Liz Smith MSP

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Liz Smith MSP

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Parliamentary Activities

Member of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body

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Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
6. Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will investigate tax breaks for sports clubs. (S4O-03606)



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Liz Smith

The cabinet secretary will know that the Parliament has had several debates on the legacy of the Commonwealth games and the Ryder cup, and that some of those debates focused on the financial benefit legacy that can be left, particularly to some of our smaller sports clubs, which often find it difficult to survive. I note what the cabinet secretary says about some of the advantages—she spelled that out—but what facility does the Scottish Government have to allow those sports clubs to know which benefits they can take advantage of?



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

The parties in this Parliament frequently disagree on education policy, no doubt partly because different principles underpin our respective party manifestos but all too often because we find it difficult to agree on the nature or extent of a problem.

The amendments to the motion make it clear that during today’s debate we will argue again about policy. However, having read a great deal about what the other parties have had to say on the issue over a considerable period, I do not think that any of us will have too much difficulty in acknowledging the full nature and extent of the problem and in accepting the stark evidence that lays bare the differences in attainment between different schools and communities.

For the moment, I will deal with attainment, rather than achievement. The headline statistic shows a small improvement in overall attainment in Scotland over the past two academic years, but that masks the true picture for far too many young people. As Ruth Davidson said in her recent conference speech, when she spelled out Conservative education policy, fewer than 20 per cent of pupils from the most deprived areas are attaining five standard grade credit passes, while 60 per cent of their peers from more affluent communities are managing to do so.

In a number of local authorities, a pupil from a disadvantaged area is four to five times less likely to attain such qualifications than a pupil from a more affluent home. I am happy to give way to the minister.



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Liz Smith

I completely dissociate myself; I did not say that.



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Liz Smith

That is for the newspaper to answer; I did not say that, cabinet secretary—and you will see from my speech that I completely dissociate myself from that statement, as I do from several other bland statements that do not go to the root of the problem.

The attainment gap is important in the context of the earliest years, which are mentioned in the Labour amendment. It is no surprise that, by the time pupils come to study for their higher grades, only one in 10 attains at least three A grades. Worse still, only 2.9 per cent of disadvantaged pupils, as opposed to 20 per cent of pupils from better-off families, manage to do that. That means that someone is seven times more likely to do well in their highers if they are born into a more affluent family.

In Edinburgh, which is supposedly an area that often boasts better results, only 1.1 per cent of pupils from the poorest 20 per cent of households attain three As or more—that is precisely six pupils. That exposes that there is a gap not just between children in different local authority areas but between children who might live just a few streets apart.

That is a bleak picture. No one, whether they are a Conservative, a nationalist, a Liberal or a socialist, can deny those findings or the deep-rooted unfairness that accompanies them. In short, far too many of our young people attend schools that, year on year, do not perform as well as they should do.

The chamber knows only too well that I am not a fan of having too many league tables, but I believe in the important ones. I also believe in the ones that measure a school against its own successes and failures, as those often provide the greatest accuracy when it comes to making comparisons. I recognise what the cabinet secretary has said in the past about the self-improving schools pathfinder, which can be extremely important.

I also believe in the need to be brutally honest. In March 2013, the cabinet secretary told BBC Radio Scotland’s “Good Morning Scotland” programme that Scotland does not have “failing schools”. The phrase “failing schools” might not be fashionable or sit easily with the educational parlance these days, which seems always to tend towards mollification of a problem, but I think that it is time to acknowledge that a few schools in Scotland—and a few departments within some schools—are failing to deliver the results that they should be delivering.



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Liz Smith

Of course, I accept that poverty is a serious problem—who could not do that? Let us be absolutely clear about the issue that poverty presents for some communities, but let us not pretend that there are not some schools that are not delivering the results that they should be delivering. The statistics over a long period of time show that the results that we are getting for some of our children are not as good as they ought to be.

The cabinet secretary’s amendment says that we are performing very well against our international competitors. We are performing quite well, but we are not doing as well as we ought to be doing. If we look at the statistics that can be measured over a long period of time, it becomes crystal clear that we are not performing as well as we should be. People such as Keir Bloomer, Lindsay Paterson and Peter Downes have serious concerns because this is the very moment when we need to deliver competitive advantage. Why has the Scottish Government decided to take us out of some of the measurements, whether the progress in international reading literacy study—PIRLS—or the trends in international mathematics and science study—TIMSS? They give us first-class information about how well we are doing.

If I felt that the other parties in the chamber had the policies to deliver the change that will provide the benefit to our disadvantaged children, perhaps I could accept their amendments, but I do not. The statistical fact of the matter is that too many schools are not delivering the results that they ought to be delivering. What do we have to do about that? I think that we have to be brutally honest, and that starts with addressing the poverty issue.

The Conservative Party and the Liberals have been heavily targeted about the problems of poverty, but the Scottish Government has today released some information about how well the economy is starting to do. Just a little while ago, when she was putting together “Child Poverty Strategy for Scotland: Our Approach 2014-2017”, Nicola Sturgeon said:

“Much has changed since 2011 and the latest published figures show decreases in the numbers of children living in poverty.”

Today’s statistics show that there has been a substantial fall in the number of children in workless families. Therefore, to ensure that we do not have as much poverty as we currently have, we must target economic growth. We have to benefit the companies and people who can offer skills in a way that enables them to deliver jobs—not just highly skilled jobs, but an upskilling right across the economy. There are some positive signs of that.

I fully admit that poverty is a difficult issue, but we on this side of the chamber are not going to accept that it is the problem. I absolutely refute any suggestion that the Conservatives are comfortable with poverty—we are not. That is why we are standing up and being brutally honest about the problem.



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Liz Smith

I will not at this stage.

The second issue is that we need a complete change in structure. I have in front of me some interesting comments made by the cabinet secretary. He said:

“education is a field in which we have traditionally excelled but which in recent years, with the removal of a competitive environment and a weakening of a national as well as an individual striving for excellence we have slipped down the ranks.”

“Many commentators have noted the success in Sweden of education vouchers and a debate about their utility in Scotland would be instructive... The consumer ... would be able to choose the best facilities for their particular needs.”

He also said:

“Choice and diversity are the hallmarks of a mature and confident society”.

Cabinet secretary, that could be a Conservative Party manifesto. Why is it as cabinet secretary that you will not be able to address some of those principles? We need diversity; we need a system that offers far greater opportunity for youngsters.

On the back of that, I want to talk about the Wood commission. I fundamentally believe that Sir Ian Wood is trying to deliver an awful lot of that. He wants diversity and the best for every child. He is saying to us that, for some children who are not going to be fully motivated in school, there must be other opportunities.

The real problem is that schools are accountable to local and national Government. They are not accountable as they should be to parents, to pupils and to teachers. That must change. The cabinet secretary cannot deny that he spoke about that issue when he wrote his book “Grasping the Thistle”.



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Liz Smith

I will in just a minute.

It is so important that we take on board the ideas of diversity and choice, and look around the world at the countries that have been doing well in their school education. It is those countries that have had that diversity and choice.



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Liz Smith

No, I do not accept that and I will tell you why. I have been looking at some of the inspection reports for schools across some of our weaker schools in Dundee, Edinburgh, Perth and Glasgow. The reports make for very interesting reading about how the schools have managed to turn round their attainment levels as a result of top-class leadership and a much greater engagement of parents—parents who have said that they want to have greater diversity in their school systems—and also a back-to-basics strategy in literacy and numeracy. My colleagues Margaret Mitchell and Murdo Fraser will say a bit more about that.

The reports tell a very important story. However, they tell the same story that people such as Peter Peacock, when he was the Minister for Education and Young People, described when he was looking at how individual headteachers and their creative diversity had to be part of reducing the attainment gap. However, to be truly successful, we have to change the system.

We have a one-size-fits-all system. That is a matter that the cabinet secretary addressed when he wrote his book, stating that

“the one-size-fits-all approach does not work”.

Therefore, I would be interested to hear when he delivers his speech what has changed that will not allow that policy just now. The issue is about accountability; it is about how well we offer the educational experience to our young children.

I do not believe for a minute that any of us in the chamber will walk away from the problem, but we must be absolutely honest about the scale of it. The fact that the issue has lasted for a long time and that we have been, in Keir Bloomer’s words, complacent and self-congratulatory about it means that we must accept that there is a significant problem for too many of our disadvantaged young people who are not getting the best opportunity to do well.

I will finish on that point, because it is the most important. I think—I hope—that we can agree on the nature and the extent of the statistics that define the attainment gap, but we will probably remain wholly divided about which policy will fix the problem.

By their reaction this afternoon and their amendments, the other parties clearly do not like our ideas. To them I say this: where have your policies got us so far? Where is the evidence that Scotland has regained her world-leading place in school education? Where is the evidence that if someone comes from the least well off communities they stand as good a chance as anyone from the more affluent areas? That evidence does not exist. It is time to stand up and be counted. This party has the courage of its convictions to take that problem head-on.

I move,

That the Parliament believes that the greatest challenge facing Scottish education is the existence of the significant pupil attainment gap between different schools and different communities; considers that this leads directly to an unacceptably high number of youngsters from deprived backgrounds who do not participate in further or higher education, employment or training; believes that, as well as economic policies to address unemployment and poverty, educational policy should focus on removing the barriers that prevent too many young people in Scotland from obtaining better academic results and the ability of Scotland’s schools to compare more strongly when measured against all aspects of international standards, and believes that policies to achieve this outcome should specifically focus on delivering maximum parental choice, greater diversity in schools, strong leadership in a school system that provides full autonomy for headteachers and a renewed emphasis on improving basic skills in literacy and numeracy and greater support for those pupils with additional support needs.



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Liz Smith

Will the cabinet secretary give way?

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-11332.2 Jenny Marra: Supported Business—As an amendment to motion S4M-11332 in the name of Fergu
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NoDefeated

S4M-11332.1 Gavin Brown: Supported Business—As an amendment to motion S4M-11332 in the name of Fergu
>> Show more
YesDefeated

S4M-11332 Fergus Ewing: Supported Business—That the Parliament recognises the economic and social va
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-11304.3 Michael Russell: Addressing the Attainment Gap in Scottish Schools—As an amendment to mo
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-11304 Liz Smith: Addressing the Attainment Gap in Scottish Schools—That the Parliament believes
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-11123 Joe FitzPatrick on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau: Business Motion—That the Parliament
>> Show more
NoCarried

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

S4M-11114 Graeme Pearson: Policing—That the Parliament acknowledges that policing in Scotland contin
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-11116.1.1 Patrick Harvie: Scotland’s Future—As an amendment to amendment S4M-11116.1 in the name
>> Show more
NoCarried

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

Search for other Motions lodged by Liz Smith
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-11304: Liz Smith, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 27/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10857: Liz Smith, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 21/08/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10736.1: Liz Smith, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 06/08/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09947: Liz Smith, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 06/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10147.1: Liz Smith, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 28/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09963.1: Liz Smith, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 07/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09482.3: Liz Smith, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 26/03/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09140.1: Liz Smith, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 25/02/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-08879.1: Liz Smith, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 29/01/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-08814: Liz Smith, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 21/01/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Liz Smith
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4O-03606: Liz Smith, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 20/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22716: Liz Smith, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 03/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22715: Liz Smith, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 03/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22712: Liz Smith, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 03/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22713: Liz Smith, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 03/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22720: Liz Smith, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 03/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03533: Liz Smith, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 15/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4F-02248: Liz Smith, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 11/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22291: Liz Smith, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 07/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22264: Liz Smith, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 05/08/2014 Show Full Question >>

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