Education Reform

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 22 January 2004.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 2:30, 22 January 2004

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-806, in the name of Peter Peacock, on the comprehensive programme of education reforms. There are two amendments to the motion.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour 3:11, 22 January 2004

I welcome the opportunity to set out for the Parliament the comprehensive and far-reaching programme of reforms that the Executive has for Scottish education. I want to indicate at the outset that the Executive intends to reject both amendments to the motion that have been lodged.

Before I move on, I want to thank the Tories very much—they are not listening, but I want to thank them—for the suggestion in their amendment to send me to New Zealand. The amendment, however, does not say whether they expect me to come back.

During the Commonwealth education ministers' conference, I had some interesting discussions with the New Zealand minister for education. I was able to tell him that I was not at all persuaded by his way of managing schools at the New Zealand level, which is the way that the Tories are encouraging me to follow. I do, however, intend to pursue some of the interesting developments in New Zealand, particularly in respect of assessment and testing and, for example, in relation to Maori education. I was thinking of going to New Zealand, but I suspect that the Tories have now made that virtually impossible.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I am glad that the debate has opened on an international perspective. I encourage the minister to visit as many countries as possible in order to gain knowledge. Is he aware that the result of the introduction of top-up fees in New Zealand was a reduction in the number of medical and science students? The costs of those courses are more expensive because they are longer and involve the purchase of capital equipment.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I am pleased to say that I do not have responsibility for top-up fees. I also think that enough has been said on that subject today. The First Minister made clear our position on all those matters.

The coherent package of reforms that the Executive has put forward stands in stark relief to what other parties have proposed. Recently, we heard simplistic tosh from the Tories and there continues to be a resounding silence on education philosophy and policy from the SNP.

Despite the efforts of some to talk down Scottish education, it is in good health. We can hold our heads up in comparison with other parts of the United Kingdom and the rest of the world. International studies of attainment and worldwide interest in our policy approaches tell us that.

Our system is characterised by pupils who work hard with good teachers in good schools. They are supported by local authorities that achieve good and improving outcomes for all our young people. The national debate that we have held over the past 18 months or so has shown that Scotland shares that confidence in its school system. Those who constantly knock our schools do our hard-working young people, their parents and our teachers no favours.

In Scottish education we have a culture, engendered by the Executive, of never resting on our laurels and never being complacent about where we stand at present. We need to do better and we can do better. Too many young people still come out of school with too little. Second best is never going to be good enough for me, as Minister for Education and Young People, for the Executive or for any child in Scotland.

Much has been done over recent years to invest in and improve education in Scotland. Although achievement has improved in general, the tail of under-performance has remained stubbornly long. Our reform programme is aimed at improvements across the piece, but particularly at closing the opportunity gap that arises from some doing less well in our school system. We need to do more in our system to recognise that every child in Scotland's schools is special—each and every one of them. By reforming our education system, we will better respond to the needs of the individual child and achieve greater flexibility in our approaches, with the prize of opening up more choice and a greater capacity to tailor education to the diverse needs of each one of our young people.

Labour inherited an education system that was suffering from the chronic underinvestment of 18 years of Tory Government: crumbling schools, demoralised teachers, the youngest in our society excluded from state education, and a lack of policy attention to education. The first tasks of Labour at Westminster and this Executive in Scotland have been to put right that inheritance. That is why we spent a large part of our first four years developing the biggest ever investment programme for our school estate, restructuring and better rewarding our teaching profession, making comprehensive provision for pre-school education, and getting the legislative framework right for this early part of the 21st century.

Teachers are right at the heart of our agenda to better meet the needs of individual children. It is teachers who engage with our young people and know them best. They are best placed to plan learning that is appropriate to each and every child in Scotland. The historic teachers agreement of recent years paved the way for that change. That was far more than just a pay deal: it is a comprehensive and radical programme to help build the profession as a basis for giving it the trust and the freedoms that are necessary in schools and classrooms to drive the continuous improvement that we want and to which we are committed. Returning trust and the exercise of professional judgment to the classroom is supported by the teachers agreement. Implementation has required and is requiring real change, which is often extremely difficult change for individuals and the system as a whole, including exercises such as job sizing and the de-layering of management grades within our schools.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

The minister will know that there was cross-chamber support for the McCrone agreement and the benefits that it will bring, but is he aware that an indirect result of McCrone has been the introduction of faculty arrangements in schools, which is causing a degree of demoralisation in authorities where such arrangements are not being introduced? Will he reflect on that, because that is counterproductive to what we all want to achieve?

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I will not reflect further on the principle of having faculties because, notwithstanding the fact that their introduction has been a difficult change, they have also brought benefits. That is part of the process of real change that I am describing, that will bring about the kinds of opportunities that we want in schools throughout Scotland. With that difficult change come many opportunities for teachers: for example, expanded continuing professional development; the introduction of the new induction scheme for probationer teachers, which is leading the world in the practice of how we better induct new professionals into the teaching profession; and the introduction of chartered teacher status, which allows teachers to stay in the classroom and be properly rewarded for their skills there.

Beyond the investment in changes to address the appalling Tory inheritance, we must ensure—

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

Before the minister goes on to the so-called appalling Tory inheritance, would he not accept that what he has just talked about is modelled on the mentoring scheme for probationers that was first proposed during the Tory years, but was rejected by the unions?

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

What is being introduced was agreed by the Executive, the trade unions and the local authority employers. That is consensus in Scottish education that the Tories never tried to achieve, let alone got close to achieving.

Beyond the investment to address the—I repeat—appalling Tory inheritance, we need to ensure that investment in teachers and schools works better to meet our ambition for each and every child. We need to increase flexibility throughout our system, with the prize of opening up more choice for the individual. We need to do that within a system that is continuously improving and universally excellent. There is no place on our agenda for second best, or for the two-tier education system that the Tories propose. While the Tories would abandon our schools to the vagaries of market forces, we will stick with them.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I have to get on. I have given way a number of times. I need to make progress, given the short time that is available.

We will stick with our schools. We will challenge them to improve, and we will support that improvement process. At the centre of our ambition for each and every one of our young people will remain our drive to raise attainment and achievement across all aspects of school education.

We are determined to ensure that our young people have the skills and capacities that will allow them to make a full contribution to society, whether they leave school for work, training or higher or further education. That means getting the basics right for all our children and continuing our drive to improve literacy and numeracy. It means giving all pupils a range of experiences in school, from enterprise education to health and sport. It means developing choice as the young person progresses through school—choice to support development of their personal skills, capacities and understandings and to help them achieve personal fulfilment in an ever-competitive world that is never free from risk. In our drive better to support raising attainment, we want and need the active support of parents in the learning process.

It is for that range of reasons that we have been developing, and have put in place, a comprehensive, radical and far-reaching reform programme. That is why we are reforming the curriculum: we want to find the flexibilities to open up choice. That is why we are looking for closer links with further education and it is why we intend to open up more vocational options for our young people. That is why we have renewed our commitment to comprehensive education and refreshed our vision of the modern comprehensive. We want rich, colourful, diverse schools, full of character, inspiration, and ambition for all our young people. Modern comprehensives will challenge, motivate and support our young people to achieve more. Schools will have the flexibility, freedoms and choices to allow our young people to thrive.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I must make progress.

We are committed to that comprehensive principle because it is right. International evidence shows that what is morally and socially right is also educationally right—it delivers better results. It does not write off kids by streaming them at age 11.

Our agenda for change is why we are reforming assessment and testing: to return them to their proper purpose of supporting learning and teaching. That agenda is why we will open debate with parents this year, with a view to reforming school boards better to engage parents with schools and with their children's education. It is why we have introduced the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Bill, which will refocus support on the potential of young people. It is why we will push ahead with our proposals to repeal outdated sections of the schools code. By doing that we will win more flexibility to support the challenging transitions between primary and secondary schools, while never compromising professional standards. It is why we will press forward with proposals to reform our outdated age and stage regulations. Our programme of change is sufficiently comprehensive that I could keep talking for several more hours, but I see that the Presiding Officer is looking at me menacingly.

Ours is a big agenda. It is coherent. It is radical. It is comprehensive. Our education reforms are part of a wider agenda throughout children's services. We will also consider child protection reforms and the reform of the children's hearings system. Every child in Scotland deserves the best possible start in life, and we will not accept that any child is born to fail.

While the Tories plan to dismember Scottish education, providing choice for the few and chaos for the many, we will be pursuing excellence throughout our education system. Unlike the Scottish National Party, we have a clear philosophy and a comprehensive programme of radical reform for our education and child care system. I commend the motion to the Parliament.

I move,

That the Parliament supports the Scottish Executive's additional financial support and reform programme for school education, the focus on the needs of the individual child within a reinvigorated comprehensive system and delivering excellence in Scotland's schools through reduction in class sizes in P1 and in S1 and S2 for maths and English, reform of the curriculum to ensure it offers increased choice to young people including a changed ethos in P1 and better opportunities for students over 14, reform of parental involvement to achieve a better partnership between parents and schools and reform of additional support for learning to focus better on the needs of the child.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 3:23, 22 January 2004

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I would never describe you as menacing.

The minister's motion seems to be very much a work in progress—a check-up of the Executive's various programmes and new proposals. The minister says that he would like a debate on education philosophy—I would be more than delighted to have such a debate, and I invite him to lodge a motion on the subject.

The issue is continuous programmes. Perhaps the minister does not want to debate education standards because of a previous Executive's record. Of course, he was the Deputy Minister for Children and Education in a previous Executive. We should, however, recognise some of the good moves that the Executive has made. Class size reduction is the right way forward, as is ending national league tables. Ending national tests that prevent diagnostic assessment is the right way forward. The SNP has argued that for many years, and I welcome the Executive's move towards it.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

No, I want to move on.

One of the Executive's key pledges is to reduce class sizes in secondary 1 and 2 for maths and English. The minister knows that the SNP has taken a keen interest in that, because in order to achieve that 3,000 new teachers were pledged. I understand that there is an element in the draft budget for that, which I welcome. There is also an element in the budget to pay for the national Spark information and communications technology project, although we do not know what the balance of expenses will be on that.

As far as work force planning is concerned, with 40 per cent of teachers leaving the profession or retiring in the next 10 years, Scotland has a real challenge in education. I would like to hear more about that from the minister in February when, I understand from the answer to a parliamentary question, the work force planning report is due.

I welcome the move towards a reduction in class sizes in primary 1—although we would have liked that to cover P1, P2 and P3. The Executive should be wary of not meeting that pledge in composite classes. The teacher pledge is important, but I worry that, if we are paying for teachers through end-year flexibility, that is not a secure means of funding them. If I were a teacher being funded in that way, I would question where next year's or subsequent years' wages were coming from. I do not think that EYF is a stable way of paying for such a proposal. Perhaps that is being done because the commitment came as a last-minute proposal before last year's elections.

We should consider the teacher deficit connected with those who are leaving the profession. It is estimated that 900 new teachers are needed every year, just to replace those who are retiring. The 2003-04 session is already under way and there is a commitment to provide 3,000 new teachers. Obviously, the intake of new teachers cannot start their training until later this year, and they will not graduate until 2005. That leads me to believe that there are only two years in which to increase recruitment to supply those 3,000 new teachers who are to help meet the Executive's key education pledge. I am concerned that that will prove to be a real challenge. I have not so far heard about any initiatives to accelerate or significantly expand the number of teachers undertaking post-graduate training. The intake for 2003-04 was 950. We have two years to meet the new challenge of supplying 3,000 teachers, which means training 1,500 teachers each year, in addition to the 900 required to replace teachers leaving the profession. That makes a total of about 2,400 teachers who need to be trained each year for two years, which means that a trebling of the current capacity of initial teacher training is required in order to meet the Executive's pledge of 3,000 new teachers in maths and English.

Only 401 maths and English teachers were trained last year in Scotland, which is only 17 per cent of the number of students who are studying initial teacher training. Either the Executive owns up to the fact that its pledge cannot be met or it admits—as it has done—that it now wants transitions between P7 and S1 and S2. I recognise the need for that, but transferring existing teachers from primary school to secondary school is not a provision of new teachers, which is what was pledged, agreed to and promoted in the partnership agreement. My concern is shared by others. The Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association said:

"This proposal has nothing to do with education; it has to do with teacher shortages. This is a backdoor way of resourcing secondaries".

I would be interested to hear the minister's response to that.

Still on resources, the minister will know that we have serious concerns about another matter. Yesterday's Edinburgh Evening News carried a story entitled "PPP firm 'holding schools to ransom'". For those who are not aware of the story, it is about youngsters with special needs being moved out of Willowpark special school in Gorgie. They will have to face a double upheaval when they move into specially built premises at the new Firhill campus, which is due for completion in 2005. The public-private partnership company, the Edinburgh Schools Partnership, has told the City of Edinburgh Council that it would charge £8.6 million extra if it was not allowed to start building work on a replacement school this summer.

The pressures are not on the private companies, but on the pupils. That example is one of commercial profit coming before educational needs. The problem driving that is the Executive's obsession with PPP. If it did not have that obsession, I would understand it if the Executive was willing to consider other sources of funding. However, it has already said that the school fund, which is very important for councils, will not be available for prudential borrowing.

It is extremely important to make music tuition available to pupils, and in the very good debate that we had on enterprise in education, we recognised the importance of the expressive arts in cultivating innovation and ideas. However to give a primary 6 pupil one year of music and then take it away is most unfair.

There have been some welcome proposals for vocational training—the SNP made proposals for post-16 vocational training—but I would question the extent to which initiatives are used. We have initiative after initiative; we have health initiatives and active school co-ordinators, but practical examples of what works on the ground—including a recent initiative from Easterhouse, which the Executive should consider—are being rejected.

I leave the Executive with a final thought. One of the welcome suggestions that the Executive made was to move more budgets to head teachers' control. We welcome the move to 90 per cent funding; however, one teacher said to me, "I would be happy if I got the 80 per cent that I am meant to get." I note the Executive's progress and what it is working on and I welcome it. If we believe that education is the key to the world, as Dennis Canavan said, let us open the door to the liberation and achievement of all our young people. Let us return to education and have the philosophical debate, rather than a debate just on work in progress.

I move amendment S2M-806.1, to leave out from "supports" to end and insert:

"notes the Scottish Executive's additional financial support and reform programme for school education; welcomes its belated adoption of longstanding SNP policies on the principle of class size reduction, tackling the bureaucratic problems associated with national tests and the damaging impact of the national publication of school league tables; looks forward to the Parliament's involvement in the review and reform of the curriculum, in the opportunities available around the transition period of pupils into primary, secondary and post-14 education and in additional support for learning, and calls on the Executive to ensure that resources, in particular sufficient properly trained and qualified teachers, are in place to meet these demands."

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Before I call the next speaker I advise those who expect to take part in the open debate that I will be operating a time allocation of five minutes in order to balance the debate and include everyone.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 3:31, 22 January 2004

As I said this morning in the debate on education, we all have an interest in the pursuit of excellence and only a rash person would claim that everything within Scotland's education system is perfect. I welcome the minister's comments that if he has the opportunity he would like to go to New Zealand, because we see New Zealand as a centre of educational excellence. We wish him every good fortune if that opportunity comes his way.

In Scotland we know that since 1999 violence against members of school staff has risen, that the number of permanent exclusions has increased and that truancy levels have increased, and that is not all. The Executive has not reached its targets in its manifesto pledge of 1999 on levels of attainment in reading, writing and mathematics in primary schools. Furthermore, the number of secondary school pupils leaving school with a single higher has not increased.

We acknowledge that the Executive is seeking to be proactive, but we propose a more radical approach. First, in relation to the schools passport policy, which we have proposed, we believe that there is a substantial gulf between the best and least well performing schools. It is of course children in deprived communities who are sometimes trapped in less well performing schools. We believe that we should have a system that has parental choice at its core. We are aware that under the present system choice exists only for the extremely few parents who can afford it or who are prepared to pay twice. Only 4 per cent go to fee-paying schools and of the remaining 96 per cent, not all that many can afford higher mortgages to purchase houses within the catchment areas of some of the best performing schools.

Our contention is that the system at present does not give sufficient opportunity to the least well off. We would like to see a better schools passport policy so that funds from the taxpayer would follow children to the school of their parents' choice. That in turn would allow popular schools to expand and new schools to be created.

I notice that the Prime Minister asked why good schools should not expand, take over failing schools or form federations. However, in the past the minister has shown a lack of enthusiasm for the Prime Minister's words in that regard. I mentioned that, because the minister spoke as though there was a vast gulf between our policy and his. There is certainly not a vast gulf between what the Prime Minister said and our policy in this area.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I would be interested to hear what Lord James Douglas-Hamilton's proposals are for dealing with failing schools, which would be denuded of pupils under the arrangements.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

We believe that more decisions should be made locally by the parents and the school boards concerned. There might be measures that the parents and head teachers want to put in place to improve failing schools and raise their standards. If there is greater local choice and opportunity and improvement in standards, that will have a beneficial effect throughout the system. If something is wrong with a school, something should be done about it; that is not something to be swept under the carpet or avoided. The principle that we adopt is that opportunity and choice should be widened greatly and increased on a continuing basis. We are convinced that head teachers and school boards should be awarded greater control over spending and a greater degree of freedom to determine staffing, the nature of the curriculum and a school's policies on discipline and uniforms.

It follows from that that we think that there should be a full-scale review of the McCrone agreement. We need to know whether that deal has led to the successful implementation of significant reforms or whether it has increased inflexibility. The feedback that I have received is that the reaction has been mainly positive, but that we need to consider such issues as whether the number of days that are lost by teachers through stress has been satisfactorily addressed.

We are to have a debate on stage 1 of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Bill next week. I would like to raise a matter with the minister which I would be grateful if he would address next week, if he is able to do so. My question—which I have lodged as a written question—is to ask the Executive whether it has established how many of those who currently have a record of needs will not qualify for a co-ordinated support plan under the proposals; whether it intends to proceed with the bill before the number of people who are so affected is known; and whether implementation of the bill will be delayed until that number has been established. I hope that, before the debate takes place, he will be able to give us his best estimate of that figure. It is essential that there should be proper provision of services and that those concerned should not feel that their rights are being diminished.

This morning, neither minister was able to attend the debate on education. Education is for life and does not stop at schools. I repeat the request that I made in this morning's debate that, in view of the First Minister's words to the effect that Scotland must retain its competitive edge and that universities must continue to provide the best possible education, the ministers monitor the impact of what happens and use their best offices to keep the subject closely under review. It is extremely difficult to predict exactly what is going to happen, although the Conservative party believes that there will be a substantial impact. The pursuit of excellence remains our aim and we will leave no stone unturned in order to achieve it.

I move amendment S2M-806.2, to leave out from first "and" to end and insert:

"for school education, but believes that the Scottish Executive's reform programme for school education is insufficient to deal with the inherent problems thrown up by Scotland's comprehensive system and that the Scottish educational system needs radical reform, and would therefore support any visit by the Minister for Education and Young People to New Zealand in order that he can be inspired by New Zealand's devolved and diverse system, where, for the last 16 years under Labour and Conservative governments, schools have been managed by local school boards and parents have chosen the schools that their children attend, similar to the schools passport policy advocated by Scottish Conservatives."

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 3:37, 22 January 2004

I commend my colleagues from different parties for the tone and content of their opening speeches. I may not agree with the points that were made by Fiona Hyslop and Lord James Douglas-Hamilton but they put forward a reasonable appreciation of their approach to the subject, which has enlivened the debate.

The education of our young people is central to the building of a Scotland in which people can fulfil their potential, lead satisfying lives and keep our country to the fore in innovation and enterprise. The minister touched on the fact that the legacy of the Tory years was one of decay, demoralisation and under-achievement, with a lack of direction and investment in both buildings and staff. A lack of ambition and vision characterised the education system during those years. Turning that around has been a central concern of the Scottish Executive and the Liberal Democrats, who have contributed much in this area of policy to the work and programme of the Executive.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

The member started off by saying that it was interesting to hear the different views that were expressed with sincerity and that, although he might not agree with all those views, there was something to be taken from them. He is now completely distorting the history of education in the Tory years. Is it not a fact that spending in education increased against the rate of inflation and the rate of salary inflation, so that more money was invested in education in the Tory years than was invested in previous years?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Mr Monteith would be well advised to ask parents for their views on the education system in 1997 and on why it was necessary to have the McCrone review in the first place, which has done so much to turn the position round.

The objective of providing a nursery place for every three to five-year-old whose parents want it was a landmark reform. Although the McCrone settlement is not without its faults, it has, nevertheless, changed the climate in teaching and set a basis for further progress. The biggest school building and renovation programme ever is well on course, and it is already delivering results in schools throughout the country. St Mungo's Academy, in Glasgow, which I and other members visited during its mock-election period before the election last May, was far more successful in enthusing children about public affairs than anything that the political parties in Scotland have done.

Teacher numbers are rising, and applications for teacher training are reaching record levels. During visits to schools, I have met some of the new entrants to teaching and I have been enormously impressed by the quality of some of the people who are entering teaching nowadays.

National testing, which places an extra burden on teachers and pupils, is being abolished, and we are reforming the arrangements for additional support for learning. On Wednesday, the Education Committee completed its stage 1 report on the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Bill. The Scottish Executive is entitled to high marks for its achievements and for the potential of its aspirations.

Science teaching is vital. If Scotland is anything, it is a country of scientists, engineers, medical pioneers and inventors. To say that the modern world has been shaped by that is no exaggeration. Why therefore do so few Scottish students—fewer than the number in England and Wales—hold basic qualifications in science subjects? Why do 65 per cent of Scots have no formal qualifications in a science subject? Why is the number of Scottish children who are attracted into science at school decreasing? Why is science often considered a difficult and dull subject in which to become involved? Against that background, how can modern Scotland match the achievements of its forebears?

I do not downgrade science achievements, but we have a long way to go. A challenge is developing. The minister will know of the Institute for Science Education in Scotland, which is a network of scientists who work with science teachers to support excellent science teaching. He will know of that institute's proposal for four regional hubs in universities and science centres to provide a focus for good practice and the basis of a dynamic network throughout Scotland. He will also know that England is developing that and similar ideas.

Will the minister agree urgently to meet the institute and similar bodies to discuss those issues and, if possible, to provide the necessary ministerial push to action? Some cross-cutting issues that concern the Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning Department and other departments are involved in ensuring that science is a major driver of the nation's future and that science teaching can stimulate minds and imaginations.

I await the Executive's review of the curriculum with interest, because Liberal Democrats have important objectives of creating more flexible arrangements for three to six-year-olds, changing the ethos of primary 1 and examining the needs of 14 to 16-year-olds, some of whom are not inspired by school, but many of whom respond to opportunities such as those to take courses in further education colleges or to develop vocational skills, as the minister said.

I urge ministers to take on board one overriding constraint—the extent of pressures on teachers and the overcrowded timetable. We must slash bureaucracy and red tape, which tend to strangle teachers and sometimes damage their ability to produce their best. We should examine every bit of paper and every requirement for a report. If a report is not required, if nobody reads it and if it does not advance teaching, we should get rid of it.

I like the minister's concept of reinvigorating our comprehensive system and I whole-heartedly endorse the motion. Many good developments are happening, but we must focus on one or two steps that we need to take to improve the education system and make it fit for the modern world so that Scotland can hold its head up high among the nations of the west—and the other nations throughout the world—with which we compete. I support the motion.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

We move to the open debate, in which members have a strict five-minute time allocation.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 3:43, 22 January 2004

I congratulate the Conservative party on having some policies. I hope that in the future, SNP members will tell us not only what they do not like about the Executive, but what they would do differently. I disagree with the Tories' proposals, but at least they are making proposals.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

Is that the situation because the SNP has no different policies from Labour but just believes in spending more money?

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

Mr Monteith may be right—I could not possibly comment.

Sometimes, it seems that the only news about the Scottish Parliament is bad news, so what most of us heard of the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Act 2000, from the second year of the Parliament's first session, was about problems with its financial memorandum, rather than the educational tenets in the act.

The act contained two important educational tenets, one of which was the presumption of mainstreaming, which led to the problems. The other was the definition of the purpose of education, which concerned the duty of authorities to direct education to develop each child or young person's abilities to the fullest potential. Those are firm foundations for the development of a comprehensive education system that is suitable for the 21st century. I support unashamedly a comprehensive system that is administered by directly elected local authorities.

The principles of the 2000 act inform the Executive's current policy of developing the five national priorities in education. It is important to recognise that achievement is not just about academic assessment or examination results, important though they are; it is about fulfilment, self-esteem, creativity and ambition. Self-confidence is important to each individual and it also relates to many of the Parliament's issues and concerns.

Young people who like themselves are less likely to be involved in crime, antisocial behaviour, taking drugs and under-age sex in a disrespectful relationship. Self-respect is important to society, because if we respect ourselves we probably respect others. Therefore, we need to engender a sense of citizenship. Successful individuals make successful communities and create a successful nation.

That is why the fourth national priority in education, which relates to values and citizenship and the concept of working with parents to develop what is called emotional intelligence, is very important in the central role of personal and social education in encouraging the development of positive attitudes and involvement in extra-curricular activities. Such activities encourage a sense of responsibility in young people and inspire them, for example, to get involved in youth councils and forums, to take part in work placements and to learn the habits that will help them in their working lives later on.

The development of personal attributes and a sense of self-worth can come about through things such as sporting and cultural activities. Outdoor education, which Robin Harper is keen on, plays an important part in that. I believe that the accreditation of personal and social development as a standard grade and the fact that awards are given to people in schools for PSE has helped to improve pupils' perception of an important part of the curriculum.

As the minister said, the Executive no longer reports only academic success. The focus has moved away from league tables of exam results. At the end of last year, local authorities produced the first of their annual reports on their progress towards the outcomes within the national priorities. The reports are produced at local authority level and at national level, and both make interesting reading.

I do not want to give the impression that under-achievement should be disregarded. As we know, there is still progress to be made, particularly from P7 to S2, and we need to bring the achievements of the lowest-achieving 20 per cent of pupils closer to those of their peers. There are particular issues around the performances of boys and looked-after children in the care system, who do not do as well as others. Improving achievement is also important in areas in which poverty and deprivation are prevalent. However, I say to Lord James Douglas-Hamilton that the answer is to improve achievement in the schools in such areas rather than to remove pupils from the schools and create what would be sink schools.

I echo Robert Brown's concerns about science education and the uptake of science in schools and further and higher education. We know that science is tremendously popular on television. People will watch endlessly programmes about black holes, string theory and so on. However, people are frightened about doing science as a subject. There is a job to done, and we must consider why science is no longer attractive to people. The subject cannot be that difficult—I did it. It is important for Scotland's future and for the knowledge economy in this country that we encourage more people to study science at school and in further and higher education.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party 3:48, 22 January 2004

As usual, the Executive's motion is very self-congratulatory. However, I want to concentrate initially on the result of the Education Department's evaluation of a particular set of higher still reforms, which were built on the original recommendations of the Howie committee. The summary report, which I think was published last month, evaluates those reforms.

I will quote objectively from the summary report—not in the spirit of trying to score party-political points, but in the hope that when the minister sums up he will tell us what he intends to do about the summary report's conclusions and findings and, indeed, when he will publish the full report. The report raises a disturbing number of issues and I intend to quote extensively from it.

On literacy, the summary report states:

"Comments received from employers, HE admissions staff, careers guidance staff and training providers suggested that literacy standards among school leavers were, in many cases, inadequate for either the world of work or Higher Education study."

Certainly, when the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee—of which I was convener—conducted an inquiry into lifelong learning, the literacy levels of school leavers came up as an issue in the evidence that we received.

Only last week, it was confirmed to me that the University of Strathclyde sometimes has to run remedial classes in literacy for students who are coming to study at its modern languages department. That is a wholly unacceptable position for a modern country to be in. I suggest that the issue requires the minister's urgent attention and that he should consult not only the education authorities but the universities and colleges.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

Alex Neil will remember that I raised that issue when I was a member of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee. Although our committee received a limited amount of the evidence that Alex Neil has described, does he not agree that, objectively speaking, more pupils are now gaining more qualifications than ever before? There may be an issue about what those qualifications contain, but does he deny the fact that more pupils are gaining more qualifications than ever before?

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I accept that more people are getting qualifications, but if our universities—I think that the University of Strathclyde is not the only one—are having to run remedial courses for intake students, we have a serious problem that must be addressed. The problem might be to do with the qualifications or the teaching or the assessment, but, whatever the reason, as a modern country that wants to be smart and successful we need to address the situation, which is unacceptable.

The summary report has concerns about the implementation of the higher still reforms and the impact of continuous assessment. In the department's own study, quite a number of people made this assessment:

"The new qualifications are too complicated, (and rely on) too much use of continuous assessment. Students require time to absorb information so that it is retained for later studies."

There was also major concern about composite classes, because there was a clear perception that such classes compromise standards. Indeed, the improvements in standards that were expected from the reforms have not been realised. The complexity of the assessment system was another issue. Overall, Howie's aim of easy-to-understand and easy-to-use assessment procedures has clearly not been met according to those who are at the front end.

Minister, read the report. Publish the full report. Do not put it on the shelf. The minister must not congratulate himself until the job is done. It is clear from the summary report that, as far as the higher still reforms are concerned, there is still a big job to do.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 3:53, 22 January 2004

Participating in education debates is always a pleasure. I always enjoy hearing the Minister for Education and Young People, Mr Peacock, not least because he is probably the most brazenly partisan member of the Executive in the way that he misrepresents the record of the previous Conservative Government and seeks to represent the position of his own Administration. I imagine that he spends the morning before such debates polishing his brass neck, so that he can come down to the chamber and show it off.

Let us examine the Executive's record. Money has indeed been spent on education. Spending is up but, despite that, attainment levels remain well below Labour's manifesto pledges. In 1999, Labour pledged that 80 per cent of children would reach the appropriate standard in reading, writing and arithmetic upon leaving primary school. The latest figures show that the percentage of P7 pupils attaining level D or more was just 68.6 per cent in maths, 72.4 per cent in reading and only 60 per cent in writing. There is clearly a long way to go.

On discipline and behaviour in schools, what do we see? Permanent exclusions are up, as are temporary exclusions and truancy. Most damning of all, violence against school staff is up sevenfold compared with 1997. There is now an attack on a teacher roughly every 15 minutes during the school day. That is quite unacceptable.

I see that the minister is making a rapid exit from the chamber—that is unsurprising, but I think that he needs to reflect on the Executive's record the next time he attacks ours.

The most concerning thing about the Executive's approach is its lack of ambition for the Scottish education system and its failure to consider some of the wider issues. We have heard from the minister that we should not have a two-tier system, but that is what we already have. As Lord James Douglas-Hamilton said, some people can afford to buy their way out of the state system and choose to do so. Further, many other people whose children are in the state system have incomes that allow them to obtain large mortgages and buy houses in the catchment area of our good schools such as Jordanhill in Glasgow or James Gillespie's in Edinburgh. I do not want to start naming names, but I am sure that we are all aware of members of the Labour Party who have bought houses in the catchment areas of good, successful schools while denying access to such high-quality education to people who are less well off than themselves.

What needs to be done? The Executive could start by examining what has been done in other countries. In England, which has a Labour Government and a Prime Minister who says that he is committed to comprehensive education, there is much more diversity in the state system. City technology colleges have been established and there has been a huge expansion in the number of schools specialising in music, sport and science, which offer variety and diversity in education. Those initiatives are driving attainment levels upwards. In Scotland, however, we have seven specialist schools and the Executive seems to have no plans to create any more. Why does not the Executive look south of the border? What is working there will probably work here as well.

Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands—like Scotland, small European countries with a history and tradition of egalitarianism—have no problem with the idea of parents setting up their own schools or of funding education by means of a voucher system similar to the passport that we are proposing. In those countries, groups of parents are allowed to come together and, if there are enough of them, draw support from the state for a school that, rather than opting out of the system, will opt into the system. If that works in those other small countries, why would it not work here?

More or less, that is what we are proposing with our schools passport. We want to give real choice to parents—not just to the favoured few who are fortunate enough to be able to afford independent education or to afford nice houses in the catchment areas of good schools, but to all parents, especially those whom the system has trapped in the catchment areas of our not-so-successful schools.

Like Alex Neil, I condemn the self-congratulatory tone of the Executive's motion. There is a lot that we can learn from England, northern European countries and elsewhere. Above all, we need to move away from the idea that a one-size-fits-all approach is best and that uniformity is to be strived for. Let us have a more diverse system with choice for parents and opportunity for all. That way, we will drive up standards and deliver a truly excellent system.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour 3:59, 22 January 2004

Like others, I congratulate the Scottish Executive on calling a debate on a subject that is close to the hearts of many of the people who elected us. In the spirit of the opening speeches and, perhaps, Murdo Fraser's speech, I will start by drawing one or two ideological lines in the sand.

The big change in Scottish education has been a move away from the structures debate that dominated the 1980s and 1990s, when the discussion centred on school boards, opting out, budgets, selection, assisted places, various exams and schools passports. Some ideas that were raised were good; some were bad. Lots of them, however, were simply irrelevant.

What parents care about is what is happening in their child's classroom and that is where we have seen much progress in the past seven years. First, the teacher in that classroom is now well paid, better motivated and better recognised, and class sizes are smaller. In part, classes are smaller as a result of falling populations, but more teachers have also been hired. A child starts off in a better position in primary 1 because they have had the opportunity to benefit from nursery education. The classroom itself is often part of a new school or is about to be part of a new school. There is likely to be a classroom assistant in the playground at lunch time. I am thinking of what is in the press today, but in most cases, the work of the anti-bullying network means that there is much less bullying. There are more after-school clubs and we are about to introduce summer camps. We are starting to make it easier for children who are making the transition from primary school to secondary school, and when they move to secondary school, the curriculum is becoming more relevant at the top of the school.

We can be proud of such developments, which are ways in which the focus has shifted from structures to the classroom experience. Obviously, more is being done, but so far, so good.

If the focus has been on the classroom experience, what do we have to do next? Lest any member accuse me of complacency—which is a charge that members will appreciate I am not fond of—I offer the minister a couple of suggestions about where we need to go if we are to keep moving at the same pace that we have set. For all the Tories' protestations, they want to fix things for a few parents to set up their own schools, or for a few pupils, but we should address altogether bigger challenges for the whole school, the whole system and all children.

There are three challenges. First, we must focus not on what is taught, but on how things are taught. We know that the best schools are those in which there is personalised learning for every pupil. If every pupil is to have personalised learning, we need a coherent approach to whole-school improvement in which the emphasis is put on the school to start self-evaluating its performance. We will think about the role of inspectors, but hard-edged self-evaluation by schools is the key to focusing not simply on what is taught, but on how things are taught.

The second challenge is to strip out clutter and duplication if we are to release local initiative and energy. I am talking not just about a few schools, but about all schools. There are responsibilities for us in respect of reducing central direction from Government and providing clarity about the future responsibilities of local government—how its value added is real and how its responsibilities are relevant. Views from ministers over the next year on such matters would be helpful.

The third challenge is perhaps the most controversial—I refer to the productivity challenge in schools. I will explain what I mean.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

You have one minute left.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

One minute is perfect.

Many people think that productivity is a pretty dirty word in education circles, that it is a concept for the commercial world and that public services are concerned with ambitions that are so complex and diverse that they cannot be reduced to productivity issues. They might argue that what matters is quality and service. However, such a line of argument is unconvincing and a touch complacent. Unless we are willing to discuss, define and deliver educational productivity, we will not be able to demonstrate that new investment in education is succeeding in transforming life chances rather than just making a marginal difference.

I do not have time to address all the ways in which productivity in education can be addressed, but we must recognise the central role of new investment. The SNP is simply frightened of such a debate, as the issues are too difficult. The Tories are unprepared to engage in the debate, as it must be recognised that additional investment makes the difference. However, the coalition parties are up for the debate. There should be an honest debate about how we use increasing resources to maximum effect. Such a debate holds the key to excellence and equity in our education system and I commend it to ministers.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 4:04, 22 January 2004

In the light of remarks that were made earlier, I want to make it clear that I am a strong supporter of joint campuses for Catholic and non-denominational schools. I have said that frequently, and I said so in the article that has been complained of. I regret that what I said caused offence—I did not intend to cause offence.

The Executive has a good partnership programme and it has achieved a certain amount to date. I do not tend towards the complacent approach and, as a teacher, I tended to take the could-do-better approach. The Executive deserves credit, and changing the policy on national tests is a great example of good progress.

I am sure that the ministers already listen to and work with teachers and pupils, but they could do more. Robert Brown dealt well with over-regulation, which is a big issue and one of the main issues that teachers raise. I hope that ministers will pursue that point.

Another major issue is disruptive pupils. In public life, the pendulum swings too far one way or the other. In recent history, the pendulum has swung too far in favour of paying a lot of attention to the disruptive pupil, trying to keep him in school and forgetting to focus on the many pupils whose education suffers because the disruptive pupil is kept in class. Disruptive pupils should not be thrown into utter darkness; there must be good facilities for them. However, the facilities must be such that the ordinary members of the class can progress. The parable of the lost sheep is the worst parable. In the real world, if the shepherd pays all his attention to the lost sheep, the other 99 will scarper, be eaten by wolves, or fall over cliffs. We have to balance looking after the interests of the majority with providing really good support for the difficult minority.

We must listen to young people, because they have a lot to offer about what should happen in the school and, to a greater extent, what should happen outside the school. As one of the people who called frequently for more investment in facilities for young people, I believe that it is essential that we ask young people what they want. There is no point in producing some sort of Dome-type thing that nobody will use. I hope that we will listen to and learn from young people. They sometimes have interesting observations. I spoke to a group of bright pupils at a good school. One of them thunderstruck the teachers by asking, "How do we get rid of bad teachers?" However, that is another issue.

I hope that the ministers will recognise that a lot of good education takes place outwith schools in youth organisations, churches and sports clubs and that we should supplement what happens in schools. Young people are not turned on by school, but they are turned on by some activities outside it.

The partnership makes good remarks about craft training and letting pupils out of school for a bit at 14 so that they can learn in colleges. I hope that the ministers liaise effectively with those who run the colleges and organise the employment side, because it would help greatly if both sides contributed.

I am open to correction, but I do not think that the words "school" or "education" figure in the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Bill. A lot of good things, such as anti-bullying policies, are in place in schools. I hope that the ministers will play a team game with other ministers who deal with antisocial behaviour. Many of the problems either start in school or are manifested there, so schools play an important role.

We should try to accept going at a slightly slower pace. In certain years, our education system is too crowded. Some continental countries take education more slowly to start with, but they get there in the end.

We should put as much effort as we can into promoting music teachers and other specialist teachers, especially in primary school, but at other levels as well. As others have said, we should continue really good musical and other specialist instruction throughout the age range.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 4:09, 22 January 2004

I have no problem with the Executive's motion, in that the Executive is seeking to improve what Scotland's schools already do well and what many of them, in fact, do superbly. However, like Fiona Hyslop, I wonder when we are going to have the real debate on the purpose of education and on whether the current system is fit for purpose. Only when we have that debate can we begin to discuss what the shape of Scottish education should be. At the moment, we are just blindly improving things that we are already doing. I know that we are doing those things extremely well, but other questions need to be asked.

For example, the common education policy might highlight the need to develop at least seven intelligences: the numerical; the linguistic—which we always test; the kinaesthetic; the social; the physical; the musical and artistic; and the emotional. I was delighted by the flash of philosophical inspiration from the Labour benches when Elaine Murray mentioned fulfilment, self-esteem and creativity, because they represent what Scottish education should be about.

We need to examine the first and second-year core curriculum, which is incredibly crowded with subjects such as modern studies, history, geography, science, physics, chemistry, and biology. Why do we teach all those subjects in the first and second years and then repeatedly judge people on nothing but their numerical and linguistic skills?

I want to highlight a new development that the Executive has missed out on. Peter Peacock will not be surprised to learn that I am going to talk about outdoor education and sustainability in education. The Executive knows about the work of the Scottish universities network for sustainability, the Scottish secondary schools sustainability project—not the SSP, but the SSSSP—and the progress that has been made by Grounds for Learning and by enterprise and entrepreneurship teaching in some schools. Those subjects are not yet fundamentally part of the curriculum.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

The member had little complaint with the Executive's overall approach. Does he not agree that, as far as the curriculum is concerned, the Executive could do more to bring Rudolf Steiner schools into the state system? A voucher or passport scheme would help to achieve that.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

I am not sure whether such a scheme is the way forward, but I am prepared to agree with the member about the excellent work that is done by the Rudolf Steiner schools. I have great respect for them.

On the subject of missed opportunities, I must mention Education 21 Scotland. Mr Peacock knows about that forum, but I want the chamber to know about it as well. We must ensure that sustainable education is embedded in the whole curriculum—for goodness' sake, let us not make it another subject to be examined. Education 21 Scotland wants sustainable development education to be

"an essential component of education at every level" and calls on the Executive to

"promote and encourage Education for Citizenship".

However, I would rather see that happen through modern studies. Why is modern studies not taught in every secondary school in Scotland?

The forum also wants the Executive to

"encourage the Scottish Qualifications Agency to assess all course frameworks against sustainable development criteria as they come up for revision and validation".

I am not calling for across-the-board change, because there have been enough educational reforms. Instead, I ask that we take this process gradually so that in four, five or six years we might have a different type of education in Scotland. As Education 21 Scotland points out, we must also

"Use the opportunity provided by the review of Initial Teacher Education to put SDE at the heart of our" teachers'

"education, giving them the support they need to address sustainable development successfully in our schools".

Finally—I have spoken to the minister about this—I urge the Executive to recognise the enormous contribution that outdoor education used to make, and can make in the future, to developing the very things that Elaine Murray talked about—self-esteem, fulfilment, creativity, self-confidence and risk taking.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party 4:15, 22 January 2004

There is not much that I can disagree with in the Executive's motion. I certainly support the

"additional financial support and reform programme for school education".

I would like to see a

"focus on the needs of the individual child within a reinvigorated comprehensive system", because I am certainly a firm supporter of the comprehensive system. Similarly, I would certainly agree that we should deliver

"excellence in Scotland's schools through reduction in class sizes in P1 and in S1 and S2 for maths and English".

There is nothing with which I can disagree in those words.

Like many other members, I agree that it is important that the curriculum should encompass a wide range of learning—including, for example, languages, foreign languages, maths, expressive arts and physical education. I put in a particular plea for music tuition, which Fiona Hyslop, Donald Gorrie and others have mentioned. The idea that we can give pupils one year of music tuition free and then take it away seems rather bizarre. I hope that music tuition is accorded the importance and the position that it deserves in our schools.

For all the Executive's good intentions, some serious questions have to be asked. What steps does the Executive intend to take to reach the figure of 3,000 additional teachers who will be required to achieve its goals? It is not clear how that figure will be achieved. A bachelor of education degree takes four years to complete, so can we take it that the vast majority of the new recruits will be coming from the one-year postgraduate certificate of education courses?

Does the Executive intend to introduce primary teachers into secondary schools without those teachers having the necessary qualifications, as many people fear? If not, how can the Executive justify its claim that the needs of pupils are central to the new curriculum? The General Teaching Council for Scotland has said:

"A different element of training is required when it comes to being a secondary teacher—in behaviour management, curriculum and course content. The gulf is quite big there."

As Fiona Hyslop pointed out, David Eaglesham, who is the general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said:

"This proposal has nothing to do with education, it has to do with teacher shortages. This is a backdoor way of resourcing secondaries."

There are many fears—not just on the SNP and other benches, but in the teaching professions and unions—about the Executive's possible proposals. I say "possible" and that is the problem. There is a lack of clarity on how we will get 3,000 extra teachers. Will they come from primary schools or via some other method? The ministers may shake their heads, but people do not understand where those teachers will come from. There does not seem to be a plan in place.

I am not alone in my concern that so-called flexibility is just another way of cutting corners and being seen to keep to a pledge that, although correct in its intentions, was clearly not thought through.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Does the member accept that, in principle, there is good reason to have much more flexibility in the transition from primary to secondary? That is what is behind the Executive's proposals as it tries to make the transition work better for children.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

I certainly accept that. I do not disagree with anything that the member said. However, there is a difference between flexibility in the transfer of children from primary schools to secondary schools and flexibility in the transfer of primary school teachers to secondary schools. The two ideas are different in kind. The promise to increase teacher numbers by 3,000 may have been a promise made in haste in the heat of the election. If not, the Executive must explain how it intends to keep to that pledge.

There is no argument about the need to tackle the problems in S1 and S2 in English and maths. Reducing class sizes in those areas will certainly be very helpful. However, recent figures show the problems only too clearly. For maths attainment levels, the figure for those failing to reach primary 3 level at S2 jumped by 57 per cent. For writing, the figure jumped by 41 per cent and, for reading, it jumped by 36 per cent. That is clearly very worrying.

The Executive seems to be concentrating on S1 and S2, but that rather misses the point. If we concentrate on S1 and S2 to try to deal with the problem, the problem will still be there next year and the year after. It is necessary to concentrate the efforts on the early stages of primary education, because that is where the core problem is. All international research shows that, if children are taught to read, write and count in primaries 1, 2 and 3, there are long-term gains and benefits. That is why the SNP manifesto at the last election promised to ensure that that happened. The international research shows that that is where the gains are; the best thing to do is to have a maximum class size of 18 at that stage of primary school.

Falling school rolls should be seen not as a problem, but as an opportunity, because they should lead to our being able to use the extra room created in our schools to reduce class sizes; they should not be used as an excuse for local councils to close schools and to sell off the land for profit.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour 4:20, 22 January 2004

I am sure that we are all regularly asked what we have achieved in the Scottish Parliament. "What have you ever done for us?" is a frequent question, although it is usually not put in such polite terms; colourful language and pejorative epithets are used—and that is just in The Daily Telegraph . I invariably reply by pointing first to education—to the new schools, the new teachers, the new computers, the new nurseries, the eco-schools initiative, the driving up of standards and the initiatives to tackle bullying. The list of initiatives and investments aimed at giving our young people the best start in life is comprehensive; we have also sought to lay the foundations for a healthy society and a prosperous economy. Whether we are talking about bricks and mortar, class sizes or exam results, we can see the difference that a Labour and Liberal Executive is making in our schools.

I will not pretend that everything in the garden is rosy—indeed, I will go on to deal with some areas in which we need to improve—but I believe that we have reflected and tried to build on the trust in, and expectation of, our state school system that most Scots have. We have done that as part of a bigger picture of reform in the public services. It is no longer appropriate—if it ever was—to throw money at public services in the hope that resources alone will deliver better services. That lesson, which the nationalists have still to learn, underpins our reforms in the classroom, as much as those in our hospitals or in tackling crime.

I admit that it can sometimes feel uncomfortable to use the language of the consumer when talking about schools or public sector reform. The purchaser-provider split and other market-oriented terms can sit uneasily alongside the values of the public service. We are talking not about imposing the values of materialism or even commercialism in our classrooms, but about developing individuals' ability to exercise some control over the services that they use and choose.

Most people no longer just accept the service that they are given, whether it be public or private—nor should they. The good old British stiff upper lip and our ability to wait patiently in queues are admirable qualities, but they do not mean that we should be doormats or accept second-rate or inferior services. When it comes to a child's education, we know that greater parental involvement produces better results. That is why, through greater democratic accountability, devolved decision making and the development of teacher-pupil-parent links, we are opening up our schools to the wider community with—in some cases—phenomenal results.

I will cite a statistic that I have mentioned before, but it is worth repeating. In East Renfrewshire, since Labour came to power in 1997, the proportion of families opting out of the state system for private schools has fallen from 10 per cent to less than 3 per cent. People in my constituency are voting with their feet; they can see the new buildings—the new games halls, the science labs and the computer suites—going up. They have confidence in comprehensive schools because they know that our Government is committed to making them work.

I will talk about two areas in which good work is going on but more needs to be done. The first is additional support for learning, on which, as colleagues will know, the Executive is committed to a major programme of investment and reform. Although I do not want to pre-empt next week's debate, I want to highlight an example of good practice that shows what can be done.

The dyslexia-friendly school awards are being piloted with great success in East Renfrewshire and other local authority areas. The Executive is funding Dyslexia Scotwest to co-ordinate a parent-led initiative to raise awareness of the condition and to share good practice among teachers, pupils and parents.

Dyslexia is often described as an invisible condition, in that it is difficult to identify or diagnose in pupils, but it is a formidable barrier to learning for those people—up to one in 10 of us— who may be on the spectrum. Years of frustration, of battles between families and schools, of pupils' low self-esteem and, sometimes, of difficult behaviour by pupils can be tackled by early identification coupled with an awareness of intervention strategies.

That is what the dyslexia-friendly school awards are achieving. As one local parent put it, "If only my 19-year-old had benefited as my nine-year-old is currently benefiting, her school life, and perhaps her whole life, would have been transformed." I have written to the minister inviting him to visit East Renfrewshire. I also urge him to look at the success of the programme and to consider funding Dyslexia Scotwest to roll it out across the whole of Scotland.

The second area that I will mention is enterprise in schools. All of us who share the Executive's desire to create a smart, successful Scotland will welcome the huge investment in our young people's talent and creativity, which will drive the future Scottish economy. It is sadly the case that our current school system discourages entrepreneurship rather than developing it. I am delighted that the policy of encouraging enterprise is also being piloted in East Renfrewshire and I ask the minister to monitor the pilot's implementation and outcomes closely. In particular, as part of the review of the curriculum, I ask him to examine the impact of that initiative, to ensure that young people and staff have the room to develop the spirit of creativity that is so essential if we are to make the programme a success. I commend the motion.

Photo of Ms Rosemary Byrne Ms Rosemary Byrne SSP 4:26, 22 January 2004

I welcome the opportunity to have this debate. I acknowledge that many of the reforms are welcome, including the replacement of the five-to-14 national tests, improved communication with parents, moving towards a more flexible curriculum in some areas and the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Bill. Today, however, I will dwell mainly on class sizes.

Members will not be surprised by my emphasis on smaller class sizes, as it is an issue that I continually try to promote. We welcome the reduction in class sizes at the early stages and in S1 and S2 for English and maths, but the present limit of 33 for other classes, excluding practical classes, was set in the 1970s. It is no longer compatible with teaching methods and we believe that a limit of 20 per class should be introduced.

Before I came into Parliament, I had been teaching for 27 years, which means that I came into teaching just when class sizes were set at 33. Many members will remember the classes of 40- plus that many of us were taught in before that. The system was very different 30 years ago, when we began to take a child-centred approach and reduced our class sizes to 33.

Today's modern education system requires a radical look at class sizes across the board. We must encourage our young people, especially those who are disillusioned, who are railing against authority, who are being excluded or who are causing horrendous problems for their families and parents because of truancy, school refusing, mental health issues, bullying, an inability to keep up with their peers and low self-esteem. I was pleased that the issue of low self-esteem was raised today. I would like us to do some research on that and to look at some of the good research that has been done on emotional intelligence, which is key. I think that I recall Peter Peacock mentioning that in a debate several months ago. I would like us to take that on board.

Fiona Hyslop is absolutely right to say that we should be having a philosophical debate on education and on where we are heading. Robin Harper is also right to say that we need to be much more radical and to move on.

I would like to describe to members where Scotland is with its class sizes. In the international league table for class sizes, Scotland lags behind Poland, Portugal and Spain, which are among the countries with smaller class sizes. By international standards, we are not doing terribly well. Finland was the top-ranking country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report on schools last year. Finnish children start pre-school at six and begin formal education a year later. In Finland, free school meals are supplied to all children aged between seven and 18. That is seen as being part of teaching manners, having the same type of food for everyone and promoting healthy living and equality. There is no selection according to ability at any stage of schooling and there are no formal exams or national testing, although teachers carry out internal assessments and tests. For six-year-olds in Finland, the maximum class size is 20 and the average class size is 12.5. There is also greater autonomy for teachers in how they plan their lessons.

Photo of Ms Rosemary Byrne Ms Rosemary Byrne SSP

I would have loved to have been able to speak on and on in the debate. I have so much to say.

I will finish by painting a picture of the present reality for many of the teachers who are at the chalkface in front of the children in our classrooms. Although we welcome the inclusion and integration of young people with special educational needs into our schools, teachers now face a situation in which, in addition to looking after an overcrowded class of 30, they might have to manage one or two classroom assistants and perhaps several children with severe needs as well as the curriculum. In my book, that is another argument for reducing class sizes. The support staff who are put into those situations are always welcome, but putting them into classrooms does not solve all the problems.

The other scenario that I will mention involves those young people who have gone off the rails. Young people with social and emotional behavioural difficulties are in classes of 30 and are being dealt with by a teacher who is trying to work to a curriculum. I am sorry that I have no more time. I would love to have a philosophical debate with any of the members in the chamber at any time.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour 4:31, 22 January 2004

Like other members who have spoken, I welcome the debate. Education is one of the most important priorities for the Parliament and the Executive; it is one of the most important policy areas that we discuss in the Parliament. Our young people are our future and we must create schools that equip them with the skills and knowledge that will allow them to flourish in the society and economy that we have today. The debate on education also ties in with our economic strategy to create a smart, successful Scotland and a culture of lifelong learning in Scotland.

The Parliament should be proud of the achievements of the past few years: pre-school provision for three and four-year-olds; action on bullying; a new bill to support pupils with additional support needs; the development of citizenship among our pupils; record spending on education; and the biggest school building programme in history. Also important is the fact that the record includes a continuing trend in improvements in literacy and numeracy levels.

I will talk briefly about the curriculum for 14-year-olds, which will be important in the review of the wider curriculum. I have major concerns about the suggestion that some 14-year-olds should attend colleges. There is a danger that schools could shirk their responsibilities for those pupils. It is absolutely vital that we do not turn back the clock. We have to be keep focused on how to create vocational choice without shutting down the educational opportunities for 14-year-olds.

I have a practical example of why I have particular concerns about the issue. Although a high proportion of our young people in Scotland go into higher education, which I welcome, we still have major issues to address. Recent figures on post-school destinations show that my constituency of Midlothian has the second lowest percentage of young people who enter university of all the Scottish local authorities.

I would welcome the minister's comments on the point that I have raised. Indeed, I would welcome a meeting with him, as an important wider issue is involved. When the reform of the curriculum for 14-year-olds is considered, I ask the minister not to pull up the drawbridge after all the middle-class youngsters have been able to go to university.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Rhona Brankin makes an important point. Perhaps she should distinguish between vocational education in the sense of training for a vocation and the more creative use of vocational choice in the curriculum that allows schools to reach those pupils who have difficulties with the traditional subjects. I hope that she spots that important distinction.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

It is vital that we address the needs of 14-year-olds, but we must ensure that they stay within the system. I have major concerns that, if they go out into further education colleges, they will be lost to the school system. We have to think about that carefully.

I analysed the Scottish figures on the destinations of school leavers. The majority of local authorities with low numbers of youngsters going to university are former coalfield areas, such as my constituency of Midlothian. I would welcome a discussion with the minister, because that is a major issue for us.

As I am winding up, I will comment on some of the speeches that have been made. Rosemary Byrne has only recently entered the Parliament, so there is some excuse for her, but Fiona Hyslop and Robin Harper also called for a debate on education philosophy. What on earth did they think the national debate on education was all about? Now is the time to have some policies.

The SNP signally failed to talk about its policies and from the Conservatives we heard only about their tired, old, recycled policies of voucher systems for education—absolutely nothing new. Will the Tories please come clean: will they do away with catchment areas? How will they ensure that people have the right to send their children to the local school? Moreover, will they say—as they have signally failed to do—what will happen when children have additional support needs? I have asked Brian Monteith that question before and I will be interested to see whether he answers it today. Will there be two or three passports? What will happen? Different schools have different needs and different levels of expenses. I am afraid that the Conservatives' proposals are in cloud-cuckoo-land.

I agree about the importance of science education, which many colleagues mentioned. In my constituency of Midlothian, one of our ways of developing the local economy is by encouraging the important bioscience cluster. However, many of the youngsters in Midlothian leave school and go into low-skill, low-wage jobs. Science education is important in getting our youngsters into university so that they can create the ideas that can be commercialised and contribute to the economy, but we also need to raise science skills at technician level.

Alex Neil mentioned higher still. Higher still has been an important development. Alex Neil told the story about the University of Strathclyde, but that is a tired, old story. We need to look at the facts, which are that standards are improving year on year in Scottish schools.

I welcome the debate and the achievements and policy developments of the Executive, which are in stark contrast to those of the Opposition parties.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative 4:38, 22 January 2004

I am pleased to take part in this debate and, yet again, to be the bad cop to Lord James Douglas-Hamilton's good cop. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that I went to Porty high school—I am a comprehensive kid—and James went to Eton. I do not know what it is, but clearly I am the bad cop and that is the way in which I will continue to be portrayed.

No sooner had the minister stood up to speak in the debate but what did he do? He turned to the Tory benches. For the third time in three debates today, the Executive has recognised that the real opposition in the Parliament comes from the Conservatives. The first thing that he said was, "I'm sorry, but I may not be able to go to New Zealand," which we mention in our amendment. Our colleagues in New Zealand who informed us about their system are keen that the minister should go there. I am not particularly sure why he would go, but I am sure that there is much that he could learn. I am simply jealous that I am not going with him.

I will move on to more salient points. Peter Peacock is, in my estimation, the managerial politician par excellence. He is a safe pair of hands and a man who knows his details, even of "Monty Python". Moreover, he takes interventions, which not all ministers do. However, beyond the platitudinous aims that we can all aspire to and agree with—we want higher standards, better discipline and improved working conditions—there is not a great deal there and there is nothing new. The truth is that Peter Peacock is a managerial politician who talks about managerial changes and adjustments that most of us can agree to. For example, I am quite prepared to support the changes at S1 and S2. We did not propose that idea, but I am quite happy for the change to be made. My sons have gone through the comprehensive education system and they are now in S4. I am well aware of the difficulties and the weaknesses of secondary schools at S1 and particularly S2. I think that those levels need to be addressed and, if the minister can address them, I will welcome that and congratulate him on it.

Peter Peacock's speech was not the most disappointing speech—in fact, it was an entirely predictable speech. The disappointment came from the speeches of Robert Brown and Wendy Alexander. Robert Brown talked about reinvigorating comprehensive education. It certainly needs to be reinvigorated in Glasgow, where 74 per cent of pupils do not attain a single higher and more than half the pupils in S2 cannot read or write to the appropriate standard. Irrespective of party label and ideology, we must meet those challenges. They certainly suggest that the comprehensive system has not been doing its job.

The claim that nothing happened until year zero, when Labour came into office in partnership with the Liberal Democrats and everything somehow started to get better, is a complete travesty of history. Let me remind members that, during the Tory years, teachers' salaries went up against inflation, class sizes became smaller, the number of teachers per pupil increased, classroom assistants were introduced and the anti-bullying network was established—thank you, Michael Forsyth. The first national nursery provision was introduced by Conservatives, as were parental rights in the form of school boards and catchment areas. We have nothing to be ashamed of.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

In typical Tory form, we have a choice. I will take Cathy Peattie.

Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour

As a former member and chair of a local school board, I was surprised—or perhaps not surprised—to find that all the members of the board were on the board to prevent Michael Forsyth from having our school opt out. I suggest that parents throughout Scotland did the same.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

I am delighted that they had a say. Most members will remember that many people got together with their school boards to save their schools from the Labour councils that were seeking to close them.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

I recognise that, Presiding Officer. I am sure that members wish that I had more time, just to wind them up.

I disagree most with Miss Alexander—I use that phrase advisedly—when she says that politicians know the best way to teach. I am sorry, but for Tory members that is the line in the sand. We do not claim that we know the best way to teach. Every child is different and we do not want a comprehensive, one-size-fits-all system. We do not believe that politicians know best.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

Sorry, but I have only a minute left.

We require diversity and choice—that is why politicians should not dictate education. The best speeches came from Ken Macintosh, Rosemary Byrne and Alex Neil. I thought that they took on some of the real issues, such as capital spending. I wish that we had done more on that—we missed a trick, as I readily accept. We also need to debate the philosophy more and Alex Neil made an excellent contribution on standards.

I finish by saying that this has been a worthy debate. I always think that the debates in the chamber could go on a lot longer, to allow more Tory speeches. The true solution is more choice and more diversity, which will be delivered only through our proposals for passports.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party 4:44, 22 January 2004

I would suggest to Brian Monteith that that was not so much good cop, bad cop; it was more like Laurel and Hardy.

On the face of it, the Scottish Executive's reform programme for school education is probably among the least contentious of its proposals so far in this second parliamentary session, certainly when set against its proposals for tackling youth crime and for introducing proportional representation to local government. By and large, we in the SNP welcome its focus, not least because the Executive has picked up on the main thrust of our own policy priorities, which we advocated throughout the previous session.

There are areas of serious disagreement. Of course, we do not approve of the financially wasteful PPP method of funding the school building programme. The problems that have been encountered in East Lothian are symptomatic of the weaknesses of that form of financing and we remain convinced and concerned that PPP will not deliver the physical infrastructure that our pupils and teachers deserve. The major investment that the Executive is rightly making in early-years education is being undermined by its failure to act to bring nursery nurses in from the cold.

The debate has been wide-ranging, with some interesting contributions. However, I should point out to Rhona Brankin—before she harangues other members—that it was the minister himself who first called for a philosophical debate. The only person who really hit the nail on the head this afternoon was Rosemary Byrne. Let us be blunt: reducing class sizes is the single most effective measure that could be taken to improve school education. I quote the president of the Educational Institute of Scotland at last year's Trades Union Congress:

"smaller classes, for teachers, means lessons and activities better targeted towards the needs of each pupil; smaller classes, for parents, means that they can be confident that their child's teacher knows and understands their child's needs. And smaller classes for pupils means that they can receive more of their teachers' time to help them meet their needs. Modern teaching methods, new technology, new courses all point towards one thing: a crying need to reduce class sizes".

All the educational research that has been conducted, both here and throughout the world, backs up those commonsense views. We should be particularly concerned that the evidence shows that class sizes of 25 or more hinder the educational development of children—we know that class sizes of over 30 are the norm in the early years of secondary school.

The first signs of the implementation of the Executive's programme are not particularly encouraging. The financial support packages that have been put together to implement cuts in class sizes for P1, S1 and S2 suggest a programme that has been cobbled together at the 11th hour, rather than a carefully thought out, systematic approach to raising the quality of pupils' learning experiences.

It would appear that the Executive cannot provide the 3,000 additional teachers who are required by 2007 to reduce class sizes without bringing primary school teachers into secondary schools to teach classes there. Not enough teacher training places are available. We need to double the capacity for initial teacher training to achieve anything like the number of secondary school teachers that the Executive has announced is required.

Peter Peacock stated that his aim was to move from a producer view of how we organise services and a system that is built around providers to a user-led view of how services ought to be provided. The proposal to use primary teachers in a stop-gap way to teach maths and English in S1 and S2 flies in the face of that aim. The minister should be well aware that

"Parents would be outraged to discover that people were teaching subjects in which they had no proper expertise".

That is the view of the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

Given the background of falling school rolls for several years to come, we have a golden opportunity to effect a step change in reducing class sizes. I believe strongly that the whole Executive, not just the Minister for Education and Young People, should be judged on how well it meets that challenge. There is no more important issue facing this country and its Parliament than how to raise Scotland's educational standards.

As was pointed out in this morning's debate on higher education funding, Scotland's wealth was built on the competitive advantage that we gained from being first in the field with a universal education system. Our future prosperity is totally dependent on our aiming for and achieving educational excellence to equip us to deal successfully with the opportunities and threats posed by a globalised world economy.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat 4:50, 22 January 2004

This has been an interesting debate. My colleague Peter Peacock and I will take away from it members' comments in the spirit in which they were offered. Peter Peacock set out at the start our clear, consistent and far-reaching programme of action and change for Scotland's schools. I hoped that members would see that in the context of the national debate in the previous session to which Rhona Brankin referred, although I accept that some members are new and are perhaps not up to speed with the national debate and what came out of it.

As Peter Peacock said, we are not in a position to accept either the SNP or the Tory amendment. I am particularly upset by the Tory amendment; it was highly discriminatory of it not to include the Deputy Minister for Education and Young People in the invitation to go to New Zealand.

It is our goal for every school in Scotland to be excellent and we are committed passionately to that goal. Everything that we have done is focused on that goal and everything that we are doing and will do is also focused on it. At the centre is the child, as each child is unique and special. Our reforms will deliver an education system that is capable of providing an individual education in a universal system—a flexible system that allows choice for the pupil and involvement for their parents. In the light of demographic changes, we all know that we must make the most of every child's potential and talents.

Ken Macintosh was entirely right that not everything in the garden is rosy; there is much more to do and we are not in any way complacent. Our programme of investment in Scotland's schools—the largest such investment in Scotland's history—will deliver schools fit for our young people and our teachers.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

No, thank you.

That is not to say that the £2 billion over six years will solve every problem, but it will deliver a great deal of better provision for schools.

I turn to what Robert Brown said. Our reforms will consider the experience of children's early years in school. We said in the partnership agreement that we would consider how we could improve the transition between nursery and primary school and that we would introduce flexibility in the curriculum for three to six-year-olds. We want to improve confidence and attainment in early years. Evidence suggests that a less formal experience benefits learning. The curriculum review is considering all those issues and we have researched lessons that we can learn from other countries such as Canada, Finland and Norway. We are considering how existing good practice in Scotland is improving learning opportunities for children in their earliest years in schools. Of course, education reforms are part of a wider programme of reform and modernisation. If there is time, I will mention what we are doing to introduce world-class children's services at the same time.

I turn to some of the points that were made during the debate. On teacher numbers, we have already reached agreement with training institutions on increased intakes. The planning for falling numbers is factored into teacher work-force planning. Teachers will be trained and in place at the right times, taking into account the trend. We are on track for our 53,000 target. The funding is secured for 2004-05, when there will be £29 million extra, and for 2005-06, when there will be £49 million extra. Yes, the teacher number targets are ambitious. Yes, we recognise the fact that teachers will leave the profession. However, those issues have been factored into our planning and we are on track to deliver. I assure Stewart Maxwell that there will be no diminution in standards. The GTC will continue to decide who teaches in Scotland's schools and teaching will be an all-graduate profession.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I thank the deputy minister for the recognition that he and the minister gave last week to the fact that standards should not fall. Can he tell me how many people will enter teacher training each year over the next few years? How many will go through the process to provide the 3,000 new, additional teachers? [Interruption.]

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

One moment, minister. Members should be listening, not talking.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

There will be enough to meet our targets. In addition, there will be continuing professional development for teachers who may choose to move from primary to secondary education. The GTC will continue to decide who teaches in Scotland's schools and teaching will be a graduate profession.

Photo of Margaret Jamieson Margaret Jamieson Labour

The minister talks about teaching being a graduate profession. Does he accept that nursery nursing is also a graduate profession?

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

I can say, in answer to another point that was made during the debate, that matters relating to nursery nurses are between the employers—the local authorities—and the nurses' proper trade union representatives. I can go no further than that.

I am happy to respond to Rhona Brankin's point about the 14-plus review that we have launched. It is not just about vocational education; it is also about academic subjects. Its aim is to provide better learning opportunities for 14-plus students. Those students will remain within the school context, although they may take further education college courses. We would be happy to meet Rhona Brankin to discuss her specific constituency concerns.

Robin Harper raised the subject of outdoor education. I know, from correspondence, of his interest in the subject and he might know that I have a similar interest in it. A past chairman of the Scottish Advisory Panel for Outdoor Education is one of my constituents, so I have been kept fully informed about those matters. We hope to be able to say something on the subject in the fairly near future.

Donald Gorrie mentioned the importance of youth provision and I agree entirely with the gist of what he said. It is important to view youth provision in the context of all the services that are provided to young people.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton mentioned the number of children with records of needs. We will address that specific point next week, when we debate the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Bill. I advise Lord James that I was in the chamber at the end of the tuition fees debate and that we will pay careful attention to the points that have been raised.

Robert Brown made some important points on the teaching of science, as did Elaine Murray. We will consider the points that he made to see how we can take those agendas forward. I am not sure about meetings and so on, but I will look into that for him. It is important that Scotland's scientific tradition continues, and the Executive is firm in that resolve.

The child protection reform programme—which has to be seen in the context of our overall policies in education—is a subject on which we had a constructive debate in November. Our three-year child protection reform programme is continuing.

We are also on the point of reviewing the children's hearings system. We are committed to retaining the fundamental principles of the system, which place the child at the centre. The reforms will improve the child's life and circumstances, reducing or eliminating risk factors in vulnerable children's lives. The commitment of the volunteers—the panel members—is not in doubt. Our recent recruitment campaign was most successful at attracting more volunteers. We have 607 new volunteers—that is well above the target of 450—and I am pleased that men are better represented.

We do not doubt professionals' efforts to do their best for children but, in the review, it would help to hear whether panels should have a continuing role in monitoring outcomes and, if so, how. Improvements can be made. We need better outcomes for children. To that end, a key issue is ensuring that the whole system makes effective provision for children.

There should be no doubt that the Executive is determined to build on the massive investment that we have made in our education system, to make that investment work for all Scotland's children. At the heart of our ambition lies the absolute commitment to every child in Scotland.

In contrast to what some Opposition members said, my abiding memory of the SNP's campaign at the previous election involves Mike Russell in front of a blackboard that was full of sums but had no answers. We have heard some of that this afternoon.

At the heart of our ambition lies the commitment that every child in Scotland will have the education that he or she deserves. We want schools that are ambitious for our young people and ambitious for Scotland.