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Secretary of State for Scotland (Meetings)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 14th January 2016.

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Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

2. To ask the First Minister when she will next meet the Secretary of State for Scotland. (S4F-03160)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I have no plans at present, but in light of his announcement yesterday, I wish him all the best.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

This morning, we learned that teachers unions are again threatening strike action over the workload that they face. That is on the back of a crisis in teacher recruitment in Scotland, with training places going unfilled—particularly in maths, physics, computing and technology—and evidence that the attainment gap in our schools is still growing.

We need to act. Last week, we in the Conservative Party published our plans to support Scottish schools. In that document, we called for the Scottish Government to introduce the teach first programme, which is an innovative scheme that is now Britain’s largest graduate recruiter. It trains many of the best graduates and places them in some of our most challenging schools. However, they currently only go to schools south of the border. With teachers threatening to strike, a shortage of graduates going into teaching and poor areas falling behind, why does the First Minister not back that scheme for Scotland?

The First Minister:

First, I disagree with many aspects of Ruth Davidson’s characterisation of our education system, but I will not go into that in the interest of time.

As I believe Ruth Davidson is, I am serious about raising the standards of education in Scotland and closing the attainment gap. We see some signs of the gap narrowing in the upper stages of secondary school, but I want to have the data and information to ensure that we can set measurable targets for closing it in primary and lower secondary school as well. In that context, when I launched the national improvement framework last Wednesday, I said that I close my mind to nothing that can be proven to work in raising standards. That remains my position.

As members are aware, round about this time last year—if memory serves me correctly—I visited a school in London to look in detail at the experience of the London challenge. Before I say this, I accept that there will be different views from the one that I am about to express, but somebody who was close to the implementation of the London challenge said to me that the one thing that they would advise me to be cautious about in learning from it was teach first. In their experience, it was not the thing that had made the biggest difference. That does not mean that I am closing my mind to anything, but it means that we will continue to look at the best evidence of what works. That is the spirit in which I will continue to move forward with the task of improving education for all young people in Scotland.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

As ever on the topic of education, we seem to have an awful lot of warm words and open minds but not much actual leadership. The consequences of the Government’s inaction are beginning to damage our chances of improving our schools to the best of our ability. We have looked at the numbers this week. They show that, last year alone, 100 Scottish graduates joined the teach first programme. That is 100 trainee teachers who studied in Scottish universities and who could, right now, be preparing to work in our schools but who were, instead, recruited by teach first and will now go and do some great work teaching disadvantaged children in England. That just goes to show that, when it comes to our schools, the Scottish National Party Government would rather export good teachers than innovate teacher training.

We are losing some of our best graduates to schools south of the border—graduates who could be teaching in our most disadvantaged schools. The First Minister has the power to change that. Why does she not?

The First Minister:

Much of what Ruth Davidson just said is arrant nonsense. We will do whatever we think works to improve Scottish education.

Angela Constance has recently made announcements about the fact that we are increasing the target intakes for student teachers by 60 for primary and 200 for secondary, so we are increasing the number of teachers who are going through training. Part of the focus that we have put on raising attainment is on the quality of the teachers who go into our schools. We are ensuring that we reform how teachers are trained. We recently announced the qualification for headship, which will be mandatory by 2019. We are making sure that the best graduates come through, get the best training and go into our schools to provide the best education.

We will continue to focus on the things that we think work. The national improvement framework will give us the framework to determine whether what we are doing is working or whether we need to do more. In the context of the election campaign that lies ahead, we will set out over the next few weeks further thoughts about how we do that over the lifetime of the next Parliament. I continue to welcome views from all parts of the chamber, but the national improvement framework is evidence that we are getting on with the job.