Much of the debate surrounding the need to tackle inequality in Scotland tends to drift towards the level welfare payments and the minimum wage should be set at. However, any government which wishes to tackle the poverty which is handed down within families from generation to generation must reduce the attainment gap between rich and poor in our education system. It is therefore with real concern that I read the results of the “2014 Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy” today.
This authoritative report shows that, despite the SNP being in control of education at all levels since 2007, attainment in Scottish schools has dropped in recent years. Worse than that, the attainment gap between the least and most deprived students has increased in both relative and absolute terms. This must at least in part be due to the 4,500 teaching jobs which have been lost in Scotland since 2007 to help fund the SNP council tax freeze which disproportionately benefits the wealthy.
As someone who works in a Scottish university and runs one of the UK’s very best engineering degrees, I can see the same folly in Higher Education. The SNP deserve great credit for maintaining free higher education, but Ms Sturgeon’s promotion of this policy as morally just whilst simultaneously cutting the grants for the poorest students to the lowest level in the western EU is misleading at best. Independent research by the University of Edinburgh has found that only those from families earning over £31,000 have benefitted from this policy. The Higher Education budget has been balanced on the backs of the poor.
Those students from deprived areas in Scotland who are able to be admitted to university find that to study they must take on large loans and try to find paid employment to support their studies. The forthcoming university exam board season will see students from deprived backgrounds thrown out of university not due to a lack of ability or ambition, but a failure of the Scottish Government to offer these students a fair opportunity to take advantage of the difference a good university education can make.