number of EU applicants. That is very regrettable. We have world-leading institutions, and we very much value the contribution that EU students make to our economy, culture and academic institutions. They enrich our campus life. I hope that we can welcome many of them to our world-leading institutions in the future.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you, minister. All of that is true, but I am not sure that those students have been impacted by Covid by coming from the most deprived areas.


OVO Energy

To ask the Scottish Government what assistance Skills Development Scotland can provide to OVO Energy employees in Perthshire South and Kinross-shire who are reportedly facing redundancy. (S6O-00679)

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

We have already offered support to OVO through our partnership action for continuing employment initiative for employees who might be affected by redundancy. Skills Development Scotland leads on the delivery of PACE support on behalf of the Scottish Government. SDS PACE representatives met OVO on 20 January to discuss the type of support that might be available, and PACE representatives will maintain contact with OVO to progress the planning of PACE support.

Jim Fairlie

The minister might be aware that I met senior members of OVO’s management last week. I have to say that John Swinney, Pete Wishart and I left the meeting with more questions than we went into it with, so it is somewhat reassuring to hear that, despite the lack of reassurance from OVO, the Scottish Government will be able to give some assistance.

What support might the Scottish Government be able to provide to ensure that facilities such as the OVO office in Perth can continue to be used as major employment hubs or training hubs?

Jamie Hepburn

Of course, the issue impacts on my constituency as well. Some 600 jobs are under threat in Cumbernauld. Ivan McKee, as the Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise, is leading on the matter, but I can say, from my previous experience as business minister, that Scottish Enterprise would be very happy to have any conversations about how it can be taken forward. For my own part, I very much expect Skills Development Scotland to continue to play its part in discussing the matters and considering how it can support Ivan McKee in responding to the issues that Jim Fairlie raises.

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

My colleague Liz Smith and I also met OVO on Friday and impressed on it the need to continue supporting workers.

As Jim Fairlie said, a large office building in Perth will be left lying empty as a consequence of the decision. Previously, the Scottish Executive had a programme for relocating public sector jobs out of Edinburgh to different parts of the country. Is that something that the Scottish Government could consider?

Jamie Hepburn

Of course, we have done that previously. Social Security Scotland was located in Dundee for that very purpose. In this instance, we are seeking to engage with OVO and, as I have laid out, understand its plans, to see how we can support the workforce. Those other matters could be part of our wider consideration.


Apprenticeships (Agriculture and Rural Sector)

5. Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting Skills Development Scotland to engage with the agriculture and rural sector to promote opportunities and apprenticeships for young people as a positive career destination. (S6O-00680)

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

The skills action plan for rural Scotland has driven forward a partnership approach to developing the skills and talent needed to make sure that Scotland’s rural economy and communities continue to flourish and grow. The plan recognises that rural areas face particular skills challenges and supports activities to address them.

The Scottish Government provides funding and direction to Skills Development Scotland to ensure that it delivers against our priorities. In 2021-22, priorities included driving the implementation of the plan by supporting the development of the employers toolkit for the agriculture sector and commencing planning for a review of land-based apprenticeships, to ensure that they deliver the skills that the sector needs now and in the future.

Emma Harper

Through engagement with local manufacturing and agricultural businesses, I have had feedback that Skills Development Scotland can be sometimes challenging to engage with on manufacturing and agriculture career opportunities. Will the minister outline what further action the Scottish Government can take to support SDS to promote apprenticeships involving agriculture and rural skills, particularly given their importance to Scotland’s economy and our fight against the climate emergency?

Jamie Hepburn

If Ms Harper wants to raise any specific challenges with me, I will take them away and pursue them with Skills Development Scotland. My clear expectation is that it engages.

In relation to challenges around ensuring that rural Scotland is supported, SDS is a member of the skills for farming group; it is engaging with the NFU Scotland conference in February; it is sponsoring the Lantra Scotland land-based and aquaculture skills awards in March; it has updated the My World of Work website, which has been supportive of the skills for farming group; as part of Scottish apprenticeship week, it is taking out an advertorial in The Scottish Farmer newspaper; it contributed to the skills action plan for rural Scotland, as I mentioned; and it produced the rural employers toolkit, which I also mentioned. There is significant engagement.

More fundamentally, I expect SDS to deliver. In 2021, the number of apprentices in our rural communities who started was broadly consistent with population share. For example, Dumfries and Galloway constitutes 2.8 per cent of the Scottish population and accounts for 3 per cent of modern apprenticeship starts, and Scottish Borders accounts for 2.1 per cent of the over-16 population, but 2.3 per cent of apprenticeship starts. I think that Skills Development Scotland is doing a fairly good job of delivering for rural Scotland.

Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

Rural depopulation is an issue, and we need vibrant communities across Scotland and to keep new entrants in farming. Does the minister agree that the Scottish Government should put greater emphasis on food and farming in schools and further and higher education settings?

When did the minister last meet the Royal Highland Education Trust to discuss the importance of education in providing the skills that are needed to manage the countryside, produce good food and, indeed, tackle rural depopulation?

Jamie Hepburn

I have had the pleasure of meeting the Royal Highland Education Trust in the past. I have also engaged with the Royal Highland Show and, when that is able to be up and running again, I will be happy to do so again.

We place considerable emphasis on supporting the sectors that Ms Hamilton has referred to. We would also expect our developing the young workforce regional groups to engage with those sectors, so that young people are aware of the great opportunities that they have in them.


Teacher Recruitment

 

6.

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its teacher recruitment drive. (S6O-00681)

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

Teacher numbers have increased for six years in a row. There are now more teachers than at any time since 2008 and more than 2,000 more teachers than before the start of the pandemic in 2019. We have provided £240 million of additional investment over two financial years to support that and a further £145.5 million of permanent funding from April this year to support the sustained employment of those teachers.

The new phase of our teacher recruitment campaign is under way. We are continuing to offer bursaries for career changers to move into STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—teaching, and we have increased initial teacher education targets for student intakes this year.

Pam Gosal

In a recent Educational Institute of Scotland member survey, 17.8 per cent of respondents said that violence and abuse from pupils was the greatest cause of stress in the past 12 months. In West Dunbartonshire, in my region, pupils at a secondary school went so far as to create fake dating profiles to humiliate teachers. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the long-term retention of teachers will be more difficult if such problems continue? What action is the Government taking to end such abuse permanently?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I thank Pam Gosal for raising that important point. Teacher wellbeing is absolutely critical at all times, but particularly given the challenging circumstances in which teachers and support staff have been working during the pandemic.

Behaviour such as abuse of or attacks on teachers and support staff is completely unacceptable under any circumstances. It is very important that schools and local authorities have strict processes and measures in place to deal with certain circumstances when they happen. If there is a requirement for further support—from the Government or Education Scotland, for example—for councils and, indeed, schools directly as they target that abuse, we stand ready to give that support.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

There are a number of supplementary questions. I would hope to get them all in, but the questions and responses will need to be brief.

Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

The cabinet secretary has talked about the increasing number of teachers. Can she confirm how many of those new posts will require applicants to have additional support qualifications or experience?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

As the member knows, all teachers are trained to be able to deal with and support pupils with additional support needs. He will also be aware of the proposal and assurance in our agreement with the Scottish Greens that we look at what more we can do to insist that teachers are able and supported to deal with those matters. I will gladly keep the member and the Parliament updated on that as we move forward with that work with our colleagues in the Scottish Greens.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

I remain very concerned about the large number of unemployed teachers, as well as those on casual, short-term contracts. The last time that I asked the cabinet secretary how many there were in the country, she did not have a clue. If the Government does not know the scale of the problem, how will we fix it? Does the cabinet secretary have an answer yet?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

As Mr Rennie well knows, workforce planning goes on in both the Scottish Government and local government to ensure that we have sufficient teachers in place in individual schools. We work on that with local authority partners.

As I said in my first answer, the Scottish Government has committed additional funding to ensure that the number of teachers on permanent contracts is looked at exceptionally seriously. The funding for local government has now been baselined. There is no need for teachers to be on a temporary contract if they were previously on a temporary contract under the Covid funding. That is a matter for local authorities, which recruit and retain teachers.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I will take a final, brief supplementary question.

Kaukab Stewart (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

What impact is increased investment in teacher recruitment having on pupil to teacher ratios?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Please be as brief as possible, cabinet secretary.

Shirley-Anne Somerville

As I said, there are now more teachers than at any time since 2008. The ratio of pupils to teachers is at its lowest since 2009.


Revision Support (Access to Resources)

7. Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what resources will be provided to ensure that all students have equitable access to revision support ahead of any exams. (S6O-00682)

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

Schools are best placed to support learners who have experienced disruption to catch up on their learning and have the best chance to demonstrate their potential.

To complement and enhance school-based supports, Education Scotland has put in place a package of support through the national e-learning offer. Through glow, our national schools intranet, senior phase learners can access e-Sgoil’s supported study webinars and resources. The senior phase Easter study support programme, which was extremely popular last year, will be repeated this year, offering live webinars covering more than 60 courses at a range of levels from national 4 to advanced higher.

All learners also have access to more than 1,850 West Partnership online school videos to support senior phase learning.

Colin Smyth

We know that disruption to students’ education continues with on-going, significant absence levels among pupils and school staff. Some parents will be able to afford additional tutoring for their children ahead of exams, but the poorest will not. Does the cabinet secretary accept that we need to escalate support for students who are sitting Scottish Qualifications Authority exams this year, including by providing additional resources for targeted learning support in schools during the Easter holidays?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I agree with the premise of Mr Smyth’s question. That is exactly why the Scottish Government is working with colleagues in local government on the issue of Easter support. We are working with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on that. Once the proposal has gone through the usual COSLA process, we will be able to make a further announcement. I agree that we need to ensure that support is in place, particularly for those students who have experienced severe disruption this year. That is why I am delighted to be working with COSLA, and I hope to make an announcement on that very soon.


Student Housing Strategy

8. Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions education ministers have had with ministerial colleagues regarding the development of a student housing strategy that includes rent controls and student tenancy rights for every student in Scotland. (S6O-00683)

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

Although the Scottish Government has no direct role in the provision of student accommodation or in relation to capacity within the private rental market, we are aware of the pressures relating to those. That is why we are committed to bringing forward a student accommodation strategy for Scotland, which, in part, will be informed by a review of purpose-built student accommodation. We will look to develop and incorporate the student accommodation strategy alongside and within the rented sector strategy. That will include looking at issues such as supply, affordability and wider planning and regulatory issues.

Foysol Choudhury

Given the 34 per cent rent hike over the past three years, does the minister agree with the National Union of Students that

“the student housing system in Scotland is fundamentally broken”

and

“the disconnect between student income and rent levels poses an extreme and immediate threat to access and participation in education”?

Will the Scottish Government commit to creating a student housing strategy that includes rent controls and student tenancy rights for every student in Scotland?

Jamie Hepburn

I have been able to meet the National Union of Students to discuss those issues, and I understand its concerns. The issues have been exacerbated in the past year by events that have put pressure on housing supply.

The issues that Mr Choudhury has raised will be fully considered as part of our review of purpose-built student accommodation and as part of the student accommodation strategy that we are committed to taking forward. If Mr Choudhury would like to provide me with any information and engage with me on that matter, I would be very happy to discuss it further with him.