I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which intimates that I am a member of the General Teaching Council for Scotland.
Last Wednesday, the members of the Education and Skills Committee heard evidence from five trainee teachers and seven fully qualified teachers including one head of department and one headteacher. At the start of that committee session, it was refreshing to hear those individuals’ passionate belief that teaching is a vocation that can make the biggest impact on young people and bring rich rewards, including when measured against the other professions.
The wealth of talent of those teachers and trainee teachers was plain for all to see, and I am sure that they are exactly the kind of people into whose capable hands parents would like to deliver their children at the start of each morning. They were caring, courteous, articulate, determined and ambitious for their profession, and we should acknowledge that they all had some very positive things to say about teaching and about their coursework and placements.
However, the rest of their message could hardly have been more blunt and, in delivering it, they echoed the views of many of the 700 respondents to the committee’s call for evidence. Indeed, some aspects of that message were shocking. They said that there is a complete inadequacy within some teacher training programmes for teachers to learn how to teach literacy and numeracy effectively—something that was confirmed by the report that the Scottish Government published only this morning.
They said that there is very limited support for teachers to learn about additional support needs—which about 25 per cent of the school population now have—and how to help children to stay safe with the growing problems on the internet.
They said that the organisation of some aspects of school placements is chaotic and that trainees have a huge range of experiences, with some trainees describing them as outstanding and others describing them as demoralising or a complete waste of time. They said that, in some schools, trainees are asked to do little more than cover classes or do the photocopying, that a growing number of departments are not taking trainees at all because staff are too busy, and that no one ever sits down with some trainees to go over the feedback. It is little wonder that so many trainees have been asking questions of the teacher training establishments and the Scottish Government.
If last week laid bare the problems in teacher training, it also gave us yet another set of stark statistics that tell us just how badly many of Scotland’s pupils are doing when it comes to basic literacy. If teachers are not being given the necessary professional training, how can we expect our pupils to come out with good results?
Even worse, those problems were identified several years ago. Research that was done six years ago by Sangster, Anderson and O’Hara from the University of Edinburgh’s institute of education identified that there were issues with the knowledge of language of people who were training to be teachers in Scotland. I will give just one example. They found that only 41 per cent of the trainees could correctly define the term “adverb”. In other research, Henderson and Rodriguez uncovered the fact that two thirds of first-year BEd students failed to reach 80 per cent competence at the numeracy level expected of primary 7 pupils.
Likewise, Graham Donaldson’s 2011 report on teacher training was clear that teacher selection should be much more rigorous with reference to literacy and numeracy and that much more work needed to be done to provide an effective continuum between universities and schools. He said that teachers needed to be skilled in their own subject knowledge as well as being successful imparters of that knowledge to their pupils, and he recommended that there should be a more effective mechanism of teacher mentoring, which is something that the Scottish Government acknowledged when it published its interim report on Donaldson last year.
The important point here is that many trainee teachers have not been getting formal knowledge-based training in mathematics and language and learning how to deliver that, as distinct from having to study abstract theories about how mathematics and language could be taught. Our witnesses backed up that point, with one saying that she did not feel that trainees had
“sufficient skills in numeracy to be able to teach it to 11-year-olds at a reasonable standard.”
On the practical support that helps modern-day classroom management, one panel member said:
“very little of what we work on at university seems to have any relevance to what happens in the classroom.”—[
Official Report, Education and Skills Committee
, 10 May 2017; c 8, 5.]
He said that “next to nothing” was being taught about classroom management. Parents will be horrified by those aspects of the evidence.
Those problems are bad enough, but there are others relating to the organisation of school placements which, although they might not impact on every trainee, impact on a great many. For those of us who have been through the teacher training programme—several members who are in the chamber have done so, albeit many years ago—the school placements were not only the best part of the course but the part that defined whether one could cut the mustard and be a teacher. Therefore, it is deeply worrying to be told that quite a large number of placements are not working out well. That is yet another way in which we are not giving trainee teachers a fair chance. We cannot have a student telling us that he found out only very late on a Friday evening where his Monday morning placement was to be, or hear that someone was told that they would be used only as a cover teacher. How on earth can we motivate and encourage teachers if their introduction to the classroom is the chaotic mismanagement of their placement? Surely that can easily be sorted.
Being a teacher is the best job in the world—even better than being in politics at times—or it should be. However, that is not the case at the moment. The evidence that we heard—just like that which we have heard on literacy and numeracy, the mismanagement of the curriculum for excellence, teacher shortages and problems with subject choice—is deeply worrying. Not only are our trainees encountering major problems with their professional instruction but, in watching some of the more experienced people in the profession that they want to enter, they are seeing frustration, poor morale, stress, exhaustion and anger.
The Scottish Government published a report on the issue this morning. Although I have not been able to read its full detail, it clearly flags up many of the issues that we have heard in the committee and makes plain that there is not nearly enough effective communication between the teacher training institutions, the GTCS, local authorities and the Scottish Government. On top of the huge issues with teacher shortages, the situation is putting significant stress on the profession. I therefore call on the Scottish Government to bring forward with the most urgent priority the necessary changes that will make all aspects of teacher training fit for purpose. I repeat: if we cannot train our teachers properly, what hope have we got for our young people?
That the Parliament is concerned by the recent evidence presented to the Education and Skills Committee by trainee teachers, which revealed some serious concerns about the teacher training programme in Scotland, specifically about the organisation of teacher trainee placements and some perceived gaps in the programme regarding supporting trainees in learning key skills for the classroom; believes that these problems are, in some key areas, having a detrimental impact on the preparedness of trainees to meet the challenges of the curriculum for excellence and their ability to deliver better teaching in literacy and numeracy, and calls on the Scottish Government to work with the teacher training institutions and the General Teaching Council for Scotland to take urgent action to implement the necessary improvements to the teacher training programme in Scotland.
There are a number of important issues in the debate, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss them in Parliament. I confirm that my amendment is complementary to Liz Smith’s motion and that the Government will support the motion because of the importance of the issues that are raised.
A number of core components are required in a world-class education system. They include a flexible and child-centred school curriculum; a wider policy framework to meet the diverse needs of all young people at every stage of their journey through life; modern and accessible buildings that create the right environment for children to learn in; and an evidence-based approach to improvement. However, perhaps the most crucial component is to ensure that children get the right support to learn at the right time, and teachers are crucial in that endeavour.
Teachers are key to children’s achievements at school and to our ambitions to raise the bar for all and close the attainment gap. I therefore begin my speech by putting on record my thanks to each and every one of Scotland’s new and existing teachers for all that they do for our children in our schools. Their role and contribution is immense, and I want them to know that the Government values them and is committed to investing in them and their skills and expertise to give them the confidence to teach while giving them the right environment in which to do their jobs. Teachers must be, and must feel, free to teach our young people.
We must also ensure that our teachers have the tools to teach. I, too, am concerned by the evidence that trainee teachers presented to the Education and Skills Committee about their experience and the perceived gaps in that education. That led to the Parliament agreeing last week to do more to equip teachers with the appropriate skills and knowledge to teach about online safety for young people.
The committee has also identified, in its report on additional support for learning, a lack of focus on that issue in teacher education and training. I am also concerned by the findings in the research that the Government has published today, which analysed initial teacher courses and found variations in the time that is spent on key components of the curriculum, with the widest variation in the crucial area of literacy.
In saying all that, I acknowledge the issues that exist in initial teacher education. In the delivery plan last June, the Government committed to investigating the issues, and we have done exactly that and reported to the Parliament.
I am sure that Liz Smith would be the first to acknowledge that there are important issues to do with responsibility for the delivery of initial teacher education. The Government does not control universities, despite what some people might allege. Universities have a responsibility for the quality of the education that is delivered, and if issues are raised—by witnesses who present evidence to the committee, in evidence that is marshalled by the Government, or through feedback from other aspects of the profession—I look to everyone in the system to fulfil their obligations to address them properly.
On that principle, a factor that was mentioned in the Education and Skills Committee today is placements in schools. The representative from Moray House told the committee that this is the worst year in 15 years for finding school placements across the Lothians. Is the cabinet secretary aware of that? It was argued that the diversity that is looked for in placements is one of the issues that need to be confronted. Does he recognise that? What is the answer to that point?
The answer to that point is that there must be in place an efficient system for ensuring the timely delivery of placements for young people who are going through teacher training. The General Teaching Council for Scotland holds the student placement system, and the Government has requested that the GTCS, the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland—directors of education are crucial in the interaction with local authorities—and the universities jointly review the system and take action to improve the process at national level.
When it gets to the point at which I must intervene in the GTCS to ensure that young people can get placements, that is unacceptable.
There is an obligation on the profession to recognise the educational opportunities not just for trainee teachers but for the profession to learn in an interactive way when schools around the country receive and welcome new trainee teachers, to ensure that the interests of young people can properly be taken into account.
The Deputy First Minister is aware that the committee heard that the experience of trainee teachers was that they were welcomed by staff who wanted to support them but were unable to fulfil that mentoring role, simply because of the scale of the workload. The issue is not that the profession does not recognise the importance of that role but that people are finding it difficult to meet the challenge of it.
As Johann Lamont knows, I have been tackling workload in schools. I was discussing the issue this morning, at Kirkton primary school in Carluke, where I spoke to teachers who positively welcomed the impact of the benchmarks that the Government has put in place to significantly clarify the curricular experience for young people in our schools.
I need to bring my remarks to a conclusion. Before I do so, let me put on record some of the strengths of our initial teacher education system, because it is important that the Parliament hears all the data. The recently published
Complete University Guide rated four Scottish universities in the top seven in the United Kingdom for teacher education. In 2016, we published “Evaluation of the Impact of the Implementation of Teaching Scotland’s Future”, which found that 64 per cent of survey respondents felt that their initial teacher education was “effective” or “very effective” and that 83 per cent felt that the support that they were given on their placement was “effective” or “very effective”.
I ask the Parliament to reflect on all the data that I put on the record, along with the Government’s acknowledgment that the measures that we have taken and which I announced today as part of the review will be pursued, to ensure that we have the strongest possible approach to initial teacher education, to create the foundations for good teacher training in Scotland.
I move amendment S5M-05595.2, to insert at end:
“, and, in acknowledging and valuing the vital role and contribution that new and existing teachers make to children’s education, agrees to engage with local authorities, as teachers’ employers, to ensure that all teachers are confident in teaching literacy and numeracy.”
Talented, inspirational teachers can transform a student’s experience of school and their ability to learn and achieve. I am sure that we will hear many such stories in this afternoon’s debate, but I want to go further and say that the importance of teachers is not just about individual experience and that collectively, as a profession, teachers are critical to our education system. We need capable, knowledgeable teachers who can consistently and effectively impart knowledge and understanding. Inspirational and effective teaching should not be the exception; such teaching should be consistent in every school and classroom.
For all the talk of buildings, equipment, curricula and class sizes, none of those things counts unless we have able teachers in every school. I echo the words of the Deputy First Minister and go further to say that they are the vital infrastructure of our education system.
The importance of initial teacher education—ITE—is clear. It provides the baseline from which our teachers commence their professional lives. That is why the Education and Skills Committee’s work on workforce planning is so important, and why I welcome the motion this afternoon. Last week, our committee heard from a panel of student teachers and benefited from their insights and experiences. Their commitment and enthusiasm for teaching was inspiring. I was left with no doubt of their passion and focus to ensure that young people meet their potential. Despite that, they raised a number of key issues regarding their training. Theirs were a handful of voices, but they were echoed by many of the survey responses that the committee received.
I focus on two key issues: placements, and the effectiveness and relevance of course content. Placements are a vital part of teacher training—perhaps the most important part—where what has been learned in the lecture theatre is tried and refined in the classroom. However, we heard that trainee teachers sometimes find out where they are going only two to three days before a placement. When they arrive, they are not always expected by schools. Students often travel significant distances, yet reimbursement for expenses is inconsistent and not always complete and can take time to come through.
Without exception, each of the trainee teachers told us that they wanted more practical preparation and technique. They described an emphasis on theory, with the importance of areas described but without the methods to tackle them.
The trainees’ evidence was that the emphasis on the theory was too heavy, and that it was not until they were in the classroom that they learned anything of relevance to their teaching—that is the key concern.
Those are serious issues because they have a clear bearing on the two overarching issues facing our school system: recruitment of teachers, and literacy and numeracy. With 700 unfilled teacher vacancies, we need to attract new people into the profession. We must do better on teacher placements. Problems arising from reimbursement only exacerbate issues of affordability of study, especially for those who are changing careers and who have families and prior financial commitments. Chaotic placements can only deter people from entering training, which we can ill afford.
The evidence from the programme for international student assessment and the Scottish survey of literacy and numeracy is that we have seen a decline in literacy and numeracy standards, both relatively internationally and on our own measures. That is a concern not just for parents but for us all, so the comments about the adequacy of core literacy and numeracy in ITE must ring alarm bells.
I welcome the sober and earnest response that we have had from the cabinet secretary in his previous statements and today in his comments and in the amendment that he has put before Parliament. However, we must also be frank about where we are and what we need to do. Seeing curriculum for excellence through means ensuring that it is properly supported in ITE. The only way we will address the declines in literacy and numeracy is by equipping our teachers to tackle them. The only way we will recruit teachers into the profession is if the courses are well run and students are adequately supported throughout them.
The cabinet secretary has delayed his governance review. I hope that that enables consideration of the Education and Skills Committee’s recent evidence and examination of the effectiveness of ITE. We have an opportunity ahead of us, as the teacher qualification programme’s accreditation is due for renewal. We should ask the General Teaching Council for Scotland to reflect on those issues as it does so. Given Education Scotland’s role in inspecting and evaluating ITE programmes, we must look at whether it makes sense for accreditation and inspection to be carried out by different bodies and look at what impact that has had. Our education system must be built on secure foundations, with initial teacher education at its very cornerstone.
I move amendment S5M-05595.1, after “literacy and numeracy” to insert:
“; further believes that more initial teacher training in the support of pupils facing particular challenges, such as living in care or with adoptive families, could help close the attainment gap”.
I declare an interest in that I am married to a primary school teacher and have two children at primary school. The issue of the standards of teaching in our schools is, therefore, deeply personal to me.
There are few people in Scotland who do not have some concerns about what is happening in our schools. To be fair, the case for change and improvement is explicitly supported by the Scottish Government in its agenda for reform, albeit that that agenda is being pursued only now, after 10 years in office. Although we, on these benches, might have pursued a different approach from some of the Scottish Government’s proposals, we at least share a recognition that the status quo is untenable.
We must recognise that curriculum for excellence was introduced with the best of intentions. Behind it lay a philosophical approach that said that creativity and problem solving were the vital skills that young people needed to acquire in order to address the challenges of the modern world. The approach to acquiring knowledge was as important as, if not more important than, the acquisition of knowledge for its own sake. There is nothing wrong with that general approach to education, provided that the basic skills in reading, writing and counting are still being taught. However, somewhere along the way, we seem to have gone wrong. Somewhere along the way, there has been a loss of focus on the acquisition of those basic skills.
The evidence of that is all too starkly seen in the Scottish survey of literacy and numeracy, in which the latest figures, which were published just last week, make sobering reading for the Government, for the whole education system and for pupils and parents. The percentage of children in secondary 2 who are not at the required level of literacy has more than doubled in four years, from 7 per cent in 2012 to 16 per cent in 2016. The proportion of S2 pupils who can write well or very well has fallen dramatically from 65 per cent in 2012 to 49 per cent—less than half—in 2016. It is not only on that measure that we are falling back. The international PISA results show that Scottish education has gone backwards in reading and mathematics, with pupils in England and Northern Ireland now outperforming Scottish pupils in every category. We must do better.
In opening the debate, my colleague Liz Smith made some important points about the evidence that was heard last week in the Education and Skills Committee. I will not repeat everything that she said, but it is clear that, when it comes to teacher training, there is a lack of focus on how to teach literacy and numeracy effectively; there is very little support for teaching those with additional support needs; there is very limited guidance on classroom management; and there is a sometimes chaotic organisation of classroom placements, which many would agree are the most vital part of the process of learning to be a teacher. All of that matters, because if our teachers are not gaining the skills that they need, how can we reasonably expect them to pass those skills on to their pupils?
Six years ago, in his report on teacher training, Graham Donaldson told the Scottish Government what needed to be done. He said that teacher selection should be more vigorous with reference to literacy and numeracy, and he recommended a number of other improvements. Sadly, too little has been done in the past six years to address those concerns. It is now up to the Scottish Government to push through the reforms needed to improve the quality of teacher training.
That matters because, if we are to have a successful nation, we need to have the highest possible quality of education. If we really are concerned about reducing inequalities, we must make improvements in our schools. The reality is that children who are fortunate enough to get support at home will usually do well under any system. It is those who do not get support at home who rely most on what happens in the classroom. That is why, if we are serious about fairness in society, we have to get this right and the Scottish Government must start upping its game.
My youthful appearance may dissuade members from believing this, but a decade ago I was preparing to take up my place at Jordanhill, which was then the University of Strathclyde’s teacher training campus, to study for a postgraduate qualification in modern studies teaching. CFE was in its infancy. On my course was a former police officer by the name of Colin, who told me that, by the time the police had arrested someone, the damage had already been done. To him, criminality was cyclical but he felt that, as a teacher at the chalkface, moulding minds in the classroom, he could really make a difference. It was an observation that has stayed with me.
Last week, my colleague James Dornan posed perhaps the most pertinent question that someone could ever be asked in teaching: “What made you want to become a teacher?” The panel in the Education and Skills Committee answered with a variety of responses. Some stood out, such as that teachers could make a difference and change lives. The one that I liked best was:
“I really wanted to be there for the light-bulb moment when a child ... just gets it.”—[
Official Report, Education and Skills Committee
, 10 May 2017; c 3.]
We should not lose sight of the reasons that pull people into the profession, particularly given the current climate in Scottish education.
The Government’s amendment to the motion does not hide from the very real challenges that we face in Scottish education. The narrative of challenge has been quite clear since the 2015 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development review. Last week the SSLN data was published and the Government’s report into initial teacher education was published today. There is a robust rationale for reforming Scottish education, but reform should not come at the expense of the morale of those working hard in the system right now. As a headteacher in my constituency put it to me: “We need to attract the best of the best.”
The Conservative motion raises issues regarding the teacher-training placement process. In August 2015, I was called by the deputy head in my school and asked whether I could take a student teacher. I thought about it and decided that, with a wee bit of rejigging of the timetable, yes, we could probably accommodate a student teacher. A few days later I was told “Actually, Jenny, there’s another one. Could you take two? The university has nowhere to send them.” Course choice for pupils in our secondary schools kicks in after the exam diet, so by June of every academic year our high schools know how many pupils they have in every department and our primary schools know what the intake is for the new primary 1. Universities should therefore be proactively engaging with local schools far earlier to establish suitable student placements. I never thought that I would hear myself saying this, but I absolutely agree with Daniel Johnson on that point.
The teachers who gave evidence at last week’s Education and Skills Committee meeting commented to my colleagues that teaching cannot be learned until it had been seen and that placement was the real benefit and highlight. However, anecdotal evidence is disparate, as we would expect in any profession, so I carried out my own homework. A teacher who qualified in 2013 and completed the bachelor of education degree told me that he had had some fantastic placements. In one school, he spent time visiting specific teachers who were focused on certain areas, observing Mr McDonald’s co-operative learning strategies, Miss Somerville’s use of effective tracking and monitoring and Mr Swinney’s behaviour management strategies, for example. Another friend who is a secondary headteacher told me that, yes, there was a real need for our teaching universities to focus on literacy and numeracy, but she also flagged up the importance of the health and wellbeing of pupils as a fundamental in teacher training. The last person I spoke to is a principal teacher in an additional support needs school with straight-through provision, and she said, tellingly, “You learn how to teach well if you get a good mentor on placement.”
So, yes, there is work for our teaching universities to do on course content, but if we accept that the majority of student teacher learning happens on placement, we need to address radically how our schools timetable that student teacher experience.
In response to Jenny Gilruth’s comments, I am sure that all members will be shocked to realise that my youthful appearance belies the fact that I started teaching in 1979. There will be a few people in here who remember that very long time ago world.
I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate, but I say gently to the Scottish Government that I regret that, again, education is being debated in Opposition time. The issues are so important that the Government should be providing time for full consideration of all the challenges in education. I know that the Government is focusing on delivery, but the fact of the matter is that we are not delivering and we cannot ignore the figures and evidence that come before us.
Of course, there are many challenges. The work of the Education and Skills Committee is instructive because we have explored on a cross-party basis what is happening in education and have provided an important opportunity for those who care passionately about education and have an awareness of what is happening in the real world to breach the walls of the Parliament. It is essential that their evidence is not simply explained away or used to justify other action, but that it shapes our thinking.
The scale of the response to our committee’s call for evidence tells its own story. In every instance and on every issue there has been a deluge of people wanting to share their concerns and experiences. I note the tone of the debate to date and I welcome the shift to agreement that the Deputy First Minister’s motion presents. I say gently to John Swinney that I welcome that tone and I trust that it represents a step away from what has too often been an ill-judged approach by the Scottish Government, whereby it has sought to shoot the messenger, question the motives of those speaking out or simply ignore the evidence. The Government needs to give proper recognition to the significant concerns shared by students, parents, teachers, support staff and academics. I acknowledge that no party in the chamber has a monopoly of wisdom on understanding why we are where we are and how we must move forward, and that is true for the Government’s party as well as any other. It is not good enough simply to say “We’ve decided to take this approach and if you don’t support us, then you’re not concerned about those challenges.”
I hope that the Deputy First Minister, with his new approach, will reflect on the way in which he and his colleague Angela Constance responded to the Education and Skills Committee report on additional support needs. I was deeply and genuinely offended that that cross-party work, which gave voice to those who represent vulnerable young people, support workers and teachers and that described the barriers to inclusive education, was utterly dismissed.
The issues in that report, which reflected the lack of support and the pressure in schools, are not separate from the issues of achievement in literacy and numeracy; they are interlinked and interconnected. The Scottish Government must move on those issues and understand that we need to move beyond individual policy approaches, as there is a much bigger question here.
Literacy and numeracy are important for young people, so we have to understand the impact of cuts to local services that provide support to vulnerable families and children with disabilities, and recognise that our budget choices are making some circumstances worse. What support is there in and outwith schools for young people, to ensure that that gap that starts very early in young people’s lives is not ignored? For example, we should understand the importance of further and adult education not only to enable individuals who have been failed in the past to achieve their potential, but to tackle adult illiteracy and enable those individuals to support their children in the future.
I urge the Government to make good its commitment to see literacy and numeracy in the broader context of the right to education for all our young people.
I congratulate Liz Smith on her motion, which seems to have brought a degree of consensus to the chamber. As others have done in their opening remarks, I thank all the teachers and staff in our schools who are involved with additional support needs for the work that they do for our children. That work is invaluable, as most speakers have said.
There is good performance in education in Scotland, but we recognise that there are areas in which we need change. This SNP Government is getting on with the job of taking the actions to deliver improvements. We are investing record amounts in schools to close the attainment gap and £120 million will go direct to schools in the most deprived areas this year alone. As I have said in the chamber before, in a constituency such as Coatbridge and Chryston, where some of the schools will receive fairly significant sums of money, that is very welcome. It should not be downplayed or undervalued in any way and I have enjoyed speaking to headteachers during my many visits to schools about the inventive ways in which they plan to use the money. As members can imagine, literacy and numeracy have come up in those discussions.
The evidence that the committee received is concerning, as members have acknowledged, and the Scottish Government knows that there is room for improvement. The evidence highlighted inconsistencies with working practices between different establishments and the analysis of initial teacher education courses found variations in the time that is spent on key components of the curriculum, with the widest variation in the crucial area of literacy.
I do not have time, Johann. Sorry.
No one would disagree that, to ensure quality teachers, education programmes need to be of the highest quality in all the key areas—literacy, numeracy, health and wellbeing. An example was given of additional support needs being covered well in one university but not in another. A newly qualified teacher from my constituency whom I spoke to said that there were pretty big differences in the expectations of students from different universities and that she felt that courses should be standardised to address that.
She also expressed concern about the length of the postgraduate course. She said, “It is far too much to cram into a year; it was the most stressful year of my life.” She felt that more time on literacy and numeracy would have been beneficial. Also, she was given only theoretical lessons on behaviour management and ASN, but no contextualisation, which was an issue that was raised by Mr Johnson and Jenny Gilruth. With one in four children in schools having ASN, trainees should be well prepared.
The teacher went on to say that her probation year helped to fill the gaps and that there is also the option of continuing professional development. She felt that, if the course had been a bit longer, it would have been beneficial, but it goes without saying that financial implications would then come into play.
There was a lot of praise from both that teacher and another to whom I spoke for the fact that the Scottish Government paid for their postgrad training. They would not have been able to undertake the course without the tuition fees being met—something that is worth mentioning.
I support the Government amendment’s reference to the work of local authorities, which should encourage teachers to be inventive in how they go about ensuring that they feel able to teach literacy and numeracy. I have a quick example from Coatbridge high school in my constituency. It held a literacy festival recently, which the Deputy First Minister attended, and it was a big success. Schools should be given the scope and permission to do that more often. All the children and teachers were involved in it. It is our job as MSPs to encourage and promote such activity.
In conclusion, we have an opportunity for us all to work together to get the best result.
Over the past few months, the Education and Skills Committee has held meetings on teacher training and on wider related issues—namely, additional support needs and personal and social education. The evidence that has been presented to us is stark and cannot be ignored. In many cases in which young people who have an identified additional support need are not being supported, the problem has started with issues in teacher education.
We have heard some infamous examples—for example, how one member of staff was told to watch the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” in order to learn about Asperger’s syndrome. That is a single incident, but unfortunately it is not entirely unique. Fully qualified teachers and people in training tell us that they do not have the training and resources that are needed for them properly to support young people with additional support needs. They have told us what the problem is—where the weak links in our education system lie. We can all hear what they are asking for, and I have to say that it is not a governance review.
Teacher training courses at universities vary greatly when it comes to covering additional support needs; sometimes, it is even optional. I accept, as other members have, that it is not our role to instruct universities what should and should not be in their courses, but that does not leave us entirely powerless.
ASN training is heavily reliant on cascade learning, whereby trainees learn through observing teachers in the classroom. It should be of little surprise that that has resulted in something of a postcode lottery. If a student is fortunate enough to do their placement with a teacher who has the time and the experience, that is great. However, for many trainee teachers that is not the case. One teacher told us clearly that
“The current cascade model of skills transmission is... inadequate” and said,
“I believe this to be a direct result from budget saving cuts”.
It is not difficult to see why.
Since 2010, we have lost one in seven ASN teachers, and we are well used to hearing the statistic that since 2007 more than 4,000 teachers have gone. In the evidence that the committee received, we learned that many trainee teachers just do not receive the support that they need from their mentors. I make it clear that those trainees were not blaming the teachers with whom they were placed; they recognised that the teachers have an unsustainable workload, so teacher workload today is having a direct impact on the quality of training of the next generation of teachers.
That lottery of experiences does not affect only ASN, but its effects are felt particularly in that area. The Education and Skills Committee has called for more co-ordination between education authorities in order to ensure consistency in design and delivery. We also called for a review into how funding limitations have impacted on the number of specialist-trained ASN teachers and assistants. With one in four pupils now being identified as having an additional support need and many more having not yet been identified, it is clear that all teachers must have a baseline of expertise that is drawn from the theory and practical elements of their course.
Obviously, the support that is required will vary greatly depending on the condition—from a little bit of extra time with the teacher to high-intensity support and a requirement for specialist staff. We should not, and do not, expect every teacher to have comprehensive knowledge of every kind of additional support need, but baseline knowledge is essential. Initial teacher education—especially postgraduate teacher education—is already crammed full of essential topics, and we cannot expect every teacher to have absolutely every element of training.
However, as the committee heard this morning, with that clear baseline they will at least know where to start, a nd with access to proper support and high-quality training opportunities throughout their career, teachers can continue to develop their skills as needed.
Teachers need more consistent high-quality training and they need adequate resources—and so do our young people.
The essence of the evidence that has been given to the Education and Skills Committee in the past two weeks on teacher education—we were reminded today to call it “teacher education”, not “teacher training”—has been about preparing teachers for an unknown world. I agree broadly with many of the remarks that have been made by colleagues from across the chamber, including the cabinet secretary.
At today’s committee meeting, the context was set out by Jane Peckham from the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, who explained why people are being put off teaching. She told us that 75 per cent of her members are thinking of leaving their current post—some of that relates to promotions and some to a lack of ability to go through the profession—and she gave us the worrying statistic that 62 per cent are considering leaving the teaching profession altogether. It is, however, only fair to point out that her union represents only 15 per cent of Scotland’s teachers. The important question is this: Why? She told us that the reason is that teachers’ workload has increased, not fallen. She cited the example of removing the national 5 unit assessments. That was the right thing to do, but it was done too late in the year. The complexity of what has been happening in classrooms is clear to parents, teachers and pupils.
Jane Peckham also cited, as members have done this afternoon, the on-going issue of curriculum for excellence and changes to it. The northern alliance’s submission to the committee outlines a number of issues that are creating challenges in schools in my constituency and across the Highlands and Islands, as well as in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. It states:
“Considering one of the major elements of CFE was to declutter the system, we have actually re-cluttered it and then added some more to it and this has had a significant effect on the perception of teaching among those who may have considered it as a viable career option.”
That is an important observation about why there is concern, which we have discussed in the chamber many times, and the need to keep tackling bureaucracy in the system, which the cabinet secretary mentioned.
The cabinet secretary’s answer to the question that I asked earlier in the debate cemented for me the need to change the central structure of education in Scotland so that the responsibilities that sit in Education Scotland at the moment sit with the cabinet secretary, and not in some external organisation. That point was made best by Walter Humes, who is an honorary professor at the University of Stirling, who said the other day that classroom teachers’ voices
“need to be conveyed more directly to government, not filtered through agencies such as Education Scotland and SQA.”
That is a powerful argument in the context of teacher training.
I have two final points to make, the first of which is on workforce planning. Moray Council’s director of education made a strong argument to the committee today about the regional approach and the council’s work with the University of the Highlands and Islands and with Aberdeen’s education institutions on what he referred to as “smarter mapping” of needs—in other words, how to recruit locally for local teaching need. That appears to me to be a strong argument that the cabinet secretary would be well advised to heed.
My final point is on resources, which Johann Lamont and Ross Greer rightly cited. What came through as clear as mustard in the evidence today was that—as we parents know—cutbacks in classroom assistants have had an enormous impact on the ability to deal with ASN, which Ross Greer cited, and on other aspects in the classroom. That is having an impact on how people perceive careers in teaching. We must change that to ensure that teachers truly are the future of Scotland.
I declare an interest in that my wife is an additional support needs teacher. Like Ross Greer, I feel that one of the most concerning issues that has been raised in oral evidence and submissions to the Education and Skills Committee is the suggestion that there is a significant lack of training in additional support needs.
The record shows that one in four children in schools in Scotland identifies as having such needs, yet according to a panel that the committee heard from, teachers receive
“no specific training on autism, dyslexia or dyspraxia” and are
“not prepared in the slightest”——[
Education and Skills Committee
, 10 May 2017; c12-13.]
for how to deal with children who require further assistance in the classroom.
The committee heard that in most degree programmes, ASN courses are elective, rather than compulsory—they are something that people choose to do if they are interested. It would not be so bad if there were enough specialist ASN teachers to ease the pressures on those who are not specialists, but between 2010 and 2015 the number of ASN specialists fell by 13 per cent and dropped in 22 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities. ASN teachers have indispensable skills and experience that allow them to play a crucial role in helping pupils to achieve their potential and to overcome learning challenges. We do not have enough trainee teachers with that experience coming through. Submissions from teachers to the committee show that those who are graduating are simply not receiving the encouragement, support and practical training that are required to teach pupils with such needs adequately.
This is real: it is about real people and real pupils. Just last week, a constituent told me of her grave concerns about the lack of additional support for her autistic son. She said:
“my son is ... being abandoned to the ideological commitment to inclusion. He is bright; he just got the highest score in a maths test in the whole year ... but spends at least 4 periods a day without support and without education which has ... meant a whole year wasted ... getting no education and hardly any socialisation.”
Another parent, who contributed to the study and has direct experience, said that
“It is very upsetting to see how many children are ... being disadvantaged from not being properly educated” and that those children
“are being made desperately unhappy to the point of ... developing serious mental health problems.”
Another parent said:
“Mainstream doesn’t suit but as the clinical psychologist said, there is nothing for kids that are bright but have complex needs.”
The point about inclusion is interesting. I note that a recent report concluded that
“The policy of an inclusive education for children with additional support needs is not functioning properly in many local authority areas due to a lack of support for these children.”
We hear much about what will happen going forward. The cabinet secretary is on record as saying that the figures that have been spoken about by others in this debate are “simply not good enough” and show that education reforms are “now imperative”. Why has it taken this long and why has it required the results that we are talking about to make it “imperative”?
It is the children who are really losing out. They cannot afford to wait until the next session of Parliament for things to get better. We are talking about their future; it is time that this Government started focusing on Scotland’s priorities rather than on its own.
Perhaps, in its closing speech, the Government will address the fact that not one of the SNP members today has said to the teachers who have been sent less equipped into our schools, to the parents who are despairing at preventable outcomes and, most important of all, to the pupils who have been failed by the Government’s decisions and governance over the past 10 years, one simple word: “Sorry.” That is shameful.
I am not on the Education and Skills Committee, but I am happy to take part in today’s debate, because I hold education as a whole, and our education system, in high regard.
I have visited schools during the 20 years or so in which I have been elected member, and schools have visited Parliament, council buildings and various other places where I have met them, and I have to say how impressed I am when I see young people nowadays. They are much more confident and have a much healthier relationship with their teachers than was the case when I was at school. The teachers whom I meet are enthusiastic and extremely capable. When I was at school, many of us lived in fear of our teachers and were regularly belted for various offences. As a result of that, we could certainly spell well and we knew the difference between gerunds and gerundives, but I am not quite so sure whether we turned out to be complete human beings. [
.] You spotted it—well done. At that time, presenters on the BBC spoke using received pronunciation; regional accents were certainly not allowed.
We moved away from that approach to education and deliberately decided that we wanted better-rounded individuals. We say that we want confident individuals, successful learners, responsible citizens and effective contributors, but I am not sure that that was the case 50 years ago when I was at school. At that time, the “successful learners” aspect seemed to be somewhat overemphasised. It is true that I squirm a bit when I hear someone say, “I have went to the football game,” but does it actually matter, if that person is a good engineer with the potential to set up a successful business?
Please do not think that I am suggesting that literacy and numeracy are not important. They are. What I am suggesting is that we, as a society, want rounded individuals and that we need to be careful when we compare ourselves with other countries, because we might not be comparing like with like.
I think that the Government accepts the main thrust of the Conservative motion, and that there is room for improvement in teacher training, literacy, numeracy and other areas. However, we must be realistic about what we expect schools to do. Workload has been mentioned, and we expect our schools to deal with a variety of background problems with our children, including alcohol and drug abuse, poor diet, insufficient exercise, awareness of politics and Parliament, the environment and sectarianism. The list goes on.
Individual teachers may have gone into those issues in the past, but we expect a lot more nowadays from our teachers and schools. On the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee, we are looking at the gender pay gap and at how to encourage more girls to move into traditionally male areas of employment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects. The thinking is that we should get the schools to do that as well.
I could mention other things, but I am running out of time. I mentioned information technology to the cabinet secretary last week. I believe that Scotland is now leading in terms of the amount of time that young people spend on phones, tablets or whatever—at about two hours per day. Mr Swinney said that that could have an impact on literacy. When I was younger, we read a lot of books and that is where I got most of my ability with words, reading and writing. That is clearly not happening so much these days.
I am an accountant—I like numbers and I like counting things. I prefer numbers to words—numbers are definite. Surely, however, when it comes to educating our young people, we should value not only what we can measure: it cannot be about just the number of exam passes and the boxes that have been ticked. It should be about the value that is added to each life: where did people start from and what has the school added? That is hard to measure, but I think that it is really important.
I join Johann Lamont in welcoming the tone of the debate, which has perhaps been more measured than some of our other education debates—it has certainly been more measured than the rather fraught fish fight that, by all accounts, preceded it.
She is right that that is partly because the debate has come about, not for the first time, because of good work by the Education and Skills Committee in identifying a particular problem, although in fairness, work has also been undertaken by the GTCS and the Scottish Government. It is important that we have had a chance—albeit a short chance—to discuss some of the teacher training issues that are being considered. Mr Swinney is right that that involves a number of people and bodies and not just the Government.
A lot of speeches have focused on the capacity and preparation of teachers to teach literacy and numeracy. I suppose that that is not surprising given the recent poor results in literacy and numeracy, which Murdo Fraser certainly did not resist revisiting.
Others made the important point that this is not just about literacy and numeracy. Liam Kerr and Ross Greer referred to the need for better training for teachers on supporting pupils with additional support needs. Like Mr Scott, I acknowledge the work that the NASUWT has done in recognising that, as we have fewer ASN specialists in schools, the obligation to carry out that work and for it to be better falls across the spectrum of all teachers.
In fairness to the Scottish Government, that issue is not new. I have spoken before about how, in my early days of teaching at Gracemount high school, we also taught pupils from Kaimes school for the partially sighted, and I did that with no preparation in teacher training at all. My teaching experience was just as long ago as Johann Lamont’s experience and I think that things should have improved since then.
The lack of confidence among most primary teachers in teaching science has not been spoken about. Developing that confidence is important for our economic future, too.
I will take just a few minutes to speak about our amendment. It refers to the need for more teacher training on working with pupils who have particular challenges, such as being looked-after children or living with adoptive families. Although people might think that that is a relatively small number of pupils, they face particular challenges, especially around attachment, and they are very much at the wrong end of the attainment gap that we talk about so often.
I raise the issue because of a small Adoption UK project in my constituency of East Lothian. The attachment ambassador programme is a grass-roots project that was started by an adoptive parent who is an Adoption UK volunteer. In a single cluster, the programme has recruited in each school an attachment ambassador who has significantly improved the educational experience for looked-after children and those who live with adoptive families. We need to see much more of such projects. However, one problem that was identified through the project was the lack of training in initial teacher education on dealing with pupils with such backgrounds.
I agree with Jenny Gilruth’s important point that initial teacher training is not just about how good people are at carrying out their job but about the attractiveness and status of the profession. I remember my placements when I was in teacher training, but what I remember more than anything else was a particularly inspirational contribution that was made by an Educational Institute of Scotland activist called Alex Wood. His politics went slightly wrong later in life, but he became a well-regarded headteacher. I have never forgotten his description of why teaching is such a worthwhile profession. We certainly need to do all the work that we have talked about so that we can do exactly what has been described for more people.
Teachers play a critical role in our society and it is vital that they receive training that allows them to enter the classroom with confidence. That is especially true of the fundamental skills of literacy and numeracy, which have been mentioned a great deal. For that reason, the Scottish Government is pleased to support Liz Smith’s motion and lain Gray’s amendment.
Today, the Government published the content analysis of initial teacher education. We took forward that work as part of the national improvement framework, and I hope that it will aid the Education and Skills Committee in its inquiry on workforce planning.
Our national improvement framework, with its focus on teacher professionalism, is helping to shine a light on the particular issue of initial teacher education. Like Liz Smith and others who are in the chamber, I have been concerned by some of the evidence that has been submitted to the committee, and I welcome any recommendations that the committee might make to ensure that teacher education programmes effectively prepare students to become successful teachers.
We must remember that there are thousands of excellent teachers in Scotland who are passionate about their job and passionate about helping children and young people to achieve. If we want to attract the most talented graduates into the profession—Jenny Gilruth cited a headteacher who called for the “best of the best”—we need to talk about teaching as a challenging but hugely rewarding job. I am sure that the committee is well aware of that issue.
We must and always will be mindful of the concerns that teachers and students raise, but I remind members of the statistics that the Deputy First Minister mentioned. The “Evaluation of the Impact of the Implementation of Teaching Scotland’s Future” showed that 64 per cent of survey respondents felt that their initial teacher education was effective or very effective in preparing them for their first post as a teacher.
Although we must express concern, we have much to celebrate. We have a solid core from which to work and to improve. Teaching in Scotland is a graduate-level profession, degrees are offered by some of the best universities in the UK—and the world—and we continue to invest in a teacher induction scheme that allows teachers to continue their education. Teaching as a career is underpinned by a set of nationally agreed professional standards that emphasise key skills and values that all practitioners should have.
When discussing student teachers, I remind members that newly qualified teachers are just that—newly qualified. Initial teacher education should prepare teachers for the classroom, but that is only the start of what should be a career of reflection and further learning. We need to be ready to support new teachers to build their skills and to grow.
A number of members talked about the importance of having good-quality placements—Liz Smith, Daniel Johnson and Jenny Gilruth all mentioned the need to respond to that challenge. The Government takes the issue seriously. We know that there is a need for high-quality placements. Fundamentally, local authorities, schools and experienced teachers have a responsibility to take that forward. The GTCS is reviewing the operation of the student placement system. That is already showing improvements in moving to an opt-out system in which all schools will be expected to take students.
Inevitably, there are still issues in the system that must and will be addressed, but in 2016 it secured 18,000 placements. We know that it can work and provide good-quality placements, but there is much more to do. The Scottish Government is taking action on that and is encouraging others to do the same.
Fulton MacGregor mentioned the content analysis of ITE that the Government published today. It is essential that literacy and numeracy are taught widely, so the variations in that analysis are concerning. The evidence that the Government commissioned as part of our NIF plays very much into our development of initial teacher training. We will discuss its findings with the GTCS and with universities. In the next few months, further work is due to gather views of probationary teachers and ensure that their experience, together with the views of their managers, leads to preparedness for teaching. The Scottish Government has commissioned the GTCS to work with universities on a research project to develop the means to ensure quality in ITE.
We have had a great deal of discussion about the content of initial teacher training, and we need to look carefully at what is taught in that. All teachers must meet the standards for registration before taking up a post. The standards are—rightly—being reviewed by the GTCS, and that gives us an opportunity to change the content of ITE and to set a new baseline. The discussions today and, I am sure, in the Education and Skills Committee will feed into that debate and into the challenges that members have raised.
A number of contributions from members were about initial support—
The motion, the Education and Skills Committee’s work and the analysis that the Scottish Government has published are shining a light on a very important area. I am happy to support the motion in the name of Liz Smith as we work with our universities and the GTCS to ensure that teachers are confident in the classroom.
Everyone in the teaching profession should be in no doubt as to the value that we attach to it—not simply for young people but for the country as a whole. It is difficult to put into words our gratitude to the hard-working and dedicated teachers who work across Scotland.
From the submissions to the Education and Skills Committee that I have heard and from the contributions in the chamber today, it has become abundantly clear that the content and quality of teacher training programmes in Scotland are failing our teachers and trainees.
The message that is coming from trainee teachers about their experiences as they enter the profession should concern us all. We have heard them express the need to go back to basics because they do not have sufficient skills in numeracy to teach 11-year-olds to a reasonable standard. What is more, the balance between learning abstract theory and putting that knowledge into practice in the classroom appears to be disproportionately weighted towards the former.
We have heard that, across a range of training programmes, there is a shocking lack of ASN training. A statement from a former trainee teacher that struck me at the committee’s meeting last week was:
“We had all these wonderful theories thrown at us, but there was no contextualisation and no specific training on autism, dyslexia or dyspraxia—there was absolutely nothing. We were told that we would probably come across two or three children in our class with an additional support need, but such needs are not included in the course unless you elect to study a professional specialism such as autism, additional support needs or dyslexia.”—[
Education and Skills Committee
, 10 May 2017; c 13.]
When approximately 25 per cent of the school population has ASN, it is nothing short of absurd that our trainee teachers are not mandated to study, in some form, the provision of ASN teaching. The need for a rigorous analysis of that issue is evident, and I ask the Scottish Government to look into it urgently.
I turn to the contributions that have been made. In his opening remarks, the cabinet secretary spoke about the action that he is taking to address workloads. As Tavish Scott rightly pointed out, the evidence of Jane Peckham of NASUWT at this morning’s committee meeting was clear that, in recent times, bureaucracy and workloads have increased. She said that, in a current survey, 62 per cent of teachers said that they would leave the profession because of the workload.
Daniel Johnson outlined the inconsistencies in and problems with placements. He highlighted trainees’ desire for a greater focus on practical skills and their view that there is too much of a focus on theory. Many trainees feel that they are—in their own words—ill equipped to go into the classroom.
My colleague Murdo Fraser talked about the lack of focus on literacy and numeracy and the limited time that is spent on ASN. He is absolutely right to say that we cannot expect our teachers to pass on the necessary skills to our young people if they do not possess those skills, and it is time for the Scottish Government to up its game.
In a very good—in fact, terrific—speech, Johann Lamont made the important point that education is again being debated in this place only in Opposition time, although it is the Government’s defining priority. She also highlighted the clear need from committee evidence to refocus on literacy and numeracy.
Ross Greer is correct that committee evidence cannot be ignored and that the training and resources to support pupils with ASN are just not there, and he was right to highlight the fact that there can be a postcode lottery on student placements and the support that students receive. My colleague Liam Kerr expanded on that point by highlighting teachers’ concerns about being ill equipped to deal with pupils with additional support needs. Finally, Tavish Scott highlighted the increasing burden of the workload on teachers and the need not only for action to address that but for the reform of Education Scotland’s structures.
The period of training to enter a profession should be one of learning, inspiration, hope and optimism. Trainee teachers should be brimming with enthusiasm about the opportunities to mould young minds and to prepare our children and young people for the future that lies ahead of them; they should be dreaming about the impact that they can make in the profession; and, above all, they should have the tools to make those dreams a reality. However, that is not the case; instead, we are seeing mass frustration and, in some cases, even anger.
It is time for the Scottish Government to stop lurching from crisis to crisis in education, and it is time for urgent and fundamental reform to improve the quality, content and professionalism of teacher training. The teachers have spoken, and the Scottish Government must listen.