My trip to Orkney last Friday saw me go back to school for a few hours, enjoying a chat with Modern Studies pupils at Kirkwall Grammar School.
Much of my discussion with these young folk – including some potential future politicians – was around the work of a parliamentarian. As well as the scale of the task for a Highlands & Islands list MSP, not least due to the geographic area involved, I gave an outline of committee work, cross-party groups, and what goes on in the debating chamber.
It was a chance for me to share what it is like being an elected representative for half the landmass of Scotland. My working week, as well as lots of travel, involves long hours and a lot of variety. Last week I started with an informal breakfast, taking evidence from service users about the NHS, and ended with a debate on British Sign Language which I allowed me to highlight some great practice in Dingwall Academy, which my children attend. On Wednesday of course, business in the parliament was suspended while my colleague Kate Forbes was mid-sentence, because of the terrible events in Westminster.
The pupils asked questions on topics including Private Members Bills and which job in government I’d fancy. We also discussed the gender imbalance in politics, and I took the opportunity to urge all the youngsters to follow their dreams, whatever barriers there might be.
A film of my visit will be made available on the school website.
As ever, I came away from my school visit feeling inspired by the young folk I had met. They, and their peers across Scotland, are the future of our country and investing in their formative years is a crucial part of the Scottish Government’s work.
It is that investment in early years, aimed at closing the attainment gap in Scotland’s schools, that is under threat due to a recent Orkney Islands Council decision. This led to my meeting with one concerned parent.
Lisa Groundwater is leading a campaign to reverse OIC’s closure of the Orkney Language Unit, which provides additional support to pupils with speech, language and communications difficulties. I was very concerned to hear about the change in the way the service will be delivered, and even more so after Lisa, whose four-year-old son Alie has only recently started attending the unit, described how he has already made good progress in a short time.
I share Lisa’s very real concerns over how difficult it would be to deliver a similar programme with all the background noise of a traditional classroom, rather than the peace and quiet that appears to be a valuable quality of the existing unit.
It seems to me that access to this specialist resource in a child’s early years is preferable to trying to deal with these issues further through the education system.
Lisa is hoping to arrange a meeting for all interested parties to come together and discuss the way forward – I wish her every success.
This is a regular fortnightly column by local MSP Maree Todd SNP