Local Government (Teacher Numbers)

First Minister’s Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament am ar 9 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Llafur

The past two weeks have been all about managing the Scottish National Party and have had nothing to do with running our country or delivering for Scotland. However, politics is not a game. Decisions that are made by the Government have consequences, and the effects of those decisions over the past 17 years are playing out in communities across the country. The decisions that John Swinney made as finance secretary then as education secretary are being felt by pupils, parents and teachers.

Since 2007, Scotland’s education standards have declined and teacher numbers have fallen. The Government claims that it is fully funding councils, but the SNP-led council in Glasgow has made a decision to cut 172 teachers this year and 450 teachers over the next three years. I have a direct and simple question: will the Government step in, save those teachers’ jobs and protect young people’s education?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The first point that I want to make is that the events of the past two weeks have been traumatic for my party—I accept that—and they have had everything to do with running the country. I am now here to lead this Government and to lead it with the firmness of direction that it needs to address the problems that the country faces and to achieve our objectives. That is what I am here to do.

On the question of attainment, I have gone through with Mr Ross some of the strengths that exist in Scottish education today. We will continue to improve that performance and support the education system in doing so. We will obviously work collaboratively with local government on that agenda, because local authorities such as Glasgow City Council are responsible for the delivery of education in our communities. I will be meeting the leadership of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on Friday, immediately after the first meeting of the new Cabinet, because I attach the greatest importance to working in partnership with our local authorities.

One of the most critical points about working in partnership with local authorities is that we work collaboratively. I would have members of Parliament in here complaining all the time if I instructed local authorities on what to do, and I will not be doing that.

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Llafur

John Swinney needs to confront the challenges that he has created over the past 17 years in local government and education.

Yesterday, I was with the Glasgow city parents group and many of the teachers affected. The cut in teacher numbers in Glasgow will hit people in the most deprived communities the hardest. It will hit the very same working-class kids whose grades John Swinney, as education secretary, attempted to downgrade—shamefully—during the Covid exams scandal.

Of the teachers I met, one told me that she had retrained two years ago and was now going to lose her job, another said that he had not been able to get a permanent contract since he qualified, and a third said that the cut does not feel like the thanks and reward that the Government promised teachers in coming out of the pandemic. John Swinney bears responsibility for the broken finances in our councils and the decimation of our education system, so he should not give us warm words or try to explain away the Government’s record. He should tell the pupils, their parents and their teachers what he is going to do to protect their education.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

It is very important that we have an open discussion about the choices that public authorities and public bodies face. One of the issues that Glasgow City Council has faced, and which has cost it a formidable amount of money, has been the resolution of the equal pay disgrace that was presided over by the Labour Party when it ran the council. For many years, women in our society were persistently let down. When it was running Glasgow City Council, the Labour Party went to the courts to challenge the legitimate claims of low-paid women in the city of Glasgow. The Labour Party should be utterly ashamed of that.

I understand the challenges that Glasgow City Council faces. That is why I will engage constructively with Glasgow City Council and with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities when I meet it on Friday.

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Llafur

It is clear that the First Minister has no answer for parents, pupils and teachers in Glasgow, only obfuscation.

Let us look at John Swinney’s record. As finance secretary, he broke local finances and slashed the budget for local services. As education secretary, he abandoned teachers, standards declined, the attainment gap widened, Scotland fell in the international league tables and—shamefully—he downgraded the results of working-class children during the pandemic. Now, as First Minister, he is trapped by the past, defending his own record while Scotland’s children pay the price.

Scotland once had an education system that was the envy of the world. I believe that we can get there again, but continuity will not cut it. To give our young people the education and opportunities that they deserve and to unlock the huge potential of our nation, Scotland needs fresh leadership, new ideas and change, so after being at the heart of every single SNP failure for the past 17 years, why does John Swinney think that Scotland should accept more of the same?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I have good news for Anas Sarwar: that fresh leadership has just arrived—[Interruption.]

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

—and I am right here to deliver it. [Interruption.] They are laughing, because they are delighted that I am here to do it. That is why they are laughing—they are over the moon that I am here. They sent me here—they were all behind it.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The people did send me here. The people have sent me here. In every election when I have had my name on the ballot paper, my constituents have sent me here. In 2007, the people sent us into government; in 2011, they sent us into government; in 2016, they sent us into government; in 2021 they sent us into government; and in 2026, under my leadership, they will send us back into government as well.

I point out to Mr Sarwar, as he has his absence-of-cheerfulness escapade today, that I think Scotland has a very good education system, which we will continue to improve in the years to come.