Curriculum for Excellence

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:15 am on 11th November 2010.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 9:15 am, 11th November 2010

Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S3M-7379, in the name of Michael Russell, on curriculum for excellence. Before the debate begins, I remind members that it will be paused at 11 o'clock to allow the Parliament to observe a two-minute silence, so whoever is speaking at the time will need to be ready to stop quite quickly.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I am delighted to have this opportunity to thank the teaching profession and all who work in or are part of school communities for what I have to call their unprecedented efforts in successfully continuing the roll-out of curriculum for excellence across our primary, special and secondary schools, in our nurseries and pre-schools and, we should not forget, in our colleges and even our universities.

In all those areas of educational endeavour, young people are learning what it is to become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors to society, which is a major step forward in Scottish education.

More than thanking the people involved, I want to take the opportunity—and the motion makes this explicit—to confirm the whole Scottish Parliament's on-going support for and commitment to curriculum for excellence, which I hope we all agree provides the core principles for achieving the best possible education for our children and young people.

There is no room for complacency. We are all aware of the difficult financial circumstances that we will face over the next few years. In those circumstances, more than any other, Scotland's education system needs stability, determination and focus. It requires unrelenting concentration on fulfilling the purpose of education in Scotland, to enable every single one of our children to achieve the highest possible educational standards and to give them the best possible preparation for successful life and work in the 21st century.

In Scotland we have long understood the need for stability. In 2003, the Scottish Parliament's Education, Culture and Sport Committee, of which I was pleased to be a member, published its report on the purposes of education, in which it highlighted stability in education as an issue in need of attention. The report stated:

"There is a need to reconcile the often-expressed desire for a period of stability within the Scottish education system with the even more widespread perception of a need for change. Perhaps a clear and well thought-out sense of direction which is consistently pursued would provide the necessary level of stability?"

I pay tribute to the previous Administration for taking up the opportunity to achieve that long-standing agreement on the direction that we wanted our education system to take. That agreement was and is the curriculum for excellence. That was and is the big prize. It is what teachers wanted; it is what headteachers wanted; it is what parents wanted; and it is what the Scottish Parliament wanted on behalf of Scottish society.

It has its origins not just in the committee's inquiry but in the national debate on education in 2002, which also achieved a remarkable degree of consensus on the future direction of Scottish education. The aim was to improve Scottish education for each and every young person by undertaking radical reform and sticking with it over a period of time.

Given the turbulent times that we are going into, the political consensus needs to be durable and strong. Our teaching professionals and our children and young people—our whole learning communities—expect and demand nothing less.

Times are going to be tough. We will argue about the details of how we deal with that, but we need to retain an optimism and a confidence in our education system. That means an optimism and a confidence in the principles of curriculum for excellence and an optimism and a confidence that our education and learning professionals are up to the challenge and are being supported in it.

When I became education secretary in December last year, there were difficulties. There was doubt that schools were ready and predictions—mostly from the Opposition benches—of catastrophe. I am glad to say that there has been a marked change since then.

Considerable support has been put in place and, since August, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education and its partners have done valuable work to provide direct, hands-on support in schools across the country. [Interruption.] Does Mr McNulty want to intervene?

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I was just wondering whether the difficulties that Mr Russell inherited, and resolved so admirably, were his predecessor, Fiona Hyslop's fault.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

No, they were not. They were caused by inaction by the previous Administration and Mr Macintosh's colleagues. I did not want to be so churlish as to say that and break the positive spirit, and I regret that Mr Macintosh has done so. I revert to the positive Mike Russell, which is my natural default position.

Summary versions and professional practice guides for key documents have been produced and distributed to practitioners. Simple fact files—I have some with me as a visual aid—to help explain the changes to parents, employers and others have been published and made widely available. I wrote to the parents of every primary 7 child going into secondary 1 to explain what was taking place and to encourage them to ask questions.

The work of teachers and all those employed in our schools has paid off. The alleged catastrophe did not happen. Our pupils are still learning and teachers are still teaching—better than ever. The consensus that curriculum for excellence is the answer to the problems that we all agreed on at the start of this session of Parliament continues to grow—it is extending as more and more people see the curriculum in action in our schools.

We can now see the rewards of the work that has been carried out across early years, primary, secondary and special schools and colleges and their partners to make curriculum for excellence a reality.

There is a transformation in the links between early years services and primary schools. The number of partnerships with the third sector and parents to help children broaden their achievements through schemes such as the Duke of Edinburgh's award has grown. Ever-growing partnerships between our schools and colleges help all children but especially those in need of more choices and more chances.

We see a new confidence in the professionalism and leadership of teachers. People can turn to the engage for education website and see the blogs of Richard Coton, headteacher of Monifieth high school in Angus. He talks about going live in August 2009, a year ahead of the national timeline. He talks about it being a lot of hard work but says that the staff have shown professionalism and commitment. After a year and a half of detailed analysis and evidence, he believes strongly that pupils in the school are doing better and are growing much further as a result of curriculum for excellence.

It is not just Scottish teachers; international commentators spoke at September's Scottish learning festival. Richard Gerver, co-founder of the international Curriculum Foundation, described curriculum for excellence as "spectacular". Eric Booth, the well-known international educator and author, said that the changes were "historically unprecedented" and that curriculum for excellence—he was paying tribute to schools here—is an "unbelievable accomplishment".

Of course the job is not complete. There are difficult situations ahead. I understand fully the concerns of those representing teachers and others about the future and I have maintained a strong dialogue with them.

I acknowledge the constructive and helpful position that the Educational Institute of Scotland has taken at every stage throughout the past few years. It has questioned, challenged and criticised, but its commitment, together with its principled and reasonable approach, has led to significant improvements in the implementation programme.

The management board has managed this incredibly complex programme with true determination and it is much better equipped to do so given that we continue to widen its membership. The board, like me, is clear that as we move ahead, we will require serious thought as to each step that we take, which is being given.

We are supporting the programme in every way we can, but we agree that the implementation of the programme is not an end in itself. Curriculum for excellence is a methodology. It provides the starting point for all attempts to improve learning. I have made it clear that I welcome and support all those who are ambitious for further improvement.

Ambitious subject experts such as those in the Royal Society of Edinburgh and many others are being listened to. I regularly meet those who have views that challenge curriculum for excellence. As part of my 10-point plan, I established 18 excellence groups and asked them to report to me in early 2011 on how we can make further progress in developing excellence in every subject area in the curriculum.

Ambitious parents need our support, too. Our partners in the national parent forum want to consult parents in every local authority to get their views on how parents can become fully engaged, not just in the improvement of their child's education but in the improvement of the education of every child in their area.

I will support those consultation efforts as I support the forum—I spoke at its conference last week. I am ambitious, together with parents, teachers and the whole community, to tackle some of the endemic problems. As I said when I launched our literacy action plan, poor literacy skills are a result of deep-rooted societal issues within Scotland, but our early years services and our schools can make a real difference. We know that, so let us use curriculum for excellence to demonstrate our optimism and confidence in those services and to help to turn around unacceptable statistics.

I am ambitious for our teachers. The Donaldson review's findings will progress positive and far-reaching issues for initial and on-going teacher education and development and will help us to overcome the difficulty of teacher unemployment.

Much has been done, but much remains for us to do. Last month, I announced the creation of a new agency—the Scottish education quality and improvement agency—that will bring together the support and challenge functions of HMIE and Learning and Teaching Scotland in a new body that will have at its heart the need to ensure that curriculum for excellence is supported to achieve our ambitions.

We must examine the structures through which education is delivered and ask whether they conform to the ambitions of curriculum for excellence and give our schools the best and most effective arrangements for implementing curriculum for excellence. Can we help our schools to maximise the resources that are available to them in difficult times, to give the best possible educational experience? For example, are schools using information technology to the best effect, not just to engage and interest their pupils but to ensure that the options for their pupils are as wide and varied as they can be? Those questions will exercise us now and over the next few years, but we must talk about our system's strengths—what has really worked in it and what we can build on to ensure that it works better.

I visit many schools and meet many parents and teachers. I will touch on what I learned on four recent visits. In West Linton, I attended a parents evening in the old primary school, which is soon to be replaced by a new primary school—one of the 300-plus schools that are being built under the Administration. The parents there were keenly engaged in and keenly questioning of curriculum for excellence, but any doubts that they had were swept away not by me or even by Scottish Borders Council's effective curriculum for excellence officer but by the children, who put on an inspiring short performance that demonstrated how they learned.

At Paible school on the island of North Uist, I saw the best demonstration of the four capacities that I have ever seen—an ever-changing noticeboard that was full of pictures that the young people had taken, which illustrated what it was to be the four elements in the four capacities. It showed how it was possible to be a successful learner, a confident individual, a responsible citizen and an effective contributor on the island of North Uist.

In East Kilbride, I saw challenged young people who linked their capacities and their interests by celebrating the musical "The Sound of Music" and ensuring that they understood the world through the eyes of the characters in that film. Those young people have tremendous difficulties, but their joy and enthusiasm in the classroom were infectious.

On the first day of the school term, I visited Cardinal Newman high school in North Lanarkshire, whose young teachers I had heard make a presentation at a conference on teacher education. The teachers were so excited about their prospects of teaching differently that I had to go to the school. I found a school that was fully engaged in curriculum for excellence, which was not listening to the naysayers and the doom-mongers, which knew that what was happening among its teaching workforce and its young people was a step forward in Scottish education and which was determined to deliver the best in Scottish education.

Those are only four out of many schools. In each one, I see the importance of curriculum for excellence. Yes, there is more to do; yes, the exam timetable must be adhered to—we are doing that; and yes, we must listen to and respect concerns. However, we have something that is of great importance. It is not just me who says that; the whole Parliament said that in 2002 and 2003. We now have the opportunity to stick to that commitment and to continue to do the right thing for Scottish education.

I move,

That the Parliament congratulates the teaching profession and all who work in or are part of school communities for their unprecedented efforts in successfully continuing the roll-out of the Curriculum for Excellence across all primary, special and secondary schools from August 2010; recognises the need for a long-term commitment to the Curriculum for Excellence, and confirms that commitment from this parliament.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour 9:29 am, 11th November 2010

If rhetoric could power Scotland, we could replace Torness by hitching Mr Russell to the national grid. Wind turbines suffer from intermittency, unlike the cabinet secretary. From his lips flows a limitless and inexhaustible torrent of self-justification and self-aggrandisement.

We have been told this morning that the implementation of curriculum for excellence is going splendidly. I presume that that is why one teaching union has been thrown off the management board, while another believes that the introduction of the new qualifications should be delayed by another year; why concerns continue about moderation; why Scotland has been withdrawn from international comparative studies; and why inspectors have been taken away from their statutory role and thrown into schools as shock troops to prop up the implementation process.

Today's debate on the roll-out of curriculum for excellence comes in a week in which the Cabinet has negotiated with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on limiting the reduction in teacher numbers next year to a maximum of 1,500, which comes on top of reductions this year, the precise figure for which will be known in a few weeks' time, and reductions in past years that resulted in the previous cabinet secretary being replaced.

The Government has been shown to be complicit in bypassing negotiating machinery with the intention of presenting teachers with imposed changes to their terms and conditions, as set out in the McCrone agreement, together with a pay freeze. By congratulating the profession out of one side of his mouth while bargaining away teachers' jobs and conditions out of the other, the cabinet secretary sacrifices whatever trust remains. That will make the process of delivering curriculum for excellence much more difficult from now on than it has been.

Even before the Government's shabby COSLA deal, management of the implementation of curriculum for excellence was weak and inconsistent. If we roll back to 2005, a broad consensus had built up through full consultation and discussion that change was required to equip pupils to compete more effectively in a changing world. We all wanted to retain some features: the flexibility that already exists in the Scottish system—no one argued for a more prescriptive national system; the combination of breadth and depth that the curriculum offered; the quality of teaching in our schools; the quality of supporting material that helps teachers to deliver much of the current curriculum; and—above all—adherence to the comprehensive principle.

At the same time, the consensus was in favour of changes that would reduce overcrowding in the curriculum and make learning more enjoyable; would better connect the various stages of the curriculum from three to 18; would achieve a better balance between academic and vocational subjects; would include a wider range of experiences; would equip young people with the skills that they will need in tomorrow's workforce; would ensure that assessment and certification support learning; and would allow more choice to meet young people's needs.

Curriculum for excellence's purpose was to introduce those changes without losing the existing system's strengths. Agreement was substantial about what we needed to do to achieve that and we had the recommendations of an influential Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report to guide us. The pre-requisite for successful implementation was securing the full commitment and participation of the teaching workforce.

In turn, that meant well-staffed and well-run schools; support for reskilling and encouraging creativity among teachers through continuing professional development; improved pedagogy through mechanisms such as active learning, co-operative learning and better use of information and communications technology; more focus on the pupil's needs—for example, through the use of real-life experiences; better connections between subject disciplines to ensure that young people made necessary connections in their learning; guidelines for schools and teachers—possibly in the form of an outline national curriculum that left the system flexible and creative; and an examination structure that underpinned all that flexibility and creativity while enabling pupil progress to be measured.

I do not claim that all the problems began in 2007 but, in the period since then, the implementation of curriculum for excellence has certainly had major problems. I will describe some of the most damaging problems. One is the absence of proper guidelines. The documents that were produced were overlong and too complicated, which left schools across the country struggling to interpret how the key concepts might be applied in practice. The cabinet secretary's commissioning of summary documents is an implicit admission that the original documents were not fit for purpose, but concerns remain about a lack of clarity, especially on assessment arrangements and the timetable for the new qualifications.

Whatever the cabinet secretary says, the management board has not been an effective vehicle to drive forward change. Political rather than educational considerations appear to dominate the cabinet secretary's mind, and the board's role is widely seen in the profession to be that of a rubber stamp.

The role and status of key organisations in delivering curriculum for excellence is confusing and has been subject to sudden change at ministerial behest. The decision to merge Learning and Teaching Scotland with HMIE is the most dramatic example of that—no prior consultation on that took place with either organisation or the wider educational community. Perhaps the cabinet secretary was trying to rectify the evident lack of co-ordination between the two bodies, which was reflected in the failure to match journey to excellence—the very good resource and staff development tool that HMIE produced—with the educational psychobabble in the vacuous statement of experiences and outcomes from LTS.

That failure has led to a loss of confidence among teachers and schools in the management of the overall process.

The consultation on the new qualifications was mishandled. It sent out two messages: that the higher would remain the gold standard; and that the Government would prevent schools from presenting cohorts of students for certification before S4. The transmission of those messages resulted in two main problems that have bedevilled the implementation process ever since. Quite understandably, teachers up and down the country want to know what the exams will look like and have been looking for materials similar to those that they are familiar with under the current arrangements to support the new exams, even though that is at variance with the approach that is envisaged in the curriculum for excellence.

The straitjacket that prevented schools that wanted and can manage earlier presentation caused one set of problems, but the clarification from the cabinet secretary that was reported in last week's Times Educational Supplement could end up making matters worse. If the cabinet secretary's U-turn has the effect of allowing schools up and down the country to move S3/4 to S2/3, the overall coherence of CFE will be jeopardised.

The materials that Learning and Teaching Scotland has produced as exemplars have not been tried and tested, many of them are of variable quality and only a small proportion of them have been kite-marked. On top of that, many teachers have reported difficulties in accessing suitable material on the LTS website, as is evident from last week's TES.

The quality of CPD is not what was promised, because of a lack of effective national co-ordination by the national CPD group. There is a lack of clarity about moderation arrangements, which was a major subject of concern at last Friday's association of primary heads conference. In the absence of guidance, schools are being left to interpret what CFE means for them. They are developing their own curriculum models because there is little co-ordination even at local authority level, never mind Scotland-wide.

The ministerial response to those problems seems to be to deny that they exist—that is what we heard from the cabinet secretary—or to come up with gimmicks, some of which have backfired spectacularly. The 10-point plan, the suspension of inspections and the deployment of HMIE to support schools, with schools being asked to put up their hands if they need help, have not delivered for anyone. The withdrawal of Scotland from international comparative benchmarking of pupil performance leaves Scottish parents with no yardstick against which they can judge the performance of the system, as opposed to that of their child's school, until the equivalent of standard grade. That is disgraceful.

I believe that CFE has been diluted. Instead of being encouraged to be ambitious, too many schools have become risk averse; they are waiting for someone to tell them what to do. The cabinet secretary will no doubt accuse me and my colleagues of being negative, but his speech demonstrated clearly that this emperor has new clothes. He should look at the TES blogs to find out what rank and file teachers say is going on in schools. Many teachers say privately that they are deeply worried about the way in which the implementation of CFE has been allowed to drift. If we add to that the assault on teachers and education that the Cabinet has been bargaining for, the auguries for the successful implementation of CFE are not promising.

Let us be optimistic. What does the Government need to do? The key thing is to ensure that assessment and certification support learning and not the other way round. Exam structures and content need to reflect the needs of pupils and what teachers, using their professional judgment, feel it is best to teach. For too long, we have focused too heavily on examinations to the detriment of teaching young people skills. We need to escape the domination of examinations, which is detrimental to all other considerations.

We need a robust examinations system to measure the performance of individual pupils. That is essential. However, our schools system needs to deliver much more if some young people are not to be left behind. Let us use CFE to achieve a better balance between academic and vocational subjects, to provide a wider range of experiences to equip young people with the skills that they will need in tomorrow's workforce and to offer more choice in meeting their individual needs.

CPD should not be aimed just at upgrading teachers' subject skills; the focus should be on pedagogy—improving their skills as teachers. In addition, we must involve parents as well as professionals in taking forward the reform and must explain its implications at every turn.

It would be a serious mistake if we were to agree that the curriculum for excellence is being rolled out successfully. It is not. Many teachers and schools are implementing the reform extremely successfully and delivering sound education, and I congratulate them on their work, but the Government's management of the implementation has been gaffe prone, complacent and incompetent. The loss of teachers and the threat to conditions of service will put the whole process at risk.

I move amendment S3M-7379.1, to leave out from "for their" to "2010" and insert:

"on their efforts to take forward the Curriculum for Excellence; notes the ongoing concerns among teachers about the lack of clarity over assessment arrangements and, in particular, the concern among secondary teachers over the timetable for the new qualifications that have not yet been resolved; believes that further work is required on benchmarking and moderation; is gravely concerned at the impact of current and anticipated cuts in schools budgets on the resources available for implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence; recognises the need to work with, and fully support, the teaching profession and to involve parents to a greater extent;"

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat 9:40 am, 11th November 2010

On such a dismal and dreich day, I was almost looking forward to coming into the chamber; then I heard Des McNulty. I suspect that the truth about the curriculum for excellence lies somewhere between Mr McNulty's negative picture and Mr Russell's complete whitewash.

Back in February, the Liberal Democrats decided to focus on the curriculum for excellence in one of our debates. I do not expect anyone to have committed to memory my opening speech in that debate, so allow me to refresh members' memories. I said:

"Why have the Scottish Liberal Democrats decided to focus on the curriculum for excellence in this debate? First, so that we can reiterate our commitment to it."—[Official Report, 25 February 2010; c 23961.]

I am happy again to reiterate our support for CFE. We began the process while we were in government with the Labour Party, when our aim was to introduce a more holistic approach to learning and development by providing a curriculum that took us beyond teaching to the exam and which gave greater responsibility to our teachers and schools. We continue to support those principles behind the new curriculum, which we hope will provide opportunities for children and young people to develop as successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.

Like the cabinet secretary, we want to see stability in education, as we think that that is essential for the future. I am sure that he wanted all parties simply to reiterate their support for CFE, but I hope that he will feel able not only to support our amendment, but to do so whole-heartedly, given the importance of teachers to the process.

Quite rightly, we all recognise the outstanding work that is being done by Scotland's education professionals in rolling out the new curriculum. Teachers, headteachers and classroom assistants are working incredibly hard to deliver the new curriculum across the country. They deserve our full support and they certainly have Liberal Democrats' backing.

We have welcomed some of the cabinet secretary's more recent actions, such as the embedding of literacy and numeracy in English and maths instead of having standalone exams, and the decision to produce further materials and information, which was necessary partly because of the lack of clarity of previous documentation. I do not think that any member would fault the cabinet secretary for his enthusiasm for the new curriculum, which is as well known as his consensual nature. Sadly, however, for more than a year we have heard and shared the considerable criticisms and concerns of many, including teachers.

The 54,000 children who entered our secondary schools this year started the new curriculum in August and will, in time, sit the new national qualifications. We should not forget that those youngsters and their parents faced an extremely anxious wait and a lack of clarity because of the Government's mismanagement of the new curriculum's development and implementation.

However, I accept and am pleased that the Government has begun to listen to the repeated calls for clarity and leadership from the Parliament and from many across the education sector. Some attempts have been made to rectify what was a very worrying situation. Moves were made, albeit late in the day, to inform parents, to engage them in the process—which is an issue that we raised with the Government on several occasions—to provide them with information and to listen. It was always a real concern of ours that progress towards the implementation of CFE appeared to involve a conversation that the professions and the Government were engaged in, but not parents and pupils. We see their involvement as crucial and would welcome further comment from the cabinet secretary on that issue.

CFE remains one of the biggest challenges for our schools and professionals in a generation, and that will remain the case for several years to come, but it is also a challenge for other stakeholders, as well as parents. It is fair to say that there is an enthusiasm for the task, as I found when I met Otto Thoresen, the chief executive of Aegon UK, which has its headquarters in my constituency. We talked about the importance of getting financial education embedded in the curriculum and his involvement in that. I think that there is a great deal of good will across civic Scotland towards the concept of CFE.

Although I very much welcome the Government's current commitment to CFE, it is also crucial that we have assurances from the Government and all parties in the Parliament that the impetus will not be lost, and that we state quite plainly that we will all work to build on the momentum that has finally been gained so that we deliver the best possible education for Scotland's children and young people. The debate allows us to do that. It is imperative that we continue to work to get the curriculum right, and that means working on it for many years.

It is in the interest of working together to deliver the best possible education for Scotland's pupils that I say that Liberal Democrats still have real concerns about the implementation of the curriculum and the development of the new national qualifications.

I have said time and time again that teachers are key to our success. There is no disagreement about that across the chamber, yet the Government has allowed teacher numbers to fall by nearly 3,000, with more losses to come. The number of classroom assistants has also declined. We are all too familiar with the plight of newly qualified teachers across the country who are trying desperately to find work. The Government must listen to Scotland's teachers, instead of pushing aside those who do not agree with its stance or have problems with the support that is available.

For example, we know that the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association has been suspended from the curriculum for excellence management board for threatening to ballot on industrial action. Regardless of whether the suspension is justified, it is of huge concern to us that the SSTA feels the need to threaten such drastic action once again, partly because—to quote its chair, Peter Wright

"on every issue save one", its

"well-founded concerns have been rejected or ignored."

It is worth remembering that the union's survey last April revealed that 70 per cent of secondary school teachers had issues with the new curriculum. Those people are trained education specialists—people who are at the chalkface during this radical programme of educational change. They have engaged with a number of councils, which have listened to their concerns about the need for further support, and in so doing have diminished the prospect of industrial action. We call on Mr Russell to do exactly the same.

It is worrying that teachers did not have access to the national assessment resource until September, a month after pupils went back to school. That gave teachers no time to get to grips with the materials, to explore the resource and to prepare for teaching. Essentially, our teachers were put on the back foot over the curriculum for excellence and are now being asked to pick up the pieces of an implementation strategy that is way behind where we would like it to be.

In addition, the Government has made no further provision for additional CPD for teachers, should that be required. It now seems that local authorities are in sole charge of ensuring that teachers are properly trained and supported. That is simply not enough—we need to know that Scotland's teachers will have the support that they need.

Given that the specifics of Scotland's new national qualifications will not be published until 2012—2013 for advanced highers—a clear framework of support is crucial for our professionals. The framework needs to encompass not only implementation and post-implementation phases but also a support structure for teachers in the years prior to and following the introduction of the new qualifications. It is arguably even more crucial that teachers should have that support when they are being expected to teach the pupils who will sit the qualifications without knowing what those qualifications will look like.

Although we maintain that support during implementation is crucial, we have concerns that the Government has pulled inspector hours from HMIE to help with the roll-out. The fact remains that HMIE's inspection work has been moved from August to December. We would welcome an update from the cabinet secretary on the issue, which is concerning. We understand why he has taken the step, but we believe that there is potential for difficulty.

Initially, £17.8 million was provided for new investment in implementation. That financed 100 extra teachers and four in-service days for teacher CPD. An additional £3 million was allocated following the introduction of the 10-point plan, but we need further assurance that the support for teachers that is needed has been delivered.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat


We accept that times are tight, but it is critical and fundamental that we get this right.

The Scottish National Party is playing with a generation's future. That is surely worthy of appropriate and on-going investment. We will continue to listen to teachers, parents, teaching unions and other stakeholders. We will keep coming back to the chamber to call for appropriate support for teachers, Scotland's education system and the individuals in it, and to reiterate our support for the curriculum for excellence as the way forward to build a better, world-class Scottish education system.

I move amendment S3M-7379.2, to insert at end:

"; further recognises the need for ongoing support for, and dialogue with, teachers as they continue to develop the curriculum, and calls on the Scottish Government, local authorities and education stakeholders to work constructively together to make available the best possible support for the teaching profession as the curriculum and new qualifications are implemented."

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative 9:48 am, 11th November 2010

On behalf of the Scottish Conservatives, I am happy to congratulate all the headteachers, teachers, support staff—who are often forgotten in this process—parents, pupils and students who have been involved in the initial stages of the implementation of the curriculum for excellence. I do so with enthusiasm. Change is never easy, especially in the teaching profession. Given that that change, which involves adopting an entirely new methodology, has been extensive, people have done well.

I hope that I will continue to make a positive contribution on the theme as we progress through the debate. However, I am sure I am not alone in expressing just a little surprise and, perhaps, frustration that, after just three months of the implementation of the curriculum for excellence, so much of our precious parliamentary time has been taken up by a further debate on the subject, rather than on more pressing issues such as higher education, improving literacy, teacher unemployment and delivering better-quality physical education—I could go on.

I could be cynical and suggest that the motion is less about congratulating those on the front line and more about giving the cabinet secretary a "mission accomplished" moment, but I will remain my normal, charitable self and try to link together some of the debates by concentrating on two key principles of the curriculum for excellence: greater autonomy and flexibility in schools. Both principles are designed to provide an educational experience that is more carefully tailored to the individual needs of pupils and to raise standards of attainment.

Although there is a strong temptation for me to enter into the realms of the school management debate, I will refrain from doing so—not least because I am sure that I would upset the Presiding Officer—except to respond to an important comment by Keir Bloomer, one of the architects of the curriculum for excellence. Earlier this week, he said:

"progress is made in the modern world by releasing the creative energies of people, in this case the teacher".

I agree entirely and applaud the efforts of the architects of the curriculum for excellence to do that and, by definition, to release the creative energies of our pupils. I was interested in the second part of his comment, in which he said that the current school management system constrains teachers

"far too much by direction from the top."

That continues to give me and, I hope, my colleagues food for thought.

When I read the initial documentation for the curriculum for excellence, I was struck by the starting point, which was to ask what education is for—a question of which we too often lose sight, but one that I genuinely believe was behind the philosophy of the curriculum for excellence. What a pity it would be if the potential of the curriculum for excellence were to be constrained by the current system of school management, which too often moves in the opposite direction from the pursuit of greater autonomy and flexibility.

I note the comments of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which, rightly, is seeking assurances that built into the system will be an effective means of evaluating just how successful the curriculum for excellence has been, both in raising attainment levels—more critical now than ever, if we are to heed yesterday's warnings from Scottish Qualifications Authority chiefs about where pupils in Scotland are falling short on basic skills—and in producing well-rounded young people. The society makes an important point about the evaluation process; the cabinet secretary may want to tell us a little more about his plans to address it.

There is another important debate around applying the three-to-18 ethos of the curriculum for excellence—which will, I hope, establish better links between each stage of a child's education—to the wider developments that are required in further and higher education. Those developments are quite separate from the debate about the current funding crisis. I suggest that it is inevitable that we will see major changes in the structure of FE and HE—changes that will affect the content and length of degree courses, increase the flexibility of movement between courses and institutions, and challenge the status quo of how HE and FE institutions operate.

If the curriculum for excellence does its job properly, it will make our young people more flexible and give many of them greater purpose in their academic careers. The Scottish Conservatives have long argued that the curriculum for excellence should provide more opportunities for pupils to leave school at an earlier stage to take up places in formal vocational training or apprenticeships and should reduce the pressure on too many of our youngsters to feel an obligation to seek university places when that may not be in their or the country's best interests.

The curriculum for excellence provides good scope for a radical remodelling of Scottish education at all levels, but one thing must underpin all its teaching—improvement in basic literacy and numeracy. I am well aware of the fact that the cabinet secretary and my colleagues in other parties intend to ensure that literacy and numeracy underpin the whole system, but I return to the comments of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the issue of how we can build in effective evaluation of the process.

We are all aware of the problems that we face. Although it is unhelpful to scaremonger, it is essential that we understand just how much we have to do to drive up standards in the area. We should be concerned about the fact that many teachers do not feel comfortable with teaching the basic skills, because they recognise that they may be part of the problem. I repeat my plea for the curriculum for excellence: it will succeed only when it is the agent that complements a good-quality grasp of the basics and of important subject knowledge.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

I am sure that the member saw the comments that exam chiefs made in the Daily Mail this morning about the desperate state of literacy skills in some of the material that they see. Is that part of the message that she wants to convey?

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

Absolutely. It is an important message that underpins exactly what I am saying: literacy and numeracy must complement and underpin everything that we do with the curriculum for excellence.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

Does Mr Russell want to intervene? No?

The curriculum for excellence has been at the forefront of the education brief for many long months, but all too often for the wrong reasons. Much of the guidance was confused; in a few cases, it was unintelligible. There was even a false expectation among the public and parents, and perhaps even among some teachers, that there would actually be a new curriculum, whereas that was never the intention.

There are continuing concerns about the lack of clarity over the SQA examinations structure, there is anxiety about the vagueness of subject matter and there is concern, as Margaret Smith said, that parents were not consulted at an early enough stage. There were also obvious concerns about resources being made available for the curriculum for excellence, many of which remain. I suggest that the best way of addressing those concerns is to ensure that we also deal with many of the other priorities in education.

The Scottish Conservatives have been supportive of the main principles of the curriculum for excellence since the start, most specifically in relation to the need to enhance education in its widest sense, so that the educational experience better reflects the needs of individual schools and individual pupils, and because of the opportunity that it should afford both to simplify and to strengthen the rigour of our examination system.

If we want the curriculum for excellence to be a success—we do, and I am sure that all other parties represented in the chamber do, too—we must set headteachers and schools free: free to innovate, free to create and free to compete. As politicians, we should also embrace the spirit of free thinking that is designed to be the very hallmark of the curriculum for excellence. That free thinking should be unafraid of change and unafraid of upsetting the status quo, because there is only one thing that matters: improving the education and attainment of our young people.

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party 9:57 am, 11th November 2010

I am pleased to participate in the debate, not only as a parent but because, through my work with Learning and Teaching Scotland over many years, I have had an interest in curriculum for excellence since its inception.

Through its debating system, the Parliament offers the people of Scotland an opportunity to see how their Government is, rightly, held to account. It also provides us with an opportunity to acknowledge the commitment of those who work in our public services, who put into practice many of the initiatives that start their journey in this place. Curriculum for excellence is one such example of the Parliament setting a direction of travel, which those who work in the education service have been striving to deliver for six years or more.

Curriculum for excellence first came to my attention when I was working with LTS. The initial ideas, which came out of the national debate, were certainly new and challenging. What were the four capacities all about? How would we know when society, or the education system, had achieved the objectives of enabling all young people to become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors? In 10 or 20 years' time, how will we be able to tell whether we have made a difference? Perhaps more interestingly, will we be able to attribute any positive outcomes to the curriculum for excellence?

Although Scotland performs well according to many international comparisons, the education system that was inherited by the Parliament fails far too many of our young people. In too many areas of Scotland, a high proportion of school leavers are marked as underachievers, and they proceed to what are euphemistically referred to as "negative school-leaver destinations". That phrase covers a group of young people who set out in life ill prepared to make their way and, in too many cases, without the basic skills that they need to establish themselves in the workforce.

Literacy is one example of why we need to move forward with curriculum for excellence. Literacy is very important because of its wider benefits to the individual but, as employment patterns have changed, it has become a necessity for large parts of the labour market.

As evidence that the system was failing, I refer to the literacy commission that was established by our colleagues in the Labour Party. It concluded:

"For years in Scotland ... we have tolerated the intolerable. We have accepted a situation in which thousands of our young people leave school every year with correctable problems that leave them functionally illiterate—that is, without the basic literacy skills to function in a modern society."

I do not know anyone who went into the teaching profession to produce school leavers who are functionally illiterate. That finding by the commission strongly suggested that there is a systemic problem, which we must urgently address. That is why we need to press ahead with curriculum for excellence and to embrace the opportunities and challenges that it brings. We should let our teachers get on with the job in hand.

Our system failed to keep pace with the changes in Scotland's economy, and it is perceived to be ignoring the real needs of our youngsters, who expect us to offer them a better future. An increasing number of pupils in senior schools now see college as a more suitable setting for their continuing education. That might be down to a feeling that they are treated more like mature adults there, and it might also be to do with the unhelpful divide between academic and vocational courses. Too many pupils, especially weaker learners, see school as a place for academics—for those who are going on to uni. We need to remove that divide, not just between the vocational and the academic, but between school and college.

The study of science is one area in which it is clear that different methods of learning and teaching have a part to play. Although traditional academic study is suitable for some pupils, others benefit from direct participation that is more hands on and gets them involved.

From discussions with many of those who are involved in science education, it is clear to me that inspirational teachers are vital to encouraging young people to engage with the subject. It should not matter whether the inspirational teacher is encountered in a primary school, a secondary school, a college or even the community. What matters is that, once the young person's interest is engaged, the education system should offer opportunities for continuing progress.

I pay tribute to a teacher who is a constituent of mine, Mrs Morag Ferguson, who teaches at Annanhill primary school in Kilmarnock. Only last week, she won the SQA's science/engineering teacher of the year award. I had the privilege of seeing Mrs Ferguson in action, with an eager class of children who were learning about the sun. They were not simply listening to their teacher telling them facts about it, as with the chalk-and-talk fashion that we all know. They were drawing it and talking enthusiastically about it in little groups—about how it gave life to everything on earth and, of course, about the fact that it is very, very hot.

The four capacities that I mentioned earlier were perhaps a little bit obscure for me way back at the beginning of this journey with curriculum for excellence, but they became clearer to me by the minute as I watched the work of those children and their teacher. That small example offers us a glimpse, not of the possible, but of the present and the future with curriculum for excellence. Our teachers are doing some wonderful things in Scotland's schools, and our children are already benefiting from new experiences.

The staff in Learning and Teaching Scotland, with whom I worked for a number of years, will be thoroughly depressed about the attacks that have been made on them today in such a negative way by the Labour Party. I am desperately disappointed to hear that offering from Labour.

I am of course delighted to support the Government's motion, and I commend it to the Parliament.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour 10:03 am, 11th November 2010

I welcome this morning's opportunity for the Parliament to endorse members' commitment to the curriculum for excellence and to improving the educational opportunities of our children and young people. The summer of this year marked the formal dawning of the curriculum for excellence but, as the Parliament has previously recognised, the teaching approach that is central to the curriculum for excellence has been embedding in our schools for a few terms, particularly in primary schools, where child-centred, multidisciplinary learning has been unfolding. Reflecting on my own years at primary school, I think that the best teachers already recognise the value of that approach, and that imaginative, engaged teaching has been taking place in some classrooms over generations.

The curriculum for excellence is much more ambitious than that. Arising out of a national debate on education in 2002, it seeks to ensure that every child and young person who goes through the Scottish education system will leave a successful learner, a confident individual, a responsible citizen and an effective contributor. It aims to offer a more flexible learning path and to simplify the curriculum. It gives teachers more professional responsibility as well as freedom and flexibility in teaching, and it enhances their role as educators. The curriculum recognises that learning should not finish when young people leave school, but that schools should give them the skills, the belief, the confidence and the ambition to do more and to continue to achieve in their adult life.

I recently returned to my old high school, Beath high school in Cowdenbeath, during its centenary celebrations. There I saw the principles of the curriculum for excellence in action, as the school used the occasion of its centenary to study a range of subjects throughout the curriculum. That led to a slightly strange experience for me. As I walked into a classroom of first years, the teacher asked, "Class, who's studying the 1980s?" There was a show of hands and the teacher said, "Well, this is Claire Baker, whom you've been investigating." I have become part of the curriculum in areas of Fife, which is quite strange.

Beath high school gave me a good education, which enabled me to achieve the exam results that I needed to be able to go to university. However, on my recent visit I noted a change in the young people. I was at school at a time of teacher strikes and school budget reductions, and there was a feeling of hopelessness and lack of opportunity among too many young school leavers. That is a familiar picture of the 1980s, to which no one wants to return as a result of the current tightening of budgets. It was not just the lack of those factors that made a difference in Beath high school; I thought that the young people whom I met were more confident, more optimistic and more focused on the possibilities for them when they left school. The Parliament has helped to achieve that, by seeking to provide direction and renewed focus on the value of a Scottish education. The curriculum for excellence is a key element.

There is agreement in the Parliament that the curriculum for excellence is the right direction of travel. We all want to see it—and our young people—succeed. However, its implementation has not been smooth. The concerns of teaching unions reached a low point when the SSTA was removed from the management board for threatening to hold a ballot on industrial action.

During the summer, the EIS voted to pursue a work-to-contract policy and to co-operate with the curriculum only within a 35-hour working week. There was concern about preparedness and course content, and there were tensions about workload. Confidence in subject readiness was and still is a significant issue, particularly in the science subjects—Elaine Murray spoke with insight about that in a previous debate.

The lack of confidence in LTS's ability to provide relevant support and materials is also concerning. Recent criticism of the LTS website, which is meant to provide teaching support and resources, is of particular concern, because the criticism focuses on a lack of support for and up-to-date, relevant information on teaching literacy. It is unacceptable at this stage to respond that the website is a work in progress. The cabinet secretary must address the issue.

There remains a lack of clarity about assessment arrangements, which must concern young people and parents whose children have begun their first year at secondary school. We have the national assessment resource, but it offers no detail of the exams that young people will sit. I do not commit Margaret Smith's speeches to memory, but I remember that during our previous debate on the curriculum for excellence she said that young people should not be used as "guinea pigs" in education. Of course, a cohort of young people must be the first to go through the system, but that is why it is important that those young people and their teachers have the most information as soon as possible. Parents need to be confident that every school has a clear exam route to higher education. Although entrance to university will continue to be centred on highers and fifth and sixth year qualifications, the national qualifications will be the gateway to choices.

The reliance on supply teachers continues to cause concern about teaching consistency and commitment to the new curriculum. The teaching workforce must be maintained at a level that supports the new curriculum. If reports that there are 1,500 fewer teachers are accurate, that is worrying. The curriculum for excellence was never a money-saving option. Although it has been introduced in a financial climate that was not predicted, there must be proper investment in teachers. The new curriculum presents teachers with new challenges in teaching and assessment, and teachers need time and support if they are to deliver the curriculum effectively.

Everything that I have talked about is happening against the backdrop of the upcoming budget. There are already tensions as schools begin to struggle with budget cuts. In Fife, the SNP-led council sacked all the playground supervisors and passed responsibility for playground supervision to headteachers. At the same time, cuts were made to devolved school budgets. Headteachers have been left in an impossible situation. In many schools, support staff are supervising in the playground, so the time that they can spend in the classroom is reduced—by up to 10 hours a week in some schools.

There is a lack of coherent thinking in education. Cuts are being made because they save money on the balance sheet, but little time is taken to consider the negative consequences of decisions, which might be detrimental to education and the introduction of the curriculum for excellence. It is good that we acknowledge the progress that has been made, but the debate cannot take place in a bubble. Next week we will know the scale of cuts that are being made to education and the new environment in which the curriculum for excellence must be delivered. I do not doubt the professionalism and commitment of teachers to making the new curriculum work, but there must be a parallel commitment in the budget.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party 10:09 am, 11th November 2010

I have been amused by repeated comments in recent months and during this morning's debate about curriculum for excellence being rushed in. I understand that the consideration that led to the renewal of Scotland's curriculum began while Lord McConnell was Minister for Education, Europe and External Affairs. Work took off when Cathy Jamieson took on the role of Minister for Education and Young People and initiated a national conversation, and key features of the new landscape were delivered in 2006.

Curriculum for excellence is being implemented and is bringing a new, fresh focus to Scottish education. The LTS website tells us that the first qualifications to come from the curriculum review will take place in 2014, after their development by SQA. Teachers are anxious for the qualifications framework to be in place, so that they have a target to aim for. I understand that anxiety and I urge SQA to work on the qualifications timeously.

Far from being rushed, curriculum for excellence has sailed slowly, which suggests that there has been careful consideration of the various strands of the process and of the problems that might arise. From what I have seen, progress has gone smoothly for the schools and teachers who prepared for the new curriculum, who are finding that it provides a user-friendly and simple set of tools. It is right that the Parliament should pay tribute to the people who have worked hard to bring it this far, such as the teachers who have taken it on themselves to ensure that they are ready to use the new tools, and all the support staff in schools and education departments.

We must also congratulate LTS, the SQA, HMIE, local government officials and civil servants, who have been working on the new curriculum for some eight years. We should give credit where credit is due to the previous Administration, which got things started. However, Mr McNulty's approving quoting of the anti-Scottish-education comments in today's Daily Mail is proof of Labour's bankrupt and opportunistic approach to education.

Continuous improvement in Scottish education is possible only if there is constant effort from everyone who is involved. In curriculum for excellence we appear to have a programme that is heading in the right direction. We must keep developing the programme. Fiona Hyslop, the former Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, made an excellent decision when she ensured that teachers would be involved in the management board. That happened in 2008, to support the implementation of curriculum for excellence.

The Government has supported implementation of the curriculum with money and other resources, such as materials and tailored support for individual schools. There have been additional in-service days for teachers and there is an additional implementation year. There is every reason to believe that the change to the curriculum will be made smoothly and will work well.

Scotland's Colleges has embraced curriculum for excellence and has been implementing the senior phase. A sector-wide survey has been completed for the management board, areas that need work have been identified, a communications toolkit for learners, staff and everyone else who is involved has been produced, and a website that shares good practice and resources has been developed. All that demonstrates the seriousness with which colleges have embraced and are taking forward the new curriculum.

I declare an interest. I am the parent of a first-year pupil at a school in North Lanarkshire. I got my letter from the cabinet secretary—it was welcome, and I thank him. Last week, I attended the first parents night for my son, who has some challenges in his educational experience. I was delighted with what I saw. There were evangelical, motivated teachers, who were impatient to set about teaching kids in a different way and getting them engaged in learning. More important and more serious, I saw children who were seriously enjoying their experience in all their classes, whether they were mathematics, science or physical education classes. My son is even enjoying every aspect of home economics, which is a bit of a challenge for him. My son is thriving, which is what a parent wants to see. What I saw in the school that night was a group of teachers who are doing a fantastic job. I congratulate them.

It is sad that the SSTA maintains its opposition to the implementation of the programme. I urge the union and its members to reconsider their collective and individual positions and to consider the positive contribution that they can make to the smooth implementation of curriculum for excellence. I know that the SSTA has amazing insights to offer, because Ann Ballinger and I have discussed the matter at length—I am happy to say that we are still friends. I recognise and applaud the passion that the teachers to whom I have spoken demonstrate every day in our education system.

Something that is close to my heart is the baccalaureate, which the SNP Government introduced. Its birth was smooth, if a little slow. The curriculum for excellence will slip easily into place, and will develop over time, as is the intention with the baccalaureate, which offers Scots pupils the tools that they need to compare their academic performance to that of people of a similar age in other countries. I am delighted that universities will embrace the baccalaureate when they look at entrance qualifications.

We have heard this morning that curriculum for excellence embeds literacy and numeracy across the curriculum. They are seen no longer as discrete areas of study but as integral parts of the education of young people in Scotland. We all agree that that has to happen, and we all welcome the foundation qualifications in literacy and numeracy.

I welcome the continued debate. We should continue to talk about challenges and experiences and learn from them. As a parliamentarian, I look forward to that. More important, as a parent, I look forward to the continued progress and success of curriculum for excellence. I support the motion in the cabinet secretary's name.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour 10:15 am, 11th November 2010

Curriculum for excellence might well have been the most debated subject in the chamber during the past two or three years, but that is no bad thing. The education of our children and young people should be one of the most important priorities for any Scottish Government, and for the Scottish Parliament. As Mike Russell has said, curriculum for excellence is an on-going process, not a fixed product. It is important that we continue to monitor and scrutinise the roll-out of curriculum for excellence across Scotland.

During previous debates on curriculum for excellence, we have established that there is, in effect, cross-party consensus that it is the right approach for the Scottish education system. That might be surprising to Christina McKelvie, given her contribution to today's debate, but it should not be surprising to anyone else because it was a Labour-Liberal Executive that initiated the approach in the first place. I am pleased that the SNP chose to continue with its implementation when it came to power.

It is right that we should take an approach to curriculum development that properly prepares children and young people for life after school through their academic abilities, skills and willingness to become active and responsible citizens. It is also surely right that we use a cross-curricular approach to learning that emphasises to children and young people how various topics are interconnected.

I also welcome the opportunity that curriculum for excellence offers to integrate vocational education in our high schools in a more meaningful and worthwhile way. The minister will be aware that North Lanarkshire Council leads the way in relation to the vocational curriculum, and the OECD report commended that.

Although we fully support the principles and ethos behind curriculum for excellence, we have disagreed with the way in which it has been implemented. Even now, concerns persist within the teaching community about the lack of clarity and support. As recently as March this year, a report by the curriculum for excellence management board concluded that three in four teachers were not confident about delivering lessons for senior pupils, while 60 per cent of secondary teachers who responded said that they were not at all confident that their school would be able to make sufficient progress in implementing curriculum for excellence during the current session. As we are only three months into that session, it is a bit premature to be saying that everything in the garden is rosy.

In 2008, Fiona Hyslop was forced to concede that there was a need for a 12-month delay in the implementation of curriculum for excellence. In turn, the cabinet secretary has had to delay in the implementation of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 to allow schools to concentrate on just one initiative.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I am sorry that Karen Whitefield is showing the same horror as the rest of the Labour Party that curriculum for excellence is working in schools. Does she remember the extent to which, between 1999 and 2007, teachers, schools and councils were demotivated, fed-up and undermined by the number of initiatives that they had under the previous Administration, including ring-fencing and bidding for different funds?

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour

I am surprised that the minister thinks that important legislation that recognises and supports children with additional support needs should not be implemented in our schools right now.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

You were not aware? You did not know?

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour

I acknowledge the cabinet secretary's decision to use HMIE in a constructive and proactive way in supporting the roll-out of curriculum for excellence in our high schools. That approach is, at least, an attempt to respond to teachers' concerns about the lack of support in developing course content within the framework of curriculum for excellence. Her Majesty's Inspectorate for Education and learning and Teaching Scotland have worked in partnership with many local authorities, including my own in North Lanarkshire, to provide schools with the necessary support to develop S1 and S2 curriculums. I understand that the North Lanarkshire S1 curriculum was completed in October this year, and that the S2 curriculum will be finished by the end of this month. It is good to see HMIE playing such a positive role in developing Scotland's education system.

It is also worth mentioning that the LTS website is becoming populated with examples of best practice in the implementation of curriculum for excellence. However, Claire Baker was also right when she pointed out that the examples are far from complete or comprehensive, and that some quite strong criticisms have been made of the LTS website because of its lack of clarity and other insufficiencies. Only last night, I was speaking to a teacher who pointed out that nothing can replace face-to-face meetings between teachers.

Of course, the Government's problem with the latter point is that such meetings cost money, and that is the key issue with the current state of curriculum for excellence. I am not at all convinced that the Government is offering sufficient resources to local authorities and teachers to implement the new curriculum.

Although some progress has been made in preparing the S1 and S2 curriculums, there is still little or no clarity around the new exams that pupils will face in the future. The cabinet secretary has, until today, continued to dither around that point. I wonder what words of reassurance he will offer to teachers and pupils when he winds up today. Clarity around the examinations framework is required in Scotland's schools now.

The worrying thing is that the Government failed to deliver curriculum for excellence during the good times, when it claims that local governments' budget for the past three years continued to grow. When national and local government resources were available, there were still insufficient resources for curriculum for excellence. What will be the impact of the impending budget cuts on the efforts to fully implement curriculum for excellence? Will the cabinet secretary confirm today that the Government will not enter any agreement with COSLA to start to dismantle the terms and conditions that McCrone gave to teachers? Will the cabinet secretary reassure us about that, or are we going to see this Government willingly colluding in the dismantling of McCrone? How will the cabinet secretary ensure that local authorities are properly funded to provide support to head teachers and other teaching staff in Scotland's schools to fully implement curriculum for excellence?

We in the Labour Party support the fundamental principles of curriculum for excellence. We initiated it and we are continuing, and will continue, to support the central principles that underpin it. However, it is time for the Government and the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning to take firm control of the implementation. He must not just speak warm words and pat himself on the back; it is time for him to put his money where his mouth is and to provide hard-working teachers and pupils with the support and clarity that they deserve.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

We have some time in hand, so members could use seven minutes as a guideline from now on.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 10:24 am, 11th November 2010

I will attempt to finish my speech within seven minutes.

It is sometimes difficult to tell whether Des McNulty's glass is half full or half empty. This morning, we learnt that, in respect of the curriculum for excellence, it is completely empty. It is not even half full.

A debate such as this is useful in highlighting for everybody the problems that remain with the roll-out of the curriculum for excellence, but the Government's motion also gives us an opportunity to get behind it, to say how important it is and to commend people. We are taught in teaching that positive reinforcement works better than criticism.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

The issue, certainly in my contribution, is not whether the curriculum for excellence is a good thing in principle—I believe that it is—but the problems that have arisen in its implementation. Those problems are well known and understood in the system, but the minister simply does not want to hear about them.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

I take Des McNulty's point.

Rousseau was probably one of the first people to consider how we should look at education from a child's point of view.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

Yes, Jean-Jacques.

I had the extreme good fortune and great honour to serve with R F Mackenzie in Braehead secondary school in Buckhaven in Fife, and I would like to take the opportunity to pay a short tribute to a man who, in a sense, forecast in the 1960s where we are now in our attitudes to education. In an education system that was deeply divided, with high schools and junior secondaries, R F Mackenzie was the head teacher of a very small secondary school: Braehead had just 400 pupils. That was before the raising of the school-leaving age, and most of the pupils from that school left without any qualifications and little in the way of an education that gave them the confidence and self-belief that we are looking for the curriculum for excellence to deliver for every young person in the country.

R F Mackenzie decided that he would set up in his school a curriculum that was thoroughly based on the creative arts, such as music and art, and on technical and outdoor education as well as on the basic subjects of maths, geography and literacy. I taught modern studies and English when I was there. We produced a school newspaper that went worldwide, and we were in constant contact with A S Neill in Summerhill school. We did not go quite as far as A S Neill, but we believed that young people should be given chances to develop in the ways that they could and that they should be encouraged to develop all the skills that were nascent within them. That was central to Mackenzie's philosophy.

Now, after many years, we have a curriculum for excellence that takes on many of those points. In the first school that I taught in, we could hear the belts slapping in the corridors almost continually from the beginning to the end of the day. One of the bravest things that R F Mackenzie did was discourage the use of the belt. That is not to say that the belt was not used at all at Braehead, but most of the teachers did not use it.

That experience informs my attitude to the curriculum for excellence. I was overjoyed when it was introduced because I think that it is the best thing for our students. The cabinet secretary's move to combine Learning and Teaching Scotland and HMIE and then to put them into the classroom is brilliant. It is just what we need, because those bodies have a lot to offer. Not only that, but they will learn from being engaged at the chalkface. Actually, teachers now use interactive whiteboards; technological advances have been so quick that classrooms are unrecognisable from my early days. The cabinet secretary's decision can only be beneficial on both sides—to teachers and to HMIE.

I have some concerns, which I would like to reflect on. Amid everything, the most important subjects are the creative arts, and yet they are at standstill. I know of schools throughout the country where, if something is to be cut, local authorities will cut music, drama or art. Outdoor education went out the window a long time ago: the Government will be well aware of my concerns about that. I had hoped that, by now, those subjects would be able to expand because they are central to the whole spirit and ethos of the curriculum for excellence. I would like a hint from the Government on what it is thinking about for future development. Obviously, we cannot do everything at once, and we have to play with what we have at the moment.

I was glad to hear, amid all the criticisms, that there are secondary schools that have whole-heartedly taken the curriculum for excellence on board. Primary schools—I have visited many—think that it is the best thing that has happened to them. Many schools were teaching in the spirit of the curriculum for excellence anyway, so it was less difficult for them to adapt.

In this breath I will also pay a huge tribute to the contribution that eco-schools have made to the development of curriculum for excellence. Ten years ago, we started with 300 schools on the scheme, and we now have 3,000 schools on it, with the scheme being run by a very small staff in Stirling. We will entertain an international meeting on eco-schools in the Parliament next Thursday. Sadly, the parliamentary event coincides with another prestigious event run by a certain newspaper in Our Dynamic Earth, and at which—as far as I can tell—everybody will be except me.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I know of that coincidence of dates, but I can assure Robin Harper that I will open the conference, and I know that a colleague of mine will be present. We are very proud of the fact that that conference is taking place in Scotland, and of the eco-school movement, which Scotland leads.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

I was going to mention the cabinet secretary's very welcome presence at the celebration.

I will finish there, but I would welcome the cabinet secretary's response on the arts.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party 10:32 am, 11th November 2010

As a Parliament, our greatest single responsibility is, arguably, to do everything in our power to ensure—to put it rather grandly—that tomorrow is better than today and to ensure that Scotland's children have the most dynamic, memorable and mind-broadening education possible, and not just that they pass some exams. A dynamic education does far more than provide a better future for individuals: it provides an enhanced future for all Scotland. The strength of our education system impacts directly on our future prosperity, and it is essential that we do everything in our power both to maintain and to improve Scotland's education system.

Strangely enough, at least three current members of this Parliament were taught by one fine teacher at Selkirk high school who managed to include in his lessons welcome digressions into fields as varied as linguistics, literature, history, etymology, modern languages, science, the guitar, English grammar, art, current affairs and the satirical songs of Tom Lehrer, including his notable 1960s hit "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park". Somehow, amid all that, he managed to find the time to get us through higher Latin and O grade Greek.

That was certainly immensely memorable, but it was deliberately not in any obvious isolated silo of educational experience. I wonder how easy it would have been to teach in that way latterly in the overexamined, overmeasured and overfragmented system that many have argued Scottish education became to some extent in recent years. If we are to correct that tendency and allow teachers scope again to teach in a more natural cross-disciplinary way, we have to embrace the curriculum for excellence.

The curriculum for excellence breaks down barriers in education. As it does so, it seeks to provide the children of Scotland with a better-rounded education and to help them to grow both academically and personally. The curriculum for excellence also seeks to adapt the education system to provide more meaningful academic growth to its students. By breaking down barriers between academic disciplines, the initiative creates a better-rounded, multidisciplinary approach to education, especially at primary school level. It gives teachers greater freedom to create experiences for their pupils that make lessons more interesting and effective. Such reforms create a curricular structure that allows for flexibility and adaption at classroom level. By providing that flexibility, we grant our teachers the freedom that they need.

The curriculum for excellence will also provide a better environment in which the children of Scotland can experience growth on a personal level. The curriculum ensures that students are provided with the tools and opportunities that they need to develop and grow as citizens and it seeks to provide a system that encourages that. Indeed, there is evidence that the new curriculum is having an effect in surprising ways, such as in new Edinburgh school buildings that are now physically being designed around the new curriculum.

Before we descend further into party camps on the issue, I point out that the curriculum for excellence is neither the brainchild nor the burden of any single party. All parties acknowledge—or should acknowledge—that the process that led to its creation began under a Lib Dem-Labour Administration, seven years ago, and that it has fallen to an SNP Government to implement it. Nobody disputes the considerable work that implementing the new curriculum has meant for teachers; however, we have heard relentless negativity in some speeches. In fact, if it were a temperature, it would have plummeted beyond mere negativity during Mr McNulty's speech and reached absolute zero.

The Government has responded to teachers' demand for a recognition that they must be allowed to teach and that the days of top-down direction on every aspect of their teaching lives must be brought to an end. The Scottish Government has also sought to address issues that the teaching unions have raised around the implementation of the new curriculum, which is reflected in the unparalleled involvement of the teaching profession in that task. That has included the funding of the implementation partnership and the creation of four new in-service days with targeted support through HMIE. Most substantially, there has been an additional implementation year: despite the siren calls, the time for implementation is now upon us.

Nobody pretends that implementation is a simple task, but the wisdom of going ahead is testified to in the comments of Irene Matier, of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, in The Times Educational Supplement Scotland on 4 June:

"We are hearing more and more accounts of the really positive impact Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is having on schools, teachers and pupils. In particular, many teachers report that they are actually enjoying the job much more than before."

Liz Cameron, of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said in the June 2010 issue of "Business Scotland" magazine:

"Curriculum for excellence's approach in nurturing successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors offers great potential for developing the kind of young people we need—both as entrepreneurs and as employees."

It is now essential that we move forward and that Scotland acknowledges that we possess a dynamic cutting-edge education system that incorporates new reforms and targets for both academic and personal growth. We live in a rapidly changing world in which we must regularly adapt our approach to education. Only through a willingness to change constantly in that way and to improve our education system can we properly prepare the children of Scotland to live and work within that ever-changing world. Unless someone in the chamber has a better idea, the curriculum for excellence presents overwhelmingly our best prospect of achieving those goals and deserves all of our support.

Photo of Marlyn Glen Marlyn Glen Labour 10:38 am, 11th November 2010

It is quite a few years since I was in the classroom, but I am still very much aware of the hard work and dedication that teachers and other school staff put in day in, day out in our nurseries, schools and colleges. From that point of view, it is welcome that today's motion and the Labour amendment congratulate the teaching profession on its efforts.

However, it saddens me to say that education has been one of the least successful policy areas of the current Scottish Government. I worry that, on too many occasions, the Government has found itself on the wrong side of the argument from Scottish education's professionals as individuals, groups, organisations and institutions. Again and again, it has shown a lack of respect for their views, which has ultimately been shown in the cutting of at least 3,000 teachers from our schools.

Photo of Marlyn Glen Marlyn Glen Labour

The Scottish Government must take responsibility for what happens in education throughout Scotland. I hope that the cabinet secretary accepts his responsibility.

The roll-out of the curriculum for excellence is, indeed, going ahead and the position of the major teaching union, the Education Institute of Scotland, is one of support. Where the EIS differs, however, is on the timeframe. It believes—and asks—that the qualifications be delayed, because professional opinion is that they are not deliverable in 2012. Now that the assessment arrangements have gone live online, perhaps some of the confusion that we have had will be dispelled; nevertheless, there remain real concerns about funding and about being able to maintain the number of teachers who are required to deliver the curriculum for excellence and deal with its associated workload.

The conclusions of the EIS's survey of its members, which was published last month, show that they clearly regard the implementation of the CFE as testimony to the level of teacher professionalism and good will that exist. However, most suggestions from teachers for support centre on finance in relation to staffing levels and class sizes. At this point, we should recall the much-quoted words of the 2007 SNP election manifesto:

"We will maintain teacher numbers in the face of falling school rolls to cut class sizes".

I had some reservations from the start about the idea of HMIE going into schools in a supportive role, but those fears seem to have been largely unfounded, I am glad to say. However, the question now is about what happens when the inspectors restart their inspections. How will that dual role work and how will the support role be continued? Many concerns and questions remain.

Photo of Marlyn Glen Marlyn Glen Labour

No, thank you.

There is a necessity for long-term commitment to the curriculum for excellence, but that commitment must include resources including continuing professional development opportunities and—which is important—time at both local and national levels. How will the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning seek to ensure that the continuous professional development associated with CFE will be of the very best quality? Also, how will he ensure that teachers throughout the country will have regular access to it at a time of very tight budgets?

I turn to literacy. Labour's literacy commission reported in December last year, urging the Scottish Government to produce "an immediate action plan" to deal with the levels of illiteracy that had been revealed. The literacy commission found that almost a million Scots have difficulty with literacy and that, each year, almost one in five children leaves primary school lacking the ability to read and write at the basic standard level. The commission's report called for a zero-tolerance approach to tackling the problem of illiteracy and made recommendations.

However, it was only last month—10 months after those revelations—that the cabinet secretary published his literacy action plan. Its stated key actions include:

"Curriculum for Excellence supporting literacy from a child's early years".

Illiteracy problems will not be solved by the curriculum for excellence on its own. What further measures does the cabinet secretary intend to introduce to end the annual output of almost 20 per cent of children leaving primary school lacking basic literacy? Any actions must be detailed and timelined. Furthermore, how can that improvement be achieved when schools are losing specialist learning support as a result of the Scottish Government's reduction in the number of teachers and posts? That makes the work of the classroom teacher much harder and even more demanding.

As a former support-for-learning principal teacher, I understand fully the difference that support in the classroom can make to individual pupils—from essential assistance with the transition to secondary school to the special arrangements that are made for examinations. Such support can, and often should, follow the individual into further and higher education, and it helps many students to reach their full potential.

I cite an example that Margaret Mitchell will know about. Jackie Stewart, who is now the president of Dyslexia Scotland, had to wait until his 40s to be diagnosed as dyslexic. He now campaigns to ensure that assessment toolkits and help are made available to pupils as early as possible. He also works with prison inmates, who, we now understand, have very high levels of dyslexia and other learning difficulties.

We often talk in the chamber—quite glibly—about the importance of early intervention, and I understand that the Finance Committee is currently working on that in the context of preventive spending. Putting resources into education, with full support for learning from both teachers and classroom assistants, is one of the best examples of early intervention and preventive spending. I trust that the cabinet secretary understands its importance and makes the most robust arguments for that essential day-to-day spending, which makes such a difference to the lives of young people.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Scottish National Party 10:45 am, 11th November 2010

There can be few debates more important to the future of Scotland than the question of how we educate our young people, so it is only right that we consider the implementation of the curriculum for excellence, after it was introduced to classrooms in August. Given that this is the greatest education reform in a generation, the effort that has been put in by our teachers, nursery teachers, college lecturers and support staff is remarkable, as is the accompanying success.

After the division that was on display yesterday in relation to other issues, it is also worth reminding ourselves of the consensus that exists on the need for the new curriculum. Any disagreements seem to centre on its implementation, but that was always expected to be a challenge. A complicated reform will always require extra support.

I do not recognise Des McNulty's assessment of the cabinet secretary. I think that Mike Russell is to be commended for his willingness to listen to concerns from professionals as those concerns arose and for his on-going and proactive engagement with all who are influenced by the reform, from pupils and parents to teachers and headteachers. Margaret Smith suggested that Mike Russell pushes aside teachers who disagree with him. Far from it. I regularly see the cabinet secretary answering concerns on Facebook in an open manner and inviting comments from teachers. Generally speaking, at the end of those discussions, they are satisfied.

One of the most welcome developments in the curriculum is the return to a broad, integrated education rather than a compartmentalised, tick-box exercise. Breadth was traditionally a key characteristic of Scotland's education system, and a return to teaching subjects in a rounded, integrated fashion can only be a good thing. The return to a broad-based approach has been met with enthusiasm. Indeed, it has encouraged a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament to submit a petition to the Parliament to incorporate political education in the curriculum. Which of us would not like to design those lesson plans?

One aspect that I would like to touch on is the opportunity to include local examples and items of interest across the curriculum. It is, of course, welcome that, finally, history is being taught properly in Scottish schools. However, giving flexibility to schools also allows local examples to be used in many fields, whether it involves our enlightenment thinkers and academic pioneers or things that are of interest to pupils in their day-to-day lives.

Of course, some of that was already happening. I am reminded of Sighthill primary school in Glasgow, which has been demolished, sadly, but which was sited next to Sighthill cemetery—it is still there—where the three 1820 martyrs lie. Not only were classrooms in the school named after Baird, Hardie and Wilson, the children were able to visit the graves. Imagine how that must have brought the stories to life for those children. I expect that, years hence, they will be able to tell us all about the 1820 martyrs. That sort of approach increases pupils' interest, which in turn increases their retention of information.

As an aside, but an important one, Sighthill primary school also educated many young asylum seekers. When it was demolished recently, all the pupils experienced disruption, but that is nothing compared to the disruption that is about to be visited on those of them who are seeking asylum. I hope that the cabinet secretary will share my concern about the threat to the education of Glasgow asylum seekers who this week received letters telling them that they are to be moved elsewhere in Scotland. Many Glasgow schools have reconfigured their staffing to offer support to asylum seekers, who have become an integral part of the schools. I am concerned for the welfare of the asylum seekers, but I am also concerned about the disruption in the schools.

Addressing the University of Glasgow, Jimmy Reid once said:

"Alienation is the precise and correctly applied word for describing the major social problem in Britain today."

The empowering aspect of the new curriculum, with its focus on creating successful learners and confident individuals is surely one way to ensure that all our young people feel integrated into our society. Attending Jimmy Reid's funeral, I was struck by the importance that the speakers placed on the culture of learning that existed around the Clyde in the post-war period. There can be few more shining examples of a successful learner than Jimmy Reid, who as a boy was often seen, we were told, heading for Govan library with books under his arm.

If we create confident learners, we allow people to have the world as their oyster. If people are put off education and learning at an early age, we hinder their life chances.

Integrating our education system with experiences that are available in our arts and culture will also have an empowering element and will help our pupils to progress in the four main capacities in the new curriculum. Scotland has a rich culture and heritage and it is right that our young people feel confident about approaching and learning about their culture, as well as other world cultures.

Having considered some of the benefits of the new curriculum for excellence, I would like to say one or two things about the on-going implementation process. Of course, change is never easy, even when it is change for the better. However, I believe that we should pay tribute to the teachers, nursery teachers, college lecturers and support staff for their efforts so far, because they are at the very heart of the process.

Once again, I must say that I disagree with Des McNulty. I believe that the 10-point plan that the cabinet secretary announced in March has contributed to the successful implementation of the new curriculum that we have seen so far. The feedback that I have received from teaching friends suggests that the intervention at that stage ensured, at least, that those who were tasked with implementing the new curriculum were reassured that they were being listened to and that support was in place.

As a drama graduate, I agree with Robin Harper about the importance of the creative arts. I know that the cabinet secretary is well aware of that, but I will give one reason why they are important. Many anger management programmes focus on self-expression. In Scotland, we are notoriously inhibited when it comes to self-expression, and much anger stems from that inhibition. I believe that, if we focused more on enabling our children to express themselves properly, through a focus on the expressive arts, we would see a difference in the levels of crime in our country.

As the motion implies, it is only right that the education sector has the support not only of the Scottish Government but of the whole Parliament as it delivers the greatest education reform for a generation. That education reform was needed. It is only right that all of us show our commitment to that reform by supporting the motion.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour 10:52 am, 11th November 2010

I am grateful for the opportunity to join my Labour colleagues today in speaking up for concerned teachers, parents and children across Scotland in this debate. Let us not confuse concern for teachers with criticism of teachers. We, on this side of the chamber, are not criticising teachers; we are standing up for teachers, just as we stood up for teachers when we were in government, with record teacher numbers, smaller class sizes and the biggest school building programme in a generation.

As the cold nights draw in and the days become shorter and fewer for the SNP Government, one cannot help but think that, as SNP members settle down in the long nights ahead, their thoughts will turn to the legacy of the Government of Scotland. Regrettably, on education, that legacy is fixed, and it is a legacy of failure—failure on school building, failure on teacher numbers and class sizes and failure on promises made to students on debt and support. At all educational levels, for teachers, parents, those attending university, college, primary school and secondary school, the SNP has failed to deliver. Education is the only department to have lost two ministers. It is a legacy of broken promises.

What is the SNP's record on curriculum for excellence? Why did curriculum for excellence get into such a mess? After nearly four years of this Government and three years of Learning and Teaching Scotland putting out completely inscrutable documents, the Government had to put out simple fact files this summer to tell people what curriculum for excellence actually is.

Mike Russell quoted several academics who said how good the ideas behind curriculum for excellence are. They are good, and I am proud that the Labour-Liberal Democrat Government secured cross-party support for the introduction of curriculum for excellence. However, the implementation has been appalling, and the SNP

Government has to take some responsibility for that, even though it is totally failing to do so.

Mike Russell knows that his Government's record on curriculum for excellence has been weak and ineffective. That is why he has desperately tried to do something about it since becoming the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning.

I am old enough to remember—

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. According to the standing orders, it is unacceptable to misrepresent a member. I do not know that.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

That is not a point of order but it is now on the record, Mr Russell.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

If Mr Russell does not know that, my goodness he damn well ought to know it by now.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Ms Brankin, watch your language.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

I will—absolutely.

The five-to-14 curriculum was introduced because of a lack of continuity, progression and a rigorous assessment framework. I am old enough to remember schools prior to the five-to-14 curriculum. I worked in curriculum development alongside subject teachers who were implementing five to 14. It was challenging, but it introduced a structure and a framework. Over time, however, five to 14 became a bit of a straitjacket. Many teachers became frustrated by what they saw as an inability to develop creativity and independent learning, due to a cluttered curriculum.

Curriculum for excellence, therefore, was absolutely right. However, the risks that are currently associated with its implementation are too great. The lack of assessment detail is hugely worrying. Many of my colleagues have drawn attention to that today. There is a great danger that attainment levels could fall due to a lack of rigour in assessment. Mr Russell is aware of my concern about the weak plans for assessment of literacy. Although it is right that every secondary teacher should also be a teacher of literacy, it is essential that there is a clear line of accountability for the teaching of literacy in secondary schools. That is still missing. Let us not reinvent the wheel. The five-to-14 language across the curriculum was good in theory; in practice, it simply did not work. No one took responsibility for the teaching of literacy in secondary schools. Let us not repeat that.

We are at an important crossroads for education. The Government has failed to prioritise education in its budgets, and this important change is being implemented against a background of 3,000 fewer teachers, bigger classes and a potential loss of curriculum preparation time in schools.

The cabinet secretary bears a huge responsibility to support curriculum for excellence. Again, I commend the work that has been done by teachers in schools throughout Scotland. Our teachers are stepping up to the plate. The cabinet secretary's job is to stand up for teachers and Scottish education. The jury is very much still out on that.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I call Ian McKee. Dr McKee, I remind you that I will stop you at 11 o'clock.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party 10:57 am, 11th November 2010

I am pleased to hear Rhona Brankin live up to her reputation for positivity. In that light, I am sure that she will accept the motion, which asks Parliament to reaffirm its commitment to the curriculum for excellence, given that teachers in schools throughout the country are making exceptional efforts to implement the new framework from classroom to classroom.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

Is the member aware that at least twice in my speech I said that teachers throughout Scotland are working hard? We recognise the efforts of teachers. What the member said is simply wrong.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party

Obviously, Rhona Brankin will not accept a compliment as a compliment. I was referring to her positivity.

Commitment is a crucial word in the debate, as it is exactly what the teaching profession, parents and pupils all expect—a solid curriculum, built to last and supported at the highest level. To that end, it is Parliament's responsibility to back the curriculum and its implementation, and to provide the necessary reassurance that is expected at this time.

The Government has fully engaged with parents and teachers throughout the implementation stages, listening and acting on their concerns. All parents of pupils starting under curriculum for excellence in August, such as Christina McKelvie, received correspondence from the education secretary, who also provided question-and-answer sessions in schools throughout the country. What is clear is that curriculum for excellence is now a reality—it is here and it is here to stay.

Over the past 30 years or so, the education system has witnessed major framework reforms. Some would argue that those reforms have been too frequent and have fallen short of pupils' needs and teachers' expectations. The Dunning report led to the introduction of standard grades and certification for all, within a curricular framework based on eight modes of learning.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 11:00 am, 11th November 2010

Members are invited to stand for two minutes' silence of remembrance.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party

We then had the 1987 reforms of primary education, which eventually evolved into the five-to-14 guidelines. In 1994, the higher still programme aimed to achieve "higher standards of attainment" and

"recognized qualifications for all within a unified curriculum structure".

Although each of those reforms had their purpose, they did not tackle the principles of teaching and learning as radically as curriculum for excellence does. It is crucial that education systems evolve to address areas of attainment that require attention as well as the changing needs of society and the economy. However, many would agree that the Scottish education system now needs a period of stability. Curriculum for excellence will give us that.

Of course, that does not mean that minor tweaks to the system cannot be made. I give members a concrete example. Curriculum for excellence makes provision for every pupil to begin learning a foreign language no later than primary 6. That is a significant step forward from the 2002 provisions, which encouraged primary schools to teach modern languages only once pupils got to primary 6 or 7.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

Is the member aware that, in secondary education in some councils, schools are going to teach only one rather than two modern languages? Is that a matter of regret?

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party

I am aware of that, and I am grateful to the member for raising that issue. It reinforces a point that I will make later in my speech.

There is scope for the curriculum to go even further, and I encourage local authorities and schools to engage in basic language conversation from the first years of primary education. Of course, there is nothing to prevent primary schools from teaching languages earlier at the moment—and some already do—but unless an expectation is made clear in the curriculum, it is unlikely that many will follow.

The reality is that modern languages are in a pretty bad state. Over the past 10 years, there has been a 40 per cent reduction in language take-up at standard grade, and an overall 20 per cent reduction if we include take-up at intermediate levels. That decline did not start overnight. The trend worsened in the late 1990s and was never addressed by the previous Administration. Labour had the opportunity to invest in modern languages and tackle the negative take-up trend but, instead, it sat and watched the situation slowly decline, leaving this Administration to sort out its negligence.

The Scottish Government has already made substantial progress on Gaelic. There has been a steady increase in take-up over the past years as a result of funding and greater responsibility at Government level but there is much more to be done.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Is Mr McKee aware that local authorities across the board are cutting back on modern languages in primary school teaching? Exactly what has the SNP Government done to prevent that?

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party

The member should look back at what has happened over the past 20 years or so rather than looking to the SNP to pick up all the bits of maladministration by Labour in its many years in power. The East of Scotland European Consortium has been clear in predicting that, if we fail to get people speaking languages, we will struggle to make inroads in the booming markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China and our economy will suffer the consequences. If Scotland is to compete globally, it needs the right skills to succeed.

What needs to be done? There is a simple starting point: we need to get pupils learning languages sooner and faster. If we compare language learning in Scotland with that in Scandinavian nations—countries with renowned education systems—we find that pupils in Scandinavian nations are taught foreign languages at a very young age. In Sweden and Finland, pupils start learning them as early as seven and in Norway they start at the age of six. That is a difference of four or five years and any linguist would tell us that, as far as languages go, the difference is significant. My point is simple. Not only do children pick up other tongues faster at an earlier age; the sooner languages are introduced to pupils, the sooner they will be seen as equal and important subjects. If we give languages the same status and importance as English, maths or history, their take-up at standard grade and higher will inevitably rise.

There is progress to be made on the matter, but what is certain is that curriculum for excellence makes a real start in reversing the negative trend of language learning in Scotland. It is high time that the entire chamber showed unequivocal support for and commitment to the curriculum, which is a development that will once more place our country at the forefront of educational process. I support the motion.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat 11:07 am, 11th November 2010

I start by congratulating the cabinet secretary, Mike Russell, on his flexibility, as his ability to pat himself on the back while simultaneously attacking his opponents is much to be admired. However, from the tone of the debate, I think that there is still considerable concern about the progress that is taking place. It is disappointing that Mr Russell does not appear to take these concerns seriously. Although I recognise that there may be members in the chamber whose viewpoint of unremitting disaster would put the Rev I M Jolly to shame, that does not necessarily mean that their observations, comments and criticisms are without foundation. It is right that members in the chamber should express their perceptions of the unions' concerns about what may be going on behind closed doors.

It is equally right that Elizabeth Smith should refer to the autonomy of headmasters and schools and to flexibility. Several members referred specifically to literacy, which is an issue that I have raised in previous debates. Having taught for a while in further education, where I dealt with adults and young adults, it is clear to me that our challenges, problems and difficulties with literacy predate this Administration, the previous two Administrations and, indeed, the Parliament itself.

One challenge is that if we are going to successfully tackle the literacy issue—and numeracy, for that matter—we need to be sure that the teachers who come out of our educational institutes have the confidence, the knowledge and the ability to deliver. Teachers of my acquaintance tell me that they deal with young people in first, second and third year who are barely functionally literate. By that point, it is almost too late. I have raised with both the cabinet secretary and his predecessor the issue that, in many instances, historically—and even within curriculum for excellence—the marking and moderation regime has not facilitated addressing literacy and numeracy within specific subject areas. I have not yet received any assurance that that is being take forward in the marking scheme.

That leads me on to observations on and what I feel are justified criticisms of the examination process that will be attached to the curriculum for excellence. I cannot think of any other situation in which one would be presented with 54,000 students and be required to teach them to a range of principles—even allowing for the national resources—without knowing what the structure, style and content of an exam will be. I would not like to think that anyone was putting someone behind the driving wheel of a motor car without knowing what the expectation is, but that is in effect what we are asking our teachers to do.

I came across a Government document entitled "Curriculum for Excellence: Building the Curriculum 5: a framework for assessment". It is full of warm words, as many Government documents often are, but I notice that much of the responsibility, as is too often the case, particularly with this Government, has been passed on to local authorities. In effect, they seem to be on their own with this, and it concerns me seriously when I hear anecdotally from teachers that, when they ask for continuing professional development time, they are told that they should watch Teachers TV in the morning before they come to work. That is a concern. That information is anecdotal and I am not suggesting that the cabinet secretary has said that, but I am repeating what I have been told by people in the profession.

I am not quite sure where the national co-ordinators are going and I am not sure whether the details of who they are, how they will work and how they will co-ordinate have been made public beyond one paragraph in this document.

Given the general tenor of support for the principles of the move to curriculum for excellence, it is a matter of concern that serious concerns are still being expressed from all quarters—not only from the political quarters that one would expect. In conclusion, I will read a paragraph from a letter in the Times Educational Supplement Scotland from a teacher in my region:

"Even the most enthusiastic devotees of Curriculum for Excellence would have to admit that its progress has been slow. At the chalk face, we have lost count of the number of hiccups and false starts ... There appear to be two significant reasons for this somewhat convoluted path to implementation: the resistance of the management board to any form of genuine debate, and an apparent inability to see the effect of its decisions on schools."

I hope that the cabinet secretary will take on board those concerns and others that have been expressed as we move forward with the curriculum for excellence.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative 11:14 am, 11th November 2010

This forthright debate has provided the opportunity to remind us what curriculum for excellence is intended to achieve.

I readily acknowledge, as have all the other contributors to the debate, the hard work done by Scotland's teachers in preparation for the new curriculum and the contributions of the various organisations involved in the development and implementation of curriculum for excellence, but to give fulsome congratulations for the successful implementation of curriculum for excellence three months after its introduction is both presumptuous and preposterous. By way of confirming that that is the case, I ask the cabinet secretary to respond to concerns that have been highlighted by Des McNulty, Margaret Smith and other members and, more important, expressed by teachers at the chalkface—or, as Robin Harper called it, the white board.

There is a general feeling that implementation has been a case of too much, too soon and that it would have been better to phase in curriculum for excellence gradually. Problems arise when primary pupils move from one system—the five-to-14 curriculum—to the other. How, for example, does level C fit into the new curriculum assessment? Moreover, the experiences and outcomes are considered to be too vague; indeed, as my colleague Liz Smith and the RSE have pointed out, it is almost impossible to work with such very vague assessment criteria.

Secondary schools are unsure about when the national qualifications will be changed and that is unsettling for parents, pupils and teachers. Although the national assessment resource is intended to address assessment issues, the bank of material is not yet large enough to allow that work to be carried out. The fact that secondary teachers do not know what will replace standard grades makes it very difficult for them to teach to an outcome. Although the skills-based approach is welcome, worries have been expressed—by, among others, the universities—that children will become too skills orientated without having the necessary balance of knowledge and content.

Those very real concerns and anxieties of members of the teaching profession are coupled with the reservation expressed by the EIS, other professionals and members in the chamber that, if the implementation is to be the success that the motion refers to and that we all want it to be, there must be a guarantee that the necessary funding and resources will be in place. At a time when local authorities are under funding pressure, it is far from certain that those resources will be forthcoming.

It is probably fair to say that any change, whether it be in the national health service or in education, will attract criticism. Nevertheless, if Scotland is to regain the reputation that it once enjoyed for high standards of education that are recognised throughout the world and which have resulted in Scots being at the forefront of major global companies and industries, we must continue to re-evaluate teaching methods and curriculum content. That has certainly happened with curriculum for excellence, which, as the cabinet secretary pointed out, was formulated as a response to the need for change highlighted in the national debate on education.

The principles and ethos behind the curriculum for excellence are good and it has huge potential to deliver the knowledge and the skills that children in Scotland will need as they grow up and enter the world of work. However, I must sound a note of caution. Parents, children and future employers must continue to be given more information about the curriculum and teachers must be given more time and information to be able to implement it successfully.

In that regard, the General Teaching Council for Scotland's advice should be taken on board. It has said that if teachers are to work with their colleagues on common course elements or discipline areas there must be time for CPD, the joint development of teaching materials and discussion of teaching principles and practice, as well as joint teaching, assessment and evaluation. It is significant that, where teachers have been coerced into teaching outside their subject area without appropriate support, the course delivery has lacked quality, which has had a negative effect on learning.

The GTCS also stresses that although there is still a commitment to a broad general education to the end of fourth year, there is nothing paradoxical in also having a commitment to progression. Such a move will make subjects more challenging and increase their depth for pupils approaching the senior phase, but that kind of subject teaching can come from only appropriately qualified and registered subject teachers. I hope that the cabinet secretary and the Scottish Government will take heed of that advice.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour 11:20 am, 11th November 2010

First, I thank the cabinet secretary for bringing forward the debate. I realise that criticisms have been expressed and political divisions displayed this morning—and I admit that I will return to them in a moment—but it is worth highlighting the underlying unity and political consensus that, as every front-bench spokesperson made clear in their opening remarks, still seem to hold in terms of the principles and proposals at the heart of the curriculum for excellence. That is an important message to send out to teachers, parents and pupils throughout Scotland as we wrestle with spending cuts and the political uncertainty of next year's elections. Difficult decisions might well lie ahead and—to be honest again—I hope that a new Administration will be in place in the not-too-distant future, but schools should plan on the basis that the curriculum for excellence still has overwhelming political support from all parties and will remain at the heart of Scotland's education system.

It has also been helpful to have a further exposition of why the curriculum for excellence is so important for our schools and why we hope that it will prove advantageous for so many pupils. I sometimes worry that the four capacities sound like managementspeak. I do not know whether other members noticed—I think that Elizabeth Smith might have—but even with the mighty intellect that he has at his disposal the cabinet secretary was tested on that very issue and I saw him fumbling for his aide-mémoire to remind him of what exactly the four capacities are. As we have reminded ourselves this morning—in plain English, I might add—the curriculum for excellence is about moving away from too many exams and exam-focused learning, particularly in primary and lower secondary education; giving teachers more room and freedom to teach; rebalancing vocational and academic learning; trying to re-engage with the disengaged; and, most of all, putting greater focus on pupils as learners and their development as individuals instead of concentrating overly on what they have learned or can regurgitate.

It was interesting to note the number of members who highlighted the relative inaccessibility of the language around the curriculum for excellence. Although we, as politicians, and most of those in the teaching profession, have at least begun to come to terms with the terminology, parents have certainly not yet reached that point. In fact, there is a huge gulf between our understanding of the new reforms and the lack of any shared understanding among parents. The more we talk in slogans or jargon—the vacuous and obscure guidance that, as Des McNulty pointed out, seems to plague this topic—and the less precise we are about where the curriculum for excellence is leading, the less confidence parents, pupils and teachers will have in the reforms.

We might be trying to move away from an exam-dominated curriculum but the fact is that exams, qualifications and assessment are still essential and, for many parents and pupils, lie at the heart of their expectations of school life. Our failure—and, I am sorry to say, the failure of this Government in particular—to spell out the exact exam structure in secondary schools remains the single most important decision that is holding back the curriculum for excellence. As Claire Baker, Marlyn Glen and others pointed out, the interface at the end of S3 between the broad process of learning that is the curriculum for excellence and the subsequent road to examinable qualifications that are a passport to further and higher education or success in the job market is still far from clear. In fact, as Des McNulty made clear, the comments that the cabinet secretary made last week to the Times Educational Supplement Scotland on allowing early presentation to exams in S3 have only made matters worse. They strike me as a green light to two-tier learning before the curriculum for excellence is even in place, with the academic high-flyers separated off from the rest at S2, if not earlier.

I worry that that lack of clarity about the qualifications framework and the timetable for examinations in our secondary schools reflects a wider set of problems about which the Scottish Government cannot or will not reach a conclusion. The curriculum for excellence puts greater emphasis on learning rather than content but, as many in the profession have made clear before now, content and knowledge are still essential. Indeed, in its much-quoted briefing paper, the Royal Society of Edinburgh says:

"It is not clear to the RSE that there is consensus among those developing the reforms on the importance of knowledge and intellect".

Most of our current secondary school exams and qualifications are based on summative, not formative, assessment. Teachers and parents want to know whether that will remain the case and, if it will, which elements of teaching in S1, S2 and S3 might be included in the new assessments. Rather than feel that they are being given more room and freedom to teach, many teachers worry that they are being left rudderless and drifting. The cabinet secretary's response to those teachers is to kick the most outspoken—the SSTA representation—off the CFE steering group.

Even in our primary schools, where the curriculum has been most successfully implemented to date, there is still a great deal of uncertainty about how to benchmark attainment and progress. Teachers in primary schools remain unsure about the process for the moderation of assessment, and parents have lost the familiarity of the five-to-14 framework, with its various levels of achievement. At least in primary schools, the relationship between parents and the classroom is such that families can rely on and trust the judgment of their child's teacher on whether little Michael or Christina is doing well or struggling; at secondary level, they want the certificate to prove things. We are relying on our teachers to make the new curriculum work and to reassure parents and imbue them with confidence, but we are not doing enough to support the teachers.

My underlying concern is that there is a lack of clear leadership from the cabinet secretary and his colleagues, not because the cabinet secretary is unable to make up his mind, but because he is unwilling to do so. We are repeatedly told that the reforms are the most important and radical reforms of the curriculum in a generation, but several members have referred to the minister's seeming reluctance to provide even the most modest funding to implement the changes. That is hardly the behaviour of someone who is fully committed to the curriculum for excellence and, as Claire Baker reminded us earlier, it is not very reassuring as we enter a period of cuts and public spending retrenchment.

I further worry that the cabinet secretary may be unwilling to provide clarity because the decisions will not be pain free or uncontroversial. The secondary school curriculum is still subject led, and any move to loosen or broaden it may or will leave some departments feeling that they have lost out. Last week, I heard from a headteacher who, in introducing the curriculum for excellence, proposed modest reforms in S1 and S2 that would lead to the loss of one period of art each week. She said that the reaction was such that she felt that she had to quell a mutiny, or at least appease huge dismay, among her staff. Many members will remember the outcry over Peter Peacock's supposed comments a few years back that allegedly undermined the importance of history in the curriculum. Of course, Mr Russell led that attack in his previous role as Opposition spokesperson. Is it any wonder that, now that the roles are reversed, he balks at the thought of taking any decision that might be interpreted as downgrading a secondary school subject?

I am sorry to say that, on recent evidence, there is every reason to suspect that the cabinet secretary and his colleagues are ducking each and every difficult decision coming their way. On university funding, they talk of the process that they are introducing to build a consensus, but the cabinet secretary admitted to the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee just this week that that issue is likely to divide us at election time. He seems to be similarly reluctant to provide any kind of leadership on the McCrone agreement with teachers and local authorities. Rather than defend the agreement or even properly discuss it with all participants, he is happy for COSLA to do the running while he secretly negotiates away 1,500 more teaching jobs and professional terms and conditions into the bargain. Des McNulty and Margaret Smith emphasised that, on the cabinet secretary's watch, jobs are being lost among the very teachers whom we need to implement the curricular reforms.

I return to the issue of language and clarity. There is a fundamental disconnect between the cabinet secretary's words on all the issues that we are discussing and his actions. He promised smaller class sizes. Without a hint of irony, he still boasts of the progress that the SNP is making while presiding over the loss of thousands of teaching posts. He talks about supposedly free university funding, but simply defers the difficult decisions and in the meantime reduces the number of places for Scottish students. He talks about his commitment to the curriculum for excellence, but stalls on crucial decisions, refuses to properly resource the reforms, and simply gets rid of those whom he does not want to listen to.

At an informal meeting of the Parliament's Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee yesterday, in which Mr O'Donnell's highly welcome Autism (Scotland) Bill was considered, we took powerful evidence from a group of adults on the autistic spectrum. The comments of one of the witnesses, Kath Baker, who was referring to the difficulties that those with autistic spectrum disorder can have with anything other than literal statements of fact, struck a chord with me. She talked about telling it to them straight and said that, if we are going to cut services because there is no money, we should just say so. She said that we should not tell them that the decision is based on eligibility or use language or other policies to hide the truth. I ask the cabinet secretary to give it to us straight, and to give us clarity, leadership and the decisions that we need to hear on the curriculum for excellence rather than the eight minutes of highly articulate but probably rather pointless and condescending verbiage that we expect.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party 11:30 am, 11th November 2010

I have not heard a build-up like that for a long time. Mr Macintosh referred to "pointless and condescending verbiage". I apologise in advance for letting him down.

The playwright Joan Ure, who was an old friend of mine, once said that Scots do not want freedom of religion; they merely want the freedom to persecute others. Ken Macintosh does not want me to make decisions. I make many decisions and he usually criticises me for making them. He wants me to say something that he can leap on and attack in the way that he tries to leap on and attack things, but I am not going to do that.

The curriculum for excellence is probably precisely where Margaret Smith said that it is. It is probably not quite as good as I want to make out, and it is certainly not nearly as bad as Des McNulty and his colleagues want to make out. Their great disappointment is that what they predicted has not come to pass. I will come to that at the end of my speech. The catastrophe that they wanted to see has not happened and, my goodness, that sticks in their throats.

I want to deal with the positives in the debate rather than the negatives, and will start with Liz Smith's speech. I want to persuade her that the debate is important. She criticised the fact that this debate is taking place and thinks that there are more important issues. We all have views on the relative importance of the curriculum for excellence, but there are two very important things to say in the debate. First, it is important to say thank you and well done to teachers and whole school communities that have worked exceptionally hard in difficult circumstances to get to the point that has been reached. That is a basic civility from the Parliament to people whose actions have at times been much criticised. Perhaps they have not had as much support at times as they should have had. It is important for members to thank them and say well done, and I defend using chamber time to do that.

The second point, about the long-term nature of the commitment, is even more important. That point relates to the opening of my first speech. I want the Parliament to commit itself to the curriculum for excellence in the long term. There is not much in the Labour amendment that pleases me, but I am pleased that it does not cut out the final part of the motion. We make that long-term commitment.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

I began my remarks full of praise for teachers, parents and all those who are involved, so I ask the cabinet secretary not to argue, please, that I am in any way disparaging the efforts that have been made. I say again that, if the curriculum for excellence is to succeed, it will succeed to its full potential only if we address some of the other most important priorities. The Government needs to make considerable progress on those issues.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I agree with Liz Smith. We are trying to deal with many interrelated issues. Indeed, I addressed some of those issues at the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee meeting yesterday, and we addressed others in the debate on higher education funding that the Tories brought to the chamber. I will continue to address those issues, and I am not criticising the member's stance, but I defend the importance of making from the Parliament the two points that I have made. That is why the debate is important.

There is a strong case for talking about school autonomy and for relating the curriculum for excellence to the autonomy of teachers. I will quote with approval something that somebody said this week. They said:

"A debate is required about the role of local councils in schools, but whatever the outcome there needs to be a massive power shift to the school level.

This is needed to allow schools to be more innovative to meet the demands of the Curriculum for Excellence. Staff need more professional space" to deliver. I commend the views of Peter Peacock on the issue. It is absolutely clear that we need to have that debate in the chamber. It is related to the delivery of the curriculum for excellence. We need the Parliament to commit itself to the curriculum for excellence in the long term.

Liz Smith made another point about transitions through school. I encourage her to go and see the transitions at the Rothesay joint campus, which is a good example of where the curriculum for excellence has been introduced without doors. It is said that that campus provides education from three to a degree, because of the nursery and Argyll College provision. It is useful to see how a whole school can deliver the curriculum for excellence right across the age range.

I take Margaret Smith's point about the SSTA. Many members have raised the SSTA issue. I am keen that it takes up membership and comes back to the management board, but I must make the point that it is impossible to be a member of a committee that has voted unanimously for proposals and then call for industrial action against those proposals the following day. That simply cannot happen. I am glad that the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers has now joined the EIS on the management board. I would welcome the SSTA back.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

No, Mr McNulty, I have heard your views on the issue.

The SSTA is welcome to come back, but it needs consistency and we need to know that we are all trying to get the best out of the process, rather than one party grandstanding for its membership despite having supported something in the committee. That is not acceptable.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

Does the cabinet secretary accept that the SSTA is genuinely in negotiations and discussions with councils throughout Scotland and that progress is being made? Will he give categorical assurance to the Parliament that he will try to do likewise as far as the union is concerned?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

On Monday, all the directors of education in Scotland met. Each one confirmed that the curriculum for excellence programme is on track and said that they needed no delay in the implementation timetable. So the SSTA's representation of the issue is not what is actually happening. I repeat that I am absolutely open to discussions with the SSTA on that issue or on any other issue. I meet the unions absolutely regularly.

Margaret Smith raised the issue of the national assessment resource. The assessment framework was published in January and stated then that the national assessment resource would be available from autumn 2010, which was achieved.

There have been several mentions of the exam timetable. The programme addressed the criticisms. It focused initially on rolling out the experiences and outcomes across the curriculum areas between 2008 and 2009. Teachers were therefore able to concentrate at precisely the right moment on how their teaching and classroom practice should develop and extend their children. In the past half year, the programme has focused principally on supporting teachers with assessment and on how to achieve rigorous and robust standards for assessing a child's progress. The published timetable shows that, in early January 2011, draft course outlines for the new qualifications will be published. The team of SQA qualification advisers have established links with every local authority to answer their questions. The actions on the new qualifications are taking place well over three years before the current secondary 1 children will take the new qualifications.

That is a published programme. It has been agreed over the long term. It is in implementation. It should not be misrepresented or misunderstood. It is actually happening.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

No, I will not. I will come to Rhona Brankin in just a moment, but I want to do so via Karen Whitefield and several other members.

I am astonished by the members, particularly Labour members, whose time was taken up with lambasting the Government for the budget difficulties that Labour created. I remind them of that memorable note from Liam Byrne, the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, that said, "I am afraid there is no money." It was Labour that spent the money and whose irresponsibility virtually bankrupted the state, and now its members tell us that budgets have to be put in place. That is hypocrisy of a giant dimension. I have to say that the most offensive thing in the debate was that those members were so blind to that fact.

There were other things that particularly concerned me. Des McNulty's speech lasted 10 minutes and 58 seconds—I counted them in and I counted them out. During that time, we heard nine minutes and 10 seconds of complaint and then there was the merest ray of sunshine. He said that he would become optimistic, but even the optimism was pessimistic. There was not a single thought about how we might take forward the curriculum for excellence. What we have had from Labour this morning is regrettable, and we have not had it from the other parties. I accept that there are difficulties still to be overcome. We are actively working on those and I welcome the co-operation and work of those parties that want to do so. What we had from Labour was cynical and wrong. Labour members wanted the curriculum for excellence to fail and they are really furious that it is succeeding. They are spitting tacks.

What we heard from Des McNulty was astonishing. Halfway through his speech, I realised exactly where I had heard it before. We now have an education policy from Labour that is based entirely on the negativity of the staffroom cynic—the person who does not want anything in education to succeed and who is desperate to stop it. That is what Labour education policy has come to. We have the utter cynicism of a party that, in local government, has slashed teacher numbers. [Laughter.] It then turns up in the Parliament and, with a tinkling laugh from Rhona Brankin, pretends that that has not happened.

The reality is that the Government has worked tirelessly to deliver the curriculum for excellence. I am certainly open to the criticism that there is much more still to do. That is why I am happy to support elements of the Labour amendment, because there are issues that are still to be resolved. However, what we have seen from Labour today is a bankrupt education policy. Even Claire Baker's good speech could not save Labour from that. We have the absolutely extraordinary stance of a party that, having set up the literacy commission and having seen a Government work with that commission to achieve a literacy action plan, proceeds to denounce it, not because it is not the right plan, but because that party does not want anybody to do anything good in Scotland. Labour failed for so long and now it does not want anybody else to succeed. That is disgraceful.