Michael Russell MSP

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Michael Russell MSP

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  • Member for: Argyll and Bute
  • Region: Highlands and Islands
  • Party: Scottish National Party

Michael is a member of the following Committees:

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

Parliamentary Activities

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Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning (Michael Russell)

But that was your quote.



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning (Michael Russell)

I am very pleased that we are having this debate, because I want to reflect on the hard work that is being done in their schools by teachers and pupils across Scotland, on the progress that they are making to close the attainment gap and on the success of curriculum for excellence—a Keir Bloomer invention—which has increased diversity, as has the devolving of powers to schools. I also want to talk about what works in Scottish education, what we should be proud of and what more we can do.

We see progress wherever we look. Curriculum for excellence has been extensively rolled out and is now embedded in schools as the way we do education in Scotland. It has raised the bar on attainment—this year, we saw a record number of higher and advanced higher results across the system. The new national qualifications have brought deeper learning and a greater emphasis on analysis, engagement, understanding and diversity, and they represent a decisive shift for the better in Scottish education.

Against every main measure—despite what members have heard—Scotland’s schools are moving in the right direction. The latest programme for international student assessment—PISA—study reinforces our international standing in education. Coupled with that, we have a record high number of school leavers in positive destinations, more new or refurbished schools and the lowest teacher unemployment in the United Kingdom.

Indeed, so much is happening across education—in early years, in primary and secondary, in colleges, in universities, in skills and in vocational education—that earlier this year we learned from the Office for National Statistics, which is much beloved of the Tories, that Scotland is the most highly educated country in Europe and is among the best educated in the world. As part of that work, we are making substantial progress in tackling the most stubborn problem of all—that of the attainment gap, which was a yawning chasm before devolution and remained far too wide under the Labour-Liberal Scottish Executive.

Alas, there is one area in education in which nothing changes—the relentless negativity of the Conservatives towards the tremendous work that is being done in our schools day in and day out.



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Michael Russell

I just want to make this point. Again, we hear the Conservatives set out an approach that goes down the road of demonising individual schools and which will, as the Tories know, go on to demonise individual teachers. I hope that no other party in the Parliament will join the Tories in that.



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Michael Russell

That is precisely what I am going to address in my speech. That is a matter on which all of us—except the Tories—are working together.

I am certain that all the Tory members who speak in the debate will paint a negative, pessimistic picture, but I have to say that the performance of Scotland’s schools compares strongly when it is measured against international standards and, in the main, it is improving.

Rather than dragging down our education system, Liz Smith and her colleagues would do well to get out more and to go into our schools to see exactly what is happening.



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Michael Russell

No.

Liz Smith has a habit of scaremongering. She did it in June 2010 when she said that CFE would be

“nothing more than a curriculum for confusion”.

Two months later, CFE was successfully introduced in secondary schools.

In February 2012, she predicted disaster over the introduction of the new exams. She demanded that the old standard grades should be retained, but the new exams went ahead this year without any significant problems.

Liz Smith rose—



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Michael Russell

Liz Smith also predicted disaster for the Commonwealth games, which were subsequently described by Prince Imran, the president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, as “the best Games ever”. By any standards, as a prophetess, Liz Smith does not have a great track record.

I welcome any debate on closing the attainment gap and what we are doing to create equity in education, but we cannot escape from the fact that the real enemy to progress is poverty, and poverty is being exacerbated by the Westminster Government. The Westminster Government is attacking the poor for being poor and that is nothing short of a disgrace.

With the powers of independence—the powers of a normal state—we could have used tax, welfare and labour market regulation to develop a solution that is right in this context. However, Scotland did not vote yes, and we must all deal with the consequences of that decision. One major consequence in this particular portfolio is how we are going to make real and sustained progress in narrowing the attainment gap.

As it stands, welfare reforms at Westminster are going to make the situation worse. For decades Westminster’s record has been abysmally poor, but now the Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that an additional 50,000 Scottish children will be living in relative poverty by 2020 because of United Kingdom welfare reforms. When housing costs are taken into account, that figure could be as high as 100,000. That is nothing less than a sustained attack on Scotland’s poorest children and, although we cannot fully mitigate the effect of the reforms, we will do what we can to limit their worst impacts.

Within this particular portfolio, we are doing just that. We recognise that the problems of poverty cannot be stopped at the school gates, but our education system must do more to raise attainment. Curriculum for excellence is an important development in that respect, as is getting it right for every child and developing Scotland’s young workforce. Together, they are creating expectations, and we are building on those expectations with things such as the partnership programme, which I will touch on in a moment.

Instead of seeking every opportunity to criticise, Liz Smith should get out there and meet the young people who are being affected by the benefits of these programmes. She should get out and meet pupils such as Rhys from Coatbridge. In fact, she could have met him, first of all, in the video that I showed at the start of the Scottish learning festival and which I distributed to members of the Education and Culture Committee. Other members are welcome to have a copy of it.

When I met him, Rhys was a primary 7 pupil at St Bartholomew’s. His headteacher had been a keen adopter of the attainment improvement methodology, and he had worked one-on-one with Rhys to help him make progress. When I asked Rhys, in his school, about the difference that that had made, he gave me a devastatingly simple and direct answer: “I am not afraid of my lessons any more.” Rhys has now made a successful transition to St Ambrose high school in Coatbridge and is continuing to enjoy his lessons.

Closing the attainment gap is about that kind of one-to-one work with individuals such as Rhys, which is happening now all over Scotland. It is about the inspirational actions of the team at Bellshill academy, who identified meeting the local authority average for higher passes as a key objective and then worked with individual pupils to help them get the results that they needed by, for example, providing things as simple as somewhere to do their homework. It is also about working with parents, as can be seen in Wester Hailes, where the senior management team ensures that every parent is able to engage with the school on their own terms.

That is the reality of improvement: it is about changing lives and prospects one by one in some of Scotland’s most troubled and difficult areas. That is being done right now, and we will do more and more of it. Surely this chamber should support that work, not attack it out of a lack of knowledge or in an attempt to demonise schools.



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Michael Russell

We must get back to it, but we will not do so by demonising the poor, schools or teachers. We will get back to it with the type of work that we are doing now, which is worthy of support, not of being attacked.

In June, I launched the raising attainment for all programme. Twelve local authorities and more than 150 schools have now signed up to becoming part of a learning community that is forensically focused on closing the equity gap, and we are going to expand that even further.

We also have a nationally co-ordinated programme, led by Education Scotland, to partner schools so that they can share best practice. We have a co-ordinated programme of literacy and numeracy hubs; we have the access to education funds; and we have established—



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Michael Russell

I really am sorry, but I must finish.

We have also established the Scottish College for Educational Leadership, which is now up and running. A range of good things is happening that we can work on together, but what we are hearing this afternoon is the old story of going back to the things that we do not want to do and insisting on progress that we are already making and which should be supported.

I do not believe that there is anywhere else in the UK or indeed in Europe that is prioritising educational attainment as much as we are—and the PISA results show as much. We have a unique curriculum that is fit for the future, schools that are eager for success and a system that is supporting them. I have confidence in our schools to deliver on that programme and, in moving my amendment, I implore the Tories to be part of success instead of trying to drag it down.

I move amendment S4M-11304.3, to leave out from first “believes” to end and insert:

“notes that Scotland’s schools compare strongly when measured against international standards; believes that the greatest challenge facing Scottish education is the impact of poverty and inequality on pupils’ ability to learn; further believes that the policies of the UK Government are increasing poverty and inequality; recognises that this leads directly to an unacceptably high number of young people from deprived backgrounds who do not participate in further or higher education, employment or training; further recognises that, in addition to economic policies designed to address unemployment and poverty, educational policy should focus on mitigating the barriers to educational achievement created by this inequality, and agrees that the curriculum for excellence is delivering improved outcomes using evidence-based approaches to raise attainment including a focus on strong leadership, high quality learning and teaching, literacy, numeracy and parental engagement.”

15:05  

Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Michael Russell

I share Margaret Mitchell’s concern in relation to dyslexia. I point her to the example of Mainholm academy in Ayr, which has become a dyslexia-friendly school. It is within the existing structure, but it has pioneered an approach that is very important across Scotland. I am sure that the member will accept that increased funding has gone to Dyslexia Scotland and that consideration is being given to giving every bit of help to that model, so that it does not require the deconstruction of Scottish local authorities to change what is taking place.



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Michael Russell

On the whole, this has been a very positive debate. Kezia Dugdale was right to acknowledge the role of those who work in education. I am also the child of two teachers, and am the husband of a headteacher of two schools. I know, and have known, how hard teachers work, how dedicated they are and how they aspire to a better society.

I have earned my living in less onerous ways than teaching, including writing, and I am delighted that my works are still well read. The Scottish Tories and Neil Findlay are my most obsessive readers, of which I am glad, because I still get public lending right, which is a useful source of income.

However, I would look for more intelligent reading than we have heard today. The Tories are well behind the curve on what has happened in Scottish education. Murdo Fraser has underestimated the extent to which choice and diversity are now established in Scottish education. That has developed since devolution: through Labour’s policies between 1999 and 2007, building on a tradition of diversity and intensifying it through curriculum for excellence, while permitting increased diversity in models such as specialist music schools, the denominational sector, the Gaelic sector and the private sector—which, of course, gets public benefits. The Public Petitions Committee will examine that matter shortly.

The great strength of the Scottish education system is that it is increasingly the case that one size does not fit all. There is a national context, a local authority framework and local decision making and delivery. Could that develop more? Of course it could, but I agree with Ken Macintosh—I never thought that I would say those words—that if we are going to discuss that, let us do it up front, straight and honestly, and not by the Trojan horse of the motion that we have debated today.

The historical compromises in the system actually arise from the Education Act 1918 and the way in which that act has been built on. There are lots of models elsewhere that we could look at. Vouchers, for example, have been abandoned in Sweden, because they were too bureaucratically complex. Free schools have created many problems for the Swedish system and are now creating many problems for the English system. Scotland now betters Sweden in its PISA scores.

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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Not VotedDefeated

S4M-11332.1 Gavin Brown: Supported Business—As an amendment to motion S4M-11332 in the name of Fergu
>> Show more
Not VotedDefeated

S4M-11332 Fergus Ewing: Supported Business—That the Parliament recognises the economic and social va
>> Show more
Not VotedCarried

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

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

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

S4M-11116.1.1 Patrick Harvie: Scotland’s Future—As an amendment to amendment S4M-11116.1 in the name
>> Show more
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 Michael Russell
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-11304.3: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 28/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10645: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 23/07/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10643: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 23/07/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-07108: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 20/06/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-06843.2: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 04/06/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-06059: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 25/03/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-05652: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 18/02/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-05506.1: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/01/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-04914: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 20/11/2012 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-04787.2: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 13/11/2012 Show Full Motion >>
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EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S1W-34795: Michael Russell, South of Scotland, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 17/03/2003 Show Full Question >>
Question S1W-34790: Michael Russell, South of Scotland, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 17/03/2003 Show Full Question >>
Question S1W-34794: Michael Russell, South of Scotland, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 17/03/2003 Show Full Question >>
Question S1W-34796: Michael Russell, South of Scotland, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 17/03/2003 Show Full Question >>
Question S1W-34793: Michael Russell, South of Scotland, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 17/03/2003 Show Full Question >>
Question S1W-34797: Michael Russell, South of Scotland, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 17/03/2003 Show Full Question >>
Question S1W-34791: Michael Russell, South of Scotland, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 17/03/2003 Show Full Question >>
Question S1W-34792: Michael Russell, South of Scotland, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 17/03/2003 Show Full Question >>
Question S1W-34798: Michael Russell, South of Scotland, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 17/03/2003 Show Full Question >>
Question S1W-34799: Michael Russell, South of Scotland, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 17/03/2003 Show Full Question >>

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