Getting it right on education
It is now close to 18 months since I was appointed as Education Secretary in the Scottish Government.
It is a very different role to that of the Finance Secretary, which I performed for the previous nine years.
As Finance Secretary, you had to operate within a fixed budget and you had to make your choices within such a context.
In education, there is much wider debate about all of the issues you consider with a very divergent set of views expressed.
I have taken care in the last 18 months to set out a very clear agenda in taking forward my education responsibilities.The government’s education policy is driven by a determination to deliver excellence and equity – excellence by ensuring we strive to deliver the highest standards and ambitions within the system and equity by ensuring every child, regardless of their background, is able to fulfil their potential. This approach is anchored within the philosophy of ‘Getting it Right for Every Child’.
For me, it is vital that the whole education system is clear about that agenda and recognises what can be contributed to that agenda within every one of the 2500 schools across Scotland. I am increasingly confident that approach and aspiration is now securely founded in Scottish education.
At the heart of any successful education system must be good leadership and excellent learning and teaching.
We are investing heavily in encouraging the development of the leadership within the system not just among head teachers but throughout the teaching profession.
I am keen to develop new opportunities for good teachers to thrive by developing their careers within the classroom, an approach that will really benefit young people.
I am determined to create the space to deliver great learning and teaching by reducing the volume of unnecessary bureaucracy with which teachers are wrestling and providing the clearest guidance on delivery of the curriculum. Although good work has been done, I think the bureaucracy reduction is still a work in progress but I am pleased that the guidance available to teachers is now simpler and more useful.
One of the challenges remains the number of teachers available in our schools and the particular issues in subjects such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics - the STEM subjects.
I have taken a number of steps to increase the number of teachers that are available. The number of teachers being recruited into the profession has been increased every year for the last seven years. We have devised new routes to encourage more individuals to opt to join the teaching profession and further approaches will be considered in the period ahead.
I announced last week a specific mechanism to encourage people who are already in a career to opt to join the teaching profession in the STEM subjects. The idea is to recognise the fact that people already with settled careers will find it difficult to change direction given their existing commitments. So we will offer opportunities for people to shift careers and train to be a teacher supported by a one-off £20,000 bursary. The idea is to recognise it is difficult to shift career if you have financial commitments and to try to make that more practical for people in those circumstances. I will work to ensure these approaches secure the necessary resources are available to meet the needs of young people.