Investing in Scotland’s future

Scotland’s greatest resource is our young people, and education is what empowers us all to realise our full potential. When education fails, it isn’t just the individual that is held back, it is all of us. When we invest in our young people to develop their skills and capabilities, we are investing in Scotland’s future.


The single most important economic policy a government can pursue is investment in education. We will all benefit from a stronger economy, a richer culture, and a more equal society.

Scottish education was once the best in the world. We produced the engineers, inventors, scientists and writers who shaped, invented, illuminated and imagined the modern world. This was all underpinned by a broad, ambitious and comprehensive education system.

Today, despite the efforts of our hardworking education staff and the talents of our young people, we struggle to match those achievements, and have seen many other countries overtake us. The latest international surveys show Scotland falling behind in maths, science and English. The Scottish government’s own surveys also show a decline in literacy and numeracy.

The SNP government, just like the Tories in England, has failed to invest in education.

Labour will create an education system fit for the 21st century across the UK. This will mean more money for education in Scotland, which we would use to transform Scotland’s education system and ensure that all our young people can reach their full potential.

Scottish Labour backs the Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) campaign, which aims to combat homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in our education system.

Early years

There is extensive evidence that early years education has a major impact on child development. But we know that there is a 14-month gap separating children from the most deprived and least deprived areas before they even set foot in a classroom.

The SNP has promised to expand childcare but it has failed to match these promises with adequate investment.

Promises about hours of free childcare are meaningless unless parents and children can make use of them. Parents and nurseries both confirm that the current system is inflexible and fails to meet parents’ needs.

Labour’s fairer tax policies would enable more money to be spent directly on education from the early years onwards.

We would match a planned increase in pre-school entitlement, but would begin to move towards the flexible, all age, year-round, wrap-around affordable childcare Scottish families need.

As part of this system Labour would fund a breakfast club in every primary school in Scotland. Breakfast clubs can help parents access meaningful childcare so they can fully participate in the world of work and they ensure more children start the day with a nutritious breakfast to get them ready for a day’s learning. We will bring forward a Member’s Bill to do this.

We would ensure the early years workforce has access to speech and language therapy skills to support parents with the basics of early language, and identify and refer children who need extra help.

We would also ensure health visitors and others have access to specific opportunities for professional development around young children’s language development. Training and qualifications in language and communication development should become a strong ‘promotion pathway’ for the early years workforce.


The SNP is more interested in dividing our country than investing in our schools. Its cuts are starving schools of the funding they need to deliver the world class education to which Scotland’s children are entitled.

Under-funding is driving up class sizes, driving down teacher numbers, and fuelling educational inequality. The botched implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) and the new culture of assessment have increased disaffection in the workforce, creating a recruitment and retention crisis.

Since 2011 spending on Scottish schools has fallen short by more than £1 billion. This failure is undermining the prospects of our young people, especially those from less prosperous backgrounds. The attainment gap between pupils from richer and poorer areas has increased, and 6,000 children leave school unable to read properly.

Scottish Labour would cancel the SNP’s plans to centralise schools and instead invest properly in schools across the country, with a focus on tackling declining educational outcomes and ending educational inequality within a generation.

Scottish Labour would address the current recruitment crisis across the country, which has led to schools appealing for volunteers to teach children.

We would work with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and trade unions to introduce an improved version of the Chartered Teacher scheme to ensure teachers can progress their career while staying in the classroom.

Improving literacy

Labour believes that teaching our children to read well is key to unlocking their potential. Not only does it improve their educational prospects, it enhances their imaginations and enriches their understanding of the world around them. But the latest figures show that literacy levels are falling across all stages in education.

Labour would take action to ensure that, within ten years, every child leaves primary school able to read to a high standard.

Narrowing the gap

Labour’s aspiration is to end educational inequality in a generation. Scottish Labour would create a new statutory obligation on government to report on the attainment gap between children from lower and higher income backgrounds, and make success in closing the gap a key performance benchmark of the school inspection system.

Inequality in attainment must be removed. We would reverse the decision to charge schools for exam appeals, as this disadvantages pupils from poorer backgrounds.

Widening the curriculum

The Curriculum for Excellence was a bold policy conceived by Scottish Labour, but it has been undermined by poor implementation by the SNP. Teachers have not received the support and resources they need to successfully introduce and deliver the new curriculum. Instead, like so many public sector workers in Scotland, they are being asked to do more for less.

Scottish Labour wants to see reform of the senior phase of secondary schooling, with more choice for pupils, both academic and vocational, and a Scottish Graduation Certificate reflecting all achievement, in vocational and voluntary activity as well as traditional exams.

This would build on the success of the Youth Awards network, which includes achievements gained through activities such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards.

Labour’s ban on zero hour contracts would prevent them from being classified as a positive destination for young people leaving school.

Free school meals and healthy lifestyles

Labour will extend the current provision of free school meals to all primary school children in England, paid for by removing the VAT exemption for private schools. Scotland would benefit from the Barnett consequentials of this policy, which would allow it to be replicated here.

Labour believes in promoting and facilitating healthy and active lifestyles among our young people, but recent cuts have continued to undermine sports provision in communities across Scotland. We would use the proceeds from the “sugar tax” to invest in after-school sport. This would not just be an investment in after-school provision; it would be an investment in the long-term health of our nation.

Investing in the future

To prepare our young people for the new, fast-changing world of work, we would establish a nationwide initiative to introduce first-class education in IT and computer coding in all schools.

Labour would fund primary school teachers to go on a basic coding course to allow schools to introduce this to pupils from Primary 1, as they currently do in England.

We would establish a software development and coding apprenticeship path to help Scotland’s young people develop the skills they need.

We would introduce an annual national schools coding competition to showcase Scottish talent and further develop the skills of the future.

We want to inspire a new generation of world-leading scientists by removing barriers that prevent young people, especially girls, from entering science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

We would inspire our new generation of world-leading scientists and innovators to give our country the skills we need to succeed.

Further education

Scotland’s colleges are facing a funding crisis. Since the SNP came to power, there are almost 150,000 fewer students in colleges across Scotland, and the number of part time students has declined by 48 per cent. This reduction is most acute among women and the over 25s.

Scotland’s colleges have also suffered from a misguided merger programme which has delivered no discernible educational benefit to learners.

Labour believes that Further Education (FE) colleges have a vital role to play in lifelong learning, enabling everyone to upskill or retrain at any point in life. They should be properly resourced and there should be parity of esteem with institutions in the higher education sector.

Labour believes education should be a universal entitlement, open to all, no matter their age or background. We would:

  • Review and reform the current Further Education bursary and Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) systems so that we provide students with the financial support they need and deserve
  • Make specific improvements to ensure that those on low incomes or in straitened circumstances can access further education
  • Establish a transition fund to provide support and assistance to people moving from social security into further education, to ensure that nobody who wishes to attend college is left worse off as a result

Labour established the Scottish Union Learning Fund and is committed to working with the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) to maintain it. We would extend funding periods and ensure the stability of union learning initiatives and projects, and we will support training of union representatives in representation, organising and bargaining skills.


Apprenticeships are a powerful tool to grow our economy, promote equality and create a skilled workforce for a dynamic Scottish economy of the future.

Labour believes in a dynamic economy supported by a strong and productive workforce.

Despite powers over apprenticeships being devolved, there is still a productivity gap in Scotland.

Labour believes we should have a strategic approach to apprenticeships, ensuring that the right incentives exist for businesses to invest in high quality apprenticeships, specifically in sectors the economy needs to grow.

Opportunities from apprenticeships must be shared equally across the workforce. In too many sectors, opportunities are overwhelmingly filled by young men.

The total number of apprenticeships per capita in Scotland is still too low, and lags behind the other nations of the UK. The government must do more, including providing value to those companies being hit by the new apprenticeship levy.

Labour would invest in modern apprenticeships with thousands of new apprenticeships each year, and would match those apprenticeships much more closely to the labour market and a proper manufacturing strategy.

Higher education

Scottish Labour would maintain free tuition for Scottish students at university and ensure that recent graduates on lower incomes are not saddled with disproportionate payments due to their student loan liabilities.

The SNP pledged to abolish student debt. Instead, it has soared by 42 per cent since it came to power in 2007.

We would change the system so that graduates do not start to make repayments on their loans until they are earning £22,000 a year. In addition to this, we would extend the repayment period for student loans to 30 years.

According to the Sutton Trust, people from the poorest backgrounds in Scotland are four times less likely to go to university than those from the wealthiest backgrounds. So widening participation in Scotland’s higher education sector would be a Labour priority.

Today in Scotland it is the poorest students who rack up the highest debts. Labour would work to establish a better and fairer system for students across Scotland.

Scottish Labour would seek to reintroduce the Fresh Talent scheme through post-study work visas.

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