Malcolm argues for the need to prioritise school budgets in the coming years
Curriculum for Excellence Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
I am not an expert on the curriculum for excellence, as will fast become obvious, but I am an enthusiast for it, not least from talking to several headteachers in my constituency, one of whom, for example, described the creativity and flexibility that were already being unleashed in her primary school.

I am an enthusiast also because I remember how it all began. I recognise the continuity between what the cabinet secretary is seeking to achieve and the national debate on education that took place eight years ago. I was interested in a comment by Don Ledingham, who is a leading director of education in Scotland. He wrote recently that

"the most remarkable thing about Curriculum for Excellence in 2010 is that it does so closely match our aspirations identified from the 2002 National Debate on Education, informed - as it was - by unions, headteachers, local authorities, parents and academics."

In that debate, people argued for a range of changes, such as reducing overcrowding in the curriculum and making learning more enjoyable, better connecting the various stages of the curriculum from three to 18, and equipping young people with the skills that they will need in tomorrow's workforce. It is important to communicate to parents and the wider population not only that enthusiasm but some of the detail of the curriculum, because people are crying out for that.

It is also important to address the concerns that exist. I raised a concern a few months ago following representations from the Royal Society of Edinburgh - I am sure that the cabinet secretary always takes its views seriously. It may be that some of the issues that it raised have been dealt with, but I will briefly repeat what I said in a debate a few months ago about its concerns, in particular that, without a common understanding of the structure of the curriculum, there is a danger of different agendas developing across Scotland. If the cabinet secretary has time, I would welcome a response to that.

Other concerns are expressed in the Labour amendment, and are about the importance of continuing professional development, clarity about qualifications and, crucially, greater consultation and involvement of parents. I am glad that the cabinet secretary said that, in principle, he accepts those demands.

The biggest problem, however, is the financial environment in which the curriculum for excellence is being introduced, and it is relevant to touch on the issues that have come up in other recent debates. Margaret Smith talked about how the City of Edinburgh Council has minimised the cuts, and I pay tribute to the great campaign waged by parents and teachers in achieving some improvements in that regard. However, it would be wrong of me not to remind members, on behalf of my constituents, that we still face cuts of 2.44 million in devolved school budgets in Edinburgh, of 655,000 in community high schools and of a further 1.355 million through unspecified savings in school budgets that are still to be announced.

It is crucial for the curriculum for excellence in particular that we have an adequate number of teachers - Margaret Smith emphasised that. We must be concerned about the introduction of the curriculum for excellence in an environment in which, as we know, we have lost 2,000 teachers in Scotland in the past two or three years.

That leads to the key theme that I have been advocating in the past few weeks. Particularly with the new spending review coming up and the difficult budgets that we all face, we must decide to prioritise school budgets and find a mechanism to make that possible. As we know, the Scottish Government has no levers to ensure that school budgets are prioritised. While I am enthusiastic for the curriculum for excellence, I think that it needs to be supported by the prioritisation of school budgets in the next three years.
February 25th 2010, (Column 23974-5)