Education (Delivery Plan for Excellence and Equity)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 28th June 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a statement by John Swinney on a delivery plan for excellence and equity in education. The Deputy First Minister will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions during it.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

This is the last week of term for many schools across Scotland. It is the end of another year of hard work for teachers, parents, children and young people and the start of a new journey for those young people as they embark on the next stage of their lives. Today also marks the start of a new journey for Scottish education—a journey that will ensure that we realise our ambition for excellence and equity for every child and young person in Scotland.

In its review of Scottish education, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that achievement in Scottish schools is above the international averages in reading and science, that attainment is improving, that Scotland’s schools are inclusive, and that our children are resilient and have positive attitudes towards school. Those findings are strong foundations for Scottish education and they are a testament to the bold reform that is curriculum for excellence, and to the energy that has been applied by many people to ensure success for Scotland’s young people.

The OECD also advised us to continue to be bold. At the education summit, Andy Hargreaves of the OECD review team set out the challenge for us

“not only to remain ahead of the global curve in education but actually become the curve that others will refer to around the world”.

He urged us to move from a culture of judgment to a system of judgment that delivers for every child and young person across our country. We must ensure that every child, no matter where they are from or how well off their family is, has the same opportunity and an equal chance to succeed.

I am pleased to share with Parliament today a tangible and deliverable plan for delivering excellence and equity in Scottish education. The plan covers three themes. The first and overriding theme is our shared commitment right across Scottish education—from early learning and childcare through to schools, to our colleges and universities—to close the attainment gap between children from the most-deprived and those from the least-deprived backgrounds. The Government will be relentless in our efforts to make that happen.

For most children, our system already delivers. Our young people achieved record exam passes last year, and only last week statistics showed a new record in the percentage of young people who are leaving school for positive destinations. The statistics also showed that we continue to make progress in narrowing the gap in attainment. However, narrowing the gap is not the same as closing it, and good is not the same as great. Closing the attainment gap is not a choice but an imperative, if we are to create a fairer and smarter Scotland.

We will start with our programme to transform children’s early education and ensure that it links cohesively with their starting school. The focus on literacy in primaries 1 to 3 will be designed to close the vocabulary gap, and from September this year, school inspection and self-evaluation will focus more directly on progress to close that gap. From the new school year, funding for the challenge authorities and schools will double to £50 million and be extended to secondary schools, into the bargain. We will work with those schools and communities to develop and implement programmes and activity to enable and encourage families’ involvement in learning. We will encourage action in all schools through the increased investment that has been announced today in the innovation fund and, from 2017-18, through an additional £100 million that will be allocated directly to schools.

In order to focus our efforts on closing the gap, we must first be able to identify precisely where the gap is. We will use the new data that will become available through the national improvement framework to identify the attainment gap in primaries 1, 4 and 7 and secondary 3, and at school and local authority levels, and we will agree targets on reducing it. We will focus our collective efforts where they are needed most, and school inspection will focus more directly on closing that gap.

The second theme of our plan is the need to ensure that our curriculum, which the OECD has applauded, can be delivered in a fashion such that our teachers are free to teach and our children have the opportunity to learn. We will put in place clear and simple statements that give teachers confidence about what curriculum for excellence does and does not expect of them. We will declutter the curriculum and strip away anything that creates unnecessary workload for teachers and learners. I have instructed Education Scotland to prepare and publish a clear and concise statement of the basic framework within which teachers teach, which will be published in time for the new school session in August.

Also by August, Education Scotland will provide clear, practical advice on assessing achievement in literacy and numeracy, making clear the expected benchmarks for literacy and numeracy for each level of curriculum for excellence. By the end of the year, Education Scotland will provide similar advice on the achievement of curriculum levels in every curriculum area across broad general education. That will allow teachers to make sure that their learners are on track and are developing the range of skills that they should be able to command.

We will also significantly streamline the current range of guidance and related material on curriculum for excellence, and by January next year a new and much simpler set of key resources will be available on the national improvement hub.

We will carefully consider the ideas that are contributed by teacher associations and other partners in education, and we will take forward a new programme for reducing workload in schools. I will directly oversee that activity and will test the proposals’ effectiveness with a panel of teachers to ensure that their voice and experience informs what we take forward.

I have instructed Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education to carry out a focused review of the demands that are placed on schools by each local authority in relation to curriculum for excellence, and we will receive their recommendations by mid-September.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority, Education Scotland, schools and local authorities must deliver the commitments that are made in the first report of the working group on assessment and national qualifications. The SQA will be expected to deliver the actions to simplify and streamline qualifications that are set out in the 51 subject reports, and to consult on how best to streamline its course documentation for the national qualifications. I will meet the chief examiner for Scotland monthly to ensure that the SQA is delivering its commitments.

We will also reconvene the working group on assessment and national qualifications, which I will chair, to further explore what more can be done to reduce as quickly as possible the workload that is associated with assessment and the new qualifications. The work to declutter CFE is key to freeing up teachers’ time to deliver the broad general education that is at the heart of our curriculum in a way that enables all children to benefit and to succeed.

The third theme that we focus on in the plan is the need to create the right structures to encourage and enable everyone—children and young people, parents, teachers and communities—to participate fully in school life. That represents the biggest opportunity to improve the outcomes and life chances of all children and young people.

In September, I will launch a review of governance alongside the programme for government. It will explore all options and avenues to ensure that we create the right balance of autonomy and accountability in our education system. It will consider the changes to education that are needed to empower our teachers and schools, seek to devolve decision making and funding to schools and communities, and support the development of school clusters and new educational regions. At the same time, we will develop proposals for a fair and transparent national funding formula in order to ensure that resources go where they are most needed.

Schools are the building blocks of our education system, but that is not reflected in our legislation, as responsibility for delivery and raising standards currently rests mainly with education authorities. We will introduce an education bill in the second year of this session of Parliament to address that.

Delivery of each of those themes requires leadership at all levels and by all who are involved in Scottish education. Teachers are key to our ambitions, and investing in their skills, knowledge and, indeed, confidence will create the right culture of empowered leadership. Therefore we will invest £1.5 million over the next three years to support up to 160 aspiring headteachers every year to benefit from the into headship programme, and we will invest nearly £1 million this year in masters-level learning for teachers.

We also need the right people with the right skills in the right places at the right time. Therefore we will ensure that new teachers start their careers confident in their ability to raise attainment in literacy and numeracy as well as to nurture children’s health and wellbeing. We will expand distance learning initial teacher education models, develop a Scottish masters programme that focuses on the vital transition phase between primary and secondary, and introduce a new route to encourage the highest-quality graduates into priority areas and subjects.

The delivery plan sets out the actions that the Government will take over the course of this session to free up teachers to teach, and empower our schools to deliver excellence and equity for all. The reforms that we plan are substantial, and our ambition is clear. We will deliver on the basis of evidence, while also being unafraid to innovate and find our own solutions.

We will invest and seek to transform our education system. At every step, we will engage, building on the education summit, which brought together key partners to share ideas for change, and by establishing a teachers panel and putting in place the international council of education advisers.

Closing the attainment gap and raising standards for all, and delivering excellence and equity for all our children and young people, must now be our shared national endeavour. The plan is focused on doing exactly that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The Deputy First Minister will now take questions on the issues that have been raised in his statement. I intend to allow until 5.30 for questions, after which we must move on to the next item of business. Short, sharp questions and short, sharp answers will mean that everybody gets in.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

I thank John Swinney for providing prior sight of his statement. Both he and the First Minister have been clear in recent weeks that equity is one of the principles that underline everything that they are trying to do on education. That is a good sign, so I will keep my three questions to the principle of equity.

First, will the cabinet secretary expand on exactly how he intends to disburse the funds that will be used to assist the most vulnerable pupils? In an answer to a parliamentary question from me, he said that the details of that would be

“forthcoming in the next few weeks.”—[

Written Answers,

24 May 2016; S5W-00069.]

However, I did not hear those details in his statement.

Secondly, the cabinet secretary knows that many parents are anxious about subject choice and the fact that schools are not all offering the same number of subjects at national 5—indeed, some key subjects are not being offered at all. The cabinet secretary rightly sounded concerned about that at education question time, so will he tell Parliament what he intends to do to address it?

Thirdly, the cabinet secretary rightly said in his statement that the early years are absolutely crucial, so I ask again where the equity lies when half of Scotland’s young children do not have the same level of nursery entitlement as the other half. Does he intend to change that?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

On distribution of funds, the Government has already made allocations to support local authorities and schools, which are driven by assessments of levels of deprivation. My objective is to ensure that as we roll out the further stages of the attainment fund, the funding reaches the areas of the country where deprivation exists, and that we tackle it directly through the investment that the Government makes.

In a sense, Liz Smith’s second question, which was on subject choice, gets to the heart of the issue of decision making in individual schools. The choices that are arrived at on subjects are largely arrived at by individual schools—I know that Liz Smith is a supporter of individual schools being able to take their own decisions. There is a fine balance to be struck. In all my judgments about education, I am constantly wrestling with the question of the extent to which I, as the education secretary, should set out what I think should happen and the extent to which I should leave that to the professional judgment of educationists in every part of the country. I respectfully point out to Liz Smith that there is a contradiction in complaining about the availability and range of subject choices that are arrived at by individual schools and then demanding that schools be empowered to take those decisions. I am still reflecting on that issue, because I am determined to ensure that young people have a broad range of choices to enable them to fulfil their potential.

On the early years, the Government is making provision so that young people have access to the hours of early years education that we have committed to and to which they are entitled. The Government’s commitment to 600 hours is being provided for in the local authority finance settlement. Obviously, if individuals are not gaining access to the hours to which they are entitled, the Government has to address that. As we look at the expansion of early years education, my priority is to ensure that it is provided in a way that addresses the needs of families around the country, in order to ensure that every young person who has that entitlement can get it. Those judgments will be at the heart of the delivery mechanism and the models that the Minister for Childcare and Early Years and I take forward.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

I thank the Deputy First Minister for advance sight of his statement. He knows that we share its ambition of excellence and equity in Scottish education. There are, indeed, things to welcome, such as the Government’s listening to teachers on the need to declutter, and its acceptance that it has not yet listened enough to teachers on reducing workload.

Other things in the statement remain somewhat ambiguous, however. For example, can the Deputy First Minister explicitly promise that any new route into teaching will not compromise the all-graduate, fully professionally qualified and registered teaching force that has served us so well for so long?

What we really needed to hear was, of course, absent. There is no commitment to protect education budgets. The £150 million attainment funding for 2017-18 has to be set against the £500 million that has been taken from local authority budgets this year alone—with worse to follow, I presume. We could believe so much more in all the promises in the delivery plan if the Deputy First Minister would just commit to protecting education budgets. Will he do that?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I welcome Iain Gray’s recognition of the Government’s agenda of addressing the workload of the teaching profession and on decluttering the curriculum. My clear motivation for that is to liberate teachers from the unnecessary bureaucracy that has grown over the years. Commendable attempts have been made to address that, but they have not been carried through fully on the ground. That is why I have asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education to assess the degree to which local authorities have removed the bureaucratic burdens that the report “Curriculum for Excellence Working Group on Tackling Bureaucracy” asked us to remove. I want to be persuaded that that action has taken its course, so there will be a further programme to undertake that.

The express purpose of enabling the teaching profession to concentrate on learning will be one of the most significant contributors to improving attainment in our schools and in tackling the attainment gap by liberating the teaching profession so that it can concentrate on teaching.

Iain Gray asked two specific questions. On the registered teaching profession, I simply say to Mr Gray that we will look at inventive and innovative ways of enabling individuals to enter the teaching profession. I would have thought that he would support that, especially given the fact that he is never at the back of the queue when it comes to complaining about teacher shortages.

We will deploy innovation and flexibility, but there is no point in putting teachers into the classroom if they are not of sufficient quality to deliver the teaching that we expect of them. The importance of quality registration is absolutely fundamental to the process, but we should not allow that to blinker us or to stop us from contemplating innovation in how we encourage and motivate individuals to go into the teaching profession and to secure those routes.

On Mr Gray’s question about finance, this is not the first time that he and I have taken different views about public finances. Local authority budgets were not reduced by £500 million in this financial year. Mr Gray knows full well that some of that money is in capital budgets that will be invested in local authorities in later years. Mr Gray and I talked about that ad nauseam before the election, when those issues were considered by the public. I hope that Mr Gray will acknowledge that the delivery plan contains the significant funding that the Government is putting in place through the Scottish attainment challenge to support investment in education in Scotland. That is a substantial investment in education for our young people: I would have thought that Mr Gray would have supported us in that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Eleven members want to ask questions. I repeat: can we have short, sharp questions and short, sharp answers?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

I begin by putting it on record that the First Minister has appointed me as the parliamentary liaison officer for education. I look forward to working with colleagues across the chamber in that capacity.

What steps are being taken by the Scottish Government to ensure that local authorities are working to tackle unnecessary bureaucracy in schools?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

One of the comments that I made to Mr Gray was that there has been some good work in formulating plans to reduce bureaucracy and workload, particularly in the “Tackling Bureaucracy” report that was produced in 2013.

I have asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education to look into the degree to which the recommendations of that report, and other examples of activity to reduce the administrative and bureaucratic burdens that are placed on schools by local authorities, have in fact been translated into practice. That is one example of how I intend to reduce bureaucracy. Inspections of all local authorities will be undertaken once the new term commences and I will be in receipt of the recommendations by mid September.

That is not to single out local authorities. I recognise that Education Scotland and the SQA have to contribute to the process of reducing workload and administrative burden, and I will likewise make sure that they do so.

Photo of Ross Thomson Ross Thomson Conservative

The cabinet secretary said that changes are required to empower teachers and to devolve powers to schools. What aspects in the current system are limiting the autonomy and accountability of teachers in schools and therefore need to be changed?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I want to make sure that teachers are free to make the professional judgments, which we rely on, about the educational progress of young people within our schools. I want to make sure that we have in place proper accountability so that we can assess the progress that young people make, but I do not want that bureaucracy to intrude on the teaching capability and performance that we depend on.

Frankly, I think that that is out of kilter just now. What is required of teachers in the reporting and monitoring of performance in some parts of the school curriculum is duplicative and that needs to be stripped out. We need a clear line of sight of the progress that young people are making through the education system. We need to know that once and we need to know it authoritatively—we do not need to know it multiple times and unauthoritatively, if that is a word.

That is what I am focused on creating and that is what the delivery plan aims to achieve: an assessment of the progress that young people are making, in an authoritative way that is informed by teacher judgment.

Photo of James Dornan James Dornan Scottish National Party

I welcome the review of governance that the cabinet secretary announced and look forward to the Education and Skills Committee playing its part in that.

In terms of the review of governance, proposals to develop school clusters and our ambitions to empower teachers and schools, I ask the cabinet secretary to outline what evidence we can learn from, both within Scotland and beyond.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I look forward very much to working with Mr Dornan as the chair of the Education and Skills Committee; indeed, we have our first encounter tomorrow morning, to which I am looking forward.

I am very happy to engage constructively with the committee in informing the review agenda. I have committed myself in this process to engagement: the education summit was a very valuable and worthwhile exchange of views, where we heard a range of international experience and input that has been of benefit in formulating our views. I will draw on that as we come to our conclusions on the conduct of the governance review, about which I will consult extensively with local authorities, professional associations, parents and young people in Scotland.

Photo of Monica Lennon Monica Lennon Labour

The appetite for new structures signals a reduced role for councils in the delivery of education. I draw attention to my register of interest as an elected member in South Lanarkshire Council.

Can the public expect the schools version of Police Scotland, or is the Scottish Government more attracted to the model being promoted by organisations such as the Hometown Foundation?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

As we have set out in the document, the Government believes in a public, mutual education system that operates in the interests of the public. We will formulate a model that is appropriate to the needs of Scotland, results in the empowerment of schools and headteachers and enables more decision making within schools to adjust to their circumstances. Why is that important? It is important because, in the evidence that I have seen around the country, where schools can more actively and effectively take decisions that meet the needs of young people in their locality, they are more able to take decisions that are correct for individual children.

What runs through our entire approach to education is the requirement to get it right for every child in Scotland. We will discuss more widely with the Parliament, the Education and Skills Committee and wider stakeholders in this debate the details of how that will be taken forward.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

I welcome the statement from the cabinet secretary. He will be aware that we need to encourage more men into early years and general teaching, more people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds into teaching and more women into leadership positions. How will he endeavour to improve the diversity of our teaching profession?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

We must ensure that we broaden recruitment into the professions. The question of diversity in the education profession is a significant one. We will see that in different areas. I answered a parliamentary question last week that showed significant underrepresentation of women in senior professional roles in education.

I will take this forward with the General Teaching Council for Scotland and I will have wider discussions about the development of the teaching profession to ensure that it is more representative and more able to meet the needs of all sectors in the country.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of the statement.

Positive destinations for young people with additional support needs remain below the rate for those without additional support needs. Will the cabinet secretary consider making support for learning a promoted post, as part of the drive to reduce the attainment gap? That would help to tackle inequality of outcomes for pupils with additional support needs and enable progression for the most skilled teachers who want to remain in our classrooms.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The key point is the importance of ensuring that every young person is able to receive the appropriate educational support and service that meets their requirements. If they have additional support needs, it is important that those needs are respected.

It is becoming increasingly clear in the secondary sector that good work has been undertaken to align the thinking behind the report on developing Scotland’s young workforce with the work of schools. That is better meeting the needs of young people with additional support needs. We need to ensure that that thinking is reflected right through the education system.

Rather than giving a specific commitment in response to Alison Johnstone’s question, I give the general response that the Government is focused on trying to ensure that every young person receives the educational support and assistance that they require to meet their needs. On that basis, there is a greater chance of better outcomes and of fulfilling young people’s expectations.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I thank the cabinet secretary for the courtesy of issuing his statement in advance.

Will he clarify how reducing the excessive workload on teachers that he has mentioned can happen when he has described national assessments, to be measured by his Government, on pupils in P1, P4, P7 and indeed S3? Can he confirm that whether pupils pass the national levels that they will be expected to achieve for literacy and numeracy will be based on teacher judgments?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

On the first point, almost all local authorities already undertake some form of testing throughout schools. The difficulty that we have is that the data are not comparable and do not enable us to assess relative performance and therefore to tackle improvements in performance where that is required.

I am not in any way suggesting an increase in teachers’ workload; I am talking about replacing a testing and assessment system that is in place in individual schools already.

On Tavish Scott’s second point, as we take forward the assessment approach, it is important that we acknowledge that we are relying on teacher judgment, which will be informed by the outcome of testing and assessment. Ultimately, we will be dependent on teacher judgment. That is the foundation of the curriculum for excellence, but we want that judgment to be better informed by the conclusions of the assessment process.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

Can the cabinet secretary ensure that the investment in and focus on closing the attainment gap will also deliver for our looked-after and accommodated young people?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Mr MacGregor makes an important point, because all the data demonstrate that looked-after children are the young people who have the greatest challenge in securing good outcomes. An essential focus of the attainment challenge is therefore to address that point and ensure that we meet the needs of those young people and deliver better outcomes for them. That will lie at the heart of the delivery of the attainment challenge. The Government will, of course, monitor and assess the progress that is made as we take forward the improvements as part of the attainment challenge.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I thank the cabinet secretary and give my apologies to the three members whom I was not able to call.