Education Reform

– in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd October 2017.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The next item is a statement by John Swinney on education reform. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

In June, I set out our vision for education and our proposals for reform. The Government’s clear ambition is to create a world-class education system that closes the gap between our least disadvantaged and most disadvantaged children and achieves higher standards for all. That ambition is shared widely across the system and across the chamber.

There are many strengths in Scottish education, but we also have to recognise that, right now, our system is still too variable. We want excellence in every school, for every child. That is what the reforms are designed to achieve. They are based on the simple and well-evidenced premise that those who are closest to children and young people and who know them best—their parents, teachers and headteachers—are best placed to make decisions about their education.

I recognise that, if schools are to fully deliver on the leadership of learning role, they must be supported by the entire education system. We must work together across school, local authority and national boundaries to provide that support. That is what the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development called on us to do when it assessed our education system in 2015, and that is what our reforms will deliver. I am therefore pleased to be able to update Parliament today on the progress that we have made on our reform plans.

As promised as part of the next steps report that I published on 15 June, my officials, along with Education Scotland, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers, and the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, entered into a joint process to deliver the new way of regional working. In June, we set out the key functions of the regional collaboratives, which are to support teachers through dedicated teams of professionals, drawing on Education Scotland staff, local authority staff and others; to provide focus through the delivery of an annual regional plan and work programme; and to deliver collaborative working, including sharing best practice.

We have now reached agreement with COSLA on the collaboratives, and the functions have been agreed to provide the enhanced support that schools need in order to raise attainment and close the poverty-related attainment gap. Our partners in local government have agreed that the task that we have set the regional bodies—the list of functions that we set out in June—is the right way forward and that it will deliver for our school pupils and support Scotland’s teachers. Our schools and teachers need consistently excellent support to secure the improved outcomes that we all want and which Scotland’s children and young people deserve.

Regional improvement collaboratives will focus on meeting local needs, on putting getting it right for every child at the heart of their work and on delivering a relentless focus on improvement. They will ensure the provision of excellent educational improvement support for headteachers, teachers, managers and practitioners through dedicated teams of professionals. Those teams will draw on Education Scotland staff, local authority staff and others. They will share expertise, innovation and best practice across the collaborative and will draw in knowledge from other regions where and when it is needed.

The collaboratives will ensure the provision of specialist support and advice across all eight curriculum areas, with a clear focus on literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing, which will reinforce the approach that the chief inspector of education set out in August 2016. They will also identify particular areas for improvement in their regions and ensure that interventions are put in place to address them. They will facilitate access to sector-specific support and advice and work with partners across the system to ensure that we get it right for every child. They will also build capacity and support in improvement methods to help schools to implement key educational developments and to learn from other systems and research.

Our programme for government set out our intention to bring forward an education bill this parliamentary year. Our agreement with local government means that we will not have to wait for that bill to make progress on reform. I can tell Parliament today that the regional collaboratives will be up and running this year to support our schools and teachers, with pace and with focus. To deliver the collaboratives, regional improvement leads will be appointed in six regions by the end of this month, and each collaborative will have a detailed improvement plan in place by January 2018.

The plans will be from the bottom up; they will draw on the needs that schools identify and will deliver a clear focus across all partners. They will bring rigour and structure to the collaboratives’ work and will empower local partners to identify local priorities and develop local approaches.

The leadership of the collaboratives will therefore be critical to enhancing the support that our schools receive. I have agreed with COSLA that the regional improvement lead will be selected jointly by the chief inspector of education and the local authorities that make up the individual improvement collaboratives. The improvement plans and the workforce plans will be formulated at local level but will require to be agreed with the chief inspector of education. I am clear that those reporting arrangements will ensure that there is a system-wide responsibility to support our schools in closing the attainment gap and providing excellence and equity for all.

Today’s announcement from Education Scotland that it is deploying staff to work alongside teachers through the regional improvement collaboratives is a significant element in the early implementation of the reform. It is a radical and welcome step to ensure that the resources of Education Scotland staff are used to create a cohesive and effective package of support to deliver improvement where it matters—in our schools. This is the first time that such an approach has been taken and it will maximise the improvement resources that are available to our schools.

I am determined to ensure that the formation of regional improvement collaboratives moves ahead with pace. I will therefore commission an external review, first in April 2018 and then 12 to 18 months thereafter, to assess our progress on establishing the bodies and on fulfilling their potential.

The second aspect of my update is about teachers. I recognise that some councils face challenges in teacher recruitment, as do universities in recruiting teaching students. I am committed to tackling those challenges.

We are delivering our teaching makes people recruitment campaign, increasing the number of places that are available in teacher education programmes and funding a series of new routes into teaching. What is more, I believe that our commitment to working with the profession to enhance the teaching career structure will help to attract and retain talented professionals. New and exciting courses have already been made available. Masters degrees that allow teachers to work across the primary and secondary sectors, primary qualifications with specialisms in science or additional support needs, and provision that allows students to qualify across a 52-week period rather than the traditional model are just some examples of the new programmes.

However, we need to do more. We want to make a career in teaching more accessible to a wider range of graduates and help to address the current recruitment challenges, particularly in priority subjects. I am therefore pleased to confirm that we are today inviting new proposals for routes into teaching. They will support ambitious and innovative routes specifically for high-quality new graduates or those who are considering a career change.

It is essential that all teacher education programmes—including new routes—are of the highest quality. Let me therefore be clear that any new route will require the involvement of a university to maintain academic rigour and accreditation by the General Teaching Council for Scotland. Those bodies are the guardians of quality, and all routes into teaching must meet their standards.

The final element of today’s update on education reforms relates to inspection. This morning, Education Scotland announced that it is significantly increasing the number of school inspections; an increase of more than 30 per cent will begin in April 2018, which builds on the increase that is planned for this year. That will strengthen the role of inspection as a crucial tool to support improvement.

Inspection provides assurance about the quality of education, as well as identifying what is working well and what needs to improve. I am pleased that, as part of its inspection process, Education Scotland looks at how schools and establishments work collaboratively with others and shares examples of what works. That is one of a range of improvement approaches that Education Scotland has announced today to enable it to reach every school, every year through a variety of channels.

In June, I told Parliament that I was determined to put in place essential reforms to create a relentless focus on improvement in our schools. I said that I would work with local government to achieve that aim. I am pleased that we have been able to reach agreement with councils and that, as a result, we can make swift progress on putting the reforms in place.

We now have an agreed way forward on school education that will see all parts of the system—the Scottish Government, local councils and national agencies—pulling in the same direction. We have a shared goal of raising standards and closing the attainment gap. We have a single plan for working together to support our schools, and we have a clear vision that every child can reach their full potential. That is good news for teachers and great news for Scotland’s young people.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

I thank the cabinet secretary for prior sight of his statement. I have three specific questions. First, what is the estimated cost to the taxpayer of the changes, especially given the enhanced role that Education Scotland will apparently have and given the new staffing and administration changes that are set out in section 5 of the next steps report?

Secondly, are the enhanced role for Education Scotland and today’s announcement that the number of school inspections will increase not just another reason why

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education should be completely separate from

Education Scotland, so that Education Scotland is not judge and jury at the same time, with far too much conflicting work on its plate?

Thirdly, the cabinet secretary states that each collaborative will have a workforce plan, which will reflect national, regional and local priorities. If a headteacher has specific proposals for how they want to spend their pupil equity funding, will they be required to have permission from the regional collaborative before spending the funding or will there be genuine devolution of power to the headteacher?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

On Liz Smith’s first point about cost, we are pulling together the resources that are available in a number of elements of the education system. We are doing that in a focused way to ensure that schools can access and call on the available improvement resources in a cohesive way, which is not current practice in Scottish education.

The resources that have been allocated from Education Scotland will be focused increasingly at a local level on working with the resources that are available in local authorities and ensuring that a coherent approach is taken.

There will be discussions to be had with the regional collaboratives as they formulate their plans about the scale of their activities and the areas of activity. The Government will engage in those discussions and assess carefully any implications—any budgetary pressures—that emerge as a consequence.

The second point was about the role of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education. I have listened carefully to the arguments that have been made on that point and I think that it is important to put on the record one vital aspect of my thinking. I see the purpose of inspection as being to aid and assist improvement in our education system. The whole purpose of the regional collaboratives—the whole purpose of the agenda that I have set out today—is to reinforce that focus on improvement. I used the words,

“a relentless focus on improvement”.

For that reason, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education has an integral role to perform within Education Scotland, but the approach has to be taken with the necessary respect and regard for the independence of the inspection process. I want to make sure that our education system benefits from and sees the fruits of the scrutiny that is undertaken for inspection purposes, but it should be clearly understood that the purpose of that inspection is to aid and assist the improvement journey in Scottish education.

Finally, on pupil equity funding, my answer is simple. I want headteachers to be able to decide how to spend that funding. That is the purpose of the funding. The headteachers we engage with—we engage extensively with them on the delivery of pupil equity funding—want to have a reasonable amount of guidance on effective utilisation of that funding, but they want to decide how to allocate those resources. That is my perspective, too.

I have told Parliament that I have raised with local authorities on a number of occasions my dissatisfaction at the application of undue limitations to pupil equity funding. I have no hesitation in reiterating my view that headteachers are the ones who should be the decision makers on that point, within a framework of guidance that is designed to help, not hinder, them in their decision making.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of his statement. The compromise that he has reached regarding regional collaboratives is welcome in that it leaves their leadership accountable to local government rather than central Government. All credit, then, to councillors—in particular, Councillor McCabe from COSLA—for working through that compromise. However, if the collaboratives are to succeed in raising attainment, as we all hope they will, like every part of our education system they need more resources, not just pooled resources, and an end to the cuts. Councils have helped with Mr Swinney’s collaboratives; what help can he promise them with education funding in return?

It is also welcome that Education Scotland promises more inspections next year than this year, but we will not be able to compare the numbers with those from a decade ago, as it transpires that it has destroyed all inspection records pre-2008. Has the cabinet secretary taken it to task for that act of bureaucratic vandalism and, if not, why not?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I welcome the discussions that I have had with Councillor McCabe and others as part of the exercise. They have been entirely fruitful. If Mr Gray reads carefully the proposal that has been agreed between local and national Government, he will see that accountability for the formulation of regional improvement plans, the workforce plans and the relentless focus on improvement will be not only local but national, because the improvement plans, the appointment of regional improvement leads and the workforce plans will all have to be agreed with the chief inspector of education. That is an important element of the arrangements that we have put in place. It is essential to ensure that we have a clear, unrelenting focus on improvement.

Mr Gray asked me about resources for education. I am pleased that resources in education are increasing, not least because of the decision that the Government has taken on the local authority settlement and pupil equity funding. I assure him that the Government will take appropriate decisions on the funding of local authorities and pupil equity funding in its budget later this year.

On records, Education Scotland holds the most recent inspection report for every individual school that has been inspected. That position was clarified at the tail end of last week. Education Scotland retains the ability to see when a school was last inspected by referring to paper-based records for each school. Some historical information was not held centrally and some electronic information was deleted not by Education Scotland but by its predecessor body, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education. Information on individual schools inspected was not collated or retained centrally until after an internal audit recommendation in March 2006, which I remind Mr Gray was before this Government came to office.

I appreciate the importance of consistency in the information that is available in all respects and I attach the highest value to that information. That is why the chief inspector of education is taking the reasonable steps that he is taking to ensure that the information is readily available to all who require it.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

There are 11 members who wish to ask questions. With members’ help and crisp questions and answers, I hope to get through them all.

Photo of Ross Greer Ross Greer Green

Like colleagues, I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement. The Scottish Government has recently met Teach First a number of times. In England, it costs £38,000 to train a teacher through Teach First’s programme, compared to £8,000 for the traditional postgraduate model in Scotland. Does the Scottish Government consider that to be good value for money or does it agree that it would be an inappropriate cost and not an appropriate new route into teaching in Scotland?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Mr Greer invites me to go into territory that he probably well knows I should take great care about going into, as a procurement is about to start. I have set out to Parliament the details of that procurement and two very important foundations for it: first, that any venture that comes forward must have an academic partner recruited to it; and, secondly, that any proposition that comes forward must be approved by the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

I assure Mr Greer and Parliament that the General Teaching Council applies strong independent rigour to any proposal that comes forward. I have seen the scrutiny that has been applied to the groups that have emerged quite recently, and I think that there is a rigorous process of challenge. I assure Mr Greer and Parliament that that will be the case in any route that emerges as part of the procurement that the Government is undertaking.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Can the education secretary not see that Education Scotland cannot reasonably deploy staff to work alongside teachers, through the regional improvement collaboratives, in setting policy and, at the same time, inspect how schools and establishments are working collaboratively? Education Scotland has been set once again to mark its own homework. Is there not a clear need, therefore, to ensure that ineffective practice is not reinforced and to clearly separate out those functions, as my colleague Tavish Scott and others have consistently demanded?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

That question comes back to the point about the role of inspection, which I am happy to debate further with Parliament

. I see the role of inspection as being to assist us in driving improvement in our education system. For that reason, I think that there is an essential contribution that the inspection function under HMIE is able to make to the wider work of Education Scotland.

I am pleased with the progress that Education Scotland is making in responding to the challenge that I have set it to change its way of working, and the organisation has made a number of substantial announcements of changes of practice in recent weeks. That demonstrates the independent direction of Education Scotland. I want to encourage that and also to capture the information that comes from that in order to assist in improving Scottish education.

Photo of Clare Haughey Clare Haughey Scottish National Party

Can the cabinet secretary provide any reassurance about the role that local authorities will continue to play in the delivery of education and say how he plans to maintain local democratic accountability?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Local democratic accountability for education was never the issue at stake in these discussions. The issue was my desire to ensure that the whole system was focused in a coherent and cohesive way on leading improvement. I am pleased that, as a consequence of the discussions that I have had with local government, we have been able to agree on that point. The voluntary agreement of local government to the regional improvement collaboratives is an important signal of the support of local government for the direction that has been set out in the paper that has been agreed between the Government and local authorities. Importantly, that agreement ensures that accountability for this work is shared between national and local authorities in a fashion that works in a beneficial way for the needs of the young people in our education system.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

If existing activity, connections and partnerships are deemed to be working well enough, as the cabinet secretary said in the chamber on 19 June is the case for the northern alliance, what grounds are there for imposing a new structure at an additional cost to taxpayers at a time when the public finances are already tight?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I can confidently say that Liam Kerr has not listened to a word that I said in my statement today and has not read a word of the agreement between national Government and local government. In fact, he obviously has not listened to a word that I have said in Parliament for months.

In my view, the northern alliance is a good example of the type of collaboration that is in place. The problem is that it was the only collaborative around the country that had any sense of a developed proposition. I do not know why, instead of finding something to whinge about, Mr Kerr, as a member who represents North East Scotland, cannot stand up and say, “Isn’t it wonderful that the model of the northern alliance has been built upon and taken to other parts of the country?”

I encourage Mr Kerr to do a little bit of homework—as the First Minister encouraged his party leader to do during First Minister’s questions last week—before he comes here and asks such ill-informed questions about what the Government has just announced.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

With respect, cabinet secretary, if we had shorter answers I could maybe get some more folk in. That would be helpful.

Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

Can the cabinet secretary confirm that developing new routes into teaching is not about getting people into the classroom faster but instead is about broadening the range of people entering the teaching profession?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

It is essential that we find different ways and mechanisms to encourage and motivate other people who might contemplate a career in teaching to take up that role. The approaches that we have set out are designed to do that and to make sure that any individual who is teaching in our classrooms is doing so with the authority of the General Teaching Council, which is the guardian of quality within the education system.

The new routes that we are taking forward will have that requirement at the heart of their design.

I can give Ruth Maguire that assurance and we will have that consideration in mind as we come to our conclusions on any approaches that we take.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

The Deputy First Minister was at pains in his answer to Iain Gray to emphasise national accountability and the fact that the chief inspector of education would sign off improvement plans.

What will happen if there is a disagreement between the chief inspector of education and the local collaboratives? Given that many of the concerns—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

One question is sufficient. I want to get other members in.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The point that I made to Mr Gray was to give completeness around Mr Gray’s comments. Mr Gray mentioned only local accountability and I was giving a complete picture.

National accountability is to ensure that there is a proper opportunity to discuss and to challenge the formulation of regional improvement plans to ensure that they are effective in supporting the national improvement framework.

I encourage a collaborative and co-operative dialogue between the chief inspector of education and the regional improvement collaboratives to reach agreement on acceptable plans to deliver improvement within our education system. That is the thinking behind the model of accountability that we have settled on.

Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

Would the cabinet secretary agree with me that the regional improvement collaboratives must be bottom up? The needs of our schools must drive the regional plan rather than the plan driving the needs of our schools.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The purpose of the reforms is to ensure that schools have access to the support that will enhance their educational provision. The approach that Gillian Martin suggests is absolutely correct. We want to have schools in the driving seat, determining what their needs and requirements are. The services and support available from regional improvement collaboratives should respond positively to that.

Photo of Finlay Carson Finlay Carson Conservative

The cabinet secretary stated in response to Ross Greer and on page 7 of his statement that any new route into teaching would rightly require

“both the involvement of a university ... and accreditation by the General Teaching Council for Scotland.”

In light of the recent encouraging comments from the—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Could you please just ask your question?

Photo of Finlay Carson Finlay Carson Conservative

What discussions are taking place with Scottish universities?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I meet the deans of the schools of education on a periodic basis to encourage developments in their own provision. I know that they are very actively engaged in those debates to ensure that we have an adequate supply of graduates coming into initial teacher education. We will continue that dialogue as we take that forward. As we go into a procurement exercise on this particular proposal, our relationship has to be slightly different, because some of the universities might have an interest in it.

I can assure Mr Carson of a very regular dialogue with the universities to advance their involvement in the important area of teacher education.

Photo of James Dornan James Dornan Scottish National Party

I welcome the announcement that there will be more staff in regional collaboratives. Will the cabinet secretary expand a bit further on how he expects the pooling of resources to reduce the inconsistencies that we often see when it comes to education?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I am keen to ensure that we have a much wider exchange of good and strong practice within the education system. That is at the heart of collaboration. It was what the OECD told us in 2015 was a weakness of our education system and I want us to respond as substantively as possible.

The collaboratives will work together to share good practice and to ensure that it is widely disseminated across our education system.

Photo of Alison Harris Alison Harris Conservative

When the OECD reported on the school system in Scotland in 2015, it made reference to the fact that it was very hard to measure educational success because of the absence of good data to measure progress on the curriculum for excellence. What steps are the Scottish Government, along with Education Scotland, taking to collect the new data?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

We have already embarked on that with the collection of pupil-level data on the achievement of individual levels in primary 1, P4, P7 and secondary 3 in our education system. That is more comprehensive data than has ever been available in Scottish education before. It is published every December and from December 2018 it will be informed by the proceeds of the Scottish national standardised assessments, which have now been rolled out in Scottish education and took effect in late August this year. Those assessments will help to inform teacher judgments, which will be reported on every December.

In addition to that, I will be consulting shortly on the framework for assessing our progress on closing the attainment gap. That assessment has to be broadly understood and accepted to ensure that it commands public confidence. I will be consulting on that in the period ahead to ensure that we have the right range of measures in place to assess our progress in closing the attainment gap.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I can squeeze in Mr Beattie for a very short question, please.

Photo of Colin Beattie Colin Beattie Scottish National Party

Can the cabinet secretary expand on the ideas that the international council of education advisers put forward recently on how to ensure that students and their parents or carers are engaged and have a voice?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Scottish education is taking forward some very good examples as a consequence of the call in the national improvement framework to encourage greater pupil and parent engagement in the development of the schools agenda. I have seen some of the very good projects that are in place in local areas and I referred to them following a visit to Pathhead primary school in Mr Torrance’s constituency of Kirkcaldy. They are very good examples of parental engagement in the learning process within schools. Obviously, we share those good examples as widely as we can.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you. That concludes the questions. I thank the cabinet secretary and all members, as we managed to get all questioners in.