Digital Devices (School Pupils)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 21 March 2024.

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Photo of Meghan Gallacher Meghan Gallacher Conservative

4. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the roll-out of free digital devices to school pupils. (S6O-03235)

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

To maximise the impact of funding, we will provide support at household level, targeting device investment at disadvantaged families with children. That approach will improve equity of access to devices and connectivity for those who need it most, helping families to realise the broad range of benefits that are associated with digital inclusion and enabling access to digital tools and resources for learning. We are currently in the early stages of scheme design with Connecting Scotland, which will use its established model to distribute devices to eligible households.

Photo of Meghan Gallacher Meghan Gallacher Conservative

I am afraid that it is broken promise after broken promise—from failing to close the poverty-related attainment gap to the roll-out of free school meals. Parents, teachers and pupils will now remember the SNP as the Government that stole the weans’ IT. Although I appreciate that the cabinet secretary was not in post at the time when the Government promised a free laptop to every school pupil, will she tell members why the Government promised something that it knew it would never be able to deliver?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

It is worth putting on the record the fact that the Government has invested £25 million in devices and connectivity. That has resulted in more than 72,000 devices and 14,000 connectivity packages being distributed to disadvantaged learners all over Scotland.

I find it quite remarkable that Ms Gallacher has come to the chamber today to complain about the investment that is going to support digital connectivity across the country, given that it is her party that has cut this Government’s budget, particularly in relation to capital, by close to 10 per cent in real terms. That is having a direct impact on the Government’s spending priorities, and it means that there is less funding to go into things such as education. I hope that Ms Gallacher recognises the challenge in her question and the hypocritical approach that she has taken today.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

There are a number of supplementary questions, which I will try to get in. I will have more chance of doing so if we do not have heckling of answers and questions.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

On that previous point, can the cabinet secretary say whether the Scottish Government has assessed the impact of capital budget cuts to Scotland by the United Kingdom Government on providing free digital services or other projects under the education portfolio?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

As I alluded to in my response to Ms Gallacher’s question, this is particularly challenging because of the cuts that have come from Westminster, which are having a major impact not just on education but right across the Scottish Government. That is particularly acute in relation to capital funding, which Ms Gallacher’s original question was on. Capital funding is due to contract by almost 10 per cent in real terms over the next five years. That will have major impacts in Scotland, where we have one hand tied behind our back, when we want to make spending decisions that affect outcomes for our children and young people.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

T he education secretary’s predecessor, who is making a lot of noise this afternoon, made a solemn promise to the voters in 2021. He said:

“These tools are no longer luxuries.”

If they are essential, why has the Government deprioritised this programme, and why is it now means testing access to free laptops and devices?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

Again, as I outlined in my previous responses, decisions that are taken by Governments in other parts of the United Kingdom—Governments that the people of this country did not vote for—mean that the Scottish Government has less money to go around for a commitment that was made some years ago. That is the reality of the UK. If Mr Rennie does not like it, perhaps he should come to the SNP benches and support independence for Scotland, which would give us the spending power that we need to make investments in improving the provision that we currently have in relation to public services. That is the challenge of the United Kingdom and the status quo that Mr Rennie backs.

Photo of Foysol Choudhury Foysol Choudhury Labour

The most recent Scottish health and wellbeing census found that, for pupils between primary 5 and secondary 3, more than a third of bullying was online. Can the cabinet secretary please advise us what measures the Scottish Government has considered to limit harm to children during the roll-out of free digital devices?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

The member raises a really important point. The Government is committed to rolling out a digital strategy, recognising some of that challenge. More broadly in relation to the issues around bullying, we published data towards the end of last year in the behaviour in Scotland’s schools research, which examined the issue in more detail.

Education Scotland has published a suite of resources on online bullying, which support teachers in our schools. In the next few weeks we will produce updated guidance on the use of mobile phones to mitigate some of the challenge in relation to online bullying.