1. I offer the best wishes of the season to you, Presiding Officer, to everyone in Parliament and to people at home, for a very happy Christmas.
On 28 June 2016, the Scottish Government’s delivery plan for Scottish education promised a new specialist programme to recruit high-quality graduates into priority teaching subjects. It was to be in place by summer 2017. Can the First Minister say how many graduates that programme has recruited?
I, too, wish the Presiding Officer, members of Parliament and people across Scotland a very merry Christmas and best wishes for the new year.
As Ruth Davidson is aware, the Government is taking a range of actions to encourage more teachers in general into the profession. The most recent statistics show that, over the past year, more than 500 additional teachers have come into teaching. We are also taking steps to attract teachers into particular subjects. That is why, a matter of months ago, the Deputy First Minister announced incentive schemes to attract teachers into STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—subjects, for example.
We will continue to take a range of actions alongside the governance reforms and the actions to increase transparency around the performance of our schools, to ensure that we are driving up standards and closing the attainment gap.
I specifically asked the First Minister about her flagship specialist graduate teacher programme, which she announced last June. I asked her how many graduates the programme had recruited. The answer, which we did not hear from the First Minister, is zero, because the scheme has not even been set up yet.
I am holding a copy of the “2018 National Improvement Framework and Improvement Plan”, which was published last week. It is Scottish education’s report card. On page 52, it clearly states that the Government has missed the deadline for its specialist graduate recruitment programme and we are barely at tender stage. The programme, which was announced in 2016, was due to be delivered by 2017, but it is still not in place as we head towards 2018.
We were also promised, for June 2017, a new standards framework to improve the schools inspection regime. Can the First Minister tell us whether that promise has been met?
As I am sure Ruth Davidson is aware, a range of new routes into the teaching profession have been made available. By the end of January 2018, it is expected that about 280 students will be studying on one of the 11 new routes into teaching. There has been a 7.5 per cent increase in the overall number of student teachers this year and that builds on a 19 per cent increase in 2016.
As I said in my first answer, we also recently launched the £20,000 STEM bursaries for career changers, to attract teachers into particular subjects. We are taking a range of actions.
As Ruth Davidson is also aware, we are taking a range of actions through the national improvement framework to ensure that there is a focus on improvement in our education system. Inspections have a crucial part to play, but a wider range of actions underpin our ambitions in that area.
Under the Scottish National Party, teacher numbers are down by 3,500 and the First Minister’s flagship programme has not been delivered. Only this First Minister could come to the chamber and try to claim that as some sort of success.
In her second bite at the recruitment cherry, the First Minister completely missed the question that I had asked her, which was about a promised new standards framework for school inspections that was due to be delivered by 2017. That has not been delivered and we do not know when it will be.
Let us stick with some broken education promises. Everyone knows that good school leadership is crucial to achieving a good education. Even the SNP acknowledges that point, which is why the Government promised to publish a national action plan to get more teachers to take the step up from classroom teacher to headteacher—all the more important as so many headteachers are nearing retirement. The action plan was supposed to be in place by June 2017. Where is it?
If Ruth Davidson took the time to look at those things in detail, she would know, for example, that the Government is working with Columba 1400 and funding the headteachers leadership academy. Large numbers of teachers and headteachers are going through that programme. We have a range of initiatives to support leadership in Scottish education, and we have the highest number of teachers working in our education system since 2011. The number of school inspections has increased over the past year, and that number will increase even further over the year ahead.
The Government is taking a range of actions across all these issues to improve standards in our schools and we are seeing the outcomes of that across a range of areas, not least in the increase in teacher numbers—I have now, I think, mentioned that three times in the course of this exchange, but I have not heard Ruth Davidson acknowledge it even once.
Let us cut through the back and forth between the First Minister and me and look at what the improvement framework—the scorecard—says about that. Not only has the deadline for publishing the action plan on headteachers been missed, apparently the First Minister cannot tell us when it will be published. We have a delayed scheme to get more graduates into teaching, a drive to boost inspections that we are still waiting for, and a plan to get more teachers to become heads that appears to have been shelved. That is just the tip of the iceberg. If we go through—and we have—all 75 actions that the Government promised for education last year, we see that fully a third of the commitments have been delayed, diverted or ducked.
This week, it has been confirmed again how tough things are out there, with some schools having to shorten the school day because they do not have enough staff.
Famously, the First Minister started this year again insisting that education would be her number 1 priority. At the end of the year, does she really think that it looks that way?
Yes, I do. Let me recap. Over the past year, more than 500 additional teachers have gone into education, which takes us to the highest level of teachers in our schools since 2011. As I said earlier, because of the 11 new routes into teaching, we will have an additional 280 students in teaching by the end of January. I have mentioned the bursary scheme to attract teachers into STEM subjects and have spoken about the headteachers leadership programme. We are a Government that is taking a range of actions to improve education and close the attainment gap.
It should be remembered of course that, if we were to follow the Conservatives’ advice, particularly on budgetary matters, we would have to take out of the draft budget that was published last week £500 million over and above the cuts that are already being imposed by the chancellor. That would not only wipe out the planned increase for the health service but wipe out most of the pupil equity fund. That is the reality. We are taking action and putting investment into education, and that will deliver results.