Mark McDonald MSP

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Search for other Speeches made by Mark McDonald (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Mark McDonald (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

Would the member at least countenance the possibility that many of Scotland’s schools, particularly those that serve deprived communities, face a range of external forces that are acting against the strong efforts of teachers and educationists and many of which are being driven by the dogmatic agenda of her colleagues at Westminster?



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Mark McDonald

Will the member give way?



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Mark McDonald (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

I represent a constituency of contrasts. Using some of the statistics that are available from Aberdeen City Council, I will outline why that is the case.

I will look first at the indicator of free school meals entitlement, which will very soon be less of a barometer for areas of deprivation as a result of the welcome roll-out of free school meals that the Government will undertake. In Aberdeen city, 15.2 per cent of primary pupils and 10.5 per cent of secondary pupils were registered for free school meals in 2013. In my constituency are the two primary schools in the city that have the highest levels of free school meals entitlement—Bramble Brae primary school at 65.6 per cent and Manor Park primary school at 46.8 per cent. Also in my constituency are the two schools that have the lowest entitlement levels: Danestone primary school at 1 per cent and Kingswells primary school at 0.2 per cent.

For secondary schools, the highest level of entitlement is at Northfield academy at 27.9 per cent, and the lowest level is at Oldmachar academy, at 2 per cent. Also within my constituency is the council ward that has the highest level of child poverty—Northfield council ward at 33 per cent—and the ward with the lowest, which is the Bridge of Don ward at less than 5 per cent.

I represent a constituency of extremes, and those extremes lead to the challenges that I referred to in my intervention on Liz Smith. Fantastic work is being done in many of the schools. I encourage members to visit schools such as Bramble Brae and Manor Park to see the work that is being done daily by teachers and pupils. However, at the same time, external forces are at work that the teachers and the pupils and their families are having to contend with.

The trend in Aberdeen, which mirrors the national trend, is for an increase in the number of pupils who go on to positive destinations when they leave school. The figure was 84.6 per cent in 2007-08 and 91 per cent in 2012-13. However, those figures are not necessarily mirrored in all schools. For example, in Northfield academy, 84.4 per cent of pupils go on to positive destinations, compared to the Scottish average of 91 per cent. Given the deprivation that is experienced in the Northfield community, that demonstrates the strong work that is being done there, but we obviously aspire to a situation in which more young people leave that school to go on to a positive destination.

The Tory motion mentions additional support needs, although we did not hear a huge amount about that in Liz Smith’s opening speech. However, I was interested in Margaret Mitchell’s comments on dyslexia. One organisation that I have met recently, through my involvement with autism, is called Steps to Inclusion. I am not sure whether Margaret Mitchell has met that organisation, which is focused on raising awareness among the teaching profession of autism and dyslexia, which it calls the “hidden disabilities” that can affect pupils’ performance at school. I have raised with the minister in the chamber the prospect of areas such as autism and dyslexia featuring much more strongly in teacher training in order to increase the understanding and awareness that Margaret Mitchell spoke about, and to ensure that the issues are picked up on earlier. That is not necessarily a controversial aspiration or one that need divide the chamber.

On Tuesday morning, I visited Falkland House school in Fife. I was invited to do so as a result of some of the issues that I have raised on autistic spectrum disorder in education. I saw at first hand some excellent work being done at the school to advance the educational attainment of pupils, many of whom were referred there because a mainstream setting was not working for them. Again, I recommend that members visit the school. The school says that it is always happy to receive visits from members of the Scottish Parliament, and I was told about some of the members who have visited previously—I saw a photo on the wall of the cabinet secretary with some of the pupils. The school is more than happy to show members round and to show some of the fantastic work that it does.

In my area, the local council has launched a review of inclusion, the outcome of which is awaited. I will meet the council later this week to discuss the findings of the review, and the implications for additional support needs education in the city of Aberdeen.

Another group that merits a mention is care leavers. Many members will have met Alex and Ashley in the garden lobby and got their care leavers tartan ribbon. The Scottish Government has worked in partnership with Who Cares? Scotland to improve and enhance the rights of children in care and care leavers, which will play a huge part in increasing the number of young people who go on to positive destinations.

I wanted to say a little more about inequality, but I see that I am running out of time. One thing that I found disappointing is that although Liz Smith, in response to the minister, dissociated herself from herself, which was welcome, she then spoke about failing schools. However, I am willing to bet that she could not name a single one. I hear a soundbite that has no substance.



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Mark McDonald

Soundbites without substance are very dangerous, because they can lead to the stigma that Kevin Stewart talked about, which can be corrosive to the morale in a school and a community when people perceive that their school is being singled out.



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Mark McDonald

I say to the Tories that they should think carefully about the language that they bandy about in the chamber and the effects that it will have outside it.

15:54  

Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Mark McDonald

Many universities, colleges and private organisations develop partnerships with schools. Often, such partnerships tend to be developed in more middle to upper-class areas rather than in deprived communities. Perhaps we should encourage more links with schools in deprived areas.



Meeting of the Parliament 28 October 2014 : Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Mark McDonald (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

Will the member give way?



Meeting of the Parliament 28 October 2014 : Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Mark McDonald

Will the member give way?



Meeting of the Parliament 28 October 2014 : Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Mark McDonald (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

It has been an interesting debate. I take on board the point that Stewart Stevenson made. Someone who has been a strong influence on my interest in mental health issues is a former council colleague, Councillor Jim Kiddie, who is the representative for Torry and Ferryhill on Aberdeen City Council. Jim has spoken openly, in the council chamber and at SNP conferences, about his own mental health problems. He has been a fantastic champion of issues related to mental health and has inspired those of us who take an interest in such issues. I also recognise Stewart Stevenson’s point that one in four of us will likely experience a mental health problem at some stage in our life, which emphasises further his point about those in our social and family networks.

I am always struck by the stigma issue—the fact that, to this day, nine out of 10 people report that they feel that there is a stigma attached to their revealing a mental health condition, whether in work, in education, among healthcare professionals or in their home life. A cartoon that is shared on social media compares how things would be if we treated physical health as we treat mental health in society. Someone is asked, “Have you tried not having a broken arm?” or is told, “Maybe you should try cheering up a bit, and that will stop the bleeding.” Those are the realms that we would be in if we spoke about physical health as we often speak about mental health.

It is worth noting that Halloween is just around the corner. Halloween is one of those times when, it is fair to say, mental ill health is at its most misrepresented. Who could forget the controversy that was created just the other year when some major supermarket chains had to withdraw very inappropriate “mental patient” costumes that were designed to perpetuate, in some ways, the stigma that people with mental health conditions are dangerous? It is almost without foundation, but the idea continues to be perpetuated by some elements of the media that if people have a mental health condition they somehow become dangerous.

As well as focusing on treating mental health by recognising the needs of the individual, we need to look beyond that to future treatments that could be realised. While flicking through the news earlier in the year, I discovered that research undertaken at the University of Aberdeen has identified a potential genetic mutation of the ULK4 gene that could be linked to schizophrenia. The academics behind that at the university’s medical sciences department have said that, although more work needs to be done, they are encouraged by the work that they have done, which could enhance understanding of how schizophrenia takes form in those individuals who are affected by it. The identification of genetic mutations and genetic markers offers the potential to inform future treatments for the condition.

It is important that we recognise the work that is being done by many organisations across Scotland to raise awareness of mental health and to tackle stigma, but we must also recognise the work that is being done across the country by our dedicated medical professionals and researchers to get to the bottom of how conditions such as schizophrenia take form and to work on future treatments that can help to tackle those conditions at a much earlier stage.

18:11  

Local Government and Regeneration Committee 27 October 2014 : Monday, October 27, 2014
Mark McDonald (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

Mr Coulter touched on a point that I wanted to raise. The third sector comprises a multitude of organisations, which range from charities that have large amounts of money in reserve to small organisations that can be one or two-person operations. Do you envisage the role of third sector interfaces as being to provide support to much smaller third sector organisations, which might not have the human and financial resources to enable them to take forward opportunities that the bill will open up for them?

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

 
Not VotedDefeated

 
Not VotedDefeated

 
Not VotedCarried

S4M-11304.3 Michael Russell: Addressing the Attainment Gap in Scottish Schools—As an amendment to mo
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YesCarried

S4M-11304 Liz Smith: Addressing the Attainment Gap in Scottish Schools—That the Parliament believes
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YesCarried

S4M-11123 Joe FitzPatrick on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau: Business Motion—That the Parliament
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YesCarried

S4M-11114.2 Kenny MacAskill: Policing—As an amendment to motion S4M-11114 in the name of Graeme Pear
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-11114 Graeme Pearson: Policing—That the Parliament acknowledges that policing in Scotland contin
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YesCarried

S4M-11116.1.1 Patrick Harvie: Scotland’s Future—As an amendment to amendment S4M-11116.1 in the name
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YesCarried

S4M-11116.1 Nicola Sturgeon: Scotland’s Future—As an amendment to motion S4M-11116 in the name of Jo
>> Show more
YesCarried

Search for other Motions lodged by Mark McDonald
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-11298: Mark McDonald, Aberdeen Donside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 24/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11184: Mark McDonald, Aberdeen Donside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 10/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11183: Mark McDonald, Aberdeen Donside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 10/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11182: Mark McDonald, Aberdeen Donside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 10/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11181: Mark McDonald, Aberdeen Donside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 10/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11111: Mark McDonald, Aberdeen Donside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 06/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11110: Mark McDonald, Aberdeen Donside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 06/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11109: Mark McDonald, Aberdeen Donside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 06/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11108: Mark McDonald, Aberdeen Donside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 06/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11090: Mark McDonald, Aberdeen Donside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 02/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Mark McDonald
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4O-03653: Mark McDonald, Aberdeen Donside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22810: Mark McDonald, Aberdeen Donside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 09/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22811: Mark McDonald, Aberdeen Donside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 09/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22812: Mark McDonald, Aberdeen Donside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 09/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22813: Mark McDonald, Aberdeen Donside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 09/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03578: Mark McDonald, Aberdeen Donside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 30/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03500: Mark McDonald, Aberdeen Donside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 12/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03466: Mark McDonald, Aberdeen Donside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 06/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-21891: Mark McDonald, Aberdeen Donside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 24/06/2014 Show Full Question >>

Scottish Government actions, following the business rates consultation with progress summary

Scottish Government business rates consultation outcomes

Progress summary

  1. We will write, in 2013, to every business in Scotland based in a property that me be entitled to the Small Business Bonus scheme to highlight that they may benefit.

In November 2013 Minister for Energy Enterprise and Tourism Fergus Ewing wrote to every business in Scotland that may be entitled, but was not claiming.

  1. We will work with stakeholders to ensure there is a more consistent approach across Scotland.

On-going, a working group has been set up with Scottish Government officials, council officials and COSLA to produce non-statutory guidance to rates reliefs.

  1. We will review rates relief application processes to ensure they are simple, transparent and streamlined.

On-going.

  1. We will undertake a review of the recent changes to empty property relief in 2015.

To be carried out in 2015.

  1. All rates reliefs will be kept under regular review to ensure that benefit is directed where it is most needed.

On-going. Actions already taken include the expansion of Fresh Start relief to include higher rateable value properties and previously empty hotels, restaurants and pubs and the expansion of the Small Business Bonus Scheme to include an estimated additional 4,000 properties, both came into force in April 2014. In addition, payday lenders will no longer be entitled to rates relief in Scotland from April 2014.

  1. All current exemptions provided, including to some key sectors such as agriculture, will be retained.

All current exemptions have been

retained.

  1. The Scottish Government will create a power to allow local councils to respond better to local need and create their own localised relief schemes.

The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill was laid before Parliament on 11 June 2014. This includes a power to allow councils to create their own localized business rates relief schemes. There is no equivalent power to levy supplements.

  1. We will continue the Small Business Bonus Scheme until 2016 and consider which relief thresholds can be established on a longer term basis ahead of the 2017 review.

Legislation was laid and came into force on 1 April 2014 to allow for the SBBS to run for 2 years (for lifetime of current Scottish Parliament).

  1. The way all current reliefs are funded will be maintained.

Funding of all current reliefs has been

maintained

  1. The way that relief to different sectors is recorded will be maintained.

Recording of relief to different sectors

has been maintained.

  1. The Scottish Government will consult on transitional relief ahead of the next revaluation in 2017.

Consultation planned to take place

closer to 2017 revaluation date.

  1. New rateable values will be made available to ratepayers as far in advance of the 2017 revaluation as possible.

Work on-going, officials working jointly with the Scottish Assessors.

  1. A separate review of the appeals system will begin in 2014, concluding in time for the next revaluation in 2017.

Currently engaging with stakeholders to help inform the review.

  1. We will work jointly with others to ensure businesses have access to clear, concise information about valuations, rateable values, rates bills and reliefs.

New business portal website and rates bill calculator launched in 2013.

Where there are further opportunities identified to provide clear, concise information on business rates, these will be considered.

  1. We will take all possible measures to prevent tax avoidance and ensure rates are paid.

On-going.

  1. Where possible, loopholes and avoidance tactics will be closed.

On-going.

  1. Powers for debt recovery will be strengthened and streamlined.

On-going.

  1. The current property based tax system will be retained.

No change to current property based

tax.

  1. The Scottish Government confirms that the next rates revaluation will take effect on 1 April 2017.

The next rates revaluation will take

effect on 1 April 2017.

  1. The national poundage will continue to be set at the same level as in England. There will be no new local poundage supplements.

Confirmed in setting the 2014-15 poundage. A 2% poundage cap (with poundage set at 47.1p) confirmed for 2014-15.


Current Status: Answered by Derek Mackay on 25/06/2014
Question S4O-03375: Mark McDonald, Aberdeen Donside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 10/06/2014 Show Full Question >>

Further information

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