Ambitious, Excellent Schools

Part of Question Time — Scottish Executive — Education and Young People, Tourism, Culture and Sport – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 23rd February 2006.

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Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour 2:15 pm, 23rd February 2006

I will address the point about statutory obligations first. As Scottish education is structured, in relation to the curriculum, there is no statutory requirement to provide specific courses. Curriculum guidance is given, but it is very much down to local authorities and schools to tailor their curriculum to suit their particular group of young people.

It is regrettable that Mary Scanlon uses the word "cuts" in this regard. We are actually putting more money into teaching than ever before. Huge additional resources are going into education. We exempted teacher costs from the efficiency targets that have been given to local authorities, and an extra £60 million has just been allocated to bring extra teachers into the system, not to reduce their number. In Highland, we are allocating more than £2.6 million over the coming two years to do that. In addition, there will be more than 100 probationer teachers in Highland this year, and there will be more next year.

I have here a letter from the director of education of Highland Council. I do not know whether Mary Scanlon has been able to read it yet. I will quote from it, as it clarifies the position in the Highland Council area. The director of education says that

"there is an ability in the vast majority of schools for the 22.5 hour entitlement"— which was part of the McCrone settlement—

"to be absorbed within the current staffing entitlements."

Most secondary schools in the Highland area are already meeting the requirements and do not need the extra resource to do so.

The letter goes on to say that pupils should still be being asked

"to list those courses that they feel are required" and that

"final decisions on the timetable will not be made until after the Easter Holiday period."

That is some weeks away. I quote further. The letter says:

"it is very unfortunate that pupils and parents have been given the impression that there are to be significant cuts in curriculum options across all Highland schools when in fact it is clear that this is not the case."

The director of education then asks his head teachers—and I ask the chamber—to

"be very careful not to set any premature worries in the minds of pupils and parents" about these matters. I ask Mary Scanlon to follow that advice.