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.

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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.