Any government which has a plan to tackle the attainment gap deserves our support.

Any government which has a plan to tackle inequality by reducing the attainment gap in our education system deserves our support. However, on reading Angela Constance’s thoughts on the issue I am not exactly sure what she plans. Given that her SNP Government has had full control of education in Scotland at all levels since 2007, this is quite concerning.

The context is grim. The authoritative “2014 Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy” found that 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.

Further to this, last year the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSA) noted with concern that the SNP Government was withdrawing Scotland from two key international benchmark studies: Progress in International Reading Literacy Study and Trends in International Maths and Science Survey. It remains part of a third study, the Programme for International Student Assessment, which the RSE concluded was of “limited value to an evaluation of a curricular reform” such as we have seen in Scotland. These moves carry all the hallmarks of a government which has no confidence in its own education system.

Indeed, in her speech Ms Constance said “Every school and every local authority must own its attainment gap and take action”. Closing the attainment gap is therefore now the responsibility of our cash-strapped Local Authorities, not her Scottish Government – although I am sure she will take the credit for any success.

To close the attainment gap Ms Constance must invest in our most vulnerable communities. Above all else, she must reverse her government’s cuts to teacher numbers and education spending.

It is time for action. As Kezia Dugdale said this week: The SNP have spent the last eight years tapping their pencil and staring into space on educational inequality. Parents are anxious, teachers are over-worked and stressed. Students are losing out.

The SNP Lacks Credibility on the Attainment Gap.

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One of the great contradictions of contemporary Scottish politics is the emphasis the nationalists have placed on tackling inequality despite having done virtually nothing to redistribute wealth and opportunity.

The Scotsman today suggests there is some movement in the SNP on this issue and, after eight years in power, they will adopt a successful Labour education policy.

However, I am unsure that this initiative alone will be enough. Authoritative analysis by Unison has estimated that the council tax freeze has cost £2.5 billion and thousands of job losses in local authorities – this has had a direct impact on every state school in Scotland. Class sizes are rising and Scotland has 4275 fewer teachers. In addition to this, our colleges have been cut and university students from poor backgrounds receive the worst grant in Western Europe.

These cuts have taken place to enable the SNP to deliver populist policies which in many cases have also worsened economic inequality as well as the attainment gap. For example, the council tax freeze gives an annual saving in Band A of  £60, or 0.3% of net household income, compared with £370, or 0.8% of net household income, for Band H residents. This is good news for those living in mansions, but those on low incomes face high costs for everything from school meals to people with learning difficulties being charged for access to day centres.

Let’s get serious about the attainment gap. Let’s tackle educational inequality from pre-school to university. Let’s fund it by having the wealthiest Scots pay a fair share, not cutting service to the vulnerable in Scotland.

Education & Inequality in Scotland

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The link between education and deprivation is clear, the problem is that the there is no short-term solution to deal with it. It requires education to provide opportunities for children from pre-school through to university.

I grew up in one of the most deprived areas of the UK – a council estate in Kirkcaldy during the 1980’s miner’s strike. My route out of that was to work hard at school and go on to complete a degree and eventually a PhD. This solid educational base has led me to a career which has taken me right around the world – from Australia to Brazil, Japan and Dubai.

My experience tells me that education is fundamental to reducing inequality in Scotland and elsewhere in the world. As a lecturer who manages one of the UK’s leading engineering programmes at a Scottish university I continually come across students who must leave university because they simply cannot afford to support themselves.

The Scottish Government deserves great credit for abolishing the £2000 “Graduate Endowment Fee” in 2007 and thereby making higher education fee in Scotland. However, they also halved the grant payable to the very poorest students to the lowest in the EU – £1,750 per year (less than I received from Margaret Thatcher in 1987).  Students from poor backgrounds must now either work long hours or accumulate massive debts.

I recently came across a student from one of the most deprived areas in Edinburgh who as well as studying full-time also managed a supermarket full-time.  He was one of the very best students I have encountered, and was evidence that whilst Scots growing up in poor communities may lack opportunity, but they don’t lack commitment, intelligence or ambition.