Trusting teacher assessment is only viable alternative to exams

Iain Gray MSP has called on John Swinney to explain why Education Scotland and the SQA badly bungled the transition to online learning this week and has demanded that the SNP accept that trusting teacher assessment is the only viable alternative to exams.

Speaking in the chamber in response to the Ministerial Statement on Covid-19 and education, Iain Gray MSP said:

“It is clear that teachers have worked hard over recent months in preparation for a sudden shift to remote learning, and that they were ready with materials and programmes for their pupils to continue learning at home.

“But many will feel that they have been let down by the national platforms on which they thought they could rely – most notably a widespread software failure.

“But there were also problems with the flagship E-sgoil platform.  One head teacher told me that pupils logging in did not get the lessons advertised, that links did not work, and that in any case most subjects are still not covered.

“Then the SQA lived down to expectation by publishing an assessment update on their update, promising another update to come, still looking for two to four assessments to be done; even suggesting teachers might invigilate these remotely; presumably using the IT which at that time was not working.

“Why did Education Scotland not fully stress test the IT they were recommending for schools well in advance?

“Is the E-sgoil offer fixed today and will it expand to all subjects?

“And isn’t it time to accept that trusting teacher assessments is the only viable alternative to exams in the circumstances we face, and give teachers, pupils and parents some clarity now?”

Big Energy Saving Month launched

Today Citizens Advice Scotland has launched Big Energy Saving Month 2021, a campaign that seeks to help people save time, money and energy through everyday actions.
Energy bills are a real struggle for many people and falling temperatures alongside ongoing coronavirus restrictions means people will really be starting to feel the squeeze.
 
Research by YouGov for Citizens Advice Scotland reveals that 15 per cent of people who have run out of money before payday since Covid restrictions began have missed an energy payment.
The nationwide campaign will run until Sunday 31 January and encourages people to get energy advice, with a special focus on five key consumer groups:
· People on electric only heating
· People on prepayment meters
· People struggling with energy bills
· Those who frequently turn off the heating to save money
· People who can’t access deals and support online
Find out more about the CAS campaign and how you can make savings on your energy at www.cas.org.uk/BESM2021

2021 will be year of reckoning for SNP on schools

2021 must be the year that Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP are judged on their stewardship of education in Scotland, Iain Gray MSP has said.

Nicola Sturgeon described improving education in Scotland as the ‘defining mission’ of her government and said that she should be judged on her record on education.

After 13 years of the SNP running education in Scotland, their record is dismal.

• Spending per pupil has fallen.
• Teacher numbers are still below 2007 levels.
• Class size targets have been missed.
• Scotland is sliding down the international PISA rankings.
• Pupils were unfairly treated in the SQA results scandal.
• The attainment gap has persisted.
• Funding for university students has been eroded in real terms.

Scottish Labour has said that the SNP’s record on education is nothing more than a ‘litany of failure’ and has warned that the SNP must now be judged on their stewardship of education.

Commenting, Iain Gray MSP said:

“The SNP’s 13-year stewardship of education has been nothing more than a litany of failure.

“Promises made by the SNP in 2007 have not been delivered and issues such as the attainment gap have been neglected.

“What’s more John Swinney has presided over crisis after crisis, including the shameful SQA results debacle of last summer.

“Nicola Sturgeon once said, ‘judge me on education’. By all measures she, and her government, have failed abysmally – this year, as the election approaches, they must be judged and face a reckoning for that failure.

“Scottish Labour would restore funding for our schools and increase teacher numbers to at least pre-SNP levels; reducing class sizes and ensuring all pupils get the time they need with their teachers.”

Christmas message

There is little doubt that this year will mostly be remembered for negative reasons. The loss of life, economic hardship and unprecedented curbs on our daily lives and freedoms caused by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have already marked 2020 down as one of the worst years in living memory. This is completely understandable, especially in relation to the many thousands of deaths caused by Covid which have affected so many families.

However, we should not forget another side to this year which can be an inspiration as we recover and rebuild after the pandemic. That is the wonderful response from communities and individuals to the hardships created by lockdown and the necessary public health restrictions.

Neighbours looked out for and helped those around them, displaying the kind of community spirit it sometimes felt had been lost forever. Local community groups, charities and businesses rallied around to provide emergency food parcels, hot meals and other essentials for those shielding or isolating. And just this month we witnessed the start of the vaccination programme which is the result of a remarkable scientific effort and offers the world hope as we enter the new year.

I highlight these things, not to downplay the harm the pandemic has done so far and will undoubtedly continue to do for some time to come, but rather because in times of adversity it is important to also focus on the positive if we can. That is one of the reasons I have continued to celebrate in Parliament some of the ongoing local achievements of our communities throughout the pandemic and will keep doing so.

I also highlight them to say thank you to everyone for their efforts, NHS and care staff, council staff including teachers, public transport workers, shop workers and all those community volunteers.

2020 is also my last full year as East Lothian’s MSP as I prepare to stand down from the role next May. I do so with mixed emotions. I will miss representing this amazing area at Holyrood and everything that entails. However, the last few months have underlined the importance of family and I am very much looking forward to having more time to spend with mine after May, especially my seven grandchildren. In the meantime, I will continue to give my all to the job.

I wish all East Lothian residents a merry Christmas and a peaceful 2021.  Take care and stay safe.

Holiday closure dates

Please note that Iain’s office will be ‘closed’ from 5pm today (Wednesday 23rd December) until 9am on Monday 11th January.

However, emails will be checked from the w/b Monday 4th January and any urgent enquiries responded to.

The Scottish Government’s guidance for the festive period can be found here.

If you have an emergency Council-related issue over the holiday period, the relevant contact information can be found here.

For health queries over the holidays please consult NHS24 at www.nhs24.scot or call 111.

We wish all constituents a Merry Christmas and peaceful New Year!

Backing call for freeze on rail fares

Iain Gray MSP is backing a call for the Scottish government to freeze rail ticket costs into 2021 after the UK government announced this week that prices would rise beyond inflation for the first time since 2013 – a decision that will impact on Scottish rail services.

Rail Minister Chris Heaton Harris confirmed that a rise of 2.6 per cent would come into effect from 1 March 2021 – two months later than the usual fare rise date of January.

In Scotland, the RPI (Retail Prices Index) announced in August 2020 that peak regulated rail fares would increase in price by 1.6 per cent in January 2021, bringing the overall increase in peak regulated rail fares to 15 per cent – 56 per cent since the SNP came to power in 2007.

ScotRail has been in receipt of the Emergency Measures Agreement, a government support scheme that has been extended until 10 January 2021. ScotRail’s passenger numbers remain 70 per cent down due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.

However, the UK price rise announcement has prompted this demand for the Scottish Government to take action now and freeze rail fares for the services they are responsible for.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Rail costs have spiralled by 56 per cent since the SNP came to power and another rip off fare hike will hit people hard at a time many families are already struggling.

“The Scottish Government should commit now freezing fares for the foreseeable future while the country gets back on its feet.

“Inflation-busting price hikes only serve to punish passengers and will do little to encourage people back onto using public transport when we begin to move out of the pandemic.

“It’s clear the UK and Scottish rail franchise system is broken. We need to bring our railways back under public ownership to ensure that these rip off rail fares end and that our railways provide better value for passengers and the taxpayer.”

Radical rethink needed after scale of drugs death crisis revealed

Iain Gray MSP is backing calls for a change of political and policy direction to end the stigma of drug use and to save lives, as figures this week revealed record levels of drug deaths.

Data published this week showed that 18 drug related deaths occurred last year in East Lothian, more than three times the number of deaths in the county a decade ago.

Scotland continues to have the highest drug-related death rate in Europe and a rate almost 3.5 times the UK rate as a whole.

Scottish Labour has called for an end to the stigma towards people who use drugs problematically and has demanded a national response to the public health emergency.

Commenting, Iain Gray MSP said:

“Every drug-related death is an avoidable tragedy. The scale of the crisis means a radical rethink is required with a joint effort from all political leaders to tackle this human rights emergency.

“People who misuse drugs and their families need urgent action. Safe consumption facilities and increased rapid access to residential rehabilitation are vital and could happen today.

“All political parties must put their heads together and work towards saving lives to help Scotland’s recovery community thrive.”

Call to bring Scotland’s rail services into public ownership

Iain Gray MSP has joined a coalition of organisations and cross-party group of MSPs in calling for public ownership of Scotland’s rail services from January 2021.

In a joint letter, the group of 14 organisations representing Scotland’s rail workers, passengers, disabled people, pensioners, environmentalists, civil society and 20 MSPs wrote to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to call for the Scottish Government to take Scotland’s rail passenger services into public ownership from the start of next year.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The rail franchise system hasn’t worked for passengers and the SNP government has failed deliver the world-leading rail service we were promised.

“With less than a month to go until the ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper Emergency Measures Agreements expire, I’m pleased to have signed this joint letter to the First Minister calling for our rail passenger services to be taken into public ownership from January next year.

“The Scottish Government has the power to end the failed rail franchises now and replace it with a publicly-owned People’s ScotRail to deliver a rail system that works for passengers, not the profits of private rail firms.”

Further details about the letter and its contents can be found at www.rmt.org.uk/news/coalition-call-for-public-ownership-of-scotlands-railway/

Highlighting business Brexit support as end of transition period nears

With just a little over a fortnight before the end of the Brexit transition period and amid continued uncertainty on a UK-EU trade deal, Iain Gray MSP has questioned the Scottish Government on its support for local businesses as they prepare for a new era outside the EU.

Mr Gray asked what assessment Ministers have made of the impact on East Lothian of leaving the EU. He followed that up by asking about the practical support that the Scottish Government and its agencies are providing for businesses affected by Brexit.

Speaking afterwards, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I know that the drawn-out nature of the Brexit process and the continued uncertainty surrounding our future trading relationship with the rest of the EU has made life very difficult for many businesses that trade with Europe.

“Local businesses have already told me that they have suffered because of our departure from the EU, and all the forecasts suggest this is set to get worse, especially if we leave the current transition period without a deal.

“East Lothian Council has been doing its best to advise and support businesses on our new relationship with the EU, and there is assistance available from Scottish Government agencies too.

“Any local businesses still unsure about how to prepare for the changes after 1 January should visit www.prepareforbrexit.scot/ for advice and information.”

Watch the full exchange on this issue here.

Comment on East Lothian’s return to Level 3 restrictions

Commenting on today’s decision to move East Lothian back to Level 3 Covid-19 restrictions, Iain Gray MSP said:

“This is a really disappointing development, albeit one we could all see coming following the recent rapid increase in local cases. Local decision-makers need to examine the factors that are contributing to this trend and take remedial action where possible to turn around the rise in infections.

“What is absolutely clear, however, is that we all have a responsibility to stick to the public health advice, especially the basic rules on wearing face coverings, avoiding crowds, hand washing, social distancing and self-isolating when necessary.

“And, with the Christmas bubble just days away, everyone should also be doing everything they can to limit their social contact over the next week in order to be as safe as possible over the festive period.”