Alasdair Allan MSP

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Alasdair Allan MSP

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  • Member for: Na h-Eileanan an Iar
  • Region: Highlands and Islands
  • Party: Scottish National Party

Alasdair is a member of the following Committees:

Alasdair is a member of the following Cross-Party Groups:

Parliamentary Activities

Search for other Speeches made by The Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages (Dr Alasdair Allan)

Meeting of the Parliament 25 February 2015 : Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Dr Allan

I am not quite sure whether Mary Scanlon heard me, but I mentioned the figures for full-time equivalents. Before she interrupts me, I note that full-time equivalents are generally regarded in the industrial sector as the most important measure, and there have been increases in the numbers of full-time equivalent students doing science subjects on our watch.



Meeting of the Parliament 25 February 2015 : Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Dr Allan

In that case, I am happy to say by way of conclusion that science is at the very heart of Scotland’s economy, and it is at the heart of our education system. Yes, there are challenges—as I think we have all agreed—but there are sound and verifiable reasons for saying that schools around Scotland share the view that science is growing in importance, it is flourishing in our schools and it is something for us to celebrate.

16:51  

Meeting of the Parliament 25 February 2015 : Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Dr Allan

As I mentioned, correspondence on those issues is already under way with the learned societies.

I turn briefly to a point that Christian Allard and others raised. I do not want to set up any kind of competition between the case for languages and the case for science or, indeed, other areas of our curriculum. However, the fact that members raised those issues points to the fact that we have to be careful about prescribing the highers that people who are interested in becoming primary teachers take, to the point at which they have no choice about what highers they do. There are competing claims that we have to handle carefully.

Liz Smith made a number of reasonable points about many of the issues on which I have touched. The Government is open to learning from good practice where we see it, whether it is in London or Ontario. Ms Smith also mentioned Teach First, which has been in contact with the Scottish Government. We have indicated to it that we are willing to hear any proposal that it has for Scotland, subject to the fact that, as I said earlier, Scotland has a tradition—strongly emphasised by the GTCS—such that somebody who wants to be a teacher here has to be a qualified teacher. We await any response from Teach First to see whether it has a proposal that it wishes to make for Scotland.

On George Adam’s speech, I have to confess that we were having a sweepstake on the front benches: it took 34 seconds for him to mention his constituency—commendably—on this particular occasion. He rightly mentioned the achievements of the university sector; it is worth commenting that the number of entrants into university first degrees in STEM subjects is up 13 per cent this year.

Malcolm Chisholm rightly mentioned colleges. Again, the statistics are encouraging and significant: compared with 2006-07, there are currently 801 more full-time equivalent science and maths students in our college sector.

I want to say, by way of conclusion—or do you wish me to continue for a time, Presiding Officer?



Meeting of the Parliament 25 February 2015 : Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Dr Allan

It is traditional to say at this point that the debate has been positive. To a large extent, that comment is justified; it has been a useful debate.

I suspect that Mr Gray wrote his comments about there being a tone of “smug self-satisfaction” before he had listened to the tone of what I and many others had to say. We agree about many of the areas in which work needs to take place and improvements need to be made. For instance, we have all agreed on the need to encourage more people into teaching computer science, and we agree about the importance of the work agenda, and of developing it further and giving primary teachers confidence to deal with science.

A theme that recurred again and again—perhaps rightly—was the need to ensure that young women are attracted into science both as an area of study and as a career. Another theme, which Elaine Murray and Mark Griffin mentioned, has been the need for us to close the attainment gap in science, as for other areas. That is something to which the First Minister has indicated her strong commitment.

It is also worth mentioning—I will do it only briefly—the good practice that exists and which I see in schools when I visit science activities throughout the country. East Ayrshire Council, for instance, has opted into Primary Engineer’s programme, which is supported by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers; Aberdeen City Council has made science a priority area in its primary schools; and pathfinder activity to deliver foundation apprenticeships in Fife began in August 2014 with support from Skills Development Scotland. Many things are happening.

On the areas that need attention, a great number of speakers referred to the welcome contribution from the Royal Society of Chemistry and other learned societies—in particular, their focus on how we can support primary schools. We know that STEM in the primary school sector can be further developed and that teachers need support to help them to build their confidence. I have been corresponding with Clare Viney, who is the executive director of the Royal Society of Chemistry, on those issues and on engaging with the society’s campaign. My officials are working to agree a suitable meeting date with the RSC.

Although we have no plans to require a move away from the generalist tradition in our primary education sector, I am alive to the points that have been made about giving primary teachers the confidence and capacity to teach science.



Meeting of the Parliament 25 February 2015 : Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Dr Allan

I am sure that the member appreciates the difficulty of comparing one exam system with another, given the changes that have been made at that level in education, and that he appreciates that many people who do not choose to take a science subject in fourth year will do so in fifth year.



Meeting of the Parliament 25 February 2015 : Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Dr Allan

In that case, I will conclude by making it clear that we can agree to work together on many areas, and not least on an issue that is important to the Government: encouraging women to enter science professions and ensuring that the number of women in those professions increases.

We are not complacent about the challenges and recognise that issues need to be addressed. That is what we are doing. We are supporting primary and secondary teachers and are looking to find solutions to the many challenges of recruitment. That is what people would expect any competent and sensitive Government to do, and it is exactly what we are doing.

I move amendment S4M-12385.3, to leave out from “demands” to end and insert:

“agrees that a solid grounding in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education delivered by high-quality teachers is essential in equipping all young people with the knowledge and skills to successfully contribute to the economy and 21st century society; notes that high numbers of young people choose to take science and maths qualifications, in particular at school, and congratulates those young people, their teachers and their schools for their hard work and their achievement across the STEM subjects; agrees that both young women and young men should be encouraged to aspire to and work toward the full range of rewarding careers on offer in the STEM sectors; notes the considerable investment and commitment that local authorities and the Scottish Government have made to support STEM education in schools; recognises the government’s commitment to raising educational attainment and tackling educational inequity as evidenced through the announcement of the Scottish Attainment Challenge and that STEM subjects are at the heart of the government’s approach to developing Scotland’s young workforce; agrees that Scotland’s young people deserve the very best teachers and supports the work of the General Teaching Council for Scotland and others in enhancing the quality and professionalism of teachers in Scotland, and calls on all members to support the commitment to a masters level qualification for head teachers in Scotland announced this week.”

16:11  

Meeting of the Parliament 25 February 2015 : Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Dr Allan

I am glad that the member acknowledges that there are links between teacher numbers and the experience of young people in learning. I certainly acknowledge that there is an issue in some subjects, not least computing science, which has been mentioned. I accept that the number of teachers of computing science has reduced, but efforts are under way to deal with that. For instance, I am pleased to note that the Government-chaired teacher workforce planning working group met this morning to discuss, among other things, that very subject. I am also pleased that the targets that we are setting for a number of the subjects in question, not least computing science, will move upwards every year; I certainly plan for them to do that.

The qualifications front is very important and, as has been mentioned, maths, physics, chemistry and biology are among the six most popular national 5 and higher qualifications for which pupils sat exams in 2014. In comparison with 2006, the number of pupils who took higher biology in 2014 increased by 14.2 per cent, and the number of pupils who took highers in maths, physics and chemistry increased by 17 per cent, 18 per cent and 24 per cent respectively.

I suggest that the on-going enthusiasm for and positive interest in science and maths in schools have been influenced by the considerable investment—in what I am sure that Ms Smith will acknowledge has been a very challenging fiscal period—that local authorities and the Government have worked together to make to allow the STEM subjects to flourish in schools. There has been such co-operation on investment not only in learning and curriculum support but in the quality of our teachers and of our school buildings and infrastructure. It is worth saying that the £1.8 billion schools for the future programme demonstrates our commitment and will ensure that we have science facilities in our new schools that are fit environments in which to learn in the 21st century.

Arguably, the most important thing is the quality of our teachers. We are committed to having the right number and quality of teachers in our schools. That is why we have just secured the commitment of each of Scotland’s local authorities to maintaining teacher numbers over the coming year. We have added £10 million to the £41 million that is already included in the local government settlement explicitly for maintaining teacher numbers.

Ms Smith mentioned the General Teaching Council for Scotland, and I appreciate her knowledge of that body. It is worth making it clear that, as an independent body, it makes its own rules, but I understand that it is alive to the need to make sure that we deal with hotspots around the country, where there is a need to ensure that teachers come into the system. However, on the basis of what the GTCS has said until now, I would be very surprised—I am not in any way prejudging what it decides—if it were to be flexible to the point that it was enthusiastic about anyone who was not a qualified teacher becoming a teacher in a Scottish school. I appreciate that the member was not suggesting that, but some voices elsewhere in the country have taken that line.

Last year, we founded the Scottish College for Educational Leadership and, earlier this week, we announced that from 2018-19 the new masters qualification for headship will become a mandatory requirement for new headteachers.

I accept that there are challenges. We recognise that STEM subject teacher numbers have faced challenges in recent years and, as I mentioned, we are taking steps to address that through the targets that we have set.



Meeting of the Parliament 25 February 2015 : Wednesday, February 25, 2015
The Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages (Dr Alasdair Allan)

As Liz Smith knows, the debate in some ways follows a members’ business debate five weeks ago in which a not dissimilar motion that Iain Gray lodged was discussed. That debate raised issues on science and schools that I am sure we will speak about today.

As Liz Smith mentioned, we can agree across the parties on many areas. However, I am sure that she will not be entirely surprised to hear that I disagree with some of the premises in her motion, which is why we will seek to amend it.

As our amendment makes clear, the Government agrees that all young people need a solid grounding in STEM education. That grounding starts in primary 1 and builds progressively through primary school. The science, technologies and maths experiences and outcomes of curriculum for excellence are making learning more exciting, relevant and fun for all pupils.

In secondary school, learning and teaching continue through the broad general education to the end of secondary 3. We know that, particularly at the secondary stages, STEM subject specialists are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their subject areas.

All that grounding is ensuring not only that record numbers of young people are taking science, technologies and maths subjects, as has been mentioned, but that the education system is contributing to ensuring that we have a more scientifically literate population.



Meeting of the Parliament 05 February 2015 : Thursday, February 05, 2015
Dr Allan

I do not think that there will be any disagreement between the member and me about the importance of closing that attainment gap. One of the central aims of curriculum for excellence, and indeed of the Government, is to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to succeed and to fulfil their potential. Schools are always measuring their progress on closing the gap.

I have been in conversations with Education Scotland on the role of school inspections in this area, and there are many other activities. For instance, insight, the benchmarking tool, allows schools to make meaningful comparisons with one another of what they are doing to ensure that their policies and ours are all centred on closing the attainment gap wherever it exists.



Meeting of the Parliament 05 February 2015 : Thursday, February 05, 2015
The Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages (Dr Alasdair Allan)

We are committed to improving outcomes for all children and young people. In order to raise attainment, it is important to be able to demonstrate success and identify challenges so that we understand where improvements need to be made. That is why, in schools, teachers already gather evidence on pupils’ progress across a range of learning and why the Scottish Government and local authorities always look at good practice wherever we find it.

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-12521.2 Jackie Baillie: Protecting Public Services and Boosting Scotland’s Economy—As an amendme
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NoDefeated

S4M-12521.1 Gavin Brown: Protecting Public Services and Boosting Scotland’s Economy—As an amendment
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-12521.3 Willie Rennie: Protecting Public Services and Boosting Scotland’s Economy—As an amendmen
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-12521 John Swinney: Protecting Public Services and Boosting Scotland’s Economy—That the Parliame
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YesCarried

S4M-12495 Joe FitzPatrick on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau: Business Motion—That the Parliament
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YesCarried

S4M-12491.2 John Swinney: Privacy and the State—As an amendment to motion S4M-12491 in the name of W
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-12491.1 Richard Simpson: Privacy and the State—As an amendment to motion S4M-12491 in the name o
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-12491 Willie Rennie: Privacy and the State—That the Parliament notes the Scottish Government’s c
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-12492.2 Jamie Hepburn: Mental Health—As an amendment to motion S4M-12492 in the name of Jim Hume
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-12492 Jim Hume: Mental Health—That the Parliament notes that one in four people will experience
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YesCarried

Search for other Motions lodged by Alasdair Allan
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-12385.3: Alasdair Allan, Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 24/02/2015 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09963: Alasdair Allan, Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 06/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09140.2: Alasdair Allan, Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 25/02/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-06643: Alasdair Allan, Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 20/05/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-05154: Alasdair Allan, Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 10/12/2012 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-04313: Alasdair Allan, Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 01/10/2012 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-03004: Alasdair Allan, Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 22/05/2012 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-00959: Alasdair Allan, Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 27/09/2011 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S3M-08121: Alasdair Allan, Western Isles, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 09/03/2011 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S3M-07960: Alasdair Allan, Western Isles, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 17/02/2011 Show Full Motion >>
This Member currently holds a ministerial post. First Minister and Ministers cannot ask the Government questions which is why no recent questions are displaying here. Please use the full search to find details of previous questions by this Member.
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4W-00084: Alasdair Allan, Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 17/05/2011 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-00037: Alasdair Allan, Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 16/05/2011 Show Full Question >>
Question S3O-13444: Alasdair Allan, Western Isles, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 22/03/2011 Show Full Question >>
Question S3W-40450: Alasdair Allan, Western Isles, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 08/03/2011 Show Full Question >>
Question S3W-40318: Alasdair Allan, Western Isles, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 07/03/2011 Show Full Question >>
Question S3W-38093: Alasdair Allan, Western Isles, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 06/12/2010 Show Full Question >>
Question S3W-37604: Alasdair Allan, Western Isles, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 17/11/2010 Show Full Question >>
Question S3O-10498: Alasdair Allan, Western Isles, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 13/05/2010 Show Full Question >>
Question S3W-32754: Alasdair Allan, Western Isles, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 25/03/2010 Show Full Question >>
Question S3W-32185: Alasdair Allan, Western Isles, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 04/03/2010 Show Full Question >>