5th Report, 2016 (Session 4): Annual Report 2015-16

SP Paper 961 (Web)




Education (Scotland) Bill
Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Bill
British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill

Inquiries and Reports

Educational Attainment Gap
Attainment of school pupils with a sensory impairment
BBC Charter Renewal
Public Bodies – spending decisions and outcomes
Draft Budget 2016-17

One-off evidence sessions
Subordinate Legislation
Engagement and Social Media

Remit and membership


The remit of the Committee is to consider and report on further and higher education, lifelong learning, schools, pre-school care, skills and other matters falling within the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning and matters relating to culture and the arts falling within the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs.


Stewart Maxwell (Convener)
Mark Griffin (Deputy Convener)
George Adam
Colin Beattie
Chic Brodie
Gordon MacDonald
Liam McArthur
John Pentland
Mary Scanlon

Note: The membership of the Committee changed during the period covered by this report, as follows:

John Pentland joined the Committee on 2 September 2015, replacing John Pentland Scottish LabourSiobhan McMahon (Scottish Labour, Central Scotland)

Annual Report 2015-16


1. This report summarises the work undertaken and outcomes achieved by the Education and Culture Committee during the parliamentary year from 11 May 2015 to 23 March 2016.


Education (Scotland) Bill

2. We began our consideration of the Education (Scotland) Bill in the previous parliamentary year and continued our scrutiny by taking oral evidence from a wide range of stakeholders.

3. The Bill covered a large number of distinct policy areas and our report set out a number of recommendations (for example, on consultation, educational attainment and additional support for learning) to which the Scottish Government responded positively.

4. Following publication of our Stage 1 report on 10 September 2015, we requested written evidence from stakeholders on proposed Scottish Government amendments to the Bill. We took oral evidence from the Scottish Government on these amendments, which related to the National Improvement Framework and the Standard for Headship.

5. Stage 2 was completed over three days with 174 amendments being considered. Day two of Stage 2 was held in Dunfermline City Chambers as part of Parliament Day, the first time Stage 2 of a Bill has been held externally. Prior to this meeting, we agreed a motion to take the Bill out of order so that the educational attainment provisions – an issue of considerable public interest – could be considered in Dunfermline.

6. The Bill was passed by the Parliament on 2 February 2016 and received Royal Assent on 8 March 2016.

Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Bill

7. In what has become our standard practice, we wrote to the Scottish Government to ask some factual questions on the Bill in advance of taking oral evidence. This helped to clarify some policy issues and also informed those who were considering making a written submission.

8. We received over 300 submissions in response to our call for written evidence, with many coming from individuals in the higher education sector.

9. We held an oral evidence session in a roundtable format, which allowed a large number of stakeholders with varying views to take part. This was followed by a session with the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning.

10. We published our Stage 1 report on 17 December 2015 and this was debated in the Chamber on 14 January 2016. Stage 2 took place on 9 February with 69 amendments being considered – a large number of these amendments were informed by the key conclusions and recommendations set out in our report. The Bill was passed by the Parliament on 8 March 2016 and is awaiting Royal Assent.

British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill

11. We started Stage 1 consideration of this Bill in the previous parliamentary year, where we engaged with BSL users via a Facebook Group and by providing key information in BSL. As the infographic shows, the Facebook Group generated a lot of engagement from BSL users with each other and with the Committee.

12. In this parliamentary year we continued to engage with BSL users, for example, by providing live BSL interpretation of Stage 2, which was held on 2 June 2015. We also published a BSL summary of how the Bill was amended at Stage 2.

13. As well as being important in its own right, the consultation we undertook helped to improve the Bill as demonstrated by the number of amendments at Stage 2 that were informed by stakeholders’ concerns.

14. The Bill was passed by the Parliament on 17 September 2015 and received Royal Assent on 22 October. Once the Bill was enacted the Facebook Group was closed to new members and for comments, but remains accessible to members of the group.

Inquiries and Reports

Educational Attainment Gap

15. This work began in the previous parliamentary year when we took oral evidence on various themes connected to the attainment gap and then wrote to the Scottish Government to ask questions on the main issues arising. Our work, and the relevant provisions in the Education (Scotland) Bill, has meant that the educational attainment gap is now an issue of key public interest.

16. We decided to combine our work on attainment with our work on school spending, which is discussed below. We concluded our scrutiny of both topics by taking evidence from local authorities and the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning in February 2016. Our questioning of the Cabinet Secretary was informed by an informal discussion we held with a range of senior education stakeholders in January 2016. The Committee’s scrutiny has provided a clearer picture of the work required to close the attainment gap and the possible means by which this could be achieved.

Attainment of school pupils with a sensory impairment

17. As part of our broader work on the attainment gap, described above, we decided to hold a short and focused inquiry into the educational attainment of pupils with a sensory impairment. We held three formal evidence sessions, taking evidence from Blind and Deaf organisations, service providers and the Scottish Government. Our session with Blind and Deaf organisations was broadcast with live BSL interpretation.

18. We also carried out a fact-finding visit to Craigie High School and Dundee Multi-Sensory Centre in May 2015 where we met staff, pupils and parents in a more informal environment.

19. We published our report on 23 September 2015 and have continued to work with the Scottish Government and Education Scotland on how our recommendations can best be delivered.

BBC Charter Renewal

20. The BBC is established by Royal Charter with the current charter running until the end of 2016.

21. For the first time the Scottish Parliament, along with the Scottish Government, has a formal consultative role in the process of reviewing the BBC Charter. This is a new function for the Scottish Parliament following a recommendation of the Smith Commission. A Memorandum of Understanding with Westminster and the BBC was signed formalising the BBC’s accountability to the Scottish Parliament and, ultimately, people in Scotland. In carrying out this role, we undertook an inquiry focusing on the Scottish aspects of charter renewal and called on the BBC to do more to represent the diversity of Scottish culture and to support the creative industries in Scotland. As well as inviting written submissions, we asked members of the public to complete an online survey on the BBC. This received 345 responses.

22. We published our report on 8 February, which informed the Scottish Government debate on the BBC Charter on 23 February 2016 and was adopted by the Parliament as its submission to the review process being led by the Department of Culture and Sport.

Public Bodies – spending decisions and outcomes

23. We have tried to scrutinise public finances throughout our work, as appropriate, rather than seeing ‘budget scrutiny’ as a stand-alone annual process. This year, we examined the spending decisions made and outcomes delivered by some of the key bodies in our remit: Creative Scotland, Education Scotland, Scottish Funding Council, Scottish Qualifications Authority and Skills Development Scotland.

24. This was the first time a committee has looked at these bodies – which spend almost £2bn – in the round. We examined issues such as:

  • the added value each body provides;
  • the progress they are making on their key strategic objectives;
  • how they contribute to the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework.

25. We wrote to each body and the Scottish Government to ask questions on the main issues that arose, and have recommended to our successor committee that it continues this work.

Draft Budget 2016-17

26. School spending is another example of how we have undertaken ongoing budget scrutiny. We focused on this topic in scrutinising last year’s Scottish Government Draft Budget and have built on this by—

  • asking local authorities to provide information on budget trends
  • holding informal discussions in September 2015 with a wide range of senior finance and education officials – 28 out of 32 local authorities attended
  • focusing again on school spending in scrutinising the Scottish Government 2016-17 Draft Budget
  • asking the Scottish Government to address the main issues from this scrutiny.

One-off evidence sessions

27. We held one-off evidence sessions on various key topics within our remit, seeking to respond to topical events and to hold the Scottish Government and other bodies to account. Examples include—

  • Student Support: we considered how student support is helping to improve access and student retention. We received 22 written submissions and took oral evidence at our meeting on 24 November 2015. We wrote to the Scottish Government to highlight the key concerns raised in evidence, and to invite its views on how these could be addressed;
  • College Reforms: we considered the outcomes to date of the recent college reforms, focusing on how learners and employers have been affected. We then discussed the key issues with the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning;
  • National Performing Companies: a significant amount of the income of Scotland's five national performing companies is provided by the Scottish Government. This session focused on the main challenges and opportunities facing the companies;
  • T in the Park: we considered issues around grants for T in the Park including an evidence session with the Cabinet Secretary.

Subordinate Legislation

28. Over the course of the year, we scrutinised:

  • 13 Scottish Statutory Instruments (SSIs) subject to the affirmative procedure;
  • 28 SSIs subject to the negative procedure.

29. We have highlighted that the policy notes accompanying SSIs could have more information about the outcomes of consultations carried out by the Scottish Government.


30. During the parliamentary year we considered two petitions and, following consideration, agreed to close them.

  • PE1530 – on the issue of the presentation of creationism in schools1.
  • PE1420 – on recognising the real value of kinship carers and giving them parity with foster carers across Scotland2.

Engagement and Social Media

31. As demonstrated throughout this report, we have continued to engage with the public and stakeholders to inform the work we have undertaken, and to enable us to better hold the Scottish Government to account.

32. Twitter remains our main form of social engagement allowing us to keep our 1,500 followers informed of meetings, calls for evidence and other pieces of work. During Stage 3 of the British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill we live tweeted as the debate took place. In scrutinising the Education (Scotland) Bill we ensured tweets relating to the Bill were also sent out in Gaelic as the Bill contained provisions on Gaelic education.


33. During the parliamentary year we met 31 times:

  • 14 meetings were wholly in public
  • 4 meetings were wholly in private
  • 13 meetings were held partly in private

34. Throughout the year we took equal opportunity considerations into account for all of our work. We have provided specific examples above, in terms of our work on BSL, sensory impairment and on the educational attainment gap.

Any links to external websites in this report were working correctly at the time of publication.  However, the Scottish Parliament cannot accept responsibility for content on external websites.


1 This petition called on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to issue official guidance to bar the presentation in Scottish publicly funded schools of separate creation and of Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent, and deep time.

2 This petition called on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to take action to ensure that all councils across Scotland pay kinship carers the recommended allowance (as suggested in the Scottish Government’s Local Government Concordat for 2008-2011) and that any such allowance should be ring fenced, with resourced support equable with fosters carers.

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