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19/01/15 17:12

Education Secretary - Address to student primary teachers

Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Angela Constance
University of Glasgow
19 January 2015

I am delighted to be able to speak to you today. This is a great opportunity to speak to students from both Glasgow and Strathclyde universities and probably more importantly to hear from you today.

In the relatively short time since my appointment as Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning I have been visiting schools and talking to teachers and I have been hugely impressed by the motivation, energy and creativity I have seen. Throughout Scotland, teachers are clearly working exceptionally hard to get the very best from our children and young people. We cannot of course underestimate the importance of teachers – each of us here today knows that we would not have achieved what we have if it were not for the teachers we had who helped to shape us.

As trainee teachers, you represent an investment in the future of our children and young people.

It is you who will bring renewed energy to the profession and who will help shape the next stage in our education journey.

And, it is you who above all will help equip our children and young people with the learning and skills to be at their best.

Graham Donaldson has written that “the foundations of successful education lie in the quality of teachers and their leadership”.

High quality teachers achieve high quality outcomes for our children – and, as trainee teachers, that has to be your aim.

There never has been a better time to be coming into teaching in Scotland.

Employment prospects are the best they’ve been for been for almost a decade – and, teacher unemployment is lower than anywhere else in the UK.

80% of last year’s probationers were in teaching posts by September 2014 – compared to 57% five years ago.

Across Scotland, there is a very healthy demand for teachers.

In fact, demand is so high that one of my first acts as education secretary was to advise the Scottish Funding Council to allow universities to recruit more student teachers. This is the fourth year in a row that we have been able to increase the numbers of prospective teachers coming into the profession.

From this autumn, we will have 150 more student primary teachers and 100 more student secondary teachers across Scotland.

It is always a balancing act to have exactly the right numbers of teachers in place at any one time.

We have looked at other systems in the world and no one has an easy answer to this challenge.

However, we are continuing to work hard with partners – local authorities, professional associations, the General Teaching Council for Scotland and with the universities – such as Strathclyde and Glasgow – who offer initial teacher education to improve the system. We are bringing the information and decision makers together and we are making progress.

We also need to ensure that prospective student teachers have the information they need. The new Teach in Scotland website developed by the Scottish Government will provide individuals who may be considering a career in teaching with the information they need.

We are very well placed to ensure that, in future, we will have the right number of primary teachers and the right number of secondary teachers in each subject – and, perhaps more crucially, to ensure that we have the right number of teachers in each part of Scotland to meet the educational needs of all our children and young people.

Our commitment to teachers is for the long term.

You are at the beginning of your teaching journey – and, we know that we must continue to support you and others long after you qualify and enter the world of work.

It is four years this month since Graham Donaldson published his report - Teaching Scotland’s Future.

Among other things, the report found that there needed to be wide reaching changes to teacher education.

We have responded positively to the report and are implementing its recommendations. There can be no doubt that we are transforming the support we provide for the profession.

The content of initial teacher education has been changed to ensure that you have the skills, confidence and knowledge to enable you to do the best for our children and young people.

Many of you will already be earning credits at Masters level and we are now providing support to enable teachers to continue to study at a masters level once they are in the workplace.

And, last year, we made a commitment to establish a new Scottish College for Educational Leadership.

The College now has a Chief Executive, a website, and more importantly, a new Fellowship Programme. Leadership is not just about headteachers it is about the leadership that every teacher will be able to demonstrate in their class-room and in their schools. It is for all teachers and this will be reflected in the offer from the College.

Learning is a professional obligation – and we will continue to support our teachers in meeting that obligation.

Many of you here today will be benefiting from a stronger partnership between your universities, local authorities and schools. These partnerships should strengthen and enhance your learning experience as students and probationer teachers.

That type of partnership is important – and, it goes right to the heart of our approach in Scotland. Our approach is to work in partnership with the teaching profession, with the professional associations, local authorities and universities. We trust the professional judgement of our teachers and our focus is on ensuring all parts of the education system work together to deliver our shared ambitions.

We want to encourage more partnership working between our universities and local authorities.

We want more of it too between schools and communities.

And, of course, we want more partnership working between teachers and the parents and carers who contribute towards life of a school.

So, as prospective teachers, there are great opportunities for you get the job you want, to develop your skills and to progress in your careers.

But, in turn, you must bring your skill and enthusiasm to key challenges.

It is our number one priority to raise attainment for all and to close the equity gap

As student teachers, you will be only too aware that education is – and, should always be – a passport to a better place.

Yet, in every local authority area in Scotland, there are children and young people who are not attaining as well they might.

Some of you may well have experienced that first hand.

The gap in attainment between children from low-income and high-income households starts early.

By the age of 5, that gap is 10-13 months.

Moreover, children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds often lack basic skills such as literacy and problem-solving.

These children are more likely to leave school early and without a qualification.

We will not rest until each and every child has the best of chances and the very best of education.

We have already made a start. – more than a start. We have got a very solid foundation from which to work.

This Scottish Government has taken the lead in pioneering work on early years and the whole notion of preventative spend across education, health and criminal justice.

Our Early Years' Collaborative, the Family Nurse Partnership - these are all making a real difference to the life chances of our children.

And so is quality childcare.

We already deliver 16 hours a week of free childcare for all 3 and 4 year olds.

From last October, that entitlement was extended to 27% of 2 year olds as well.

That is more hours of childcare than in any other part of the UK – and, we have set out an ambitious plan to increase childcare provision even further.

Again, we are doing this as an investment in our future – looking at our 15 year olds, it is clear to see those who have had early learning and those who have not.

Last June, my predecessor, Mike Russell, launched the raising attainment for all programme.

That is already involving more than 150 schools and taking a renewed focus to closing the attainment gap.

But, still we must do more.

That’s why:

We will look to Education Scotland to ensure that every learning community in Scotland has access to an attainment adviser – supporting local action to improve attainment.

And, building on the success of the PlayTalkRead campaign in the early years, we will be introducing a new literacy and numeracy campaign - Read, Write, Count which will benefit all children in P1-3, but with a specific focus on schools and parents in our most disadvantaged communities.

Getting literacy and numeracy right in these early years of primary school can help them avoid important gaps in learning as they go through school.

But, more than that, these skills won’t just improve children’s performance in school – they will help improve life chances as well, and have a bearing on the choices they make as adults.

And last month I was pleased to be able to announce a further £1.5 million from our Access to Education Fund to remove barriers to attainment for children and young people in disadvantaged communities. The fund is flexible, pragmatic and can be used from clothes to equipment and coaching and supports our work to ensure that all pupils, regardless of background, have an equal opportunity to succeed.

At Forthview Primary, which I visited last month, I saw for myself how this fund is having a positive impact on reading within the school and among parents and carers too.

We also must continue to draw on the very best practice.

We must look to what is happening internationally – and, yes, to other parts of the UK.

Scotland certainly isn’t alone in having an attainment gap.

Yet, that gap is greater than in most of the developed nations against which we measure ourselves.

Importantly, other nations like Norway - which have very similar policies on inclusion – have much narrower gaps in attainment between rich and poor.

So, we must cast our net wide, and look to and learn from others.

Earlier this month, the First Minister confirmed that we are providing free school lunches for every P1-3 child in Scotland.

Again, that is an investment in our future – and, an important step in raising attainment for all.

Taken together, these measures represent a good start.

However we know that we need to do more - much more - to ensure that all children and young people, regardless of background, have an equal opportunity to succeed.

We will look to you as new teachers to help us make that next stage in our education journey. This is a challenge - but it is a challenge that I am confident you can meet.

Together, we must make the education of all of our children our national priority.

And, we won’t succeed until we all ensure that each and every child has the best of chances and the very best of education. That is an ambition which drives me as a politician, but I also know will drive you as teachers. Let’s work together to deliver that ambition.

Thank you.