Today I led a debate in the Scottish Parliament on delivering a world class education system.
The SNP has made improving our education system a key priority in government. Our approach so far has seen record Higher and Advanced Higher pass rates, with more of our young people going from school into work, training or additional education than at any time on record.
Every child deserves the chance to reach their potential. To achieve this, we know we need to start getting things right at an early age.
That’s why we’ve increased the entitlement to early learning and childcare to 600 hours a year for all 3 and 4 year olds and just over a quarter of 2 year olds. By the end of the decade, we plan to increase this further to 1,140 hours of free childcare each year.
When children reach primary school they’ll learn in smaller classes – the number of P1 children in classes of 26 or more has fallen dramatically from 16,000 in 2006 to 637 today – as well as benefitting from free school meals from P1 to P3.
The introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence has transformed our education system, giving teachers the freedom to adopt a curriculum that is relevant to children’s needs and which builds on their expertise, interests and talents.
But as well as improving what happens in the classroom, the actual bricks and mortar of our schools has also improved. Since 2007, 607 schools have been rebuilt or refurbished, cutting the number of pupils in ‘poor’ or ‘bad’ condition schools by half.
Teachers unions in England and Wales have warned that they faced a “national crisis” in teacher numbers, with staff “leaving in droves” while graduates were “looking elsewhere for a career”.
In contrast, the Scottish Government has provided local authorities with £51m in funding to maintain teacher numbers, and last week I announced £2million in funding to support an extra 260 teacher training places.
More students are staying on at school until 6th year, up from 45% when the SNP entered office to 62% today. Fewer young people are leaving school with very low or no qualifications and all young people can now undertake relevant, work-related learning as part of their curriculum. We can see this works – more than 9 out of 10 of last year’s school leavers were in employment, education or training 9 months later.
Our Government is determined to ensure that every child in a Scottish school is given the chance to succeed, regardless of their background. That is why we have made closing the attainment gap – the difference in success at school between children from well-off and low-income backgrounds – a key priority and want to see substantial progress in eliminating it in the next decade.
Progress is already being made. The number of young people from deprived areas leaving school with at least one higher or equivalent has almost doubled since our first year in office, rising from 23% in 2007/08 to 39% in 2013/14. We have also retained the Education Maintenance Allowance which was scrapped in England, to encourage thousands of young people to stay in education.
The First Minister last week launched the National Improvement Framework – our new approach to help eliminate the attainment gap.
We have put education at the heart of our agenda. Our ambition is to create a world class education system where all our children can achieve their full potential irrespective of their background or needs.