Failing schools should be targeted for direct intervention to tackle the yawning gap between rich and poor in Scotland’s classrooms, a new Labour report said.
Extra cash and top teachers should be diverted into schools, alongside a national strategy to raise standards among poorer children, it added.
New family centres should also be established in poorer areas around Scotland to help parents and let them become more involved in their children’s schooling, said Labour.
Labour education spokeswoman Kezia Dugdale said: “After almost eight years of government, the SNP has failed to bring forward a comprehensive package of proposals to narrow the achievement gap in our schools.
“They have utterly failed to plan, develop and implement a package of policies to address this problem. They have lost all authority on this issue. It is time now for a proper discussion about how we address this issue, which has plagued Scotland for too many generations.”
Bright boys from poor backgrounds are nearly three years behind well-off, clever male classmates in reading alone, a report by the Sutton Trust found last year. And as teacher numbers fall and class sizes increase, Labour said action must be taken to reverse the slide.
The report, Mind the Gap – Tackling Educational Inequality in Scotland, said it is time to “take risks and try new things”. Councils should be forced to set out action being taken to raise achievement levels, while plans to identify and help struggling pupils should be at the heart of the schools inspection process, the report said.
It added: “The Scottish Government should develop a national long-term strategy on raising achievement amongst vulnerable and deprived children.
“Where necessary and whether in the form of additional finance or teaching resources, targeted intervention should be used as a tool to help schools or local authorities struggling to meet agreed outcomes.” Teachers should also be recruited from the cream of the country’s graduates, preferably those educated to university masters level.
The paper hints at a return to the Sure Start initiative of the Tony Blair era, with family centres offering childcare, health advice, parenting classes, back-to-work training, after-school care and homework classes.
The report is described as a challenge paper which gives a flavour of Labour’s approach to Holyrood elections in 2016.
Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning Michael Russell said there is still “ work to be done.”
He added: “We are delivering a 45 per cent increase in funded early learning and childcare hours for three and four year olds from what was in place in 2007 – and for the first time extending this to vulnerable two year olds – with an investment of £280 million over the next two years.
“Ministers want to transform childcare using the budgetary and economic choices and opportunities that are only available with having full control of Scotland’s finances through independence and we have outlined, for the first time ever in the UK, a government blueprint for achieving universal early learning and childcare.”