Education is key to recovery from pandemic - Lorna Slater
As we come out of the pandemic, it is vital that we invest in young people and our future.
My first week as a Minister was a very busy one. There were lots of meetings, with dozens of new people to meet and processes to learn. It has been hectic, but it is worth it, because being in government is what allows us to turn our words into actions and our promises into reality.
It comes with a big responsibility, and the changes that we are agreeing today could have an impact for years to come.
One area where I am particularly excited about the long-term prospects is the investment we are making in teachers and education.
Across the country we will be recruiting 3500 new teachers, with at least 339 here in Edinburgh. These are not just numbers on a spreadsheet. They will allow us to reduce class sizes while enabling teachers to give pupils more individual support and allowing them more time to prepare for lessons.
This recruitment comes over and above the 1,400 teachers who were recruited during the pandemic. That means that there will be almost 5,000 more teachers in Scottish schools than before we went into lockdown.
Even before the pandemic, Scotland's teachers had some of the highest workloads and longest hours anywhere in Europe. Over the last 18 months things have been even harder, with remote learning and then the reopening forcing them to adapt to a very difficult and unprecedented situation.
Edinburgh has some of the best schools in the country, and teachers that have gone above and beyond. I am delighted that we can show them this support.
Teachers play a crucial role in our communities and in the lives of young people. They don’t just provide them with a series of facts, they can change their lives. By investing in them, we are investing in our communities and in our future.
But it’s not just teacher numbers that we are expanding. It is also the services that are being provided for pupils.
A study from Imperial College found that one third of young people suffered from poor mental health over the course of the first lockdown. That is one reason why we have committed to ensuring that all school students will have a right to access mental health and wellbeing support in school.
One of the big indicators of mental health and educational inequality is poverty, which has been hugely exacerbated by the pandemic. Across the country, parents and family budgets have been squeezed, and the UK government will make it even worse if they go ahead with the proposed cut to Universal Credit.
One of our big and immediate priorities is to increase the Scottish Child Payment, with a plan to double it. We will also introduce statutory guidance for schools to increase the use of generic items of uniform, which will reduce costs for families.
Young people are among those that have been most adversely affected by the pandemic. It has kept them away from friends and hampered their opportunities. It has turned what should be crucial and formative years into ones that many would like to forget. It has done so much damage. We must ensure that they are at the heart of our recovery.
Lorna Slater is a Green MSP for Lothian and Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity