06 November 2002

S1M-3536 Education (Schools)

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): The main item of business this afternoon is a debate on motion S1M-3536, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on flexibility and innovation in schools, and on two amendments to that motion.
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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests, which shows that I went to school. I am not alone. We all have an interest in the subject. My school motto was "ad vitam paror". If Iain Smith were here he would recognise that as the motto of Bell Baxter High School in Cupar—preparation for life. That encapsulates what school must be about.
Cathy Peattie, astonishingly, questioned why we were having a debate on education when, apparently, all the decisions have been made. The SNP does not think that that is the case.
Sylvia Jackson rather unfortunately chose to be selective in her quotations from Professor Lindsay Paterson. In the Scottish Educational Journal in October 2002, only a few weeks ago, he wrote:
"It is often claimed that research results on class sizes are ambiguous. This is not true: small reductions have no measurable effects, but large reductions do."
That is why the SNP will continue to pursue with vigour the aim of reducing class sizes. Some of the headlines of the First Minister's presentations yesterday used the word vision. That is an entirely inappropriate word in the circumstances. What is a vision? A vision is not about what we are doing today, which is essentially fiddling at the margins. A vision is about where we want to be in the long-term future. It is about what we want our educational sector to contribute to society in 15, 20 or 25 years' time. To understand the vision we must support it with aims—mid-term targets—which must include smaller class sizes. The opportunity is in the Registrar General for Scotland's report, which shows the reduction in the number of people available to go to school.
We have to set as an aim the development of a wider range of skills in the graduates of our education system. Above all, we have to deliver people to society who have the ability to adapt and learn for themselves in a changing world. No one in the chamber knows with any degree of certainty what the world will be like in 25 years' time. The only thing that we know is that we do not know.
What are our immediate tasks? We must do everything in our power to free teachers from the dead hand of bureaucracy. We must free the economic resources that will reward teachers and draw more people into the profession from a wider social, professional and general background. We must open the doors of our schools. I say to Duncan McNeil that, in my constituency, a new private finance initiative school is restricting access to community groups in a way that the previous unsatisfactory building did not.
We must consider the difference between education and training. I have concerns about some of the comments that I hear about diverting people from education to training.
Karen Gillon (Clydesdale) (Lab): Will Stewart Stevenson give way?
Stewart Stevenson: I do not have time. I am in my last minute.
If members wonder what the difference is between education and training, they should consider what their different responses would be were their daughter to say that she had sex education and were she to say that she had sex training. The answer is obvious.
In PFI projects we pay huge sums of interest to the banks for new buildings—we could release that money. The best schools are very good. We must bring all schools up to that standard. We need teachers with charisma, like my mathematics teacher, Doc Inglis, who used to take us through his tax return every year to illustrate the purpose of mathematics and how little he got paid. The minister has a long way to go to deliver on the charisma of Doc Inglis.

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