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News from Holyrood

Sometimes, parliamentary questions are such statements of the obvious that the reason behind them must be less than obvious. "(Is) acquisition of literacy skills a priority for Scottish education?" Rhona Brankin, Labour's education spokesperson, demanded to know.

She would not have been expecting the answer no, and Maureen Watt, Minister for Schools and Skills, duly spelt out that it was a key requirement for which all teachers would have responsibility.

The reason for statements of the obvious is usually to commit ministers or to embarrass them, which is arguably part of the job of opposition. Hence, the interest being shown in how much money is being spent on activities such as childcare, workforce development, out-of-school childcare or the Sure Start programme. The reason is to hold the government culpable if the greater spending freedom it is giving to local authorities results in less money going to these areas.

Parliamentary questions also provide local information which MSPs can use - or abuse - in their constituencies. So Labour's Karen Gillon, member for Clydesdale, was keen to know how much South Lanarkshire Council would get to help in reducing P1-3 classes to 18; the SNP's Andrew Welsh, representing Angus, was after data on support for dyslexic pupils in Angus and Dundee; and the Tory, John Lamont, from Roxburgh and Berwickshire, wanted an analysis of the free school meals pilot in the Borders.

But there is no doubt that it is the concordat agreed between ministers and local government leaders that is exercising opposition MSPs at present. Andy Kerr, the health minister in the previous government, has been leading the charge, and ministers have assured him that the deal will deliver everything from teacher numbers to the changed curriculum to more vocational learning.

And just because a question has been asked before matters little. For the umpteenth time, ministers refused to put a timescale on class-size limits of 18, saying the pace would vary according to place. But each council would have to make annual progress reports.

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