Education and Skills

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 4th March 2010.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 2:15 pm, 4th March 2010

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-5871, in the name of Michael Russell, on educating children and young people to compete in a globalised 21 st century.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 2:57 pm, 4th March 2010

I welcome the debate for several reasons, not least because it gives me the opportunity to set out my strong belief—a belief that was buttressed by my period as Minister for Culture, External Affairs and the Constitution—that, in order for Scotland and its people to succeed and flourish in the globalised 21 st century that we live in, we must all become and live as global citizens.

The term "global citizens" covers citizens who have a knowledge and understanding of the world and Scotland's place in it; citizens who are confident about travelling widely for jobs and working with other nationalities, and who enjoy speaking other languages; citizens who are respectful of other cultures, traditions, religions, beliefs and attitudes; citizens who appreciate that their behaviour and actions have an impact on their environment and the environment of others in other countries, and who acknowledge that we must change our consumption habits to ensure that we have a sustainable world for future generations; and citizens who care about their society and locality, and who appreciate the good things that we have in our lives, in comparison with millions of others in less fortunate places.

All those things are essential if we are to educate and prepare this country and society for success in the 21st century. It is part of the Government's job to show ambition, leadership and direction to achieve those aims. It is also essential that we are global citizens so that we can successfully engage with and get the best from the rest of the world, not least for the benefit of our economy, our prosperity and our reputation as a country of integrity, passion and pride, as well as a beautiful country with a rich culture, heritage and history.

All that starts with education. This afternoon's debate gives me the opportunity to restate the Government's commitment to international education and developing global citizens, and to promoting learning in contexts that go well beyond our borders. It also allows us to restate the importance of meaningful international engagement with our European and world partners, and to draw attention to our ability to share with other people the exciting range of associated work that we are doing in Scotland that is admired elsewhere.

The Government is determined to ensure that, from birth to adulthood, all young people have opportunities to develop a knowledge and understanding of the world and Scotland's place in it. To put it another way, we must give our young people a strong understanding of Scotland's position in the wider world. That is essential to our new approach. I am therefore delighted that "International education: responsible, global citizens"—the report published last month in Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education's popular "Learning Together" series, which has inspired the debate—confirms that there are many examples in our schools of exciting, innovative and inspiring approaches to international education.

At this early stage in the debate, I pay tribute to the retiring HMIE senior chief inspector, Graham Donaldson, whose work led to that report and who has shown a strong commitment to international education. On its publication, he said:

"Scotland's future economic prosperity requires an education system within which the population as a whole will develop the kind of knowledge, skills and attributes which will equip them personally, socially and economically to thrive in the 21st century".

In preparing the guide, HMIE found some outstanding examples of international education in Scottish schools, with some young people's lives being transformed. At its best, learning in an international context enables children and young people to become more outward looking and confident about themselves and their nation; to be more skilled and competent users of world languages; to develop an evolving, informed world view and an understanding of Scotland's place in it; and to learn about and understand other cultures and religions at first hand—in other words, to participate fully as active, responsible global citizens.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

In just one moment.

I am very pleased to welcome to the public gallery pupils from St Ninian's high school in Kirkintilloch and their headteacher, Paul McLaughlin. I was due to visit the school to take part in their activities a couple of weeks ago, but snow and traffic prevented me. I am glad that, if the mountain cannot go to Mohammed, Mohammed can come to the mountain. They are very welcome: they are an example of how things are done well, and I congratulate them.

I am happy to give way

Photo of David Whitton David Whitton Labour

I am grateful to the minister for giving way on that point. I should point out to him that, as I am sure he knows, the mark of every good school is the leadership in it and that Mr McLaughlin is the secondary school headteacher of the year. That should be acknowledged, too.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I pay tribute to Mr McLaughlin, and I shall meet him after the debate to hear also, I understand, his considerable enthusiasm for the progress that is being made with the curriculum for excellence. I am delighted that, as an exemplar of that activity, he is here to tell us about it.

I will give way to Margo MacDonald.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I thank the cabinet secretary for being generous with his time, and I hate to sound like a Cassandra, but, while I thoroughly approve of the philosophy of international education that he has outlined, I hope that we will also hear how we are going to learn to read, write and count. That is what the current concern is about, not our internationalism.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Unfortunately, there is always somebody in Scotland who, when you say that the weather is good, says, "We'll pay for it." Regrettably, that is what we have just heard. There are young people in Scotland who are doing exceptionally well; there are also young people in Scotland whom we need to help to do a great deal better. It is not a case of either/or and, unfortunately, it is probably the attitude that creates an either/or between excellence in attainment and basic skills that has got us to where we are now. We want to reverse that trend, and I am determined to do so.

I make it clear that the Scottish Government's international framework is a context for what is taking place in schools. The framework, which was published in April 2008, makes a crucial contribution by indicating that the Government's key purpose—to focus Government and public services on creating a more successful Scotland—is within the context of international achievement.

The international framework outlines the conditions in which that will happen. We have to ensure that we have talented people to live, learn, visit, work and remain in Scotland; we have to have a sharp economic growth focus to the promotion of Scotland abroad; and we have to manage Scotland's reputation as a distinctive global identity, an independent-minded and responsible nation at home and abroad, confident of its place in the world.

Our international engagement is done on many levels, but it is certainly done in education. Last October, I spent time in India, where I was on a trade mission with, among others, a number of college and university principals. That trade mission was designed to take the best of Scottish education to India and to enter into a real and genuine partnership. I was pleased to meet India's Minister for Human Resource Development, Kapil Sibal, who is in charge of higher education, and to hear the way in which India wants vibrant partnerships with Scottish educational institutions. That is also true for our relationship with China, which St Ninian's is deeply involved in.

We also excel and try to excel closer to home. As my colleague Keith Brown knows, as he has been to a Bologna process event, our engagement in helping to create the European higher education area has been significant—so much so that, at the last meeting of ministers in 2009, Scotland was the only one among the 46 participating countries to report a green scorecard against every action line. Those who want to talk at great length about problems shown in international league tables should put that in their league table so that we get the complete picture.

However, we must build on those successes if we are to remain as highly regarded in the future. This weekend, I shall speak at the conference of the National Union of Students, whose participation in the Bologna process is a key aspect of taking this forward from generation to generation.

There is so much more that we could celebrate and talk about, and there is so much more that we can do. Our international science and research activity is very important and the number of our global collaborations is increasing, with almost half of Scotland's papers in 2008 being internationally co-authored compared with only a third in 1999. Co-authorship is extremely important in spreading and deepening the research base, and the incidence of co-authorship with Germany, France, China and India is rising, although the USA remains the most popular co-authorship destination.

We can do better and better, measuring ourselves against international benchmarks. We can and do engage in international surveys, and we can engage proactively with the European Commission, the Bologna follow-up group and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. We also participate fully in surveys such as the programme for international student assessment, PISA, and the trends in international mathematics and science study, TIMSS. We are very keen to be part of the wider world and to ensure that we understand its importance to us.

The most recent OECD review, which was debated in Parliament in January 2009, praised many aspects of our education system, declaring our primary schools to be a real strength, describing our induction programme for new teachers as world class and praising the ambition and direction of travel of the curriculum for excellence. However, it would be wrong to think that, just because the OECD review said lots of nice things, it is fine to sit back. We need a culture of constructive reflection and continuous improvement in Scotland—in education more than in anything else. That means looking not just at others but at ourselves, reflecting on what we are doing and on how we take things forward.

The Liberal Democrat amendment is positive and supportive. It adds to the motion and I am happy to support it. The Conservative amendment could have been expected—indeed, I suspect that there is a computer that is writing such amendments. There is no great harm in it, although it is grudging. However, I regret the Labour amendment on two grounds. First, the chamber agreed some weeks ago to produce a skills strategy. We know that there will be a skills strategy and we know the successes that have been achieved in skills already, despite what has been said. That part of the Labour amendment is regrettable. Mr Whitton is muttering from a sedentary position. If he has had a hand in drafting the amendment, he has proposed cutting out an important part of the motion that deals with international scope and Scotland's place in the world. Secondly, we had a constructive debate in the chamber last week on the curriculum for excellence. We agreed that things needed to be done and that we would listen to professionals. I therefore regret that, instead of proceeding in that way, Labour wants simply to politick about it.

The really excellent education systems in the world have a number of common factors. One of those is the ability to create and sustain a consensus on radical change. That is particularly true of the Finnish system, which is world renowned. I have the ambition—I have talked about it for the past three months—to find a way to get that consensus. Last week, we achieved it in difficult circumstances. I regret that, this week, having lost their chance to disrupt the consensus last week because their amendment was defeated, Labour members want to disrupt it now. That is doing a disservice to the topic that we are discussing and to Scottish education, and any party that supports the amendment will be doing itself a disservice. The amendment is not about education; it is about politics. We have had too much politics in education; we need more educational thinking in politics.

I move,

That the Parliament recognises that in the globalised and increasingly interconnected 21st century it is essential that young people are equipped with the skills and capacities needed to succeed in the global marketplace; further recognises that it is essential that learning is placed in an international context, including learning about Scotland and its place in the world, as an integrated element of the curriculum; supports the aim of promoting Scotland's education system and bolstering the international reputation that Scotland enjoys for excellence in education, and notes the Scottish Government's determination to learn from other countries' education systems to ensure that Scotland further improves its performance and applies a global perspective to its approach and ambitions.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour 3:08 pm, 4th March 2010

Over the past three years, nearly every education debate has been timetabled for the morning, during Opposition time. Today, the Government has plucked up the courage to schedule an afternoon debate on education in its own time, and I welcome that. However, in his opening speech, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning has shown his predilection for rhetorical exegesis rather than practicality. I have no doubt that, if there were a league table for the number of empty words that could be crammed into 10 minutes, Mr Russell would top it.

I welcome the cabinet secretary's conversion to international education. The cross-party group on international development, which I set up 10 years ago with George Reid, has had many discussions about the importance of international education and I look forward to Mr Russell's attendance at future meetings when that matter is likely to be discussed.

I believe that the Opposition parties have injected substance into the debate by lodging amendments on matters that are vital to the success of Scottish education in a global context. The mismanagement of the implementation of the curriculum for excellence, skills and vocational training are undoubtedly important issues. We all agree that literacy and numeracy are essential and we agree on the importance of modern languages and science.

Scottish education traditionally enjoyed an outstanding reputation for quality teaching of both practical and theoretical knowledge—a reputation that advantaged those with a Scottish education. Although there are disputes about the validity and interpretation of comparative data on the performance of educational systems, Scotland can no longer claim to be at the top of the tree. Research shows that we are not doing enough to narrow the achievement gap between the highest-performing and the worst-performing pupils, which is unacceptably wide in Scotland; that far too many pupils leave school lacking basic literacy and numeracy skills; and that our qualifications system does not stretch more able pupils sufficiently.

The OECD diagnostic report flags up the issue of those not achieving their full potential and suggests that we look at the issue from an international perspective, which is a point taken fully on board in the work of the literacy commission. Literacy must become an overriding priority in education and must be a key performance indicator rather than a tick-box in a long list of tick-boxes in the curriculum for excellence.

I am not convinced that the literacy and numeracy tests in secondary 3 are in the right place or will provide useful information for teachers or the young person concerned. If a pupil cannot read or has difficulty in reading, certification at S3 does not provide an obvious benefit, whereas one-to-one support in primary or the early years of secondary patently does. Teacher time and, indeed, management time in schools should not be wasted on universal testing unless the purpose is clear. I agree fully with what the Conservatives seem to suggest in their amendment, which is that we need to be serious about the quality and rigour of qualifications.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

This is one of the kernels of the debate. If secondary 3 is too late to test and the purpose of testing is to support the child in its further learning, at what age does the class teacher have the best chance of cottoning on to which children need special support before they go to secondary school?

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

The evidence suggests that it is necessary to look at that in the later stages of primary but, ultimately, it is a matter that schools have to consider in their own context.

The beginning of the motion states the obvious truth that

"it is essential that young people are equipped with the skills and capacities needed to succeed in the global marketplace" and that we must respond to the challenges of globalisation in the 21st century. Languages are vital. It is paradoxical, given what has been said about St Ninian's high school, that it was a centre for excellence for modern languages when the Government withdrew the funding for schools of ambition, from which St Ninian's benefited. That is an example of the two-facedness that the Government is displaying.

In his speech, the cabinet secretary had an opportunity to set out in detail how the Government's skills strategy—which remains extremely sketchy, although we have been promised more detail—will be adapted to meet the challenges that we face.

I will not berate Mr Russell for the decision by Skills Development Scotland to spend money on the services of Mr Paul McKenna—no doubt he is doing some berating himself—but the fact is that the inflexibility of the training for work scheme, which has been repeatedly highlighted by training providers, has not been remedied in line with the strategy on the SDS website, apparently because of delays on the part of Scottish ministers, whereas, down south, the inflexibility has been ironed out and the train to gain scheme is already up and running. That is a practical scheme that the minister could have brought forward.

Ken Macintosh recently asked the cabinet secretary some very basic questions about the new qualifications being introduced and their implications for subject choice. A bare six months before pupils are due to begin the new curriculum, he should have had the answers at his fingertips, but these are not the only matters on which we lack clarity. The assessment for the new national qualifications, which is a crucial component of the curriculum for excellence, is widely believed to lack the required level of specification. Although pupils will not sit these exams until 2014, teachers are rightly worried about the Scottish Qualifications Authority's failure to provide the required detail; Learning and Teaching Scotland's failure to provide the promised exemplars; and the incoherence in the management of the most major reform of Scottish education in a generation. It was the Government's choice to manage the process by committee; to defer and delay to avoid public dissent on the board; and to allow the process to be led by civil servants, whose skills do not normally include the management of curriculums and organisational change.

The week is bracketed by the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association's appeal on Monday for a further year's delay in the implementation of the curriculum for excellence and Saturday's major demonstration by teachers. The demonstration, which, as far as I can remember, is the first national one since the mid-1980s, is not about pay or working conditions; it is a day of action by professionals on behalf of their service and has been prompted by cuts that are a direct consequence of this Scottish National Party Government's choices, including an imposed council tax freeze that has placed local government under intense pressure while leaving each council to determine where the axe should fall.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

No. Because education is such a significant proportion of authority budgets, schools budgets have been stripped to the minimum needed to cover statutory obligations, with little left to fund the continuing professional development that is vital to the implementation of the curriculum for excellence.

In 2007, the Government's job was to implement a scheme whose philosophy and essential features had been painstakingly agreed in a very long process carried out under the previous Administration. It is now clear that the curriculum for excellence is in trouble; that the teaching profession's consent is being stretched; that the public are beginning to voice their concerns; and that serious questions are being asked about the ability of key players, including the Government, educational agencies such as the SQA and LTS, local authorities that are under severe financial pressure and even the professionals at the chalk face, who feel that they are being deprived of the tools to do the job.

We live in a world in which the movement of goods and services and of ideas and people is far faster than ever before and in which employment prospects depend not only on performance in examinations but on employers' perceptions of the quality of the qualifications received and skills acquired by school leavers and graduates. If the Scottish system falls behind, it blights the prospects of each individual as well as our national competitiveness.

A second delay in the curriculum for excellence will damage the Scottish education system considerably. I fully accept that we cannot allow children's education to be put at risk if the system cannot be delivered for them, but the curriculum for excellence management board will face difficult decisions when it meets in April. However, whatever it decides, it is clear that any fault that is to be found lies with the Scottish Government, whose vainglorious posturing is deluding no one in the education system.

The factor most likely to boost our educational system's performance is investment in improving teacher quality. We need the best people to be teachers and we need those who are recruited into the profession to be offered the support, information and development that they need to be the best that they can be. The Government has not provided that support, which is fundamentally why there are concerns about the curriculum for excellence.

It is the Government's job to put this right; it is the Government's job to ensure that the curriculum for excellence works; and it is the Government's job to accept responsibility if it does not.

I move amendment S3M-5871.1, to leave out from "further recognises" to "excellence in education" and insert:

"regrets the absence of a coherent skills strategy and the lack of preparedness for implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence, particularly the lack of detail regarding the new qualifications and provision for vital continuing professional development".

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative 3:18 pm, 4th March 2010

I have no problem in reiterating our commitment to internationalism or in praising the enormous number of schools, many of which have been included in the HMIE inspection report, that, as the cabinet secretary has pointed out, have done a fantastic job on this subject. I, too, congratulate St Ninian's high school and, in particular, its headteacher on winning his excellent award. I have certainly said many nice things about Perth and Kinross schools such as Oakbank primary school and its work on international eco-school development and several other schools that have made excellent new links with schools in South Africa, India and China.

I suspect, however, that many teachers and members of the public will be a little puzzled at the SNP's insistence that the most pressing topic for an education debate this week is international education, particularly in view of the motion's very self-congratulatory tone.

There always has been and always will be a whole-hearted commitment in Scotland to international aspects of education. If there was a single reason why Scottish education made such a huge impact around the world in the days when it first established its reputation, it was Scotland's concern for the international community and the role that Scotland played in the economic, social and political development of many nations around the world.

The Scottish enlightenment in the 18th century, whose benefits were felt many thousands of miles from these shores, was remarkable for its great outpouring of intellectual and scientific accomplishments, which rivalled those of any other nation at the time. They were even more remarkable because they took place in a country that was considered to be one of the so-called more backward nations in western Europe. Scotland was remarkably forward in recognising the values that underpin a good education. The achievements in philosophy, economics, engineering, architecture, medicine, geology, archaeology, law, agriculture and chemistry were extraordinary, and the contributions of Scottish thinkers and scientists of the period, such as Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, Adam Smith, Thomas Reid, Robert Burns, Adam Ferguson and James Hutton, were outstanding.

The belief that a good education should be available to everyone was also extraordinary. There is no doubt that, if pupils are to become well-educated, rounded human beings, they must have a full awareness and understanding of the global community, and tolerance and respect for the many and varied cultures around the world. Today's pupils have at their disposal a huge array of means of communication and a wide number of opportunities to visit other countries and to host visitors from other countries, which cannot do anything other than benefit their education. It is good to see that the recent HMIE report provided many examples of good practice in that respect.

I would like to pursue the theme of parental and teacher priorities at a time when there is much else of pressing need to debate in the chamber. Indeed, it is only by pursuing those priorities that we can best deliver the desired objectives in international education. That requires some of the most sophisticated skills to understand other cultures, build better relations with communities that are far removed from our own, and cross the boundaries of religious and racial divisions. That is not easy, and it is particularly difficult if too many of our young people lack good-quality skills in the basics. To pick up on the point that Margo MacDonald made, how can we expect youngsters who struggle to read and write properly to be furnished with the ability to learn a second or third language or the depth of understanding that is required to appreciate the historical and economic differences of other societies? That point is well made in the Liberal amendment. To pick up Labour's theme, how can we achieve the full benefits of the international dimension of the curriculum for excellence if teachers in our secondary schools remain a little hazy about exactly what subject knowledge they are supposed to impart and how it will be examined?

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

In answer to the member's rhetorical question about how we can benefit from the international dimension of education, perhaps we should concentrate on the teacher training that is to be found in other parts of the world rather than on what schools are doing. We should look at what is being done with teachers elsewhere and whether they are better than our teachers.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

That point is extremely well made. In the debate last week, the cabinet secretary said that we have lessons to learn from other countries. I am sure that he will not miss that point when he examines what we should do to improve teacher training. The General Teaching Council for Scotland has said that more teachers in the teacher training programme are asking for international education to be expanded and for better-quality training in the basics. I return to the fact that we will not be able to enhance international development unless we ensure that people are well crafted in the basics first.

Labour has an important point to make. We need much greater clarity and certainly far more assurances about the nature of the new generation of exam reform. We debated that last week, and it has been debated in the media ever since. The new exams should not only be more suited to the needs of individual pupils—it is right that they should be—but should stretch our brightest pupils, who should have the potential to follow in the footsteps of their enlightenment forefathers. If the Scottish Government is serious about pursuing the best merits of international education, it might consider debating the merits of the international baccalaureate as opposed to the Scottish baccalaureate. However, a debate on that is perhaps for another Thursday.

The Scottish Government has made it clear that it wishes to learn from the educational experiences of other countries. One of the most important and pressing needs is the need to develop better vocational education. Countries such as Germany and Denmark have sophisticated educational structures that allow formal vocational training at a younger age than is possible here and they have far less of the unacceptable stigma that in this country so wrongly gets attached to many pupils who, for one reason or another, have no wish to pursue an academically focused career.

Internationalism has always been at the centre of Scottish education and I am confident that it always will be. Those schools that have embraced new projects with international education are to be warmly congratulated, but I suggest that no one will congratulate the Scottish Government until it can attend to the basics without which too many children have little chance of being able to understand and appreciate the international community.

I move amendment S3M-5871.3, which was written carefully by me and not by a computer, to insert at end:

"; believes that the priorities for parents and teachers across Scotland are substantial improvements in basic standards of literacy and numeracy, greater rigour and greater flexibility in the SQA qualifications structure and wider opportunities for young people to pursue formal vocational training so that Scotland can strengthen its international reputation in educational attainment."

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat 3:25 pm, 4th March 2010

The HMIE report "Learning Together: International education: responsible global citizens" states correctly that

"Scotland's future economic prosperity requires an education system within which the population as a whole will develop the kind of knowledge, skills and attributes which will equip them personally, socially and economically to thrive in the 21st century."

I realise that that is exactly the same quotation that the cabinet secretary used, but that does not make it wrong. It makes it doubly right, in fact.

The vast majority of us would hardly recognise the schools in which Scotland's children learn today, by comparison with the classrooms of our childhood. Many of the changes are for the better: computers, smart boards and the increased use of information and communications technology encourage skills that are vital to success in today's world and allow our young people to become more outward looking. Many of the examples in the HMIE report are certainly welcome. Liberal Democrats are committed internationalists and we welcome increased links between Scottish and international schools.

Although we support elements of the Government's motion, particularly where it speaks of learning from other nations, we do so with a certain amount of caution. In the Liberal Democrat debate last week, we were keen to reiterate our support for the curriculum for excellence. We agreed that it was essential that it was resourced and implemented properly. We have real concerns about the funding for implementation and the fact that the curriculum is being introduced amid significant budget cuts. We are still worried about the general lack of clarity, given that the curriculum for excellence is meant to be introduced in secondary schools in the autumn, with new national qualifications introduced by 2013. Those concerns are clearly shared by the SSTA, the Educational Institute of Scotland and others. That is why we highlighted all those issues and introduced them for debate last week. To be fair to the cabinet secretary—something that I probably do not do enough of—he accepted our motion and the intent behind it and acknowledged the concerns of key partners.

Each and every one of us wants a successful implementation, and we should all be working towards that in the months ahead. That is why we called for a decision in the near future on implementation dates. We welcome Mr Russell's assurance that he will listen to the management board about whether more time is needed before implementation in secondary schools. The management board will meet two weeks after Easter. It would certainly be helpful if decisions on the timetable were made after that meeting, particularly given the fact that when we start the curriculum, we will move towards crucial new national qualifications.

Another key point of the proposed curriculum for excellence changes is around literacy and numeracy. Reading and writing attainment in the five to 14 curriculum is decreasing. Literacy and numeracy need to be key priorities, from early years education throughout primary school. Quite simply, it is not acceptable that two thirds of 13-year-olds fail to reach expected standards of writing or that 18.5 per cent of pupils leave primary school without being functionally literate.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has rightly highlighted that some of our children are being left behind. Socioeconomic disadvantages are the most significant cause of illiteracy. Instead of taking a blanket approach, we need to reach those most at risk in a personalised way that takes into account the needs of pupils and their families and supports them. We should also focus resources on the schools in greatest need, and we support smaller class sizes in deprived areas as part of that approach. If Scotland is to succeed economically in the world, it is essential that children leave our schools able to read, write and count. Those skills are not add-ons; they are the fundamental building blocks of a lifetime's education.

Scotland did well in the 2000 and 2003 programmes for international student assessment, but in 2006 we were just above average. We accept the cabinet secretary's comments about the Bologna process, but it is critical that we continue to benchmark ourselves against others, continue to learn lessons from that and acknowledge that we are slipping.

Last week, the cabinet secretary said that

"attainment has plateaued over the past decade. We perform well, but not well enough; others are catching up with us and, in some cases, exceeding us."—[Official Report, 25 February 2010; c 23966.]

We agree with that and with addressing the situation urgently, so we support the Conservatives' amendment.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

No—I would like to make progress.

The world changes and teaching must move with it, so examining how Scots teachers are taught has merit. The Donaldson review of teacher training must ensure that teachers are equipped with the right knowledge and skills to develop key subjects. We must have in place the specialist teachers whom we need. The teaching profession must be strong and dynamic. We must have a body of teachers who are not just comfortable with but confident in delivering the curriculum. That is why the fall in teacher numbers is hugely disappointing, as is the fall in the number of modern language teachers.

We need fundamental improvements in modern languages. The Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council's report on modern languages in Scotland concluded that

"Scotland currently falls well short of meeting the language aspirations of the Council of Europe that all European Union citizens are able to hold a conversation in two languages other than their mother tongue".

Although 56 per cent of Europeans can speak at least one other language well enough to hold a conversation, that is true for only 48 per cent of UK citizens. Only 18 per cent of UK citizens can speak two other languages, in comparison with a European level of 28 per cent, and only Turkey and Ireland fall behind the UK.

Learning foreign languages has benefits—it opens up the world to our children and our citizens. However, the most recent SQA data show a decline in the number of entrants for language exams from 58,000 in 2008 to 54,000 in 2009. The proportion of all exam entrants who do modern languages has dropped from 8.2 per cent to 7.5 per cent. Those are not the only worrying reductions. The number of modern language teachers in our schools has fallen—there are 96 fewer French teachers and 10 fewer German teachers.

The curriculum for excellence introduces elements of teaching modern languages at primary level, but the GTCS does not stipulate that primary teacher-training courses must include training on modern languages. The Government must confirm how it intends to ensure that teachers are properly equipped to teach modern languages. We would like the Donaldson review to examine that.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I honestly do not remember whether Margaret Smith was present at the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee meeting when, in response to one of Ken Macintosh's many questions, I confirmed that the Donaldson review would consider modern languages. I have since spoken to Graham Donaldson to ensure that that is part of his review.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

I welcome that and the fact that the cabinet secretary says that he will accept our amendment. If we are serious about our place in the world and about ensuring that our people—particularly our young people and pupils in our schools—have the skills that they need to compete and play an active part in the world, modern languages are fundamental.

We know that good practice examples of internationalism in our schools exist throughout Scotland. Primary schools have worked with others throughout Europe on eco-school status and children have communicated by e-mail, blog and videoconference. Children are not only challenged but excited by that. I read a comment about that from a pupil that was spot on. He said that sharing themes for learning with French schools was

"an exciting way to learn with real people for real reasons".

That is the kind of education that our children need—education that is relevant, exciting, modern and challenging.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

Plato said:

"Never discourage anyone who ... makes progress, no matter how slow."

I do not wish to discourage Mr Russell, but more progress, more speedily would be welcome and helpful.

I move amendment S3M-5871.2, to insert at end:

"; notes the particular importance of modern languages and science in modern society and the global marketplace, and believes that the Donaldson review of teacher training must ensure that teachers are equipped with the right knowledge and skills to develop these and other key subjects and meet the needs of pupils in the 21st century."

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party 3:33 pm, 4th March 2010

Global citizenship and international perspectives on education have never been more important. We live in an increasingly interdependent world in which countries are defined and shaped by their interdependence and their relationships with other countries and international institutions.

Younger generations must be equipped with the skills that they need to make the most of the opportunities presented by the globalised economy and marketplace in which we live. The Scottish Government recognises that and, as the motion says, it wants to ensure that we continue to improve our education system's performance and to apply a truly

"global perspective to its approach and ambitions."

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Everyone seems to agree that it is a great idea for all Scots to speak as many foreign languages as possible. How many foreign languages do American pupils learn? They do rather well in any competitive test of the results of their education programme.

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party

I defer to Margo MacDonald's knowledge of that. I am sure that she will explain to members of the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee some of her thoughts on that issue.

A helpful starting point is the recent HMIE report "Learning Together: International education: responsible, global citizens", which evaluates the work that is done in Scotland on international education. It found much to be commended. It states that finding an international perspective

"enhances the ethos and life of the school as a community" and

"provides a wide range of opportunities for personal achievement", concluding that it is

"a key dimension of the broad general education to which all children and young people aged 3 to 15 are entitled."

I am sure that every member can and, no doubt, will give examples from schools in their area that promote global citizenship and civic responsibility. In my area, I think of Larkhall academy and the group of sixth year pupils who developed a unite Scotland initiative to celebrate diversity within Scotland and the contribution that people from other countries and cultures make when they come here. As part of that project, the group aimed to raise more than £20,000 through the Prince's Trust scholars challenge, which ran during the academic year 2008-2009.

However, the aim of international education, and the aim of the Government's motion, is to ensure not just that those in education learn about other countries and societies but that we learn from them. The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning is right to look at best practice around the world, especially in those countries that tend to perform better than Scotland in OECD and other assessments of our educational performance. Where other countries are getting things right, it simply makes sense for us to consider how their ideas might be applied to Scotland. Other members have made that point.

From that perspective, it is easy to understand the importance that the Liberal Democrats' amendment attaches to modern languages. All too often, native speakers of English take it for granted that they will be understood by people from other parts of the world. That can lead to complacency in the uptake of and commitment to the study of other languages. Learning other languages has benefits beyond simply being able to communicate with people from different countries. To truly understand a language means also to understand the culture that has shaped and formed it. It is also a skill that promotes and improves learning and cognitive functions in other parts of the curriculum and daily life, especially in the early years.

It is unfortunate that Labour is not as constructive in its amendment. The Parliament rightly debated the curriculum for excellence just last week, when it supported

"the full and effective implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence", agreeing that it should be introduced within a timescale that meets the recommendations of the management board. Like the cabinet secretary, I believe it is unfortunate that the Labour amendment for today's debate removes from the Government's motion so much that is positive about Scottish education.

It is not just the Government's responsibility to promote international perspectives on education. I note the range of organisations that exist to help schools to integrate global citizenship as effectively as possible into the curriculum. The Scottish Development Education Centre and the International Development Education Association of Scotland do hugely important work in that regard. Both are supported by the Government, but they bring together a wide range of individuals who have experience of international development and education.

Another such organisation is the British Council, which, along with the United Nations refugee programme, Scottish Screen and others, has helped to sponsor the reel festivals series of international film screenings in Edinburgh. I have been proud to support the reel Iraq and reel Afghanistan festivals in the past two years. Although some of the material that was screened might be beyond what would usually be shown to school pupils, the festivals are another demonstration of Scotland's willingness to reach out to the wider world. They are organised by the Edinburgh University Settlement charity, whose stated goals are to enhance public provision for individuals who are disadvantaged through circumstance or disability. It aims to help local people in and around Edinburgh to bring about social change and regeneration for their communities. Many such causes are founded by people who are products of Scotland's education system and who have learned through their education in Scotland the values of citizenship and responsibility and our obligations to our neighbours at home and abroad.

The motion states that young people must be given the opportunity to learn

"about Scotland and its place in the world".

For that reason, the Government is once again to be commended for making the Scotland's history website available not just to schools but to everyone who has access to the internet, wherever they are in the world. Far from having a narrow perspective on our nation, the website is in the proud tradition of internationalism that has always been found in people from Scotland, including those of us who believe in independence.

This Saturday, teachers and members of the public from across Scotland will gather to protest against cuts to our education system. As I said in the chamber last week, I firmly believe that we should invest in teachers and not in Trident submarines. Global citizenship education will do more to bring about peace and reconciliation and sustainable economic development than weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde ever will.

I congratulate the Government on its motion and its vision of a positive way forward for Scotland's education system that builds on good practice and, of course, internationalism.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour 3:40 pm, 4th March 2010

I am pleased to take part in this debate. Although there is nothing to disagree with in the Government's motion, it seems removed from context. It has taken the amendments from the Opposition parties to bring to the debate the pressing issues that Scottish education is facing.

I appreciate that it is merely a week since our previous discussion, but, as they say, a week is a long time in politics. In that time, we have seen increasing speculation about a delay in the introduction of the curriculum for excellence, a report on the GTC that has generated its own debate and a lively discussion on class sizes in yesterday's meeting of the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee—and yet the Government motion seems to exist outwith those issues.

Although the motion recognises the challenges that children and young people face at the beginning of the 21st century, it does not really offer any solutions or policies about how to equip them to respond to those challenges. The motion "recognises" plenty, but it does not really respond to the challenges, although it does contain an important recognition of the interconnectedness of Scotland's place in the world.

Only last night, in Bill Butler's members' business debate on Fairtrade fortnight, we discussed the fair trade ethos, which is built on the co-operative principles of community ownership, democratic membership control, equitable distribution of profits and commitment to building long-term, sustainable trading relationships. Those values safeguard the rights and welfare of workers and consumers alike. If we want to equip young people with the skills and capacities to succeed in the global marketplace, we have to ensure that they have a greater understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of global markets.

We are experiencing dramatic economic changes throughout the world. There is increasing debate about the creation of new markets and, increasingly, people recognise that Scotland does not sit alone and that our actions have consequences throughout the world. It is about children and young people not just competing internationally but contributing to change and recognising their global responsibility.

That brings us back to the curriculum for excellence, which offers greater opportunities for children to appreciate those complex issues. In many ways, it offers a response to many of the issues raised in the motion. This week, we have heard calls from the SSTA to delay; we have also heard that the EIS plans to survey teachers and is considering a delay and that the Scottish Parent Teacher Council has emphasised the need for better preparation before implementation.

I know that the cabinet secretary is well aware of those concerns. Any decision has to be taken in the best interests of pupils, but it would be unfortunate if there was to be a delay. The cabinet secretary was quite right to say last week that he did not agree to "delay for delay's sake", but he also recognised that secondary education desperately needs to change and that delaying the new curriculum will have a cost in relation to the chances and opportunities for secondary pupils—chances that relate very closely to the Government's motion.

It is concerning that we are again talking about a delay. When the previous Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning announced a delay at the end of 2008, it was recognised to be a sensible move—there was broad agreement that more time was needed. However, this is almost a year and a half later and we seem to be in the same situation. Surely in that period the issues identified could have been resolved. There are now legitimate concerns that there has been a lack of leadership, and there are increasing concerns about resources.

The cabinet secretary recognises how important the changes are for young people and how important it is that the curriculum meets the challenges outlined in the Government's motion. Although pupils, parents and teachers must be confident and there must be clarity around the exams framework, the cabinet secretary cannot allow the introduction of the curriculum for excellence to drift. He agreed to make a decision in the next few months. There is still time for him to keep this on track.

The Labour amendment raises continuing concerns about the skills strategy. The Government motion recognises the demand for a flexible, highly skilled, adaptive workforce. We all know that employment opportunities have changed dramatically in recent decades—not many long-service carriage clocks are handed out these days. We need a workforce that is not frightened of those changes but is supported to embrace them. A responsive skills strategy that fully recognises the current economic climate is essential. I am sure that my colleague Dave Whitton will say more about that later.

The Government motion talks about

"the international reputation that Scotland enjoys for excellence in education".

Of course, we are recognised for an education system that produces good results—excellent results in many cases. In the university sector, we are world leading in many areas, with forward-looking universities such as the University of Aberdeen pursuing an innovative curriculum that is intended to meet the demands of the modern world. However, we must not be complacent and rest on that reputation.

Exam results are improving and the highest pass rates are being achieved in many subjects. There are more graduates and postgraduates. However, the Scottish survey of achievement, which was published the other week, revealed concerning figures on children's reading skills. Only one child in three can write properly by the age of 13. We all agree that there is a need for a literacy action plan, and the findings of the literacy commission gave rise to concern about many areas.

Such realities do not sit well with the idea of Scotland's excellent reputation for education. There are two sides to the legacy that the Scottish Government has inherited. Politicians always want to take credit for the good results and blame their predecessors for the poor results, but we are all responsible for working together to ensure that Scotland has an excellent education system that is recognised not just internationally but by parents and pupils and by students and adult learners. I think that the current Government and all members of the Parliament are committed to realising that aspiration, but we sometimes disagree on how to do so. The Parliament must resolve the pressing issues if we are to give people the opportunities that they deserve in the 21st century.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party 3:45 pm, 4th March 2010

For generations, Scotland has been proud of its education system. Scots laud it as being the best in the world and are not shy in letting other people know how good we are. There was a time when Scotland's commitment to teach every child to read and write was unmatched by other nations, which meant that we had the best education system in the world. However, those days are some way behind us and we need to move on and be honest about the challenges that our education system faces and what we need to do to improve it.

It is important to acknowledge the hard work and professionalism of teaching staff in schools and support staff in local authorities, as well as the efforts of all school pupils and their parents, which have resulted in high attainment year after year. It is easy to get bogged down in the negative aspects of what we must deal with, but we should congratulate the kids who get out there and get on with it every day. However, there will always be doom-mongers—they are usually to be found in the red corner of the chamber—who see a half-empty glass as one that is missing a portion, unlike those of us who see a half-full glass as one that has another half-glass-worth of potential. I should say that the glasses have milk in them and minimum pricing does not apply, although dairy farmers might wish that it did.

Scotland certainly has the potential to fill the glass and keep improving. The skills that we teach our pupils in schools will be the skills that they use to build a better future for themselves and the country. They will build on those skills in further and higher education and in lifelong learning.

I agree with the Government motion—that is no surprise—where it says that we must ensure that

"young people are equipped with the skills and capacities needed to succeed in the global marketplace".

That is why I am concerned that the most recent figures on school-leaver qualifications, which were published last year and are for school year 2007-08, show that only one in 20 leavers, which means fewer than 1,500 people, had French at Scottish credit and qualifications framework level 6—for the benefit of members who have not kept up with changes to the qualifications system, that is a higher in old money. The lack of success in French was not made up for by success in other languages. Only 1.8 per cent of leavers had achieved level 6 in German, 1.3 per cent in Spanish and 0.2 per cent in Italian. One of the most important skills for success in the global marketplace is in precious short supply. We need to teach and expose young people to languages.

Perhaps there will be better news on that front. I look forward to hearing about that today or in due course. I am a monoglot who holidays abroad once in a while and I am amazed by the language skills of people from other nations and a little embarrassed that Scotland does not yet have the accomplishments that come from looking outwards rather than inwards.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Je voudrais parler en français.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I am afraid that the standing orders do not allow you to do that, Ms MacDonald.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

There you go—everybody speaks English. I hate to sound like a prophet of doom, but more and more people across the globe are learning English for business and industry as well as for cultural exchanges. We should glory in the fact that we have been lucky enough to inherit the language. Learning other languages is important, but I put it to Christina McKelvie that it is not as important as it was 20 years ago.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

Aye. My colleague Aileen Campbell has just pointed out to me that I have a guid Scots tongue in ma heid. I should have stayed on my feet and finished this part of my speech, which would probably have answered Margo MacDonald's point.

If the figures to come do not show a dramatic improvement, we will have to address a serious issue in the future if we are to equip Scotland's youngsters for the global marketplace. An important point in that regard, which should be addressed, is that not all the important modern foreign languages are European languages.

I urge the cabinet secretary to look at, in the near future, the provision of modern Chinese and Russian learning and teaching facilities, and then to consider other Slavic tongues, Asian languages and, of course, the Nordic languages. It is often said that English is the international language of business but that seems complacent to me. Latin was once the international language of business, medicine and religion. If Scotland is to compete in the global marketplace, we need to be able to communicate, and that has to start in our schools. I appreciate that the problem is a long-standing one—it is decades old, and much older than me, of course—and that the solution requires more than training a few teachers and sliding them into schools. I believe that it is one of the most important issues that we have to face in training the pupils of today for the challenges of tomorrow.

We have to ensure that pupils are educated to see not only Scotland's place in the world, but how Scotland can interact with the world. The broadening of horizons has to be one of the major thrusts of any education system, and Scotland must get serious about that.

Last night, along with the Mercy Corps, I hosted an event in Parliament for the Middle East youth festival. The event involved the global citizen corps, which is the youth wing of the Mercy Corps. My colleague, Hugh O'Donnell, was also there and will say a few words about it. Youngsters from Lebanon, Jordan, the United States of America, Scotland and Ireland—and places further afield—engaged in a global peer education programme. It was absolutely fantastic. Looking at the young people whom I met last night, and the effort that they put into their work and the week that they served on the festival, I think that the world is in good hands for the future.

Let us have more modern language success and get school pupils travelling abroad and experiencing other cultures. We should encourage the Erasmus programme, but also see about getting younger people abroad as well. Our pupils should learn about Scotland as their home nation, but they should also learn about Europe as their home continent. Internationalism must be the touchstone of Scotland's future success. We should start it by running it in our classrooms now.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour 3:51 pm, 4th March 2010

Another day, another education debate. Not that I am complaining; education and skills should be a priority for the Parliament and for any Scottish Government. I am not surprised that we all agree with the principle of ensuring that our young people become active global citizens. Equally, I would not be surprised if most MSPs spoke about an example of achievement in their own constituency. On Sunday, I was privileged to be able to go along to a musical extravaganza at the Fort shopping centre.

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party

If the member celebrates those principles, why does she want to delete them from the motion that we are debating?

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour

We want to talk about the priorities for Scottish education. Many of those things are already happening in schools, and we acknowledge that. I highlight the work led by Caitlin Currie, a primary 7 pupil at Tollbrae primary in Airdrie, who organised a musical extravaganza at the Fort shopping centre in Glasgow to raise money for the victims of the Haiti earthquake disaster, particularly the children. She is an excellent example of an active global citizen.

The Scottish public will judge the success or failure of any Scottish Government on its actions to improve education in Scotland. I have no doubt that the SNP Government is committed to improving educational attainment in Scotland. I also have no doubt that the cabinet secretary is passionate about the task of driving up attainment in Scotland's education system. However, although passion and commitment are laudable, they are not in themselves enough. The people of Scotland demand results: more new schools in which their children can be taught and sufficient teacher numbers in those schools. They demand a coherent and considered approach to any changes to the curriculum and examinations system. They also demand proper funding for our colleges, which play an increasingly vital role in training Scotland's workforce.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour

Not at the moment.

I am afraid that the Scottish Government has failed on school buildings and teacher numbers. It is all very well to be ideologically opposed to public-private partnerships as a funding mechanism, but it is incumbent upon the Scottish Government to come up with a credible alternative. I am afraid that the Scottish Futures Trust simply does not do that. Since its creation, the SFT has not funded one new school in my constituency; in fact, it has not funded one new school in North Lanarkshire. As we all know, the SFT has not funded one brick in any new school in the entire country.

Instead of providing funding, the SFT consumes it. According to its own publicity material, the organisation is wholly owned by the Scottish Government, operates independently of the Scottish Government and has non-executive members that are appointed by—yes, you guessed it—the Scottish Government. It employs 21 members of staff and will cost the taxpayer around £23 million, which includes a salary of £180,000 for the chief executive, Barry White. Is there not a song by Barry White called "I'll Do Anything You Want Me To"?

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

It is called "I'll Do Anything For You".

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour

The issue is important because, if we are to create highly skilled and adaptable workforces for the 21 st century, we need to ensure that all our children and young people have equal access to high-quality schooling in an environment that is fit for purpose and inspirational. The Scottish Government must sort the matter out quickly.

Equally, the Government must address the growing problem that student and probationary teachers face. Those young men and women entered the profession with the not unreasonable expectation that at the end of their training they would have a secure job and be able to contribute to society by educating our children and young people. Unfortunately, teacher numbers are declining. The Government must face up to that and do something about it.

Only last week the Parliament debated the curriculum for excellence and I raised concerns about its implementation, particularly in our high schools. Those concerns have been repeated to me during the past week by constituents who teach in high schools throughout the central belt.

However, it is not only my constituents and the members of the Labour Party who are concerned. Others have expressed concern—the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, for example, has raised concerns about the timescale for the implementation of the curriculum for excellence.

In addition, there are concerns about the lack of resources to facilitate the staff development that is required to ensure a successful transition to the curriculum. The cabinet secretary must either take effective action to address those concerns, or consider a delayed implementation.

I encourage the cabinet secretary to examine closely the Government's support for further education colleges; I know that he recognises the vital role that they play. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the new Motherwell campus, but although I was impressed by the inspirational learning environment and the enthusiasm and commitment of college staff, I heard considerable concerns about the level of funding that our colleges receive to meet the demand that is placed on them.

On a more parochial note, I am aware of the serious concern that Lanarkshire does not receive the same funding levels as other parts of Scotland. I urge the cabinet secretary to fight to ensure that Scottish colleges receive the funding that they require to enable them to meet student demand for training and education.

There is no doubt that the demands of a global economy mean that Scotland must have a highly skilled and adaptable workforce, and we need to ensure that all parts of our education system work effectively to deliver that. We need to get the basics right, which is why the Labour Party and the other Opposition parties have lodged amendments to the Government's motion today.

If we do not ensure that we have sufficient schools that are modern and good environments in which to learn, and sufficient numbers of teachers, a curriculum that works and proper funding for further and higher education, our children and young people will not be able to compete in a global marketplace. It is time for the Scottish Government to begin to deliver improvements on those important issues.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat 3:59 pm, 4th March 2010

It is not often that a back bencher such as me gets an opportunity to trump the cabinet secretary, or Mr Whitton, in reference to St Ninian's high school. I am an ex-pupil. I should add that it was in the days of Dr John Griffin, rather than the current principal.

I return to the motion. I acknowledge the legitimate concerns of all parties about the curriculum for excellence, referring in particular to the comments of my colleague Margaret Smith, and I will widen the issue to foreign languages. Across the country, young people—apprentices just leaving their apprenticeships and other young people looking for work—find themselves in a situation that is not dissimilar from that in other parts of Europe. It is, however, quite easy for tradesmen and artisans from countries such as Poland, France, Germany and Italy to come and at least seek work in the United Kingdom. Their grasp of the English language in their fields of activity will be sufficient for them to get an application form and seek work. It is that much harder for those of us in Scotland, and the UK generally, to make the journey in the opposite direction.

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

Not at the moment, thank you. I conclude that Margo MacDonald is making her contribution to the debate in small chunks, rather than in one speech.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I just want to know why it is harder for us.

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

Our approach to language teaching is focused on attainment. It should be widened out. Important and useful as the statutory provision in our school system is, language teaching needs to be widened out into community learning and into projects where young people who might be disengaged from the formal education system have an opportunity to get involved. There is an example in my region, run through South Lanarkshire Council's youth work project at the Terminal One Youth Centre, where young people who have disengaged from the education system work on peer education and on the types of projects that Christina McKelvie was referring to last night. It was particularly interesting that every single one of the young speakers last night spoke English—and with a degree of fluency that some of us here might desire in our command of the language.

As Margo MacDonald mentioned earlier, this is a world where English dominates, and there are historical—sometimes not very nice—reasons for that being the case. We certainly need to ensure that the full range of educational resources is developed. The aim must be achievement as much as attainment. It is about giving people the confidence to engage with the waiter in a meaningful way, as opposed to raising one's voice and speaking as though to someone who was not fully comprehending when trying to get a beer, for instance, be it in Spain, Greece—

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

That I know well, having been studying the language for long and weary. We need to widen the basis on which languages are taught. Again, I mention peer education, which the structures that are intended to be used in curriculum for excellence should support. As Margaret Smith and other members have said, we must ensure that teacher training gives teachers the capacity to provide that. It must form at least some part of teacher training, and I firmly believe that that approach should be rooted in the primary school system. Unfortunately—and I have some sympathy with Karen Whitefield's observations on this—cuts are impacting on the possibility of that being done.

It is critical that the Government takes a lead on delivering the level of service that our schools expect but we also need to ensure that the teachers have the confidence to take on the challenges. That must be reflected in the continuing professional development opportunities and not being obsessed with the number of people who are presented for examinations. We need to find a methodology that does not counsel pupils out of attempting examinations because it might have a detrimental effect on the overall attainment results. We are not yet at that stage.

Taking account of my colleague Margaret Smith's observations on the curriculum for excellence, I urge the cabinet secretary to ensure that delivering globalisation and building capacity in our society goes wider than the statutory provision of education, into community learning and community support for such learning.

Photo of Christopher Harvie Christopher Harvie Scottish National Party 4:06 pm, 4th March 2010

I started my teaching career 44 years ago in the old Regent Road school teaching Post Office messenger boys who delivered telegrams on red motorcycles. In teaching terms, they were the north face of the Eiger—a crowd of cheeky wee devils—but after a few sessions, they were a delight to teach. They were competent mechanics, inquisitive and humane.

At a big meeting quite recently, I met one who is now on the board of British Telecom in Scotland. One never generalises about such groups, but tries to understand them. When they were out on their bikes, those boys delivered telegrams and, in a Scottish working home in the 1960s, telegrams meant only one thing. So they had to listen and comfort. Under the razzmatazz, they had the same sort of quiet strength as firemen or carers of old people. It is no wonder that so many of them did well. They emphasised what the great Scottish sociologist, Patrick Geddes, talked about and what Nehru recollected from India: the importance of hand, heart and head in education—Geddes always spoke in triads. That is germane today, because it is important that teachers should ask what they can learn from and about the kids with whom they deal as much as how they can get material over to them.

Way back when I started teaching in the Open University, I came across a line from Thomas Carlyle:

"Instruction ... is no longer an indefinable tentative process, requiring a study of individual aptitudes"; it has become

"a secure, universal, straightforward business, to be conducted in the gross, by proper mechanism, with such intellect as comes to hand."

That is a damning statement. The Open University could so easily have become a steam intellect society, but that quotation on our desks was a warning sign.

It is important to have rote learning in an educational system—to have 12 times tables; have the value of punctuality dinned into you, as I have this afternoon, and to know how to spell. Because those things do not demand imagination, we forget about them; they come out automatically. It is important that we should grasp that. That said, we should also have the empathy—the broad culture—to make sense of the tsunami of facts that descends on us along the internet, which is a tremendous tool and a terribly bad master.

It is important to adapt to situations and not to impose a dogmatic method, which is why I have been intrigued by different experimental teaching methods, such as the storyline method that has been pioneered at Jordanhill College in Glasgow by Steve Bell and others. It concentrates language and reading fluency around a particular practical theme, making the students expand their vocabulary and text capability to cope with it as they progress and master it.

Secondly, we must gear ourselves up to tackle the issues and skills that we need to co-operate with, as much as compete against, other European Union countries. I say to Margo MacDonald that the issue of languages does come up in that context. I was informed at a meeting of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee that even a big German concern uses English at its board meetings. The man who told me that was a banker, who comes from a profession to which the words "lack of transparency" automatically attach themselves. One must bear it in mind that when it comes to manufacturing cars or engines, the language of command—the shop talk—over much of Europe is no longer English: it is German, or it may even be Chinese.

Photo of Christopher Harvie Christopher Harvie Scottish National Party

No. I might take one when I get into the final straight.

We are, in fact, trying to do something about the language situation that I described. In my region of Fife, there is a project at St Marie's Roman Catholic primary school in Kirkcaldy called the great renewable energy race, which stresses gaining theory through practice, with pupils building and testing their own model vehicles that are driven by renewable power sources. They do not learn about just renewables from that hands- on approach. They work in co-operation with European primary schools, so the children use modern communications technology, thus boosting their language and computer skills, and they learn about other cultures. That is timely, since along the coast from Rosyth to Levenmouth there is a possible rebirth of industry as the Forth array of offshore wind farms takes shape. We require young people with an interest in and knowledge of renewable technologies to install more in the future.

We also require a time out of education. Where I taught for many years, students would go into the community and work in social work and other professions for a year, before coming back into the university. They would start university with that philosophical grounding that we used to be taught in Scottish universities.

We must realise that we are not the only players in the business of energy, although it is a tremendous potential boost. There is an alternative, predictable source in North Africa, where the Desertec project could make the desert bloom again. With that in mind, the faster and better we teach our children in the areas and means that I described, the better we will be equipped to face the new technological and social future.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour 4:12 pm, 4th March 2010

On Saturday morning, teachers will be joined by pupils, parents and probably politicians, too, at Kelvingrove park in Glasgow to march in support of Scottish education. The rally is being organised by the EIS as part of its "Why must our children pay?" campaign, and it is designed to highlight the need to invest in our children's education at this difficult economic time. The message is to resist cuts and any attempt to make pupils pay for difficulties that are not of their making.

The picture that the EIS paints of what is already happening in our schools is deeply worrying:

"We now have almost 2,500 fewer teachers in our classrooms than was the case just two years ago. This is" leading to

"larger classes, with less teaching time ... Support staff numbers are also falling ... Even basic classroom resources such as books, paper, pencils ... are becoming increasingly scarce."

There is nothing particularly wrong or offensive in the motion for debate, but it is clear from the contributions from across the chamber that I am not the only one who finds it odd that the Government has put such a bland and almost purposeless statement before us, when our teachers are protesting on the streets of Scotland. Pupils and parents are worried about cuts in their schools, while the Government motion talks about improving our performance and applying a "global perspective". I think that that is what is called, to use a fashionable word, a disconnect. It is not just that the motion is a little too self-congratulatory; it is that it bears little relation to the reality of life in our schools and classrooms.

It is not as though there is any lack of issues on the cabinet secretary's desk that need his immediate attention. At yesterday's meeting of the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee, we heard that the Scottish National Party had failed to introduce regulations to limit the maximum class size in P1 this autumn to 25, despite promising to do so as recently as September last year. Despite a series of rulings against local authorities across the country, the cabinet secretary's inaction has left parents in the unenviable position of having to battle it out with councils in our courts to secure a place for their child.

The Government's policy on class sizes is a shambles. Depending on where a child lives, they might be lucky enough to be one of the 13 per cent of pupils to have a class size of 18, but it is more likely, especially if the child is going into P1 this year, that the size of their class will be closer to 25. They may even be one of the growing number of unfortunates whose class size will be closer to 30. There is no equity in that situation, and there is no rationale for it, even though the class size policy was supposedly the flagship policy on which the SNP Government was elected.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

No, thank you.

At the moment in Scotland, thousands of teachers are struggling to find work. There is not an MSP in the Parliament who has not heard from a talented and enthusiastic probationer who has been brought low by the frustrating and dispiriting search for work and who is desperate to secure even a supply place or, worse, who is considering leaving their chosen profession altogether.

The Government's answer to the problem, as confirmed in the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council circular just last week, has been to cut the number of teacher training places by almost 1,600, thereby threatening the future of Moray House, Jordanhill and Scotland's other teacher training institutions. A hundred secondary postgraduate diploma places are to go, 500 BEd primary places will be lost and a staggering 950 primary postgraduate diploma places will be cut, reducing the number of places available in that area to just 400. The answer to the teacher employment crisis is to create more jobs, not to slash training places; that is what the cabinet secretary should be looking to do.

The motion talks about young Scots succeeding in the global marketplace, but the cabinet secretary refuses to express a view on something as simple as whether our children should have a basic grounding in modern languages. When I asked him repeatedly about modern languages in primary school at the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee three weeks ago, he simply refused to answer, saying that it was a matter for Graham Donaldson, who is conducting a review of initial teacher education. That is hardly the leadership of the education system that our young people deserve.

For those who are not familiar with it, the current situation is that training in modern languages for primary teachers is not a compulsory part of initial teacher training, even though it is a core part of the curriculum for excellence. In the absence of such training, local authorities are obliged to provide modern language courses for our primary school teachers. Members will not be surprised to hear that such local authority-funded courses have been axed in recent years and are among the first victims of the Scottish Government's failure to invest in local authorities and education. We have an Administration that, on the one hand, talks about the importance of internationalism, but which, on the other, is failing to address the real practical difficulties that our schools face.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

No, thank you.

Of course, the curriculum for excellence could be exactly the reform that is needed to improve our education system, to revitalise it and to make it more outward looking and more likely to engage learners who are currently disengaged, but as we know from last week's debate, the curriculum for excellence is suffering from drift and lack of investment. Quite simply, it has not been and is not being given sufficient priority by the present Administration.

I would like to quote from an e-mail that I received from a constituent teacher just this week, which says:

"As you know, there is still much debate among teachers about the pros and cons of Curriculum for Excellence. Many of us 'Grumpy Old Men and Women' of the profession" still worry that it is

"vague in content and substance as well as lacking intellectual rigour."

In my reply, I outlined my support for the curriculum for excellence. I know that there are plenty of enthusiasts for it among the profession, but the cabinet secretary owes it to the grumps of the profession, as well as to parents and pupils, to provide clarity and decisiveness, and I worry that the curriculum may be discredited before it has even got off the ground.

The SNP has been in power in Scotland for three years, but the gulf between what it says and what it does is greater than ever. Rather than waste the Parliament's time by getting it to debate vague and unfocused motions, the minister should concentrate on the issues that need his attention: a class size policy that people understand; protection of class sizes in the form of a legally enforceable upper limit, so that parents and pupils are not dragged through the courts; a clear expression of the importance of modern languages in the primary and secondary curriculums; an expression of clear commitment to and a sense of direction on the curriculum for excellence; and, perhaps most important of all, a commitment to invest in Scotland's education system through employing more teachers rather than training fewer of them. As the EIS said, why must our children pay for the failure of the SNP Government to invest in their education?

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party 4:20 pm, 4th March 2010

I will begin by focusing on the efforts that are under way to teach our children the concepts of global citizenship, before turning later to educational attainment in the traditional subjects.

I was struck by Ken Macintosh saying that we are debating a vague motion. The work on the internationalist agenda that is taking place throughout our schools is excellent and worthy of our consideration today—I will come on to some of the work that is going on in the area that I represent. In that regard, it is appropriate that we discuss the issues.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Has Jamie Hepburn had any e-mails from constituents to complain about a lack of internationalism in education? How many has he had from probationers or teachers who are worried about class sizes?

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

Given that my point was about the excellent work that is going on in international education, I have not had any e-mails to complain about it. I have had some e-mails from teachers who are concerned about their employment situation, and I have dealt with them as any MSP would.

It is appropriate that we have this debate during Fairtrade fortnight, as it is through fair trade in schools that many children learn about their rights and responsibilities as citizens of the world. The basic principles of fair trade—paying producers a fair price for their goods and ensuring that funds are invested to benefit the whole community—are readily understood by even the youngest of our schoolchildren.

In the Central Scotland region that I represent, I can think of a number of schools where global citizenship is embedded in the curriculum. Those efforts emphasise the importance of the part of the motion that refers to our children

"learning about Scotland and its place in the world".

Whitelees primary school in Cumbernauld has worked hard to promote fair trade, and the staff and headteacher Ann Kay deserve great credit for those efforts. Indeed, Whitelees provides wonderful examples of citizenship education across the curriculum. Much work has been done to raise awareness of climate change, and the school is on track for its fourth eco-flag award.

I also spent time with the pupils of St Helen's primary school in Condorrat, discussing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was inspiring to see the pupils respond so positively to the concepts and ideals contained in that document.

I think also of the time that I welcomed a group of primary 5 pupils from Carron primary school to the Parliament. I was inspired by some of the questions that they asked me; it was a tribute to the pupils and their teachers that they were prepared to think about and discuss a range of issues and ideas about how our society works and how we interact with the wider world.

There are many other examples. I was pleased to welcome a group of pupils from Nkhamenya girl's school in northern Malawi, which is in partnership with St Maurice's high school in Cumbernauld, to this Parliament in the past year or so.

The examples that I have cited are all evidence of how Scotland's education system can equip our students with a greater awareness of the world in which we live and the responsibilities of being citizens of not just Scotland but the world.

We must also ensure that Scotland's pupils are endowed with the skills that they need to lead happy, successful and productive lives. After all, Scotland has a long and proud history of providing education for all and of understanding education as a force for breaking down social barriers. Of course we should be concerned about illiteracy and the number of students who leave school with poor numeracy skills. Where we once led the world, we have some more work to do, but we should take note of our pupils' many achievements and keep the situation in some context.

With an internationalist approach, we should rightly, as part of our country's future development, look at the policies and decisions that have made some of our near neighbours the most progressive and well-balanced societies in the world, particularly in education. Countries including Finland and the Netherlands and, further afield, New Zealand have recently been ranked above Scotland in the OECD's programme for international student assessment for science, maths and reading. It makes sense for us to look at those countries, as they are of comparable size to our own, to see whether there are lessons that we can learn.

I was struck by the many exchanges that Margo MacDonald has had about the value of modern languages, and I note the Liberal Democrat amendment, which is constructive and states that we should pay attention to the importance of modern languages. I noticed Margo MacDonald's rhetorical flourish in French, and I was tempted to respond by saying, "Civis Romanus sum," which translates as, "I am a Roman Citizen." As Christina McKelvie said, Latin was once the foremost language of the known world.

Although there are advantages to being endowed with the English language today, it is still relevant to learn other languages, because the situation changes. Perhaps we should learn other modern languages, those of the emerging economies, such as Portuguese for Brazil, Cantonese for China and Spanish for Latin America and much of the USA. We should not say that modern languages are not relevant in the modern world. I regret the fact that I do not have much grasp of a foreign language.

I conclude by focusing on one other area of international comparison in education. The Tories have of late stated that we should imitate elements of the Swedish model of education provision and funding, although they do not say anything about that in their amendment. I am a great admirer of the Scandinavian model, but it is surely worth mentioning that, in the OECD rankings, Sweden lies below Scotland for maths and science and is only slightly ahead in reading—to say nothing of the less residential-based criteria for entry to its schools, which result in schools having less of a community character, and the fact that less emphasis is placed on keeping siblings together in schools in Sweden. We should also be prepared to learn what not to copy from other countries. I am sure that the minister will have comments to make on that.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 4:26 pm, 4th March 2010

I very much appreciate it, Presiding Officer. I had no intention of taking part in today's debate, as I thought that I would still be in hospital—that is my excuse. Although I may have appeared to kick a few shibboleths during the debate, I merely asked questions because the purpose of debate is to test the assertions that are made. One that has been made today unconsciously—we are all guilty of it—is that it is a great idea for us all to learn foreign languages. In fact, it is a necessity—an imperative—and must be right at the top of the agenda. Must it? It needed to be previously, although I take on board what Chris Harvie said.

I speak poor-quality Portuguese and even worse French, and I can also have a shot at some of the other Mediterranean languages because I was lucky enough to be taught Latin alongside English, which is an idea that I have commended to previous education ministers. Nevertheless, I still think that other things should take precedence in the budget for Scottish education. The main point, which we have heard about today although it was skipped over, is whether the quality of our teacher training in colleges is what it used to be—not what it should be, which is probably better than what it used to be. According to many an old teacher, in attempting to cover too wide an area we have diluted the quality of our teacher training. I suggest that, if Finland is the benchmark, we should see how it and other countries are training their teachers.

I am grateful for the time to speak, but I will finish on this point. I mentioned America because, as far as I know, in most comparative tables of attainment America does not do all that well. However, there are specific areas in which the American education system excels. We should find out in what we need to excel. I commend Portuguese, because Brazil is a growing market.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat 4:28 pm, 4th March 2010

I was wondering how to sum up the debate. We have had Mohammed in the mountains, a Swedish model, two Barry Whites and a certain je ne sais quoi from Margo MacDonald. I am glad that she got her two minutes, as I want to address some of the points that she made.

Few of us could find fault with the prose with which the cabinet secretary started the debate. There is no disagreement that our place in the world—and equally our view about education at home—depends on an outward-looking view of education provision.

In my constituency alone, over the past few years in which I have had the privilege of being an MSP, some amazing international work has been done. Peebles high school has, for three years in a row, launched its international learning initiative in this Parliament with the Edinburgh diplomatic corps and myself in attendance. Penicuik high school took over the whole garden lobby for a concert of dance and music with partner schools from Africa. I had discussions today with pupils from Galashiels academy, who are great ambassadors for their local school and community. They enjoyed watching First Minister's question time and they even thought that the very personalised to and fro between Iain Gray and Alex Salmond about hypnotists was funny, although it did not exactly reach the rhetorical heights of the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning this afternoon. Work is also being done in Tweedbank primary school, which is now a finalist in the Euro quiz. Every year, the Euro quiz, by the European Movement, demonstrates that primary school pupils have a much greater understanding of the European Union than probably most members of this Parliament.

All of that goes to show that there is no disagreement that, if we give schools the opportunity, they will take it by being outward looking and open. However, that does not mean that, if there are questions, they should simply be rubbished as if we are not being as optimistic as everyone else, because we have to be realistic.

I quote:

"the Parliament recognises the importance of preparing young people for life in today's increasingly globalised society; agrees that all our young people should have an international education with opportunities to develop a knowledge and understanding of the world and Scotland's place in it; congratulates the many schools across Scotland that have made and continue to make links with schools across the world; agrees that the Curriculum for Excellence is the ideal vehicle to deliver international education in schools and equip young people with an understanding of, and the skills for, the modern world, and calls for the Scottish Government to bring forward a comprehensive national languages strategy including a rolling programme to introduce a second language early into primary education and to secure economic benefit from the diverse language skills in a multicultural Scotland."

I point out to the cabinet secretary that that was a parliamentary resolution in April 2008. Two years on, the Scottish Government has not heeded that resolution, which was agreed by all parties in this Parliament, on the need for the Government to bring forward a proper languages strategy. That is important, because we need not only rhetoric but action.

I agree with the cabinet secretary on some issues, such as his reference to China and India as two examples.

Not that long ago, when Nicol Stephen was the education minister, the Chinese education minister visited Scotland to study our education system. He told us that five million young people were going to university in China that year; in other words, the equivalent of the entire population of Scotland. That is not only one hell of a freshers' week, but the context in which our young people will go into the global world. Four years ago, I was part of a parliamentary delegation that visited China. We were probably given the same message as the cabinet secretary was given. In India, there are 200,000 young people for every place at a further or higher education institution. That is the context of the world economy that our young people will enter.

I was recently lucky enough to give a presentation at a prize-giving ceremony at a secondary school in my constituency. I asked how many of the young people had an iPhone, an iPod or an MP3 player, and pretty much all of them put up their hands. I told them that the computing power of the devices in their pockets was the equivalent of that in all the computers in my home town when I was their age, even though I like to think that I am not one of the eldest members of the Parliament—[Interruption.] That is the point at which I lose most members in the chamber; it was going so well. That puts into context the rapid changes that will take place over the next decade, never mind the next generation.

I will address Margo MacDonald's point directly. Last night, the Scottish Tourism Forum held a reception for a crucial element of our economy. A constituent of mine who was at the reception is a consultant who works for UK Trade and Investment and is working with the Scottish Government and Scottish businesses. He stressed to me the forecast that we could increase revenue from tourism by 7 per cent if we utilised languages more widely in tourism booking portals, in tour materials for visitors to this country, and in businesses that are trading in emerging markets in India and China.

One element that I would like to draw to the Government's attention is contained in the statistics on teachers and pupils in Scotland, which are interesting and useful. Over the past year, the statistics have been used to show the total—and, as many members have pointed out, falling—number of teachers in Scotland. The statistics also show that in our schools the number of teachers from ethnic minorities, whether Asian Pakistani, Black Caribbean or whatever, is much lower than it should be. Eight councils have told us that Cantonese is one of the three main languages other than English in their areas, yet according to the Government's statistics there are no Chinese primary school teachers in Scotland. In addition, 1.27 per cent of children in Scotland are Pakistani; if the same percentage applied to teachers, there would be 220 Pakistani teachers. However, there are only 23.

If we believe in immersion education and if we want not only to challenge but to be part of the emerging global market, we need to do more. For a start, the Government needs to implement the resolution that the Parliament agreed to two years ago.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 4:35 pm, 4th March 2010

It is customary for winding up speakers to praise the quality of the debate and the well-informed contributions from all sides of the chamber. However, try as I might, I cannot bring myself to do so at the end of a debate that, with few exceptions, has been tedious and full of speeches that, on the one hand, were full of empty praise for international education and, on the other, were tiresome Opposition rehashes of criticisms of SNP Government policy that we have heard many times before. If I feel sorry for anyone, it is the pupils from St Ninian's who have joined us this afternoon and have had to sit through this drivel for the past two hours. At least we can console ourselves with the fact that we are being paid to be here; they have no such consolation. I assure them that it is not always as bad as this and that occasionally it gets better.

As a number of members have pointed out, given all the education issues at the moment, it is something of a surprise that the Government decided to lodge a motion on international education. That is not in any way to diminish the subject's importance but, as Jeremy Purvis has just reminded us, we debated it less than two years ago, and I am not convinced that much has moved on in the meantime. With all the issues about standards of literacy and numeracy, with the debate raging about the structure of education and the Government's indication that it is prepared to consider trust schools, with the issues about falling teacher numbers and probationers' difficulties in finding employment, and with the Government's failure to deliver on its class sizes policy, I am left wondering why this subject is seen as the burning issue in Scottish education. In saying that, I realise that I am just as capable as anyone else of tiresomely rehashing criticisms of the Scottish Government.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Indeed. Thank you, Mr O'Donnell.

The amendments have allowed us to broaden the debate's scope—and thank goodness for that. The Labour amendment expresses concern about curriculum for excellence and the fact that there is still uncertainty in our secondary schools about how it will work, and highlights the need for a refocused skills strategy. My colleague Elizabeth Smith again stressed the importance of youngsters acquiring basic skills before they leave the school system. Any such approach must be backed up with rigorous testing, and we must ensure that new exams are more suited to individual pupils' needs. The Liberal Democrat amendment makes a fair point about the need to teach modern languages, a point that Margo MacDonald has made throughout the debate, and to ensure that teacher training is as good as it can be. Like Ken Macintosh, however, I find the Government motion to be too self-congratulatory. At one time, Scotland might indeed have enjoyed an

"international reputation ... for excellence in education" but I fear that in more recent times that reputation has slipped.

The cabinet secretary referred rather disparagingly to international league tables. However, international comparisons show clearly that, over the past decade or so, Scottish education has more or less flatlined while other countries' performance has improved and, indeed, overtaken ours. Although historically we had a reputation for excellence, suggesting that we necessarily have the same today shows a worrying degree of complacency on the part of the cabinet secretary. For that reason, we have difficulty with that section of the Government motion. There is much that is good in the Scottish education system, but we cannot afford to rest on our laurels and believe that everything in the garden is rosy.

I welcome the part of the motion that

"notes the Scottish Government's determination to learn from other countries' education systems".

As members know, we on this side of the chamber have taken a close interest in the Swedish education system, in which parents and other groups are allowed to set up their own schools with state funding. I assure Jamie Hepburn, who I know is interested in that subject, that if he waits patiently until next Thursday, he may well hear more about it in Conservative debating time. [Interruption.] I hear how delighted Labour members are that we will have another education debate next Thursday morning. I am glad that there is so much interest in the subject in the chamber.

We always hear from the SNP that we should take a lead from small European countries, so I hope that it will be prepared to consider structures that are being employed in countries such as Sweden. Indeed, the cabinet secretary is on record as saying in the past that he supports choice and diversity in the education system. I hope that he genuinely has an open mind about learning from other countries.

Elizabeth Smith mentioned vocational education. There is a growing consensus that we should be doing more in that area. In particular, we should consider examples from countries such as Germany, which does vocational education well. It is interesting that Germany still has a strong science, technical and manufacturing base—I am sure that Professor Harvie would confirm that. It is no coincidence that youngsters there are encouraged to develop skills in those areas while they are still at school.

In a YouGov poll last weekend, Scottish voters were asked which political parties would handle education problems best. It is perhaps unsurprising that Labour came out on top in that poll, but the Conservatives came in second place—they beat the SNP into third place. If the cabinet secretary wants to improve his poll ratings, perhaps he should start to take lessons from us on how Scottish education should be reformed and consider what happens in the other countries that I have mentioned.

I hope that my modest contribution to the debate has raised its quality—although I doubt it—and that members have found my speech slightly less tedious than I found theirs. I also doubt that.

I am pleased to support the amendment in the name of Elizabeth Smith.

Photo of David Whitton David Whitton Labour 4:41 pm, 4th March 2010

I am pleased to speak in support of the Labour amendment and will concentrate on the provision of skills training. I hope that when we reach the end of the debate Labour is again on top and the Tories are lagging behind, as usual.

I have a particular challenge today because pupils of St Ninian's high school, which is literally round the corner from my house, are in the gallery. I am worried that they will give me marks out of 10.

Photo of David Whitton David Whitton Labour

Mr Russell simply could not resist saying, "Nul points." I am afraid that he is getting that score in this debate.

Education offers many advantages and it can open many doors. Indeed, the theme of the debate—

"Educating Children and Young People to Compete in a Globalised 21st Century"— offers much promise, but the Government has not yet delivered a skills strategy that the Parliament has approved. Does not Scotland's wealth as a nation and our ability to create a more inclusive society depend solely on productivity and employment? Education and life skills are interlinked, as are productivity and employment; neither can exist without the other. As President Obama said,

"no matter what you want to do with your life, I guarantee that you'll need an education to do it" but for many young Scots that is simply not the case.

I recently met Rathbone Training, which is a voluntary educational and training charity that has 12 centres throughout Scotland. It works closely with Skills Development Scotland, Jobcentre Plus, local education authorities and schools. It fulfils a desperate need to catch school leavers and teenagers with employability issues before they fall completely out of the net. It is currently engaged with 3,500 young people throughout Scotland on programmes such as the get ready for work and life skills programmes. It allows teenagers to learn the basics, which can be as simple as turning up on time. Many of those children have real problems and chaotic lifestyles.

It is a sad fact that not all school leavers have the educational attainment to move straight into a job, a college place or a modern apprenticeship scheme. The basic requirements for those are a step too far for many. Statistics show that, in 2008, nearly 25 per cent of 16 to 19-year-olds in the 15 per cent most deprived areas were not in employment, education or training. However, as we heard during First Minister's question time today, our skills body has an underspend on programmes to help that group and is involved in expensive events with hypnotists.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

Will David Whitton acknowledge the fact that Rathbone Training, which he has just mentioned, is one of the co-funders of the event that he has been so critical of, as are South Lanarkshire Council and North Lanarkshire Council?

Photo of David Whitton David Whitton Labour

I think that the member will find that the main body behind it is Skills Development Scotland.

What we have heard today is a story that compounds the story of failure. [Interruption.] Mr Russell will have to wait.

There has been a failure to spend the budget that has been set aside to help youngsters who are furthest away from jobs. No doubt there is a variety of reasons and, when he gets his chance in his summing up, the minister will trot out some of them, but if we are serious about preparing youngsters for the 21st century economy we have to ensure that all youngsters, regardless of ability, get the chance to grab those opportunities.

Frankly, not being able to spend 20 per cent of the budget for get ready for work schemes in Lanarkshire raises serious questions— [Interruption.] It is true. If the minister has something to say he should get up and say it or wait his turn. I understand that there is a 10 per cent underspend on that programme throughout Scotland that amounts to some £3 million. If we are to operate in a global society, should we not be doing all that we can and spending every penny that is allocated to ensure that youngsters in this situation are not destined to a life on the scrap heap?

It is not the Government's only area of failure. Perhaps we need to concentrate more on preparing students for college or careers rather than focusing solely on testing for examinations. Curriculum for excellence should do more to promote engagement between school and employment. From what I have heard from employers and others throughout the country, we need more engagement with business leaders to help bridge the gap between education and the world of work.

Back in January, at the jobs summit in Glasgow, Mr Russell announced that Scottish businesses were being offered £1,000 to invest in an apprentice. The scheme ran out of money in a fortnight. Granted, 4,500 young people got places, but many more could have done. For Scotland's young people to compete in the globalised 21st century, the simple fact is that we need a highly educated work force that is beyond compare.

Last week, I met Lorraine Hubbard, the UK training officer for corporate giant Siemens. Although it operates a global education programme for its staff, its generation 21 programme focuses on children and young adults at pre-school, school and university levels, to help awaken and develop an interest in the work of technology and related careers. Ms Hubbard has been instrumental in creating a new training scheme at Carnegie College in Dunfermline to put 12 youngsters through a new modern apprenticeship in turbine technology. Starting in September, the scheme will allow those lucky 12 access courses to education to gain their City and Guilds certificate for a new technology in which Scotland could lead the world. Indeed, Ms Hubbard went so far as to say that those youngsters could be entering a job for life. There are not many people who can say that.

The idea came about purely because Siemens cannot match the demand for technicians and decided that it had to do something about it for itself. We need to provide support to businesses that give young people a job, apprenticeship or internship, not take it away. Employers need to be central to the skills agenda, with systems aligned to labour market needs. Businesses throughout Scotland say consistently that they are never properly engaged in educational reform. According to the Confederation of British Industry, developing employability should be a core function of education.

The pupils from St Ninian's have, as Mr Fraser mentioned, sat through our debate this afternoon. It is a great pity that Mr Russell had to cancel his visit to the school. If he had come to St Ninian's he would have found a brand new school that opened only this summer; it is one of six new secondaries in East Dunbartonshire that have been built as part of a £100 million public-private partnership scheme. It gives the pupils some of the best equipment and educational opportunities in the country. Every child should have that same opportunity. Karen Whitefield was right to remind the chamber of the lack of action by the Scottish Futures Trust in building new schools for our pupils.

SNP members have moaned all afternoon about the Labour Party's amendment. I know that they have to be ultra loyal but, sadly for them, it is the job of the Opposition to hold the Government to account. Elizabeth Smith reminded us that a good education should be available to everyone. Hear, hear. Margaret Smith offered statistics that show that, despite the best efforts of teachers and schools, far too many of our youngsters leave school unable to read, write or add up properly.

"Skills for Scotland" says that the

"Scottish Ministers would develop a Skills Strategy for Scotland to be produced within the first 100 days".

That was 9 June 2007. The SNP is now almost 1,000 days into its administration but still no skills strategy has been approved by this Parliament.

In the recent skills debate I asked for another skills summit. I wrote to Mr Brown to ask him to discuss the idea. The reply from his office was that he has a busy diary and will get in touch in the future. So much for consensus.

It is clear that education and skills policy is the weakest link in the SNP Government. The Government has let down students, pupils and parents throughout Scotland, which has cost it dear and cost one cabinet secretary her job. More urgency is needed from Mr Russell and his department. He needs to listen more and talk less. He should listen to teachers such as Mr McGinley, who will tell him about the difficulties with the curriculum for excellence; to employers, who say that many young people are not ready for the world of work when they leave school; and to business organisations that detail the areas that can lead to economic growth and the creation of jobs for our school leavers.

Most of all, Mr Russell should be prepared to listen to the Parliament. He and the SNP have no monopoly on education ideas. They should be humble enough to accept that and to embrace some suggestions that they have heard today. When he opened the debate, the cabinet secretary said:

"the Government's job" is

"to show ... leadership and direction".

It is time for him to show some.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party 4:50 pm, 4th March 2010

I have slight sympathy for the position that Murdo Fraser took. Two paragraphs in the notes for my closing speech, which other people have of course suggested to me, say:

"I welcomed this debate ... as it has given us the opportunity to restate the Scottish Government's commitment to international education", which is certainly true,

"and to promoting learning in contexts which go ... beyond our ... borders", which is also true,

"and to the importance more generally of meaningful, joined-up international engagement", which is true, too. But we then come to a problem. The notes say:

"The Government wanted to provide an opportunity for a thoughtful and informed debate that would"—

I make a serious point—

"be a credit to the recent HMIE guide on international education in schools; and which also reflected the importance of taking an international perspective, in its broadest sense, in Scotland's education system to each and every party in this Parliament ... By and large I think we have achieved this."

That is the problem.

Perhaps I could take my lead from Christina McKelvie, who talked about glasses that are half empty and half full. I will delineate the parties' approach to the debate. The Lib Dems have been positive—their glass is half full and they are just slightly suspicious of the people who filled it. The Tories' glass is half empty and they are suspicious of anybody such as me who might attempt to fill it. The Labour Party creates the biggest problem. I will be serious in a moment, so what follows will be my only jocular remark about the Labour Party's poor and positively dangerous approach. Labour does not even have a glass—it thinks that the SNP stole its glass. Unfortunately, that is where the Labour Party comes from today.

We wondered why First Minister's question time was dominated by what will turn out to be very dodgy pieces of information about skills. The reality is that that was one way of setting up the debate. The Labour Party is so blinded by oppositionalism that it has lost sight of the prize, which is ensuring that skills and education in Scotland are as good as they can be.

Last week's debate about how to develop skills and education was positive and consensual. We have an agreement about that. The curriculum for excellence is the right approach to move that forward. No MSP—especially not me—has real expertise in international education, but others have, and I am sure that they will confirm that the approach of the curriculum for excellence is to join up subjects, to provide opportunities throughout a school and to ensure that literacy and numeracy are part of international education. That is not an add-on or an extra; that is one way in which young people gain experience and education. It is a pity that nobody in the Labour Party has acknowledged that.

If Labour members had even read HMIE's report they would realise that what I have described is the case. I will take out just one quotation, which is from a pre-school child who will not be learning Mandarin in the next week or two or learning a language in which to order a beer when travelling the world. That child, who is involved in international education, said:

"The world is not big. We went round the world in the nursery. We learned about Italy and what children do" there.

"We learned songs and stories. We say words they know. We like Glasgow but we like Milan too!"

I suspect that literacy and numeracy were at the heart of that experience. They are at the heart of international education.

I will address one or two of the issues that have been raised; I will not have time to address them all. I want to address some of the points that Margaret Smith made. She made some good points, but the pupil teacher ratio in Scotland is improving. If one argues strongly that we need more teachers in Scotland, one has to say where we will get them and how we will pay for them, because Lib Dem councils, Labour councils and SNP councils are all facing real difficulties. [Interruption.] I will come to why that is the case in a moment. I hear some questions about that.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

No. I am sorry, but I have far too much to get through.

It is also true that the pass rates and participation in language learning in Scotland are rising, not falling. It is important to recognise that. There are myths about the position, but I am sure that Margaret Smith will accept that there are rises in whole areas of that work.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I would really like to make some progress. I am sorry.

The reason there are difficulties in one or two authorities is undoubtedly cuts. Ken Macintosh made much of those. Karen Whitefield is the member who said the most about them. What she seemed absolutely blind to is the culpability of her own party—not once, not twice, but three times. She mentioned all three in her speech. First, this perfect storm of difficulty in some authorities was created by the Labour recession. Secondly, it is exacerbated by Labour cuts at Westminster. If that was not enough, Labour's profligacy on the PPP scheme—Labour putting profit before pupils—has created an enormous pressure on those budgets. [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

The storm came from Labour, and Labour members should hang their heads in shame.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Mr Whitton, the cabinet secretary is not taking an intervention.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

No, I will not.

Hugh O'Donnell, on the other hand, made a measured contribution and I commend him for it. [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

In discussing the curriculum for excellence, he stressed the importance of the community context of languages and learning. That is absolutely correct. We will take his comment away and ensure that we consider it carefully.

I am conscious of the time, Presiding Officer. I want to finish with the Labour contribution, such as it was. In the early part of the debate, I described the Labour Party's approach as dangerous. I do not in any sense have difficulty with the type of criticism in the debate. Jeremy Purvis raised some good, honest and true points on the matter. If we are looking for a clue as to what Labour is really up to, we must always look to the disingenuous actions of Ken Macintosh, because he will always go too far. He will always go that bit further because he cannae stop himself. What we heard was extraordinary. He went through a set of criticisms that were, as usual, half truths disguised as facts, then we came to the real coup de grace. I will say what it was.

In this afternoon's debate, we have been attempting to celebrate real achievement in Scotland—real achievement by, and I will list them, Anderson high school, Bathgate academy, Buckie high school, Cauldeen primary school, Clyde Valley high school, Dalmarnock primary school, the children and families department at the City of Edinburgh Council, Fortrose academy, Glendelvine primary school, John Paul academy, Juniper Green primary school, Knox academy, Perth high school, Portlethen academy, Shawlands academy, St David's high school, St Ninian's high school, St John's primary school, St Thomas primary school, St Timothy's primary school, Whiteness primary school, Woodacre nursery school and Woodhill primary school. [Interruption.]

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

Order. We have had enough sedentary interventions from all parts of the chamber.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

All those schools were commended in the HMIE report. What did Ken Macintosh say about commending them? He said that we were wasting our time. What a reflection on individual achievement. As ever, we saw him go too far.

Finally, let me make one telling point. In the whole farrago of criticism that came from Des McNulty, in that dressing up of naked resentment that he is not in government, there is one fact that he missed out. I do not mind if he lambasts me, even in personal terms, though he did so, but he attacked civil servants in Scotland and their involvement in the process. The curriculum for excellence management board as set up by the Government of which Mr McNulty was a member had only civil servants on it—four organisations only. This Government widened it and brought in teachers and those with real experience and drove it forward.

I have here the record of what Labour did on curriculum for excellence. It was nothing—it was essentially a waste of time. Thank goodness this Government has it in hand and is driving it forward.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. For the record, I want to address a factual inaccuracy in what the cabinet secretary said a moment ago. Mr Russell said that the pupil teacher ratio is improving. In fact, the latest national statistics publication, "Teachers in Scotland 2009", shows that the pupil teacher ratio is increasing, but that is not a good thing: the figure went from 12.9 in 2008 to 13.2 this year.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

As Ms Smith said, that was for the record. I think she recognises that it was not a point of order.