Nicola Sturgeon: Open-minded on improving schools

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon writes for The Scotland on Sunday. Picture: PA

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon writes for The Scotland on Sunday. Picture: PA

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THIS week I will put education – and my determination to tackle educational inequality – at the heart of my government’s agenda for the remainder of this and, if re-elected, our next term of office.

Scotland has much to be proud of in our educational traditions. We were the first country to provide ­universal public education – and through the innovation of our ­nation’s greatest minds, our ideas, discoveries and achievements have made Scotland an inspiration and a driving force in world history.

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And just as our education system was so crucial in shaping our past, it will be the key to a fairer, more ­prosperous future.

Scottish school education is performing well. We are implementing Curriculum for Excellence; we have record exam results; a record number of school-leavers in work, education or training; and in the past seven years we have halted Scotland’s ­decline in the international league ­tables. We also now have more ­world-class universities per head of population than any other country except Switzerland.

I’m hugely grateful for the ­education I received at Dreghorn ­Primary, Greenwood Academy and the University of Glasgow – and I have no doubt that I would not be in this privileged position as Scotland’s First Minister without it.

When I became First Minister I said that one of my top priorities would be to tackle inequality, and I’m very clear about the key role that our education system must play in this.

That’s why I will never countenance tuition fees. While other parties regularly break their promises to young people, the SNP is the only party never to have voted for tuition fees.

Of course, the barriers to learning caused by poverty and inequality have their origins beyond the school gates and set in long before university. In every local authority area in Scotland there are children and young people who are not achieving all they are capable of. In the most deprived, 10 per cent of Scotland’s areas, fewer than one pupil in three leaves school with at least one Higher. In the most affluent areas, it’s four out of every five. That is not acceptable.

We have established literacy and numeracy hubs across Scotland, more than 150 schools are part of our ­Raising Attainment for All programme and the Access to Education Fund is investing £3 million in projects to tackle very specific barriers to learning.

Now we are going further, providing an Attainment Adviser for every local authority, and building on our hugely successful Play, Talk Read initiative with a new Read, Write, Count literacy and numeracy campaign in Primary 1 to 3.

But just as we must support parents, we must also support our excellent teachers. We have provided the money for councils to protect teacher numbers and it is now up to them to make that commitment to use those funds to keep the teachers in our schools that are so vital to our efforts to raise standards.

Longer term, we have to think differently and challenge the accepted ways of doing things if we are to successfully achieve our goal.

That’s why our budget announced £20 million of new investment to tackle educational inequality. That money will focus minds and efforts on those who suffer some of the greatest challenges in education.

I want all of us with an interest in education to broaden our horizons to what is happening internationally – and, yes, to other parts of the UK.

We will have no truck with the ­ideological nonsense of Michael Gove and the Tories, but we will not shy away from learning lessons from initiatives such as the London ­Challenge. It has seen real, sustained improvements in ­attainment and we are studying it with interest.

Scotland isn’t alone in having an ­attainment gap yet that gap is greater than in some of the developed nations against which we measure ourselves. Other nations such as Norway – which have very similar policies on inclusion – have a much weaker relationship between social background and attainment.

A good education is, quite simply, the most important gift we can give our young people. Scotland is credited with pioneering the concept of ­education for all – in the early 21st century the mission of my government will be to make attainment for all our goal. «

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