There was some debate at stage 2 in regard to self-governing schools. Evidence has been heard by the Education, Culture and Sport Committee on Gaelic schools, and there has been some debate about pluralism in education in relation to the curriculum, specifically in regard to Rudolf Steiner schools.
Amendment 29 seeks to consider all those issues and to provide some hope to parents who have interests in all those matters. There is no reason why the Government cannot establish, for instance, grant-aided Gaelic-medium schools where there is a clear parental demand.
In Dunblane, we have St Mary's Episcopal Primary School, which has only 65 pupils, achieving tremendous results that are well above the national average. St Mary's is an ideal example of self-government by parents and could be used as the model for Gaelic schools. Edinburgh's Gaelic-medium unit could become a grant-aided Gaelic school. Eventually, across Scotland we could see the development of Gaelic
Gaelic is rich, alive and has a future. If the amendment were accepted, our Gaelic schools could flourish across the land. St Mary's is of course the sole surviving self-governing school. It consistently performs above the local and national averages. It is not about some abstract law of self-governance that allows schools to manage their own affairs with the involvement of parents. It is not some Tory relic of an imagined, horrible past. This affects a school that has real people, real teachers and real pupils in it, some of whom are in the public gallery today to hear the debate.
Many parents are—or should I say were—Labour voters. They—like Sam Galbraith—saw no difficulty in sending their children to an independent state school, but now they find that the independence that has contributed so much to the improvement of standards at their school is to be snuffed out, yet the independence at Jordanhill will remain. What parents seek is a level playing field.
Labour talks of elitism in education; with the bill, we see that the elite in Scotland is the Labour establishment. The amendment would put the parents at St Mary's and parents in the rest of Scotland on the same footing. In that sense, it is inclusive and anti-establishment and is about equality of opportunity.
I move amendment 29.
Having listened to the views of those involved with local authority schools in the Stirling constituency, of which Dunblane is part, I would like to make a few points.
First, and most important, it should be remembered that St Mary's opted out of local authority control and received Scottish Office grant because of Tory policies to break local authority control over education. As a result of having opted-out status, St Mary's has received more favourable funding from the Scottish Office and then the Scottish Executive, and from the local authority, than have comparable primary schools in the Stirling area. Mr Monteith's amendment would mean that St Mary's privileged position continued, when it is high time that the school was returned to local authority control. I therefore urge members to oppose this Tory amendment.
I have some experience in these matters as I was the city councillor who represented the Jordanhill area at the time when Jordanhill School's funding became a problem. The matter was satisfactorily resolved by the direct intervention of the then Prime
When Sam Galbraith stayed in my constituency, I was gratified to think that it might have been the quality of the local government representation that tempted him to remain in the Jordanhill area. As a responsible parent, he sought to avail himself of the facilities available through the school. The school is an excellent example of what happens when parents are involved.
Amendment 29 captures the difference in philosophy between ourselves and the Executive: we believe in giving parents the choice, and we believe in giving them the maximum input into their children's education. Jordanhill has been a classic example of that. It is the height of unfairness that other parents throughout Scotland—and not just parents of children at St Mary's, although that school is another good example—do not have the opportunity to avail themselves of similar opportunities to those that exist in Jordanhill, which is an outstanding success by any criteria. The amendment seeks to give parents those opportunities.
I was distressed to hear Sylvia Jackson's contribution, which will not sit easily with parents who send their children to St Mary's and to other Dunblane primary schools. Repeating yet again the same old tired statistics—which are, I feel, rather misleading—does her no favours.
Amendment 29 is about providing a level playing field and it is about giving equal opportunities to parents throughout Scotland, so that they have the same opportunities that the minister enjoys. That applies to all parents—whether they wish to have Gaelic-medium education, or a different curriculum through Rudolf Steiner or other kinds of schools, or whether they simply wish to have a school such as St Mary's where the parents have a clear role in the management. This is not about resources; it is about improving standards. That is what the bill is meant to be all about.
Presiding Officer, you will not be surprised to learn that the Executive opposes amendment 29, in the name of Brian Monteith. St Mary's has absolutely nothing to fear from going back into the local authority set-up. It will do fine within that family of local authority schools, where it will receive greater support and will flourish.
It seems a little bizarre that Brian Monteith should lodge an amendment that would require ministers, upon receiving an application, not to withhold unreasonably grant aid to Scotland's private schools and the other schools that he mentions. Such a commitment would be clearly contrary to our policy that publicly funded schools
I have dealt with that point many times in Parliament, and I have no desire to do so again. I will continue with the point that I was making.
There is nothing to stop managers of educational establishments applying for a grant from Scottish ministers under section 73 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980. However, the proposal to impose an explicit requirement that consent to such funding should not be unreasonably withheld would unduly restrict the discretionary power to award such grants. When making funding decisions, ministers need to consider a wide range of general funding priorities, and not just the circumstances of individual schools. For those reasons, I recommend that we reject the amendment.
Division number 6
For: Aitken, Bill, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Harding, Mr Keith, Johnston, Nick, Johnstone, Alex, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, Monteith, Mr Brian, Mundell, David, Munro, Mr John, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Tosh, Mr Murray, White, Ms Sandra, Young, John
Against: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Canavan, Dennis, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Eadie, Helen, Finnie, Ross, Galbraith, Mr Sam, Gillon, Karen, Godman, Trish, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Harper, Robin, Henry, Hugh, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Jenkins, Ian, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, MacKay, Angus, MacLean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, McAllion, Mr John, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McLeish, Henry, McMahon, Mr Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Radcliffe, Nora, Raffan, Mr Keith, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mr Mike, Scott, Tavish, Sheridan, Tommy, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stone, Mr Jamie, Thomson, Elaine, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
Abstentions: Adam, Brian, Campbell, Colin, Cunningham, Roseanna, Elder, Dorothy-Grace, Ewing, Dr Winnie, Ewing, Fergus, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Gibson, Mr Kenneth, Grahame, Christine, Hamilton, Mr Duncan, Hyslop, Fiona, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Matheson, Michael, McGugan, Irene, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Mr Gil, Robison, Shona, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Ullrich, Kay, Wilson, Andrew