Science in schools faces “perfect storm”

Local MSP Iain Gray has told Parliament that the SNP Scottish Government has been ignoring warnings that Scotland’s schools are facing a looming crisis in science teaching.

Former physics teacher Mr Gray, Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education, recently led a Holyrood debate where he claimed that science teaching in Scottish schools is facing a “perfect storm”.

A recent report by the Learned Societies Group (including the Royal Society of Edinburgh) showed spending per head on teaching science subjects is significantly less than in English schools.

An Institute of Physics report ‘Brightest Minds go furthest’ shows that physics graduates who enter teaching are lower paid than their peers, and that there is looming shortage of physics teachers.

Speaking after the debate, Iain Gray MSP said:

“The Scottish Government’s own figures show a fall in numeracy levels at all levels, primary and secondary. This means science teaching in Scottish schools is facing a perfect storm. Low investment, teacher shortages and falling numeracy levels. All are adding to concerns about the impact of the new curriculum on pupil numbers choosing science.

“To make matters worse, much lower pass rates in the new National 4 examinations for maths and science than for other subjects are fuelling fears that this will discourage pupils from choosing to take these subjects in the first place.

“This year, 2015, marks the 150th anniversary of the publication by James Clerk Maxwell of his theory of Electromagnetism and the equations which underpin so much of our everyday technology today.

“These equations are just as important as Albert Einstein’s E=mc2. However the chances of today’s Scottish school students ever rising to those heights of scientific achievement again will be reduced significantly if the Scottish Government does not act now to invest in science education.

“County schools do some great work in science teaching, with regular visits from the Institute of Physics’ “Lab in a Lorry”, and the highly successful Dunbar Science Festival, but teachers need to see their efforts better supported by government.”

“Real concerns are being expressed by science teachers and bodies like the RSE but they are falling on deaf ears. Scottish science has a proud past, but if it is to have a great future, SNP Ministers need to wake up and take action now.”

Help with energy debt is available

With Debt Awareness Week taking place this week (26 January-2 February), Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP are calling on East Lothian residents to ensure they are taking advantage of free help and support available for anyone struggling with winter energy bills.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The cost-of-living crisis is putting extra pressure on household finances and many people are worried about rising debt. Nobody should suffer in silence and there is a range of help and advice for any residents who are having problems paying their energy or other household bills.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“I want all my constituents to be aware of what help is available for them. Keeping on top of winter bills and managing debt is so important and I urge residents in East Lothian to get in touch with their energy supplier to find out what support is on offer.”

Scottish Gas has a successful partnership with StepChange Debt Charity – organisers of Debt Awareness Week – which helps customers by offering manageable payment plans for their energy and other household debts.

It also funds The Scottish Gas Energy Trust – an independent charitable trust set up 10 years ago. British Gas has provided the Trust with £75million to help people living in fuel poverty. The Trust provides grants to help with energy arrears as well as a wide range of advice and is open to everyone, not just Scottish Gas customers.

Other support that Scottish Gas provides includes flexible payment plans, referral to the Warm Home Discount scheme which gives eligible customers a £140 discount on their electricity bill, and identifying if customers are eligible for free insulation or boiler replacements.

To register for extra help, customers or someone acting on their behalf should call 0800 072 8625 (or 0800 294 8604 if they have a Pay As You Go meter).

Ross High pupils quiz local MSP

County MSP Iain Gray was the guest at a Q & A session organised for S5 students at Ross High School this week.

Organised by Cameron Fairbairn as part of the school’s S5 leadership course, the session gave the students the opportunity to ask Mr Gray questions about his own views of what makes for effective leadership and his experience over fifteen years of working with and alongside other political leaders such as Tony Blair, Donald Dewar and Alistair Darling.

Speaking after the Q & A, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I have participated in dozens of question and answer sessions with local schoolchildren during my time as the county’s MSP. Most of these sessions are about my work as an MSP, or views on the political issues of the day.

“This visit was different then, with the class having done a great deal of research on different styles of leadership and their effectiveness, not just in politics but in every walk of life.

“In my own view inclusive leadership styles are more effective than authoritarian ones, and the biggest mistake a political leader can make is not to be authentic, by pretending something he or she is not. The most important quality for political leaders is empathy, with Bill Clinton probably the best example of that in recent time.

“I want to thank Cameron and his classmates for inviting me along to the school and for being so engaged in the way they participated in the session. I wish them all well with their leadership course and hope to see some of them again at Holyrood sometime in the future.”

Praise for local family support charity

County parliamentarians Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP have visited Home-Start East Lothian for an update on the charity’s important work supporting families with a child aged five or under.

Mr Gray and Ms O’Donnell met with the charity’s co-ordinator Katy Pollock and thanked the staff, trustees and volunteers for their hard work and dedication to supporting local families.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I was pleased to visit Home-Start East Lothian again and chat to staff and volunteers about its work. Their trained volunteer befrienders give tailored one to one practical, emotional and social support. What they offer can make a real difference to families in need of some extra help and support, and I thank everyone involved in delivering the service.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“Home-Start East Lothian does a fantastic job with local families with a child aged five or under. I actually used their service after the birth of my twins and what I loved about Home-start was that they didn’t tell me what they would do to help, but instead asked me what I needed. That is the kind of service they continue to provide for families here in East Lothian.”

Katy Pollock, Acting Senior Coordinator for Home-Start East Lothian, said:

“Home-Start East Lothian works with trained volunteers to support local families with at least one child under the age of five who may, for many different reasons, be experiencing a challenging time. The families are supported once a week for 2-3 hours. This support will vary from emotional to practical help.

“Knowing we have the support of local politicians acknowledges the hard work not only the volunteers put into the scheme but also the work the staff and trustees do to maintain this valuable service within East Lothian.”

Anyone who thinks they could offer support to a local family as a volunteer befriender can contact Home-Start East Lothian on 01875 616066 or by emailing admin@homestarteastlothian.co.uk.

More information about the charity’s work can be found at www.homestarteastlothian.co.uk or www.facebook.com/eastlothianhomestart

Iain joins local pupils for innovative Lab in a Lorry experience

County MSP Iain Gray joined pupils from Preston Lodge High School at an innovative Lab in a Lorry science initiative earlier this week.

Mr Gray had the chance to watch the PL pupils carry out some experiments, working under the supervision of the Lab in a Lorry volunteers.

Lab in a Lorry is an interactive mobile science laboratory which is staffed by practising scientists and engineers.

It aims to enthuse the next generation of scientists and engineers by letting children explore science through real hands on experiments.

The mobile laboratory is spending three days in Prestonpans this week, with children from Prestonpans and Cockenzie Primary Schools also due to visit it.

Speaking after his visit to PL, where he met pupils and Lab in a Lorry volunteers, Iain Gray MSP said:

“Lab in a Lorry provides an opportunity for pupils to experiment outside of the classroom and school laboratories, under the guidance of professional scientists and engineers. The equipment is excellent and the activities they undertake are fascinating.

“As a former physics teacher, I know that giving children the chance to experience science under real laboratory conditions can help to fire their imagination and encourage them to consider it as a career option.

“The young people I met were impressed by what they saw in the lorry and keen to try out the experiments for themselves. I hope that some of them will be inspired to go on and pursue a career in science or engineering.

“I was especially pleased to hear that pupils from Prestonpans and Cockenzie primaries are visiting the Lab in a Lorry too because getting our youngsters engaged with science as early as possible is so important.

“I’d like to thank the pupils and staff at Preston Lodge, the Institute of Physics and the Lab in a Lorry team for allowing me to come along and watch them in action.”

The initiative is a partnership between the Institute of Physics, Opito and the Scottish Government, with support from Marathon Oil UK and Conoco. The Schlumberger Foundation is a founding partner.

Further information on Lab in a Lorry is available at www.labinalorry.org.uk/

Iain supports Coalition of Carers in Scotland New Year’s Resolution

Iain Gray MSP has supported Coalition of Carers in Scotland New Year’s Resolution to ensure that carers in East Lothian and across the country get the support they need and that their rights are enshrined in the Carer’s Bill.

Scottish Labour is committed to stopping the postcode lottery of support and services for carers and agree that they should have the right to support based on a National Framework. This commitment was reaffirmed by our pledge to give the Care Inspectorate the authority over carers’ services and support.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“It is vital that the more than 7000 carers in East Lothian have the same access to support as every other carer in Scotland. That is why I support the Coalition of Carers in Scotland’s call to have the right to support for carers based on a National Framework.

“The SNP need to ensure that their Carer’s Bill is not just kind words but ensures that carers have the right to support and services. Too often they are forgotten and taken for granted; they deserve our support and appreciation.”

Carers’ Champion Clare Lally said:

“As Carers’ Champion, I know the struggle that many of my fellow carers face trying to get the support they need to carry on caring. It is a simple ask to have a right to support, regardless of where you live in the country.

“Currently in Scotland, the support carers receive depends on their Local Authority provision. This situation cannot continue, which is why I hope the SNP government supports the Coalition of Carers in Scotland New Year’s Resolution. This will empower carers to demand the support they are entitled to.”

Local patients are owed an apology on waiting times

Over 6700 patients in the NHS Lothian area are owed an apology by the Scottish Government according to Iain Gray MSP.

In 2012 the Scottish Government gave patients the legal right to be seen within 12 weeks. But since then there has been over 12,000 individual breaches of the law across Scotland, with 6,760 in NHS Lothian. This means more than half of the breaches of this law in Scotland (54%) are made by NHS Lothian.

Iain Gray MSP has said that the NHS is facing huge pressure, and has backed a policy announced by Scottish Labour to deliver 1000 additional nurses to Scotland. The funding for the nurses will be provided by a UK wide Mansion Tax on properties over £2 million.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“These figures are shocking. The Scottish Government gave themselves a legal obligation to meet targets on waiting times but since then they have broken that law over 12,000 times across Scotland.

“In NHS Lothian over 6700 patients are owed an apology by the Scottish Government, who have broken a promise when enshrined in law. This means it is likely that hundreds, if not thousands, of people here in East Lothian are owed an apology.

“The reality is that our NHS across Scotland is under huge pressure and the Scottish Government has been posted missing.

“From my regular surgeries to out on the doorstep it is clear to me that people in East Lothian are concerned about the NHS. The staff who work in it are doing the absolute best they can but they are under immense pressure, overstretched and underfunded.

“That is why I am backing 1000 additional nurses for Scotland, funded by a UK wide mansion tax on properties over £2 million. It will support our NHS and its staff, and only Labour can deliver this policy to Scotland.”

Court could be saved ‘without making a dent’ in £92m justice underspend

Newly released SNP Scottish Government figures have revealed that the Justice Department’s budget for last financial year was underspent by £92 million at a time when sheriff courts, including Haddington’s, were being identified for closure, supposedly to save money.

County MSP Iain Gray says this significant underspend, which is 3.6 per cent of the total justice budget, could easily have saved Haddington and other courts from closure several times over.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“One of the key reasons cited by SNP ministers to justify the closure of Haddington court was the need to save money. However, the huge £92 million underspend in the justice budget shows that this was simply not the case. Indeed, Haddington court could be saved without making a dent in £92 million.

“The fact is that the funds were there to save our courts, but SNP Ministers still refused to think again. They are sticking to their misguided decision despite all the evidence against closure and in contempt of overwhelming local public opinion.

“When our court closes at the end of this month, the East Lothian public will be left in no doubt about who was responsible for bringing to an end 800 years of local justice. SNP Ministers made the decision and SNP MSPs, including some of those representing the South of Scotland, rubber-stamped it.

“It is a shameful, destructive and incompetent way to treat local justice in East Lothian.”

Iain Gray

Iain welcomes local school’s success in business competition

Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP have welcomed Dunbar Grammar School’s success in reaching the Scottish Finals of a prestigious business competition.

The school competed successfully against 150 other Scottish schools in the Coca-Cola Enterprises ‘Real Business Challenge’ to be judged as one of the 10 best teams in the country.

The Scottish Finals of the competition, when Dunbar Grammar will compete against nine other schools from across Scotland, are to be held at Murrayfield Stadium on Wednesday 4th February.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“East Lothian’s schools continue to go from strength to strength, and Dunbar Grammar’s success in reaching these business challenge finals is yet another example of their many outstanding achievements. I want to congratulate everyone at the school and wish all the students involved in the competition the very best of luck in the Scottish Finals next month.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“Raising young people’s awareness and understanding of business and enterprise is now recognised as an essential part of their educational experience. Local schools have a great record for involving their pupils in these kind of activities. I’m delighted that Dunbar Grammar has reached these finals and hope they can go on to represent Scotland at the GB Finals.”

The Real Business Challenge is an annual secondary schools competition, where school teams of 6-8 students compete against other schools by completing various ‘business challenges’. The teams come from all types of schools, from every part of the country and several thousands of students are entered each year. Students are usually 13-14 years of age and, if past competitions are a guide, will be a very diverse group of young people.

This year’s challenge will be for the student teams to create a campaign, to raise awareness and funding, for athletes going to the ‘Special Olympics’ in Los Angeles (July 2015).

The winning team from the Murrayfield event will go on to represent Scotland in the GB Finals in London in March.

Let’s celebrate our young people

Local parliamentarians Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP are urging people in East Lothian to make nominations for this year’s Sunday Mail Young Scots Awards.

The Awards, which are now in their tenth year, recognise and celebrate the outstanding achievements of Scotland’s young people. Nominations are now open for the 10 categories that feature in the Awards. Anyone can nominate an outstanding young person or group of young people who are aged 11-26.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The Young Scot Awards have become established as an important annual opportunity to recognise and celebrate the achievements of young people across Scotland. If you know a friend, family member or someone in your community who you feel deserves recognition for their contributions, now is the time to nominate them.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“There are many young people across East Lothian making outstanding contributions to their communities. These Awards offer the chance for those who go the extra mile to be acknowledged for all that they do. I urge local residents to think about which young people in their community deserve recognition and put their names forward now.”

The 10 award categories are:

Sport (sponsored by sportscotland)

The Arts

Health

Entertainment (Sponsored by Megabus)

Volunteering

Unsung Hero (sponsored by Solace)

Environment (sponsored by Scottish Gas)

Enterprise (sponsored by Skills Development Scotland)

Community (sponsored by The Scottish Government)

Cultural Diversity

For further information about the awards or to make a nomination, visit the Young Scot Awards website at www.youngscotawards.com

Nominations will close at midnight on Friday 27th February.