Speech from Shadow Minister for Education
Mary Fee MSP to Scottish Labour Conference
Dundee, Saturday 10 March 2018
Good morning Conference.
I want to begin by thanking those who have contributed motions on education and affirm my support to the UCU lecturers striking to protect pensions.
As Scottish Labour’s Spokesperson for Education, Skills, Health, Sport and Equalities. It is my belief that equality should run at the heart of every portfolio and I am delighted to ensure that focus is at the heart of everything Scottish Labour does in the Parliament.
We know that investing in education brings about the best in people and creates new opportunities for all. Unfortunately, under this SNP Government education has been underfunded and it is the children of the last decade who has suffered.
The attainment gap grows throughout school and despite the First Minister’s pledge to make education her top priority, she fails to recognise that cutting over 3,500 teachers and hundreds of support staff only damages any efforts to support all our pupils thrive in the classroom.
As important as they are, literacy and numeracy, shouldn’t be the sole focus of education. We need to place health and wellbeing on a level playing field. Only then can we offer every child the same opportunities, regardless of background and wealth.
Children who go to school hungry, or are refused additional support or mental health services, will not flourish in school and we know that in the more deprived communities, these issues are prevalent.
The link between deprivation and underperformance is clear and we need to bring together every area of gGovernment to create the environment for children to thrive.
The key to improving the health and wellbeing of children starts with real change in our economy and under Richard Leonard, that is what Scottish Labour will offer.
Conference, the Policy Papers ask the Scottish Policy Forum to consider a range of education issues. I am delighted that childcare has been placed at the top of the challenges.
Only a flexible, all-age, all-year, wrap-around system that is affordable will do for Scottish Labour.
I ask you to support Contemporary Motion 11 in the name of the Socialist Education Association on childcare.
It is right that more free hours of nursery education are offered, especially to help those from the most deprived backgrounds. However, to get women back to work, this offer must be provided at an earlier age.
I call on the Policy Forum to work with the Parliamentary Education Team to see how we can deliver the best and most affordable childcare in the UK.
Conference, colleges and universities are crucial establishments in upskilling and educating our country to attract the best jobs and create an economy that works for the many.
Sadly, the Scottish National Party has decided that for a decade, colleges have to bear the brunt of their cuts in education, with over 140,000 fewer students in our colleges. That reduction disproportionally affects women and older students.
Ensuring that those who want to study is essential and ensuring that the financial support is there is crucial. Unfortunately, the SNP believe that if you are from a poorer background then gaining more debt through student loans is the only way for you.
Cutting bursaries cuts out opportunities.
Opportunities that many from deprived backgrounds cannot afford to miss.
Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor should apologise to the hundreds and thousands of working class people for their shameful cuts to education.
Finally, conference, in the months and years leading up to the next Scottish Parliament election, I ask you to campaign for a better education system.
One that will reduce the attainment gap, address additional needs and mental health needs, create new opportunities and invest in a better future for generations to come.