School Standards

First Minister's Question Time — scottish executive – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 20th January 2000.

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Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Labour 2:30 pm, 20th January 2000

To ask the First Minister what steps the Scottish Executive is taking to raise standards in Scotland's schools. (S1F-41)

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

The Standards in Scotland's Schools Bill, which was published today, places ministers and local authorities under a duty to promote improvement in education, and it establishes a new statutory framework for raising standards in Scotland's schools.

The Executive has, since the Parliament came into being, been pursuing with considerable energy and through the allocation of significant resources, the aim of improving standards.

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Labour

I thank the First Minister for that response—I am sure that the publication of the school standards bill will be widely welcomed, as will his earlier response to Mr Salmond.

Recently there has been considerable implicit criticism of teachers in the context of responses to the Executive's proposals to repeal section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986. Will the First Minister confirm that he has—as I am sure the rest of the Parliament and Scotland has—confidence in the teaching staff in Scotland's schools? Will he further confirm that that should be reflected adequately in the debates during the progress of the school standards bill?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

I have no difficulty in agreeing with that. The Executive—and Sam Galbraith in particular—has made clear repeatedly its respect for the professionalism of teachers and its wish to support them. There are difficult questions about the future structure of schools that are being considered by the McCrone committee. We hope that it will be possible to do something positive to help with salaries in return for greater flexibility and for advances in relation to terms and conditions of teachers' employment.

Those negotiations lie ahead of us. I can assure the chamber that teachers will continue to have the support of the Administration as, I am sure, they have the support of members in the chamber.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Does the First Minister agree that the diversion of savings arising from the assisted places scheme to bail out Scottish Opera was at odds with Labour's 1997 manifesto commitment to use that money to cut class sizes in the first three years of primary school? Does he further agree that that money should not have been taken from education when, at the last count, nearly 30,000 Scottish children in primaries 1 to 3 were still in classes of more than 30 and that there is even further to go in reducing class sizes in all years of primary school?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

I hope that Nicola Sturgeon will not think my first point pedantic, but it is important. I understand that there are no children in primary 1 or primary 2 in classes of more than 30. Secondly, the money was diverted because the assisted places scheme process had come to an end, which was another success for our policy and for the Executive's education department.

I am sure that Nicola Sturgeon is well aware that the figures show that this year, there has been a 6.4 per cent increase in the local authority education budget. Next year, there will be an increase of 4.6 per cent—a further £126 million. We are allocating resources on a basis that is well above the rate of inflation. We are getting returns on, for example, the £389 million in the excellence fund over three years.

I say to Nicola Sturgeon—in a friendly spirit, as always—that the trouble with the way in which she presents her argument is that she manages to give the impression that she would rather have seen Scottish Opera go down. I am sure that there will be at least someone on the SNP benches who would disagree with that position.