Mark Griffin MSP

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Meeting of the Parliament 25 February 2015 : Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

This afternoon, we have heard a lot about the provision of STEM education in schools. However, for me, the key point was made by Liz Smith in her opening speech, when she spoke of the expectation that by 2030 more than 7 million jobs in the UK will depend on science skills. Those science jobs are exactly what we need—high quality, highly skilled and highly paid employment. By 2030, the four and five-year-olds who are starting primary school this summer will already be in work or possibly in the final years of university. If current spending levels continue, the same cohort of pupils with the same academic aptitude for science in England will have enjoyed more than 10 years of state education with 80 per cent more in primary school and 27 per cent more in secondary school having been spent on science equipment, according to the recently published report by the learned societies group. Issues about the sample size of that study have been raised, but if the Government criticises the findings of the study, it has an obligation to expand on the work and do some investigation of its own.

The issue of science equipment has already been raised in Parliament, but we must also address the issue of science technicians and support staff. I have recently submitted a freedom of information request to all 32 local authorities on science technician numbers and have received responses from 25 so far. There has been an overall drop in the numbers of science technicians, with one authority having cut technician staff by more than 50 per cent. Those are the staff who maintain or repair what little practical science equipment our schools have. They are the people who set up the science labs and the complex experiments, which teaching staff just do not have time to do. It is hard to see that those numbers will do anything but go down as budget cuts to local authorities continue to bite.

Issues in schools and local authorities concerning computer science were recently flagged up to the Education and Culture Committee. Many high schools do not have a computing science teacher who can start developing the coders, programmers and software developers of the future, and some local authorities seem to confuse the teaching of computer literacy skills with computer science skills. That mixes up the facts when it comes to exactly how many computer science teachers we have in our schools.

Finally, there is the issue of educational inequality. By 2030, 7 million jobs in the UK will depend on science skills. However, unless the attainment gap is tackled, thousands of young people in deprived communities will never achieve their full potential to access those jobs. We have welcomed the Scottish attainment fund but would like to see more being done in that regard. Using the additional revenues from our new 50p top rate of tax, which would redistribute resources from those who can afford it to those who need it most, we would invest an additional £25 million a year, over and above the Government’s proposals, to tackle educational disadvantage and ensure that the pupils who face the greatest educational challenges have the opportunity to achieve the qualifications that they need for careers in science, maths, engineering or technology. I challenge the Government to back our ambition and to support us through an increased fund to tackle issues around educational attainment.

16:45  

Meeting of the Parliament 19 February 2015 : Thursday, February 19, 2015
Mark Griffin

We should also look at that matter to increase turnout.

With that point made, I thank the Presiding Officer for his patience and thank Patrick Harvie for bringing the debate to the chamber.

12:51  

Meeting of the Parliament 19 February 2015 : Thursday, February 19, 2015
Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I congratulate Patrick Harvie on securing the debate on this important subject. It is fair to say that the referendum galvanised Scotland at home, at work, in community centres, in pubs and, of course, in our schools. People in villages, town and cities, whether they were yes or no, definitely had a view, which came over loud and clear. With a turnout of 85 per cent, it was like nothing that I had ever experienced. I do not think that Scotland had experienced that level of turnout before.

Nowhere was the referendum more of a hot topic than in our schools. With votes for 16 and 17-year-olds for the first time, lots of schools organised debates, some more freely than others, given some of the rules that Patrick Harvie spoke about. I took part in a number of those school debates in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth and elsewhere in Central Scotland. Anybody who participated in those debates would say that the general interest and level of engagement from the young people who were there was incredible.

Like Patrick Harvie, I would not want to cheer one side’s win over the other. More than anything, I would celebrate the fact that the young people who were there were open to the arguments that were being put forward. They were amenable to different points. In fact, I think the votes that took place showed that quite a few people had changed their minds over the course of the debate and were open to that information—they were probably a lot more open to arguments or information than anybody in the chamber.

I have been a supporter of votes at 16 for a long time and I am delighted that progress is finally being made. I do not think it is right that 16 and 17-year-olds can leave school, get a job, pay tax and drive a car but do not have any say in electing any of us or their local representatives at council level.

As someone who was brought up in a political family, I was involved in election campaigns from a very young age. I have been involved to some extent in every election in Scotland since 1992. Growing up, I was desperate to vote after handing out all those leaflets, being on battle buses and giving out balloons. I only wish that I could have had that chance earlier. I have been involved in every election since 1992, but I cast my first vote in 2004, 12 years on from first being engaged. I am sure that some members can do the maths on that one.

I am pleased that we in the Labour Party have committed to extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds at a United Kingdom level, to extend the UK electorate by 1.5 million people. I am pleased that there seems to be a broad consensus here that we should do the same for Scottish Parliament and, I hope, council elections.

Putting the referendum to one side, we still have an issue with voter disengagement across the country. There are lots of reasons for that. The European election, which was a matter of months before the referendum, had only a 33 per cent turnout. In North Lanarkshire, there was a similar turnout for the council elections in 2012. Therefore, it is really important that we not only extend the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds, but ensure that they get a balanced political education in school and that debates and mock elections are increased and become the norm so that there is greater political engagement and understanding. As Patrick Harvie pointed out, we should ensure that people are motivated to vote in the first election and that that becomes a pattern for the rest of their life.

There is something else that we should consider when we extend the franchise. The new generation of 16 and 17-year-olds who will be allowed to cast their first votes after years of taking part in online elections through Facebook or voting for the winner of “The X Factor” over the phone will suddenly have to vote for a new Government by post or perhaps in a cold and draughty community hall.



Meeting of the Parliament 17 February 2015 : Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Mark Griffin

We have spoken about reintroducing the chartered teacher scheme to give teachers in those schools an incentive. I do not like to use the term “failing schools”, but we are talking about schools that face the challenges of extreme deprivation and in which placing requests are reducing the school roll and reinforcing the cycle of low attainment.

I am glad that the SNP is making educational attainment a priority after eight years in government. I hope that it will look at the areas where our proposals can improve its plans by redistributing wealth and increasing the available resources. I look forward to working with the Government on some of the other issues that I have mentioned in tackling educational inequality.

16:06  

Meeting of the Parliament 17 February 2015 : Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Addressing the attainment gap in our schools has to be one of our top priorities, and we welcome the Scottish Government’s recently announced plans to tackle it, after eight years in government.

Educational inequality is a symptom of a deeper problem of poverty, which we need to address, so the focused nature of any programme is vital. I live in Cumbernauld, and the variation in educational attainment across the town is massive. In the council ward of Cumbernauld North, the child poverty level is 8 per cent, which is far too high. When we cross the footbridge over the M80 into Cumbernauld South, which is a two-minute walk, the level of child poverty jumps to a staggering 23 per cent. That difference in child poverty impacts on the educational attainment of young people, which can prevent them from breaking out of the vicious cycle of poor health and low pay.

The measures that we agree on to tackle the attainment gap must therefore be focused on our most deprived communities. With that in mind, Scottish Labour would use the additional revenues from a new 50p tax rate, redistributing resources from those who can afford them to those who need them most—which is something that SNP members seem to avoid talking about at all costs. The additional £25 million per year over and above the Government’s proposals would supplement the programme.

We would double the number of teaching assistants in every primary school associated with the 20 secondary schools facing the greatest challenges of deprivation. We would introduce a new literacy programme for schools, and we would recruit and train literacy specialists to support pupils in the associated primary schools and first-year and second-year pupils in each of the 20 secondary schools. We would also support parents so that they can learn with their children, and we would introduce a special literacy support programme for looked-after children.

We would ask Education Scotland to carry out an annual review on progress in tackling educational inequality in Scotland’s schools, through the schools inspectorate programme. That would include a specific report on looked-after children, and the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning would report to the Parliament on the progress made annually in reducing the attainment gap, so as to allow progress to be monitored and scrutinised.

There are other issues related to poverty and inequality that are impacting on educational attainment, such as the increase in the use of private tutors and the use of the placing request system for schools.

There has been a 300 per cent increase in the use of private tutors in the past year alone. Wealthier families have the ability to give their child an extra boost compared with children in families who cannot afford private tuition. That can be used when a child is struggling in a particular subject, or it can help in the run-up to exams. In itself that is not a bad thing, but where is the support for the pupil from the poorer background when they are struggling with a particular subject or need support during exam time?

We have supported the provision of high-quality wraparound care for primary school pupils, including breakfast clubs and homework clubs, to give pupils a productive start and end to their school day while supporting the needs of working parents. That would give all pupils, regardless of their family income, extra support in their learning.

Supported study sessions are often run in schools in the evenings at exam times to support pupils, but those are offered by committed, motivated teachers, who offer up their own time to support pupils they care about. That is an excellent way of supporting pupils at exam time, but it is patchy across the country and across subjects. There is an issue of transport costs for pupils who would normally get a school bus home and who cannot afford alternative means.

The placing request system is creating a two-tier system of education and is causing problems for education authorities in managing school staff and the school estate. As soon as a school starts to attract a perception or—perhaps unfairly—a reputation for slipping or failing, or if another school in the area starts getting a reputation for excellence, parents who have the means will start to pay for transport so that their children can move out of the catchment area and go to an alternative school. I have seen that happen in my authority, which is North Lanarkshire Council. In some schools, only the children from the poorest families attend, and the impact on attainment is clear.



Meeting of the Parliament 17 February 2015 : Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Will the cabinet secretary confirm that, when she talks about maintaining the number of teachers, that number is 4,275 fewer than when this Government came to office in 2007?



Finance Committee 04 February 2015 : Wednesday, February 04, 2015
Mark Griffin

I do not think so. I thank the committee for its time this morning.



Finance Committee 04 February 2015 : Wednesday, February 04, 2015
Mark Griffin

I understand local authorities’ concern that they are not able to put a figure on the activities that they might be expected to carry out, but that is because there is not yet any national plan. There is no detail of what would be in the national plan or what authorities would be expected to have in their own plans—that would be at the direction of the Government. For example, if the Government decided that there should be 24-hour access to all local authorities’ interpreter services and set that out in the national plan, I would expect the Government to set out how it intended to fund those services or how it expected local authorities to meet the cost. It would be up to the Government of the day to fund its policy priorities.



Finance Committee 04 February 2015 : Wednesday, February 04, 2015
Mark Griffin

That will be the responsibility of local authorities. I cannot see a local authority producing a wonderful plan with a range of outcomes if it has no intention of financially supporting any of those outcomes. That would be bad faith in the extreme on the part of local authorities. When it came to reporting on performance, if an authority had a fantastic national plan but had done nothing to implement it, the new minister for BSL would rightly raise the matter with that authority and would inform Parliament of it.



Finance Committee 04 February 2015 : Wednesday, February 04, 2015
Mark Griffin

Certainly. The Government will report to Parliament on the performance review of public bodies that draft a plan but make no effort to implement it, and constituents will be given the opportunity through their MSP to name and shame public bodies that do not live up to their plan’s aspirations.

As I have said, there are pockets of excellent work and there is no reason why that should be restricted to individual areas. Getting a picture of what is going on nationally will help BSL users to challenge their local authorities on why they are not getting a service that is being provided elsewhere.

10:30  
Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-12423.1 Alex Rowley: Commission on Local Tax Reform—As an amendment to motion S4M-12423 in the n
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Not VotedCarried

S4M-12423 Marco Biagi: Commission on Local Tax Reform—That the Parliament supports the establishment
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Not VotedCarried

S4M-12385 Liz Smith: STEM Education in Scottish Schools—That the Parliament agrees that a solid grou
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YesCarried

S4M-12395.1 Fergus Ewing: An Energy Strategy for Scotland—As an amendment to motion S4M-12395 in the
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NoCarried

S4M-12395.2 Patrick Harvie: An Energy Strategy for Scotland—As an amendment to motion S4M-12395 in t
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AbstainDefeated

S4M-12395 Murdo Fraser: An Energy Strategy for Scotland—That the Parliament notes with concern the l
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NoCarried

S4M-12385.3 Alasdair Allan: STEM Education in Scottish Schools—As an amendment to motion S4M-12385 i
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NoCarried

S4M-12382.3 Mary Fee: Building Scotland’s Infrastructure for the Future—As an amendment to motion S4
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YesDefeated

S4M-12382.1 Gavin Brown: Building Scotland’s Infrastructure for the Future—As an amendment to motion
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YesDefeated

S4M-12382.2 Willie Rennie: Building Scotland’s Infrastructure for the Future—As an amendment to moti
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NoDefeated

Search for other Motions lodged by Mark Griffin
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-10185.2: Mark Griffin, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 02/06/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09447.2: Mark Griffin, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 24/03/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-08563: Mark Griffin, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 10/12/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-08437: Mark Griffin, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 28/11/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-08270.1: Mark Griffin, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 12/11/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-06836: Mark Griffin, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 03/06/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-06588: Mark Griffin, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 14/05/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-06373: Mark Griffin, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 26/04/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-05941: Mark Griffin, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 13/03/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-05830: Mark Griffin, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 05/03/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Mark Griffin
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4O-03984: Mark Griffin, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 26/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4F-02558: Mark Griffin, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 26/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03958: Mark Griffin, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 19/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03893: Mark Griffin, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 05/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4F-02402: Mark Griffin, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 17/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4F-02240: Mark Griffin, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 04/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22092: Mark Griffin, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 11/07/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-21793: Mark Griffin, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 17/06/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-21794: Mark Griffin, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 17/06/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-21795: Mark Griffin, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 17/06/2014 Show Full Question >>

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