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Supporting Innovation

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 8th October 2019.

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Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

This has been an interesting debate on a very important subject. I was struck by the fact that a number of members, including Alex Cole-Hamilton and Daniel Johnson, talked about skills, training and development, which are key issues. People used to say that Scotland was a world leader when it came to education, but they certainly do not say that today. There are major difficulties in our education system, not least how curriculum for excellence is panning out, so we need to see the evidence. Whether the different cohorts that come forward are more successful or not, I worry, from hearing reports from teachers, that curriculum for excellence will not deliver the innovators of tomorrow that we so desperately want to see.

There is also a major challenge in relation to school resourcing and massive class sizes, which are unacceptable. The ratio of teachers to pupils in independent schools is something like 1:14—indeed, the adult to pupil ratio in a lot of private schools is 1:8—whereas classes in schools in the state system have 30-plus children. That shows that we have a difficulty.

If we are serious about this agenda, we need to look at education in its entirety, from the cradle to the grave. Several members have mentioned the need to upskill and reskill, but our colleges have experienced massive cuts over the past number of years. As a result, adult education and the provision of training and skills for adults have suffered the most. If we are serious about this agenda, we need to be serious about education and how that moves forward.

Rhoda Grant mentioned the example of BiFab. Turbine jackets that could be built in Fife are being shipped from halfway round the world to a wind farm that is 10 miles off the Fife coast. We need innovation in renewables and other areas, but we also need to ensure that we can take advantage of that innovation and that the jobs and the skills come to Scotland. That is not happening.

We have a target of no diesel or petrol cars being sold by 2032. We are miles away from achieving that, and I am not sure that we will achieve it. We need to ask where the innovation is that is needed for the future. Does it lie in building the new types of cars or, on the technology side, developing the software for them? In all those areas, we have major challenges.