Education

– in the Scottish Parliament on 27th June 2019.

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Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

2. To ask the First Minister how many Government debates there have been on education policy in the parliamentary year ending today.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I do not have the number of Government debates, but I know that, earlier this week, John Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, made a statement on education reform.

Last week or the week before, he made a statement on attainment and assessment in primary schools.

As members would expect, the education secretary and I spend a considerable amount of our time ensuring that we continue the progress of raising attainment in our schools and closing the attainment gap—making more progress than I believe was made under previous Labour Administrations.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

Yes, we know that the cabinet secretary is happy to read out statements but not to take part in a debate, take interventions and have a vote. The answer to the question that I asked is that, in the past parliamentary year, there have been no Government debates on that top priority of education.

There has not been one since 2 November 2017.

We have had ministerial statements, such as this week’s mercy killing of the Education (Scotland) Bill, but no debates. What is the Government afraid of debating? Is it the teacher recruitment crisis, the narrowing of the curriculum, the explosion of multilevel teaching or the growing crisis in additional support needs, or is the Government afraid because, when we debate and then vote on its record on education, it is defeated in this Parliament?

The First Minister:

Richard Leonard has a point. We could have come to the chamber and debated the 10 per cent pay rise for teachers in our country or the 500 more teachers in our schools this year. [

Interruption

.]

The First Minister:

We could have debated the fact that we have more teachers in primary schools now than at any time since 1980. The education secretary made statements this week and last week. It is not my fault if Richard Leonard cannot manage to ask questions on those statements.

The First Minister:

How many times has Richard Leonard come to the chamber and said that the single biggest thing that we have to do to raise attainment and close the poverty-related attainment gap in our schools is tackle child poverty? In recent weeks, how many times has he come to the chamber and called on me to introduce an income supplement? Today, the day after we introduced a £10-a-week income supplement for the poorest families in our country, in order to tackle child poverty and help us raise attainment, Richard Leonard has nothing to say about it. That suggests that he is not interested in children and that he is interested only in the politics.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

That was an astonishing answer.

The First Minister’s claims on education do not bear examination. That is why the Government dares not debate them. If education is a Government’s top priority, it invests in it. Therefore, why is this Government spending £427 less per pupil in our primary schools?

It is not just schools. Why does the Auditor General for Scotland say that our colleges are not achieving financial sustainability? If education is the Government’s top priority, why does research that we are publishing today show that, since it came to office, the Government is spending more than £1,000 less per student on teaching in our universities?

Is that not the record on education that the Government is unwilling and unable to debate? It is a record of cuts to Scotland’s schools, colleges and universities.

The First Minister:

Unfortunately for Richard Leonard, the facts tell a different story. In each of the past two years, there have been real-terms increases in education funding by councils. In each of the past three years, there have been increases in the number of teachers in our schools. The pupil equity fund is putting more money into the hands of headteachers in our schools. That is probably why we have rising exam passes in our schools, a record number of young people going into positive destinations and a record number of young people from the poorest parts of our country going into higher education, including university.

That is the Government’s record on education. We will get on with the job of continuing to make that progress. Presiding Officer, that is progress that we are proud of.