Iain Gray MSP, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills – Speech to conference
09 March 2019
Iain Gray MSP
Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills
Speech to Conference
The old adage says, “don’t tell me what your priorities are, show me where you spend your money and I’ll tell you where they are.”
It could have been coined for the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon.
They say that education is their priority, but the money tells the truth that on this as so much else, they cannot be trusted.
Look at the budget just forced through Holyrood with the complicity of Green MSPs.
University budgets : cut
College Funding: Cut.
And councils, responsible for funding schools, cut again, by £230m.
Look at the SNP record over the years.
University budgets down by 11% compared to only five years ago.
Colleges losing out on over £1billion since the SNP came to power.
School budgets cut by £400million from where they were a decade ago.
If education is this government’s priority I’d hate to see how they treated something they couldn’t care less about.
Of course conference, education is not just about money or bricks and mortar.
It is about people.
Inspirational teachers, dedicated lecturers, highly skilled, highly trained, lighting the spark of learning they know lies in every one of our children and grandchildren – opening up the world of all possibilities to the next generation.
That is why, when Labour was responsible for education, we invested not just in schools and universities but in teachers too.
Jack McConnell’s legacy as a Labour education minister was to raise our teachers to amongst the best paid in the developed world, and to raise their numbers by 4,000.
Not because of the threat of industrial action, but because we value teachers.
Compare and contrast the legacy of John Swinney.
3,000 fewer teachers.
120,000 fewer students in Scotland’s colleges.
Teacher salaries down below international averages.
Teachers driven to threatening the first school strikes in thirty years.
University lecturers balloting on strike action.
College lecturers already on the picket lines.
Even the staff at John Swinney’s own Education Scotland are planning industrial action.
This is no winter of discontent, it is the culmination of 12 winters of SNP disrespect for teachers and lecturers.
And if John Swine has finally, this weekend woken up to teachers’ anger about pay and workload, then that simply begs the question, why has it taken him so long to listen to what is happening in our schools.
Why did it take him two years to hear what teachers were telling him.
Why did teachers have to threaten strike action before he would listen to their legitimate concerns.
Our teachers have had our solidarity throughout this struggle.
And let’s not forget our college lecturers, who need our solidarity still, as they struggle for a fair cost of living pay rise.
Because conference, Labour values education and we value the educators too.
We are listening to teachers when they tell us they are overworked as well as underpaid, listening when they tell us that cuts to support staff are creating problems in our classrooms, and letting children with additional support needs down.
And listening too when they tell us and parents tell us, and educationalists tell us that the government’s national tests are a mistake.
That is why I am happy to support the motion from my own CLP calling for the end of tests for 4 and 5 year olds as Parliament itself has demanded, demanding a review of the later stage testing, and supporting the reintroduction of surveys of literacy and numeracy which the SNP abolished because they exposed the failure not of children, not of teachers, not of councils, but the failure of SNP ministers and their stewardship of our education system.
Conference, even when the SNP get it right on education, they manage to get it wrong too.
We support the use of additional resources to close the attainment gap, but we listen to teachers when they tell us the government’s pupil equity fund is plugging cuts in core budgets.
We would identify proven evidence based interventions which it could be used for, ensuring it is genuinely additional, guaranteeing that it effectively benefits those children and families it is meant to help, and we would insist that all staff in a school help decide how this funding is used.
But it is not just teachers who cannot trust the SNP on education.
Students too. Sold the big lie in 2007 that the SNP would abolish student debt, they were promised an independent review of grants and loans.
It recommended students should have access to a minimum student income equivalent to the Scottish real living wage, at that time £8,100.
It turns out the SNP were not even listening to their own review. It’s on the SNP shelf marked “promises to Scotland’s students we never had any intention of keeping”
Conference, Labour would, at the first opportunity ensure that all Scotland’s students can access the equivalent of the real living wage, whatever that is then, to live on.
And when we say all Scotland’s students we mean whether they are studying at university or at college because FE has been treated as the poor relation too often for too long.
From the foundation of this party we have believed education is the key to a better future, individually and together.
The prioritisation of education does not mean warm words for us but the very warp and weft, the fabric of what we are.
That is why you can trust Labour on education.