– in the Scottish Parliament on 18th May 2017.

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Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

1. To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the day. (S5F-01271)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Later today, I will have engagements to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland. This evening, I will take part in the ITV leaders’ debate, which, of course, Theresa May is ducking.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

We do not have enough teachers in Scotland. Given that all sides accept that, does the First Minister agree that, when young people in Scotland choose teaching as a career, we should do everything we can to ensure that they stay?

The First Minister:

As we have discussed in the chamber before, in common with many other countries, Scotland faces a challenge with teacher recruitment. That is why we are increasing the intake into initial teacher education and why the General Teaching Council for Scotland is looking to encourage more people into teaching and at different routes into teaching.

I suspect that Ruth Davidson is going to ask me about Teach First. I have said before that I am open to looking at ideas about how we get more young people into teaching, but we must make sure that such ideas work for Scottish education. We will continue to do everything that we can to address the challenges that we face.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

The First Minister raised the issue of Teach First, so let us have a little look at, shall we? This week we learned that, in the past five years, almost 400 talented graduates have left Scotland to teach elsewhere in the UK. That is because they were attracted by the very successful Teach First programme. Despite versions operating in 40 countries around the world, it still has not been allowed to set foot in Scotland. Four hundred enthusiastic young teachers could be in our schools right now, but they are not, because Nicola Sturgeon says so.

In recent days, we have heard about the huge quality issues surrounding teacher training here. Can the First Minister give me a single good reason why she is stopping new schemes such as Teach First running here in Scotland and seeing whether they can improve matters?

The First Minister:

I have met representatives from Teach First and discussed whether it would be possible to adapt its schemes to fit with Scottish education. We have a principle in Scottish education that the people who are teaching in our schools should have a teaching qualification, and I think that that principle is right.

Not long after I became First Minister, I visited a school in London that had taken part in the London challenge. We looked carefully at the London challenge and incorporated some of its learning into our attainment challenge. However, the headteacher that I spoke to in that school was quite sceptical about Teach First. One of the things that she said about it was that, in her view—I appreciate that there will be other views—it was quite short term and there are often difficulties with retaining those teachers.

We will continue to discuss with the GTCS, the teaching profession and local authorities how we can make sure that we get the brightest and best teachers into our schools. Indeed, the GTCS has already been looking at different ways of bringing young people into schools.

Ruth Davidson does not talk about all the fantastic graduates in Scotland who go into teaching in Scotland and I certainly want to encourage more of them to do that. We will continue to look at all these issues as we drive forward with determination, drive up standards in our schools, and close the attainment gap between the richest and the poorest.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

So in answer to my asking for a good reason why the First Minister will not allow Teach First to operate here, we have, “I spoke to a woman in London, but I am not entirely closing my mind to it.” That is odd, because it is exactly the answer that the First Minister gave me on 14 January 2016, which was the last time that I asked her about it, almost 18 months ago. Is a decision anywhere in our future?

The scheme operates successfully in 40 countries but not here. We have to question whether the First Minister really understands the problems that we face. We have 4,000 fewer teachers than we had when she came to power. We are not recruiting nearly enough trainees to fill the gaps. Sixteen per cent of training places for English teachers are unfilled and more than a quarter of places for maths teachers are unfilled.

The First Minister claims that her Government is on top of the issue, so let me ask her this: if she is on top of it, what percentage of secondary schools says that a lack of teachers is constraining the number of subjects that they can offer?

The First Minister:

I have been very clear about the challenges that we face, in common with other challenges for teacher recruitment. That is why John Swinney has been working with the GTCS to look at how we can get more teachers into education. It is also why we have been considerably increasing the intake into initial teacher education.

As I said in relation to Teach First, we have had initial discussions about whether the programme can be adapted for the particular circumstances of Scottish education. We will continue to look at those issues in the round and to drive forward our plans, such as the national improvement framework, which is already seeing reforms in school education; the attainment challenge; the attainment fund; and, in particular, the pupil equity fund, which, as we speak, is channelling resources into the hands of headteachers so that they can drive the improvements that they want in their schools. While, week after week, Ruth Davidson—quite legitimately—asks questions about the issue, this Government will get on with taking action that finds solutions.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

What a lot of waffle. I am very pleased that the First Minister thinks that it is legitimate for me to ask questions about our failing education system; frankly, I think that it is my duty to ask those questions.

My question was about the proportion of our schools that is constrained in the number of subjects that they can offer their pupils because of teacher shortages. The answer is 70 per cent. That was the figure that was reported to this Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee. Seventy per cent of schools cannot offer their secondary 4 pupils the subjects that they want to offer, because her Government has not recruited the teachers. However, instead of that crisis being faced, what do we get? This week, we have seen backslapping about 10 years in power, while education has been getting worse.

The reality is that this is a First Minister who has presided over a teacher recruitment crisis, who has fallen asleep at the wheel on education, whose response to bad test results is, “Let’s just take Scotland out of the tests,” and who knocks back good ideas such as Teach First for reasons that even she cannot explain, apart from, “Some woman in London told me to ca’ canny.” We have all had enough. Is it not time that we had a First Minister in charge who does not just admit the occasional mistake, but does something about all of them?

The First Minister:

The international summit of teaching experts that the Deputy First Minister attended just before Easter recognised that there are teacher recruitment challenges right around the world, including in England. For Ruth Davidson to suggest that, somehow, the problem is unique to Scotland is unfortunate.

It is also unfortunate that, week after week, she—rightly—points to areas in which we need to improve, but repeatedly fails to talk about the improvements in Scottish education such as that, in our schools right now, our young people are coming out with record higher and advanced higher passes; that more young people now achieve national 5 qualifications; that record numbers of young people go on to positive destinations—if they do not go into higher or further education, they go into training or work—and that we are starting to see, on a number of indicators, the beginning of the closing of the gap between the richest and the poorest.

I am the first to admit that there is much more to do, but Ruth Davidson should stop doing a disservice to teachers and pupils around this country by using terms such as “failing education system”. We do not have a failing education system in Scotland and Ruth Davidson should be ashamed to suggest that we do.