– in the Scottish Parliament at 10:20 am on 11 September 2008.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 10:20, 11 September 2008

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-2525, in the name of Rhona Brankin, on the Scottish National Party Government failure on jobs for newly qualified teachers.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour 10:27, 11 September 2008

Labour has raised this important issue because it is of concern for the teaching profession, parents, pupils, employers and everyone else in Scotland who cares about our education system. When figures for the employment of newly qualified teachers were released last year, a spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive told the Sunday Herald that the Scottish National Party Administration had

"inherited a difficult situation with more shortfalls in jobs than planned as some councils have failed to employ as many full-time teachers as expected."

A year down the line, the situation has got demonstrably worse. The annual Times Educational Supplement Scotland survey of local authorities shows that the proportion of newly qualified teachers securing permanent teaching jobs in 2007 was about 50 per cent higher than for the same period this year. If the situation last year was "difficult", to use the SNP Administration's own word, what word would the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning use to describe the markedly worse situation that has been engineered by her failed policies during the past year?

Whether we look at the TESS figures or those from the General Teaching Council for Scotland, the facts are clear. Increasingly, newly qualified teachers are struggling to secure permanent teaching posts.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

The GTC survey shows that more post-probationers were in permanent jobs—whether full time or part time—under this Government in April 2008 than under her Government in April 2006. Does the member acknowledge that fact?

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

I wish that the cabinet secretary would stop trying to hide behind statistics. It is clear that an increasing number of primary school teachers are in temporary posts; that is a main feature of the research that we have seen. The cabinet secretary must be open to recognising the difficulties that exist, especially in the primary sector.

Last week, the Deputy First Minister told the chamber that the concerns of parents and teachers were "downright stupid". Does the cabinet secretary share that view?

On this side of the chamber, we have come to expect the increasingly tired SNP accusations of scaremongering; I doubt that this morning will be any different. However, I urge SNP ministers to look beyond their minority position and take heed of the chorus of criticism from teaching professionals. For example, the Educational Institute of Scotland's Ronnie Smith has called on the Scottish Executive to tackle the issue. He said:

"This is not something it can regard as being at arm's length and say it is not our problem."

May Ferries of the GTC said:

"Because of local authorities' budget difficulties, there is a squeeze on any potential growth of teacher employment, and that will hit the post-probationers."

School Leaders Scotland said:

"This is a disgraceful situation where we are jeopardising the excellent probationer programme by not being able to provide job opportunities at the end of the probation."

In the past few days, I have had phone calls and e-mails from teachers voicing concerns over low morale and staff cuts around the country, and thanking me for raising the issue in Parliament last week. Either SNP ministers take those comments seriously and acknowledge that there is a problem, or, in effect, they dismiss as Labour stooges the people who made the comments. The Deputy First Minister believes that such concerns are "downright stupid", but a glance at comments from teachers on the TESS website shows a remarkably different picture to that on planet Sturgeon. One person said that they were a probationer last year and they applied for jobs across Scotland and travelled all over for interviews, but that with the current job situation, they felt forced to take a teaching position in England. Another said that if all else fails, Dubai is looking for teachers. Yet another said that the SNP

"must be kidding, a rosy situation it is not, they must be aware of it!"

The problem is that while the cabinet secretary might be aware of the crisis, neither she nor her ministerial colleagues shows any inclination to resolve it. In fact, the impact of John Swinney's much-hyped concordat with local authorities, which has cut councils' share of Scottish Government spending by approximately 2 per cent, is being felt across Scotland. For example, in SNP-run Aberdeen, cuts have resulted in primary and secondary schools being staffed at 97 and 95 per cent of previous levels respectively and, in common with many other parts of the country, cuts have been made in the number of teaching posts. There has also been a steep increase in the number of teachers who are on short-term contracts. That picture will become even clearer in the coming weeks.

Such is the education funding crisis in many schools that hard-pressed headteachers are staffing their schools in the short term with more probationer teachers to help to balance the books. That is the reality of the SNP's historic concordat with local government, and it risks destroying our hugely successful teacher induction scheme. Perhaps when the minister sums up, she will explain how the SNP plans to meet its promises on class sizes and teacher numbers when it is reducing employment opportunities for newly qualified teachers.

"We should be told why more teachers are not being employed in the classroom, why probationer teachers are struggling to find appropriate places for next year, and why post-probation teachers are finding it well-nigh impossible to find a permanent post."

Those words are not mine; they are the words of Fiona Hyslop on the situation in 2006, which was far brighter than the disaster area over which she presides today. I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning is sitting there smiling at this debate. Perhaps she has decided that the Scottish Executive stands a better chance of winning the argument or finally winning a vote on education—that would be a first.

At decision time, the cabinet secretary might well buy herself a few much-needed weeks to come to terms with the problem, which is of her Government's making, and in which to produce a coherent strategy to replace the current dismissiveness and complacency. It is no use trying to blame cash-strapped councils or the previous Administration for this mess. The cabinet secretary must demonstrate some long-overdue leadership to address the crisis. If she is unable or unwilling to do so, she should step aside for someone who can. I urge members to stand up for Scotland's pupils, parents, teachers and the Scottish education system by supporting the motion in my name.

I move,

That the Parliament notes with concern the recent Times Educational Supplement Scotland and General Teaching Council for Scotland surveys showing an increasing number of post-probationary teachers who are unable to secure a permanent teaching post; believes that this development represents an appalling waste of talent and is grossly unfair to those newly-qualified teachers encouraged to train to join the profession; further notes that this comes at a time when many class sizes are rising, and calls on the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning to show leadership and ensure that the Scottish Government, in conjunction with local authorities, takes early and decisive action to address this growing crisis and to make a ministerial statement before the October recess with recommendations for immediate action.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 10:35, 11 September 2008

The debate needs to benefit from some cold hard facts rather than hot-headed attacks on Scotland's education system as the Labour Party seeks to undermine it.

Fact—the TESS survey was out of date on the day that it was printed, on 29 August. It showed that almost 50 per cent of post-probationers had jobs but failed to mention that, only the week before, on its back pages, the TESS had advertised more than 300 additional permanent jobs, taking the number of those in employment or about to get a job to more than 2,000—hardly the crisis of thousands not in work that Rhona Brankin wants to whip up.

Fact—the GTC survey does not show that an increasing number of post-probationers are not getting permanent jobs. In October 2006, when the Labour Party was in power, 54.7 per cent of all respondents to the GTC were in full-time or part-time permanent jobs. In April 2008, when the SNP Government was in power, 55.3 per cent of post-probationers were in a permanent job. That is an increase in the number of permanent jobs under our Government, not a decrease. Perhaps we need to introduce numeracy tests for some MSPs. Also, Presiding Officer, perhaps you could check the standing orders and inform us whether there are any rules that prevent Parliament from agreeing to a motion that is factually inaccurate. The self-same GTC survey also showed that 93 per cent of teachers were in teaching jobs of some sort by April 2008—more than when Labour was in power. The challenge is to make more of those jobs permanent, especially in the primary sector.

Nineteen per cent of Scotland's teachers are over 55 and 6,000 teachers out of a total of approximately 53,000 that we are funding are due to retire this year, providing job opportunities for approximately 3,000 probationers and the 3,000 who have finished their job guarantee year. Vacancies will also arise during the year as older teachers reach their retiral date. Furthermore, I would have thought that colleagues across the chamber would have welcomed the establishment of the teacher employment working group that I set up in June.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

Does the cabinet secretary accept that some councils in Scotland are cutting their teacher numbers?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I am aware that, despite its convener saying that it has an increased education budget, Glasgow City Council is not replacing teachers who are retiring. The Labour member might want to take up that matter with the Labour-led Glasgow City Council and ask what the situation is there.

Fact—the Labour Party might not like it, but there are now thousands of children in primaries 1, 2 and 3 who are already in smaller classes than they would have been in under the previous Government. In Dumfries and Galloway, P2 class sizes have been reduced from 30 to 25, and extra resource is being targeted at areas of deprivation. In Fife, 27 additional teaching posts have been created to start to reduce class sizes. Moray Council is reducing P2 class sizes in 2008. In North Lanarkshire, P1 classes have been reduced to a maximum of 23 this year. In Renfrewshire, the council is reducing P2 and P3 class sizes to a maximum of 25, and South Ayrshire Council has indicated that it will do likewise. There are already smaller class sizes for thousands of children.

Yes, the list includes councils—Fife Council and Moray Council, to name but two—that did not volunteer to have their class size reductions appear in their single outcome agreements. The Tory dossier is not a secret—that information is freely available. There was no requirement to include class sizes in the agreements.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Why not? It is your flagship policy.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Fact—the concordat with local government notes the specific arrangement that means that the Government has provided funds to maintain teacher numbers at 53,000. With falling rolls in most parts of the country, that gives scope to reduce class sizes. That is what we have agreed with local government—that is the accountability structure that Mr McLetchie questions. I add that, since coming to power, the Government has provided an extra £9 million for 300 additional teaching jobs.

Fact—we do not need legislation to reduce class sizes. However, placing requests may put pressure on some—albeit few—classes; therefore, we will keep the situation under review.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I am conscious of the time.

Margaret Smith may want to note that the current court cases cite the previous Administration's policy, not ours.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I hear calls for legislation. We have said that we will keep the situation under review. I expect that, should the Government decide to introduce legislation to address matters, we would get full support from Labour and Liberal Democrat members. That might be difficult for the Conservatives, who do not want to see any class size limits because, if headteachers are to have discretion, that might cause difficulty for legislation on placing requests in the future.

I warn those members who appear to be in haste to oppose the Government that they may taking at face value what they would like to believe rather than what the facts tell us. I rest my case on the facts. I do not pretend that the system cannot be improved. I have set up a teacher employment working group to assess the situation, which involves the unions, the employers, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the headteachers. The truth is far from the situation that is portrayed in Rhona Brankin's motion. I let the facts speak for themselves.

I move amendment S3M-2525.3, to leave out from "with concern" to end and insert:

"that the Scottish Government has set up the Teacher Employment Working Group, due to report in October 2008, which includes members from the General Teaching Council for Scotland, teacher education institutions, COSLA, the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, teacher unions, the headteachers' associations and the Scottish Government, to establish whether the long-standing teacher workforce planning process remains fit for purpose."

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative 10:41, 11 September 2008

In 2006, the GTC's probationer programme was described as world class, as were many of the methodologies that are used in the continuing professional development programme to increase incentive and professional standards. Personally, I do not think that there is any doubt that the quality of aspiring teachers who are moving into the profession is as good as it has ever been.

It is ludicrous to assert that any Government must be able to find every qualified teacher and probationer a permanent job. That is naive in the extreme and pays no heed to the nature of the teaching profession. Nonetheless, the current situation, as outlined by Labour this morning and by many reports in the media, is totally unacceptable. I will spell out what needs to be done and will focus on two slightly different issues. The first is the lack of certain jobs; the second is a mismatching of skills. In my opinion, those two issues require different solutions.

In talking about the lack of jobs, especially in some urban areas, let us be clear about what has happened. Councils such as the City of Edinburgh Council and Glasgow City Council, which have the potential to employ a large number of teachers and are often seen as attractive areas in which to teach, are under huge financial pressures in their education budgets. Those pressures arise from the class size policy, from uncertainty in the school building programme for the school estate, and from curriculum change.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Is the member aware of the fact that Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council had a £15.3 million underspend last year but refused to put an additional penny into its education services?

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

I am very aware of that fact.

I want to concentrate on the fact that the financial strictures are causing part of the problem. The financial strain on councils is enormous. Although, in theory, the class size policy ought to provide more jobs in primaries 1 to 3, it is abundantly clear that the financial pressures are far too great to permit that. They create the potential for cutbacks in other year groups—indeed, many councils have said that.

Last week, I was strongly critical of the rigidity of the Government's class size policy, and I will be so again this morning. Indeed, I will ask for the abandonment of the policy as a directive from central Government. Having spent a great deal of time listening to evidence in the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee and to the parliamentary responses that have been given to my colleague, David McLetchie, I am utterly convinced that the cost of the policy to the rest of the education service—especially in respect of teaching jobs—has not been properly thought through. If, on one hand, we try to free up the market by allowing COSLA, through the historic concordat, to have more say in the placing of teachers yet, on the other hand, we fix one side of the market, we will end up with two incompatible economic systems. Given Alex Salmond's recent conversion to Thatcherite economics, I would have thought that the Government could work that out for itself.

The rigidity of the policy manifests itself in other ways. Yesterday, I listened to a headteacher telling the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee that, if he wants his school to advertise a vacancy, three things can happen. The vacancy can be advertised in the newspapers; there can be a transfer of a surplus teacher from another school; or a commitment can be made to take on a probationer, once they are fully qualified. However, the decision is not his—it is the local authority's, and he has to go along with it even if he has interviewed some very good candidates. Because of the barriers of the situation, he is in a difficult position. That cannot be right. There is a complete inconsistency between the aspirations in the teaching profession and what councils will allow because of red tape and budgetary restraints. We need a much more flexible approach that is properly driven by the demand for jobs as opposed to the artificial targets that the Government is trying to impose. Above all, headteachers must have far more power.

Another issue is the mismatch of skills, and I find it especially worrying that the Government is not spending enough time on the matter. I appreciate that the cabinet secretary has given £9 million to create 300 more jobs, but are those jobs the right ones? Is some of the problem not down to geographical immobility or a poor knowledge of the marketplace?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

We provide resources to local government, which then seeks to deploy them.

As for the geographical issues that the member has referred to, we wanted more teacher training places in Aberdeen and on the Crichton campus in Dumfries to address those very challenges.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

I simply hope that the cabinet secretary appreciates that the issue is very important.

It goes without saying that we cannot have excellent schools unless we have excellent teachers. Scotland has the potential to have just that, but not under the present structure. Government needs to understand the nature of the problem, to address the right issues and, above all, to abandon its unworkable policy on class sizes, which is doing so much damage to everything else in education.

I move amendment S3M-2525.1, to leave out from "show leadership" to end and insert

"make a ministerial statement on this subject as soon as practicable following receipt of the report of the Teacher Employment Working Group."

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat 10:46, 11 September 2008

Anyone who attended yesterday's meeting of the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee will realise the importance of this debate. The committee heard the EIS, the GTC, School Leaders Scotland and a recently qualified teacher who is searching for a permanent post refer to the situation confronting probationer teachers as being a "tragic waste of talent", "a betrayal", "an economic waste" and "soul destroying". No one will claim that the previous Administration delivered a 100 per cent job guarantee, but the cabinet secretary is doing the teaching profession and the Scottish education system no favours by acting as if there is no problem. Even if she chooses to ignore our voices, she cannot ignore theirs.

The Times Educational Supplement Scotland's survey suggests that of 3,426 probationer teachers who were looking for employment last year, only 770 found permanent jobs—just 22 per cent.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I must correct Margaret Smith; the survey is not about last year. TESS took a snapshot in August, which showed that 700 had permanent jobs and another 700 had temporary jobs. Moreover, the week before, the paper had advertised an additional 300 permanent jobs—which, I think, takes the total to over 2,000.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

The survey was about last year.

TESS also recognised that the logjam of probationary teachers is a result of the Government's failure to implement its class size pledge, and of the tight education budgets that it has passed on to councils.

Since 2004-05, not only has there been a decrease in the proportion of probationers being employed but, worryingly, there has been a decrease in the number of permanent posts for those who are already employed, especially in primary schools where, according to the GTC, only 40 per cent are on permanent contracts. That represents a serious waste of talent in what is probably the best generation of teachers we might ever have in our schools. It is of mounting concern for the young and not-so-young Scots who are in the process of qualifying as teachers. Despite being encouraged to take up careers in education, many of them now seem to be destined for unemployment and disappointment. That situation will have a medium-term impact on the number and quality of those who might come forward—possibly, as we heard yesterday, from other professions—to train as teachers.

The longer newly qualified teachers remain unemployed, the more they become deskilled and the more difficult it is for them to compete in interviews. We should never lose sight of the human stories behind the statistics or of the demoralising effect that the situation has. After all, their inability to get permanent contracts impacts on people's ability to get mortgages and to make other financial commitments to their families' futures.

Our amendment focuses on class sizes simply because if the Government had made the necessary funding available to give its class sizes policy any hope of being delivered, one welcome by-product would have been the employment of many of the newly qualified teachers who are currently sitting at home watching daytime television or who are leaving the profession before they have truly entered it. Although the Government said it would cut class sizes, it has not provided the cash, nor is there—as recent court cases have shown—the legal framework that would be needed to do that. The legal requirement for classes of 30 remains—it would be interesting to know whether the cabinet secretary intends to change that. From what she has said today, I do not think that she will.

The cabinet secretary also said that there is no need for legislation. She probably feels that way because introducing any legislation would require the production of a financial memorandum, which would be very unlikely to happen, given that the SNP is trying to run away from the true costs of the policy.

The Government said that it would match the previous Administration's school building programme "brick for brick", but there is still no clarity about from where we will get the £422 million that is, according the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, needed to build the school buildings that would be required to reduce class sizes.

The pure and simple fact is that the class sizes pledge lacks the necessary funding. We know that councils are struggling with the issue; indeed, 21 of the 32 single outcome agreements fail to mention it. The cabinet secretary says that that is because the agreements did not need to mention it. Why not? If this is a flagship policy, why did the Government not insist on its being given central place in the agreements? For the past 15 months, we in this chamber have heard nothing else but how the historic concordat is going to make everything okay. Nine of the other 11 councils said what we all know: they do not have the money that is needed to implement the policy.

The witnesses at yesterday's Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee made it clear that although workforce planning is important, the essential mismatch between SNP Government rhetoric and the day-to-day financial reality for councils means that councils in Aberdeen and Glasgow are cutting teacher numbers, not increasing them. Indeed, the EIS said that that is a trend across Scotland and that no sector is immune. Cuts are being made across the board, even—which I am sure we all deplore—in additional support for learning.

We welcome the establishment of the teacher employment working group, which is why we are happy to support the Conservative amendment. It will very sensibly allow us to have the group's input before the cabinet secretary makes another statement to Parliament on this important issue. However, given that the group's remit does not cover funding, it will obviously not be able to answer all our questions. The EIS, the GTC and others have made it clear that long-term workforce planning cannot anticipate the short-term political decisions that councils might have to take in the face of financial difficulties.

As I have said, many local authorities have already acknowledged that they will fail to implement the Government's commitments. It is crucial that access to quality education does not become yet another postcode lottery. The Scottish Government made a national commitment: its job is to uphold it throughout the country.

I hope that this debate will be a shot in the arm for the SNP. We need to take action on this vital issue for the hundreds of Scots who have trained so hard to deliver improved education for our children. All they are asking for is a chance to do just that.

I move amendment S3M-2525.2, to insert after "class sizes are rising,"

"highlighting that the SNP's manifesto commitment to reduce class sizes to 18 in P1 to P3 is in utter chaos, with insufficient funding, a lack of a legal framework and the omission of the policy from 21 out of 32 local authorities' single outcome agreements,".

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour 10:51, 11 September 2008

Given that the probationer teachers scheme has received a lot of praise from Audit Scotland, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and many educational commentators, and has been admired by professionals from all over the world, why are there such problems? Are teachers a year later facing the same uncertainties that they faced before the scheme was introduced?

As various members have already pointed out, the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee took evidence yesterday on the current situation. We heard from a teacher about her problems in finding a full-time permanent post and the financial and personal pressures that she is under. However, she is content to face all those pressures, because she wants to teach and believes that she has much to offer our children. I agree with her.

Headteachers' leaders told the committee that although they would like to employ many of the people who have completed the probationary year, they cannot do so because they do not have the finances. The EIS expressed the same concern and stressed that local authorities do not have enough money to fund additional teachers. The fear is that budgets will get tighter; in fact, the EIS told us that two thirds of councils are cutting their education services.

Those concerns have been raised not by Opposition politicians but by those who work in our education services every day. However, the most worrying aspect of the situation is the cabinet secretary's complacency over the issue. She has told us that she has acted, so let us look at what she has actually done. As she said this morning, in 2007-08, £9 million was provided to local authorities to employ extra teachers. However, only £6 million was available that year and only £5.7 million was applied for through the national priorities fund. To be fair, I should point out that the funding provided 245 extra teachers.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I remind Mary Mulligan that this Government came to power in May 2007, after the start of the financial year. The £9 million that was made available for 300 jobs was not just for one year, but for every year. As the measure was implemented in September—that is, after all, when the new autumn term started—the full £9 million was not, of course, going to be available in the first year. However, that £9 million, and the 300 additional jobs that it provides, is still in the budget.

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour

So the £9 million is not for one year but for more than a year, which means that it is even less than we thought.

The cabinet secretary has just made it clear that the money has now been baselined. Have the local authorities been told that? Are they using this money to employ extra teachers? Are we talking about £9 million, £6 million or the £3 million that was left over? Does the cabinet secretary know the answer to those questions?

Setting up the teacher employment working group was the second thing that the cabinet secretary did. In the Jim Hacker ministerial school, when a minister is in trouble, setting up a working group is always the first line of defence. As Margaret Smith said, that group's remit focuses on workforce planning and processes. To focus on those things might be useful, but the real issue is finance. All the policies on lower class sizes, non-contact time and children with additional support needs point to the need for more teachers.

It was made clear to the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee that none of the Government's aims will be achieved without additional money. That is the problem. The cabinet secretary did so badly in the spending review that there is no money. Ministers may say that they have given local authorities the necessary money to fund the commitments that have been made, but that is inaccurate. I think that when the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee starts to scrutinise the outcome agreements and local education spend, as we have agreed to do, we will see that what the ministers have said is inaccurate.

The cabinet secretary needs to show leadership. She needs to stop believing Mr Swinney's line about being a team player in the Cabinet; rather, she needs to stand up for education. She needs to stand up for the children, young people and teachers in our education system. She has the job of helping all our post-probationers find jobs for the benefit of our education system. I say to the cabinet secretary, please try to act.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party 10:56, 11 September 2008

Workforce planning many years ahead is difficult, and primary schools know that particular difficulties exist. However, we should not be too hard on the former Lib-Lab Executive, which six or seven years ago decided the number of people who would apply to university to be teachers in 2002, begin their bachelor of education degree in 2003, graduate in 2007 and complete their probationary year last June. Decisions about the number of undergraduates who would enter the one-year postgraduate diploma in education course and graduate this year would, of course, have been taken in 2004.

Scotland has been haunted by teacher shortages for decades. I recall that there were 59 children in my primary 1 class and that, at secondary school, I had no science teaching until my third year. A Labour Government was in power then. Even now, there are shortages of primary teachers in some local authority areas, where local authorities have recently had to look for teachers overseas. That is why some pre-probationers are paid a £6,000 bounty to train wherever they are needed. There are also shortages of teachers to teach some secondary school subjects, such as maths, English and physics.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

Kenneth Gibson talks about class sizes being larger when he was at school. Does he accept that class sizes, especially in secondary 1 and S2 English and maths, are going up?

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I am afraid that I do not accept that.

We know that 100 or more teachers apply for jobs at some schools. That has always been and always will be the case at the best schools. However, if teachers applied for jobs at 10 schools and each of those schools received an average of 50 applications—some schools receive many fewer applications—that would mean that five teachers were applying for each job rather than 50. In addition, new vacancies are continually being advertised; indeed, some 539 have been advertised in TESS in the past three weeks alone.

Projections far into the future on the number and geographic spread of teachers who will retire, the number of undergraduates who might drop out of their courses and budgets are difficult to make. However, the TESS of 29 August estimated that 3,359 teachers will be needed this year and that 3,426 will complete their probationary year—a 98 per cent fit. Perhaps the number of new teachers who will be required will be more or slightly less than that. This is not an exact science. However, I am pleased that, according to the General Teaching Council for Scotland, 93 per cent of the 2007 cohort of probationers have now found work. That is due partly to the SNP Government's full funding of 300 additional teachers last autumn, which is now included in baseline local government funding.

Some councils are, of course, playing games. In Glasgow—one of only two Scottish councils under outright Labour control—despite the £15.3 million underspend in the previous financial year that I mentioned earlier, and despite the urgings of the SNP opposition, not a single penny extra was committed to education and to reduce class sizes, even in the most deprived parts of that city. That is despite Glasgow City Council's level of educational attainment being the poorest of any local authority and its having the lowest proportion of spend on education. Some 25 per cent of its total budget has been committed to education, compared with 47 per cent of the budget of East Renfrewshire Council, which has the highest level of attainment. It is curious that Labour and the SNP are in the administration there. Many Glasgow parents try to send their children to East Renfrewshire. We know that Labour in Glasgow places a low premium on education, because it dispensed with 61 nursery nurses between 2004 and 2007, when the Labour Party was in power in Glasgow, Holyrood and Westminster.

A little more common sense and a little less hysteria—particularly from Rhona Brankin—are required when it comes to teacher numbers. In The Herald last week, Rhona Brankin ludicrously declared that Labour had provided

"An additional 53,000 teachers since 1997."

Given that there is roughly that number of teachers in Scotland, is she seriously suggesting that Scotland's education system truly began only in 1997, as its year zero? I now wonder who those mysterious men and women who wrote on the blackboard at the front of my classrooms were.

The Scottish Government has established a working group on teacher employment. I look forward to reading its findings when they are published in October and to significant progress being made over the coming year.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour 11:01, 11 September 2008

I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate, and rise to support Labour's motion.

The debate, which comes at a crucial time for education in Scotland, is important. Three quarters of probationers do not have full-time jobs, the school building programme has ground to a halt and the SNP's class size policy is in tatters. I particularly welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate because the issue of probationary teachers not finding employment has dominated in my constituency. In recent days, I have received e-mails and messages by other means from probationers who have urged me to say clearly in the chamber that probationary teachers are fed up with training for unemployment and that they want practical action.

The cabinet secretary gave a blizzard of statistics. The crucial thing about statistics is the trends that they show. Last year, 32 per cent of probationary teachers were in full-time employment; that figure has now declined to 22 per cent. The numbers have gone down.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

The member says that we should consider trends, and he mentioned teachers on the dole. Perhaps we should consider the fact that in 2006, 295 teachers claimed jobseekers allowance and that, out of 53,000 teachers, the same number—295—are claiming that allowance this year. There is the same trend.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

I am absolutely clear that the policies that the SNP is pursuing are putting probationary teachers on the dole instead of in classrooms. That is a waste of talent.

What response has there been from the ministerial team? Maureen Watt tells probationary teachers that they should "broaden their horizons". That is a lazy response; probationers deserve better.

A probationer in my constituency left her previous professional career to study teaching, for which she retrained at her own expense. On completing her probationary year, her school described her as being "bright and innovative", but she has found only a part-time position. However, she has been described as being one of the lucky ones, although she cannot get a loan for a car or a mortgage because she does not have a permanent job. What sort of reward is that for her dedication and hard work? I lay the blame for that squarely on the SNP.

The SNP goes on about the much-heralded historic concordat. In fact, there has been an historic bail out, because the concordat has resulted in a hands-off approach being taken to education policy. In addition, the lack of funding, the council tax freeze and the efficiency savings of 1.5 per cent have resulted in education budgets being squeezed. Some three quarters of EIS associations in Scotland have reported cuts in their council areas. As we have heard, councils are starting to employ probationers and to cut back on full-time posts. The direct result of the SNP's policies has been a weakening of morale and an undermining of potential.

In summary, it is time for action to reverse the situation. Rather than spend £280 million on a local income tax and make Scotland the most taxed part of the United Kingdom, the money should be spent on creating real full-time jobs and providing hope to post-probationers. If the ministers believe in a smarter Scotland, it is time to get their act together and put teachers in the classrooms, rather than in the dole queues.

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party 11:05, 11 September 2008

As a member of the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee, which only yesterday considered post-probationary teachers, I am glad to have the chance to debate this important issue further. As others have said, the education of our children is of fundamental importance. As parliamentarians, we owe it to them to ensure that the system works and that each child has a good-quality learning experience and is taught by motivated and accomplished teachers. I am pleased that that is the case for the large majority of Scotland's children—it was, on the whole, the case under the previous Administration and it will continue to be the case under the Scottish Government. I would not be so petulant as to fail to acknowledge the achievements in the past few years.

As those who gave oral evidence to the committee confirmed, the post-McCrone set-up for new teachers is recognised internationally as being one of the best. The committee heard yesterday from a new teacher that her probationary year was essential in making her a good teacher. It gave her confidence that she had much to contribute in her chosen profession and to the children whom she will teach.

Of course it is upsetting to read stories about probationers who have not yet secured jobs. No member, regardless of their political colour, wants anyone who has dedicated time to achieve the necessary qualifications to become a teacher—their chosen vocation—not to get a job. Likewise, I have never liked to hear about graduates of the history, economy, physiotherapy or engineering departments in universities the length and breadth of the country ending up in temporary employment in call centres or similar while they pursue their dreams and aspirations for employment in their chosen fields. However, we all accept the importance of teachers, which is why the Government is doing all it can to help probationary teachers. As a result, as we heard from the cabinet secretary, in June 2007 the Government provided an additional £9 million to local authorities, which has provided 300 more teaching job opportunities.

Furthermore, the cabinet secretary has formed the teacher employment working group, which has the remit of examining workforce planning, finding out where improvements can be made and considering whether better matches can be made between student numbers and employment opportunities. That is surely a positive and proactive approach to finding out how things can be improved. It is easy for people to say that something should be done, but until we know where the weaknesses and potential hurdles are, we can only stick on plasters, which is not a long-term or proper solution. As Kenny Gibson does, I welcome that sensible move and wish the cabinet secretary well with it. I hope that the group identifies not only where the problems may or may not lie but, crucially, that it recommends solutions.

For those who are seeking employment, I understand completely how difficult it is to cope without a job. However, it has never been the case that every single post-probationer has obtained a job immediately. As the Deputy First Minister said in Parliament last week, it has always been the case that new teachers have gained employment as vacancies have arisen during the year. That happened under Labour and will continue to be the case under the present Administration. We must heed Murdo Maciver's comments to the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee in May, when he said:

"the prospects of obtaining a teaching job are bright, even if some appointments will not be made immediately. We are approaching the targets. Probationers will be employed on a permanent basis sooner or later."—[Official Report, Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee, 28 May 2008; c 1099.]

It is not responsible politics to create a culture of fear and to scaremonger on the issue. I accept that opposition parties have a duty to hold the Government to account, but I do not accept that negativity should be allowed to prevail to the extent that it begins to put off people from embarking on careers in teaching.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

The last thing that the Opposition wants to do is to put off people from choosing a career in teaching. However, does Aileen Campbell accept that it is the Opposition's responsibility to ensure that people hear the truth? Does she accept that many education cuts are being made the length and breadth of Scotland?

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party

I accept that scaremongering is not responsible politics. We heard in committee yesterday that the negative environment surrounding teaching and probationers is making people decide not to follow that career.

I am confident that the teacher employment working group will make suggestions to improve workforce planning, and that the Government will consider them carefully. I hope that Parliament supports efforts to give all our post-probationary teachers the very best chance to flourish in their chosen profession, and that we realise quickly that finger pointing and negativity are not the way to ensure that our Scottish education system retains its international acclaim.

Photo of David Whitton David Whitton Labour 11:10, 11 September 2008

I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate and I support the motion in the name of my colleague Rhona Brankin. I am sure that every member has a tale about their favourite teacher. I had two: Mr Muir, who taught me English, and Mr Wallace, who taught me economics and, probably more important, gave up his free time to teach me the basics of shorthand, which is a skill that I can still use today. The two men entered teaching by totally different routes: Mr Muir came through university and teacher training college, while Mr Wallace came into teaching at a later stage of life after spending time in the world of business and commerce. Both were inspirational in their own ways and I am indebted to them in ways that they will probably never know.

There are no teachers in my family, but I am acquainted with several teachers. Some have taught members of my family and others I have met while visiting schools in my constituency, including probationers. I have met others who are just starting out on their careers. Today, we are focusing on those who are just starting out.

There is no disagreement on the need for more teachers. Even filling the gaps that are left by those who retire requires a steady stream of new recruits. Teachers do not have an easy job. Indeed, given the statistics that show that assaults on teachers are increasing, and the stories about the misbehaviour that they must deal with daily, it is a wonder that anyone would want to become a teacher in the first place. However, teaching has always attracted excellent candidates—people who see the role of educator more as a vocation than as a career. That is why the Government's inability to meet its promises on class sizes is such a betrayal—it is a betrayal of trust and of opportunity.

Unlike the cabinet secretary, I congratulate TESS and its editor, Neil Munro, on the survey that it published on 29 August, which highlighted the scale of the problem that Scotland's probationary teachers face. It seems that the SNP is only fond of surveys that it commissions. The cabinet secretary said that the survey was partial and "out of date", but even if the vacancies that she talked about were filled, that would leave 2,000 probationary teachers looking for a job.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

There are 770 post-probationers in permanent jobs and another 750 have temporary jobs, which makes about 1,500. Another 300 jobs were advertised in just one week. That is 2,000 post-probationers who are in a job or about to go into one out of a total of 3,000. That is before we take into account retirals throughout the year. It might be helpful if Mr Whitton thought about addition in considering the matter.

Photo of David Whitton David Whitton Labour

A blizzard of statistics, but no answers—that is typical of the cabinet secretary.

The survey's table of probationers who are and are not in employment contains figures for my council area of East Dunbartonshire. It shows that 81 probationers were employed in 2007-08, with 45 in the primary sector and 36 in the secondary sector. The table states that only 10 of those have secured permanent jobs, although when I asked about that this week, I was told that the actual figure is only six.

What would be the assessment of our probationary Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning? On grasp of detail, she lacks focus; on communication skills, there is room for much improvement; and her continued employment depends on the favour of a sympathetic headteacher. The report card on the Minister for Schools and Skills, Maureen Watt, has been censored to avoid intrusion into private grief.

Tomorrow in East Dunbartonshire, I will meet three headteachers from Malawi who are visiting my constituency. They will be astonished to learn that we have 2,000-plus teachers looking for jobs. Consider what they would give to employ those teachers in their country. Recently, we heard that schools in Glasgow are struggling to teach English to the children of immigrants who have arrived in the city. Is it beyond the wit of the cabinet secretary to make money available so that probationers can be employed to provide special English classes for those children? That way, they would learn the language much quicker.

The cabinet secretary may want small class sizes for primaries 1 to 3, but she knows that that will not happen any time soon in many parts of Scotland. It will certainly not happen in East Dunbartonshire, where the council estimates that it would cost more than £4 million to implement the policy. That means that the cabinet secretary and her colleagues must consider more innovative ways of offering jobs to probationers to keep them in the profession—before it is too late.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat 11:14, 11 September 2008

It is sad that we are faced once again with a debate on the appalling record of the SNP Government when it comes to supporting our pupils, teachers and schools. David Whitton referred to the litany of statistics on the burgeoning numbers of unemployed newly qualified teachers who have been driven to seek casual employment on supply lists; indeed, some have left the profession out of pure economic necessity. It is a national scandal.

The Government should hang its head in shame at the growing list of broken promises on the education system, which is to say nothing of the money wasted on training teachers who are increasingly finding that, because they cannot get appointments, they are demotivated, demoralised and wondering what their future holds.

The cabinet secretary spoke—in the smarter Scotland debate, I think—about the 300 additional teachers and the money that pertains to them. How much impact has that money had on improving employment rates and reducing class sizes? Moray Council estimated last year that it would need 45 extra teachers to meet the class-size obligation; it recruited nine probationers. Angus projected that it would need 70 teachers to meet the class-size commitment, but it recruited 31 probationers. Overall, the figures show approximately a 50 per cent success rate. That is serious.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I think that the member refers to information from individual councils and directors of education. Indeed, the Association of Directors of Education provided information to the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee on the subject. That information was a snapshot to demonstrate what would be necessary if a big-bang approach were taken. Everybody recognises that that is not the case, therefore the progress that has been made, even by Moray Council, should be welcomed.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat

Any reasonable person would welcome the employment of probationers, but Glasgow asked for 397 teachers and was able to recruit only 14, notwithstanding the comment about its underspend. That does not constitute progress of any substance.

What have the cabinet secretary and her department done? Her department is our Nero—while the school system and the Government's support for it go up in flames, the Government fiddles about with self-congratulatory debates and passes the buck to other agencies, rather than take one iota of responsibility for the chaos. There is not one iota of clarity about timescales, funding, support or anything else. Who suffers? Our children, their teachers and the future of our country.

We need look only at the Government's responses to some written questions to confirm my assertion about passing the buck. To use the cabinet secretary's phrase, this is just a snapshot. Since June last year, 69 per cent of questions about education were passed to local authorities to answer; 7 per cent were passed to higher and further education bodies; 7 per cent were passed to the Scottish funding council; 7 per cent went to Skills Development Scotland, about whose remit we are not clear and whose strategies are not yet fully evolved; and 7 per cent were passed to Architecture and Design Scotland. That is not acceptable. As various speakers have said, the situation needs leadership. It needs the Government and ministers to acknowledge and accept responsibility.

If we look at the performance of the SNP Government in pure marketing terms, we see that it is nothing like Ronseal—it does not do what it says on the tin. As far as I can see, it is much more like Teflon because nothing sticks.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 11:19, 11 September 2008

Today we are debating manpower planning in the teaching profession but, of course, we have had similar problems with other professions. Members who were here during the previous session will recall, for example, being lobbied by physiotherapy students complaining about the number of physiotherapy graduates who were unable to find employment in the national health service. Earlier this year, there was a focus on the employment prospects of junior hospital doctors.

For every regulated profession with a compulsory training and registration system it seems that we invariably end up with the expectation that the Government—of whatever complexion—that controls and regulates admission to such professions, and which encourages people to undertake such courses of training and study, and which finances those studies from taxation, should somehow ensure, if not guarantee, that those who emerge at the other end will have a job. Although that situation is not peculiar to the public sector—the same applies to solicitors and architects, for example, who are based more in the private sector—it is particularly acute in the public sector because government, in the widest sense of the word, whether it be a health board or local authority, is seen as the monopoly employer and, as such, is believed to be capable of controlling both supply and demand. That is a dangerous and false assumption.

The previous Executive put in place the teacher induction scheme, which guarantees graduate teachers a probationary year and much praise has been heaped upon it. We must resist the temptation, however, to believe that employment thereafter can be planned to the nth degree and that, somehow, a perfect match can be achieved between teacher supply and teacher vacancies in all 32 local authority areas in Scotland. That is a Stalinist mindset that is doomed to fail.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Oh, here is—[ Laughter. ]—no, I will resist the temptation.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

The member might have been sorely tempted to call me that, but he would have been inaccurate.

Does the member not accept that the budgetary settlement for education has a direct impact on teacher employment at local level?

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

It absolutely does; the budget is a huge factor and should be taken into account when trying to achieve a broad match between the numbers of people starting out on teacher training, whether for primary or secondary, and the numbers likely to be required, with a bias towards the supply side. Having done that, the Government should stand back, let teachers and councils get on with it and resist the temptation or compulsion to interfere, overregulate and overdirect.

One policy that could make a difference to employment prospects for probationer teachers is the infamous SNP class size policy. As we know from one of the few single outcome agreements that bothers to refer to the policy, the implementation in Edinburgh of even a scaled-down version of the policy would require the employment of an additional 205 full-time teachers at an annual revenue cost of £7.7 million. However, there are a few problems with the policy, as Mary Mulligan and Margaret Smith pointed out. The first problem is that the council does not have a spare £7.7 million per annum to employ 205 teachers. The second is that the council does not have another £16 million, which it would need to spend on adaptations to school buildings.

Accordingly, the council is now working on plans for supersize classes using team teaching, which means that our youngest schoolchildren could find themselves placed in classes of between 36 and 60 pupils with two teachers. When the SNP said emphatically and unequivocally in its manifesto,

"We will reduce class sizes in Primary 1, 2 and 3 to eighteen pupils or less", little did parents in Scotland know that the reality would be more supersize classes.

The policy is an ill-considered nonsense that will distort investment in our school estate, in teacher recruitment and employment and will have negative impacts on the education of older pupils in primary and secondary schools. The Government should put its policy on the crowded broken-promise shelf where it can jostle for room with grants for first-time home buyers and the cancellation of student debt. Having done so, the Government should then focus on the real challenges facing Scottish education and on giving our newly qualified teachers opportunities to work at all levels of school education.

I support the excellent amendments from the Smiths, who are in perfect harmony and who will produce a wonderful composite motion of which the Parliament can be proud.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party 11:25, 11 September 2008

In lodging the motion that we are debating today, the Labour Party has sunk to new depths. By initiating a debate on the basis of a newspaper article whose accuracy it has failed to check, it has shown just how lacking in flair and imagination it has become. Labour members' attitude is to say, "Och, if we can't think of anything else, let's have a go at the hoary old chestnuts of class sizes and teacher numbers. We'll get a cheap political headline even in the face of the real picture." They fail to recognise that in June last year the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning put in place funding for an extra 300 teachers; I point out to Mary Mulligan that that money has now been mainstreamed into local government funding. They fail to recognise that in June this year the cabinet secretary set up a working group, to report within four months, on teacher workforce planning and on whether the current policy is fit for purpose.

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour

Can the minister guarantee to the chamber that the £9 million that has been made available—if it is £9 million this year—will be spent on additional teachers?

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

Mary Mulligan knows that in the concordat local government agreed to maintain teacher numbers at 53,000 in the face of falling rolls.

Labour members fail to recognise that, as the cabinet secretary indicated in her speech, class sizes in primaries 1 to 3 are falling in local authority areas throughout the country, regardless of whether that is specified in local outcome agreements, because local authorities know that reducing class sizes is national Government policy.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

Will the minister indicate whether class sizes are falling in her home local authority area of Aberdeen? Will she confirm that the number of teaching posts in Aberdeen schools in this school year is 30 lower than it was in the previous school year?

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

Will the member never accept responsibility for the fact that the decisions that Aberdeen City Council now faces should have been taken on the Labour Party's watch?

Labour members are unable to admit that the vast majority of new teachers know well and accept that the Government must provide a supply of teachers ready for deployment throughout the year and throughout the country. Directors of education, the GTC, education ministers and others make that perfectly clear whenever they meet probationers and newly qualified teachers.

Aileen Campbell quoted Murdo Maciver, who said that most probationers obtain permanent jobs. On 29 August, John Stodter of ADES said in the Times Educational Supplement Scotland:

"You want some competition—you don't want a market where everybody gets a job easily. If folk were more willing to move as they were in our day, they might have less of a problem".

The Opposition parties would have us think that it is outrageous that some teachers go to work in England or further afield, but it is a well-known fact that for decades Scottish and Welsh teachers were the backbone of the teaching profession south of the border. The speeches of Opposition members have been sadly lacking in practical suggestions, other than throwing some non-existent pot of money at their perceived problem.

Spending some time in different schools can be a useful experience for teachers, as it enables them to see different approaches to learning and teaching in different environments. The prospects for newly qualified teachers in Scotland are excellent. They are entering a profession that faces exciting and challenging opportunities in the way in which we deliver education in our schools. They will enjoy a professional autonomy that has not been available to teachers for a generation. Yesterday the Civitas think-tank became the latest body to support smaller class sizes; at the same time, an OECD report noted that we still have some of the largest class sizes, compared with our competitors. Today it is argued in The Scotsman that smaller class sizes are indisputably a good thing.

Just imagine the outcry if by next spring there were not enough teachers in the system to cover for illness, retirements and maternity leave—would the Opposition have the brass neck to say that we had underestimated need? The Government is travelling in the right direction, a fact recognised by the Scottish people, even if the Opposition parties in the chamber are slow on the uptake.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour 11:30, 11 September 2008

"Soul destroying", "a betrayal" and

"a tragic waste of talent and skills".

Those are not my words—to use the First Minister's favourite expression—but the words used by a panel of witnesses at yesterday morning's meeting of the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee to describe the scandalous lack of teaching posts for this year's probationers. Hundreds of teachers have been left demoralised. Hundreds of motivated, highly trained, bright young graduates have been left wondering where they went wrong. Surely, a year and a half in, the new SNP Administration could not let teachers down so badly.

I doubt that there is an MSP in the chamber who has not heard from anxious probationers in their constituency. What makes matters worse is the fact that this year's letters do not signal a new problem. The situation is not a surprise to the minister—it is utterly and depressingly predictable. The surveys that have been carried out by the General Teaching Council for Scotland and The Times Educational Supplement Scotland make it absolutely clear that the problem has been growing over the past three years. Fewer probationers are securing employment in the teaching profession. Of those who find a job, especially in the primary sector, fewer are securing permanent contracts. In her speech, Aileen Campbell suggested that the evidence that we heard amounted to scaremongering. By that logic, we should hear only positive evidence—a new, pollyannaish approach to committee witnesses.

Around the country, in authority after authority, stories are repeated of little more than a dozen permanent jobs for hundreds of applicants. More depressing are the attempts of SNP ministers to use the one and only survey that has been carried out this year—in April—as proof that there is no problem. "Crisis? What crisis?" I hear ministers say. On the radio yesterday, the cabinet secretary not only used the one-off survey that was carried out in April to pooh-pooh the TESS's reporting of growing anxiety among probationers, but claimed that teachers were in "a very good position". Is the minister the only one who does not know what is happening in our schools?

The GTCS has carried out three annual surveys, in October 2005, 2006 and 2007. The TESS compared the figures that it gathered this year to a similar survey that was carried out last year. As the minister knows—or should know—the trend that surveys reveal has the greatest significance. James Kelly made that point. Is it not striking that nearly everyone who looks at the figures recognises a very worrying trend in employment? The exception is the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, who declares herself satisfied on the basis of a one-off survey in April that is not comparable.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Does the member acknowledge that more teachers were in employment in April 2008, under this Government, than under the previous Government? Does he acknowledge that the number of permanent jobs for secondary teachers has increased under this Government, compared with the last year of the Government that he supported? Those facts are in the GTC survey, which is the basis of the inaccurate motion for which Ken Macintosh is asking members to vote. Surely he should put the facts on the table. That is what the Government is doing.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

The cabinet secretary's gall is astounding. She is prepared to dismiss the surveys out of hand because they do not support her rose-tinted perspective on education. At the same time, she is willing to quote selectively parts of the GTC survey that back up her position. I am quite prepared to recognise that there is no decline in the number of permanent posts at secondary level. Is the cabinet secretary prepared to admit that there is a problem of a declining number of permanent posts at primary level?

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I believe that that is an admission.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I am more than happy to acknowledge that the biggest challenge is at primary level. The Official Report will show that I said that in my speech.

Will the member acknowledge that the GTC survey indicates that there were more teachers in permanent posts in April 2008, under this Government, than in the last year of the Government that he supported, when a similar survey was conducted? That makes the motion that he is putting before Parliament factually inaccurate.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

As the minister knows, we cannot compare a survey in April with three surveys in October. They are not comparable. For any trend to be discernible, we need previous surveys in April. The logic that the cabinet secretary brings to the debate is false.

The cabinet secretary now seems to be happy to quote from the surveys, but their findings are damning. For instance, two local authorities failed to offer a permanent job to a single one of their probationers. Can members guess which councils? They were the SNP-led Renfrewshire Council and SNP-led Aberdeen City Council. Renfrewshire Council's behaviour is worth examining more closely. It was willing to take on 170 probationers but not willing to offer one a permanent contract. The SNP-led council is cutting staff at each of its secondary schools so, in a disgraceful abuse of the system, class sizes are actually rising while probationers are used as some sort of cheap labour.

The problem is not only one of absolute numbers. Throughout the country, from council to council, there are huge variations in probationer employment patterns. As Margaret Smith said in her opening speech, that starkly illustrates the inherent weakness of the so-called concordat: the SNP central Government is able to say one thing, while local authorities—SNP-run local authorities—do another and our young probationers are caught in the middle.

Mary Mulligan, Mr McLetchie and other members referred to local outcome agreements, none of which seem to offer any hope to newly qualified teachers or parents who are keen to see the class size reductions that were promised avidly at the election and that, if implemented, would deliver the required teaching posts. More than half of those local outcome agreements failed to mention class sizes at all. That is why responsibility must rest with the SNP ministers. The cabinet secretary is happy to recruit all those new teachers, but equally happy to sign concordats with local authorities that make no mention of class sizes or staffing levels. That is fundamentally wrong and a dereliction of duty.

Witnesses at yesterday's Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee meeting were united in praising the teacher induction scheme. They described it as infinitely superior to the previous system—a point that Aileen Campbell generously recognised. They were united, too, in identifying the causes of the problem: it comes down to a mismatch between SNP central policy direction and the reality of SNP education budget cuts. We were told that two thirds of local authorities are cutting their education budgets. That gives the lie to the talk of a generous settlement and of the money being there. The SNP Government is prepared to recruit teachers on the promise of a national policy of reducing class sizes funded from the centre but fails to agree on the priority that local councils should give the policy or to provide the funding to implement it. In every case, the cuts not only mean a loss of services but have a knock-on effect on the number of probationers.

With her repeated denials of any problem, the cabinet secretary is merely sticking her head in the sand. She needs to show leadership—not the kind that Maureen Watt showed in her overheated speech, in which she suggested that councils are to blame, and not only current councils but councils from several years ago. Recent court cases have demonstrated the need to set practical and legally binding class size limits, so why not legislate? Ministers appear to prefer to hide behind local government.

With no direction from the SNP Government, the short-termism and short-sightedness of each local decision has long-term consequences for the lives of too many young teachers. The minister needs to think again and come back to the Parliament with a plan of action.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

As we have reached the end of the debate before the time set out in the Business Bulletin for the next item of business, I suspend the meeting under rule 7.4.1(d) until 11.40 am.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—