In June I set out our vision for education and our proposals for reform.
The Government's clear ambition is to create a world-class education system, closing the gap between our least and most disadvantaged children and achieving higher standards for all. That is an ambition which is shared widely across the system and across this chamber.
There are many strengths in Scottish education but we also have to recognise that, right now, our system is still too variable. We want excellence in every school, for every child. That is what these reforms are designed to do.
They are based on the simple, well evidenced, premise: those closest to children and young people, those who know them best - their parents, teachers and headteachers - are best placed to make decisions about their education.
I recognise that if schools are to fully deliver on this leadership of learning role, then they must be supported by the entire education system. We must work together across school, local authority and national boundaries to provide that support. That is what the OECD called on us to do when they assessed our education system in 2015 and that is what our reforms will deliver.
I am therefore pleased to be able to update Parliament today on the progress we have made on our reform plan.
As promised as part of the Next Steps Report I published on 15 June, my officials, along with Education Scotland, COSLA, SOLACE and ADES, entered into a joint process to deliver this new way of regional working.
In June, we set out the key functions of the regional collaboratives. They were:
- to support teachers through dedicated teams of professionals, drawing on Education Scotland staff, local authority staff and others
- to provide focus across through the delivery of an annual regional plan and work programme and
- to deliver collaborative working, including sharing best practice
We have now reached agreement with Cosla on the collaboratives and these functions have been agreed to provide the enhanced support schools need in order to raise attainment and close the poverty related attainment gap.
Our partners in local government have agreed that the task we have set the regional bodies – that list of functions we set out in June – is the right way forward, will deliver for our school pupils and support Scotland's teachers.
Our schools and teachers need consistently excellent support to secure the improved outcomes we all want and Scotland's children and young people deserve.
The Regional Improvement Collaboratives focus on meeting local needs, putting Getting It Right For Every Child at the heart of their work and delivering a relentless focus on improvement.
They will ensure the provision of excellent educational improvement support for headteachers, teachers, managers and practitioners through dedicated teams of professionals. These teams will draw on Education Scotland staff, local authority staff and others. They will share expertise, innovation and best practice across the Collaborative, and will draw in knowledge from other regions where and when it is needed.
They will ensure the provision of specialist support and advice across all eight curriculum areas, with a clear focus on literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing, reinforcing the approach set out by the Chief Inspector of Education in August 2016. They will also identify the particular areas for improvement within their region and ensure the interventions are put in place to address them.
They will facilitate access to sector-specific support and advice, working with partners across the system to ensure that we get it right for every child.
And they will build capacity and support in improvement methods, helping schools to implement key educational developments and learn from other systems and research.
Our Programme for Government set out our intention to bring forward an Education Bill in this session. Our agreement with local government means that we will not have to wait on that Bill to make progress on reform.
I can tell Parliament today that the regional collaboratives will be up and running this year, supporting our schools and teachers, with pace and focus.
To deliver this, Regional Improvement Leads will be appointed in six regions by the end of this month, and each Collaborative will have a detailed improvement plan in place by January 2018.
These plans will be bottom-up, drawing on the needs schools identify, and deliver a coherent focus across all partners. They will bring rigour and structure to the work of the collaboratives and will empower local partners to identify local priorities and develop local approaches.
The leadership of the collaboratives will therefore be critical to enhancing the support our schools receive.
I have agreed with COSLA that the Regional Improvement Lead will be selected jointly by the Chief Inspector of Education and the local authorities that make up the individual improvement collaboratives.
The Improvement Plans and the Workforce Plans will be formulated at local level but will require to be agreed with the Chief Inspector of Education.
I am clear that these reporting arrangements will ensure there is a system wide responsibility to support our schools in closing the attainment gap and providing excellence and equity for all.
Education Scotland's announcement today, that they are deploying their staff to work alongside teachers through the regional improvement collaboratives, is a significant element in the early implementation of this reform.
This is a radical and welcome step to ensure the resources of Education Scotland staff are used to create a cohesive and effective package of support to deliver improvement where it matters: in our schools.
This is the first time such an approach has been taken and it will maximise the improvement resources available to our schools.
I am determined to ensure the formation of Regional Improvement Collaboratives moves ahead with pace. Therefore I will commission an external review of our progress in establishing these bodies and in assessing progress in fulfilling their potential in April 2018 and 12 to 18 months thereafter.
The second aspect of this update is on teachers. I recognise that some councils face challenges in teacher recruitment, as do universities in recruiting teaching students. And, I am committed to tackling these challenges.
We are delivering our Teaching Makes People recruitment campaign, increasing the number of places available in teacher education programmes and funding a series of new routes to teaching.
What is more, I believe that our commitment to work with the profession to enhance the teaching career structure will help attract and retain talented professionals.
New and exciting courses have already been made available. Masters degrees allowing teachers to work across both the primary and secondary sectors, primary qualifications with specialisms in science or additional support needs, and provision that allows students to qualify across a 52-week period rather than the traditional model, are just some examples of the new programmes.
But we need to do more. We want to make a career in teaching more accessible to a wider range of graduates and help address the current recruitment challenges, particularly in priority subjects.
I am therefore pleased to confirm that we are today inviting new proposals for routes into teaching. These will support ambitious and innovative routes specifically for high-quality, new graduates or those considering a career change.
It is essential, however, that all teacher education programmes – including new routes - are of the highest quality.
So, let me be clear that any new route will require both the involvement of a university to maintain academic rigour and accreditation by the General Teaching Council for Scotland. They are the guardians of quality and all routes into teaching must meet their standards.
The final element of this update on education reforms is in relation to inspection.
Education Scotland announced this morning that they are significantly increasing school inspection, with an increase of over 30% increase beginning in April 2018, building on the increase planned already for this year.
This will strengthen the role of inspection as a crucial tool to support improvement.
Not only does inspection provide assurance about the quality of education, it also identifies what is working well and what needs to improve.
I am pleased that as part of their inspection process Education Scotland looks at how schools and establishments are working collaboratively with others and will share examples of what works.
This is one of a range of improvement approaches that Education Scotland have announced today to enable them to reach every school, every year through a variety of channels.
I told Parliament in June I was determined to put in place essential reforms to ensure we created a relentless focus on improvement in our schools.
I indicated I would work with local government to achieve these aims.
I am pleased that we have been able to reach agreement with councils and as a result, can make swift progress on putting these reforms in place.
We now have an agreed way forward on school education that will see all parts of the system – the Scottish Government, local councils and national agencies – pulling in the same direction.
A shared goal – to raise standards and close the attainment gap.
A single plan – working together to support our schools.
And a clear vision – that every child can reach their full potential.
That is good news for teachers and great news for Scotland's young people.