Martin Crewe: Education alone will not close attainment gap

Tackling poverty is just as important in helping children to grow. Picture: Getty/iStockphoto

Tackling poverty is just as important in helping children to grow. Picture: Getty/iStockphoto

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Education is key to unlocking the ­potential of Scotland’s children – but there are many locks and many other keys.

The debate around the drive to improve the life chances of ­children from our poorest ­postcodes is naturally focused on what happens in Scotland’s classrooms.

However, while education may narrow the attainment gap, ­education alone will never close it and a huge amount of critical, life-changing work is being done by skilled, committed charities before and beyond the school gates

Improving children’s literacy and numeracy will help improve their futures but so will improving their health and wellbeing, and how they live at home will influence how they learn in class.

If Scotland is serious about closing the gap, about lifting children out of poverty, ensuring they have every chance to fulfil their potential, all the services involved in improving their lives and life chances must plan and work together in partnership.

The work of our teachers will be crucial but the futures of too many children raised in poverty will continue to be curtailed if we do not maximise the impact of every service and exploit every resource to bolster their ­families and ensure they can arrive at school ready to learn.

The Scottish Government’s Pupil Equity Fund is available to schools and many will use it to buy in help to close the gap, but issues like poverty, disability, mental health problems, and additional support needs cannot be tackled in schools alone.

Only a co-ordinated and well-planned partnership of all the organisations working with these children and their families can narrow the attainment gap and encourage the vital early intervention and prevention work that ensures problems do not become ­crises.

That is why Barnardo’s Scotland is among the 25 children’s charities backing the #plan4children ­campaign led by the ­Coalition of Care and Support ­Providers in Scotland.

We are asking every ­candidate in the forthcoming council elections to ­commit to improving the lives and life chances of 200,000 Scots children growing up in ­poverty.

And we’re urging local authorities to work in partnership with the Third Sector to improve all aspects of children’s lives, before and beyond the school gates.

The expertise of charities can deliver advice on income maximisation, for example, to help struggling families claim all available benefits while cutting ­household spending and ensuring children are more secure and better prepared for the school day.

A joined-up Children’s ­Services Plan would ensure transport, or the lack of it, is not a barrier to children being able to reach school on time and ready to learn.

Only effective planning and genuine collaboration will close the gap.

That is the key to unlocking the same opportunities for all our children.

Martin Crewe is director of Barnardo’s Scotland

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