A NEW £100 million-plus fund to drive up classroom standards in Scotland’s poorest areas has been unveiled by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
The four-year scheme will be aimed at improving health and wellbeing as well as literacy and numeracy.
It is partly inspired by the success of the “London Challenge” initiative which ran in the UK capital for eight years and saw top graduates parachuted into struggling schools in deprived areas.
The new scheme will get under way this year with £20m of funding to support the Scottish Attainment Challenge.
Ms Sturgeon, who announced the fund on a visit to Dundee yesterday, said she had been “particularly impressed” with the impact of the London Challenge in “transforming school performance”.
She said: “Education is both key to the future of Scotland’s children and an investment in the future of Scotland’s economic health. We know school education in Scotland is getting better, with record exam results and a record number of school-leavers in work, education or training.
“While we are proud of what has been achieved, we have long recognised attainment as being an important area where improvement is needed, and initiatives such as our ‘Raising Attainment For All Programme’ are already starting to make a positive impact.”
This programme sees each school or cluster of schools having an improvement plan drawn up, with work also done to measure the impact of the scheme.
The latest move comes after Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy outlined a £25m plan to raise the attainment of Scotland’s poorest children. Using revenue from Labour’s plan to create a 50p tax rate, Mr Murphy promised to double the number of teaching assistants in every primary school associated with the 20 poorest-performing secondaries in Scotland.
Ms Sturgeon addressed an audience of teachers, student teachers and education experts as she visited the campus building that houses Dundee’s St Joseph’s Primary, Victoria Park Primary and the Balgay Hill Nursery.
“We know that much more needs to be done as too many of our young people have life chances narrowed by circumstances out of their control,” she said.
She stressed the importance of learning “not just from good practice here in Scotland, but also from elsewhere in the UK and overseas, to find ways of working that have the greatest impact”.
Ms Sturgeon continued: “I have been particularly impressed with the results of the London Challenge in transforming school performance in that city and so, while not all of it will be appropriate to Scottish circumstances, we will draw heavily on it in developing our own Attainment Challenge.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS
“We must do all we can within the powers and resources we have to narrow the gap and drive up standards at all levels.”
The Scottish Government’s plans will include proposals to provide an “attainment adviser” for every local authority and a new “read, write, count” literacy and numeracy campaign in P1-3.
Fewer than one in three pupils in the most deprived areas of Scotland leaves school with at least one Higher. That compares with the four out of every five pupils who leave with at least one Higher in the more affluent areas.
The London Challenge transformed the UK capital’s schools from being the worst in England to among the best in Europe. Launched by the Labour government in 2003, it involved a huge injection of funding and education experts to improve the poorest-performing secondary schools.
Primary schools joined the Challenge five years later when it was also extended to Manchester and the Black Country north-west of Birmingham, before being wound up by the coalition government in 2011.
Labour’s Scottish education spokesman, Iain Gray, yesterday wrote to education secretary Angela Constance MSP to ask her to implement plans to track the progress on tackling educational inequality before the start of the next school year.
He described this as the “simplest part” of the plans.
“The resources are welcome, but they must be targeted and must support teachers, parents and pupils directly if we are to begin to close the attainment gap,” he said. “Spreading these resources too thinly will not achieve our purpose.”
Teaching union the EIS also welcomed the announcement, insisting Scotland can learn from “successful elements of schemes from elsewhere in the UK and further afield”, such as the London Challenge.
EIS general-secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The key to tackling poverty and inequality is to step up investment in our schools while also increasing the number of teachers working with pupils in our classrooms.”
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said it is now critical and crucial for childcare to be at the heart of the Scottish Government’s attainment ambitions.
The party has been pressing the Scottish Government to extend childcare provision to 40 per cent of two-year-olds – which could benefit a further 8,000 toddlers each year.
“It would build a stronger economy and a fairer society,” Mr Rennie said.
“We can’t afford for the SNP to take its eye off the ball for another year to focus on another campaign.”