Speech to Scottish Conservative Spring Conference
Under the Labour/Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive, we have had 3 Education Ministers in the last four years. Let's look at their report cards.
Firstly, we had Sam Galbraith. Remember him? He was a bright pupil, but didn't pay much attention in class. As a result, we had the SQA fiasco, with thousands of Scottish pupils getting the wrong Higher results - a complete mess. So no pass marks there.
Then, we had Jack McConnell. Jack talked a lot in class, and he was popular with the girls, but he fell down when it came to sums, especially in relation to the accounts of his constituency office. So no pass marks there either.
And now we have Cathy Jamieson. Wee Cathy has been in class for 18 months but I'm sorry to say that she hasn't learned a thing. In particular, she hasn't learned anything from even her own Party colleagues in Westminster, resisting at every turn their agenda of devolving power to school, extending choice and creating more specialist schools.
So what would a Conservative Education Minister do? Well, he would tackle the real problems that Brian Monteith and the other speakers referred to.
Firstly, we would seek to restore discipline to our schools. The statistics are truly appalling - a sevenfold increase in violent incidents in the classroom since 1997. There is now an assault on a teacher in a classroom somewhere in Scotland every 15 minutes - that means since we sat down at 10 o'clock this morning there have been [ ] assaults on teachers. This is shocking - and we will deal with it.
We will get rid of the Executive's crazy policy of having targets to reduce school exclusions, which has meant that violent pupils are kept in the classroom instead of being excluded. An we will give headteachers the right to decide at a school level what pupils should or should not be excluded - no more Ministerial interference.
But pupils with a poor disciplinary record should not be left to roam the streets. We recognise that there are many pupils - especially 14 and 15 year olds - disengaged from mainstream schooling. They are uninterested in academic subjects and their presence in school may be disruptive to academic pupils who want to get on and learn in peace. What we will do is give school pupils the right to access vocational training at FE Colleges from age 14 - so they leave school not disengaged, not disgruntled, but with real skills which will equip them for life and the job market.
We will extend Devolved School Management to offer all schools to have greater control over their own affairs, particularly over how budgets are spent. We will allow groups of parents to establish new schools with state funding, if there is enough demand, and encourage these new schools and indeed existing schools to develop their own character - as specialist academies for the arts, sport or technical subjects, or perhaps as Gaelic medium schools or faith schools - it happens in England, so why can it not happen here?
And we will introduce a rural schools guarantee, to prevent Councils like SNP-run Angus trying to close small rural schools against the wishes of parents.
Chairman, all this we will do, delivering real improvements to Scottish Education.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we should never let our political opponents misrepresent our record in office. Nor should we apologise for our achievements - a real terms increase of 15% in Scottish education funding over 18 years, the Parents' Charter, establishing School Boards, Devolved School Management, raising standards with the 5-14 Development Programme, extending nursery provision with vouchers and a massive increase in higher education places. 18 years of delivery followed by 6 years of failure under Labour and the Liberal Democrats. The contrast could not be clearer.
So the message from this Conference to the people of Scotland is this: for the sake of your children and grandchildren, for anyone concerned about the standards in our schools - get out there on May 1st and vote Conservative.