Hugh Reilly: Education gap has proved very hard to close

THERE’S a wealth of evidence to prove the case that poverty is a key factor in low educational attainment.It seems that every other week, university researchers re-discover the fact that Glasgow has the worst poverty levels in the UK.

Unsurprisingly, since naming and shaming began in the Eighties, the city has held on grimly to 32nd place in the education league table of the nation’s 32 local authorities.

According to a report by Barnardo’s, 98 per cent of children living in Easterhouse are in or on the brink of poverty. This appalling level of deprivation is reflected in the SQA results of the local comprehensive, Lochend Secondary school. In 2009/10, the Scottish average for pupils receiving three or more Higher awards in S5 was 53 per cent: in Lochend the figure was 5 per cent. The national average for students achieving five or more Credit awards at Standard Grade was 36 per cent: in Easterhouse, it was 8 per cent.

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The only category Lochend secondary exceeded the country’s average lay in the numbers eligible for a free school meal: 46 per cent versus 14 per cent.

Less than two miles from Lochend lies another Glasgow school, Bannerman High. At this establishment, youngsters are six times as likely to achieve three or more Highers and almost four times as likely to secure five Credit passes as kids from Easterhouse. What could possibly explain the gross disparity in educational success?

Teachers at both these schools attended the same universities and colleges of education, thus a logical assumption would be that teacher quality is not the problem.

My preferred explanation is that Bannerman serves a more affluent catchment area; a mere 12 per cent of pupils claim a free meal. Successive governments have done little to change the lot of the bottom 20 per cent of young people in our schools.

Today, our housing schemes are home to the unemployed, the unemployable and folk on low wages who can’t afford an escape route out of the ghetto. Sadly, in my experience, many kids exhibit an unhealthy poverty of ambition. They don’t just accept their lot: they openly embrace it.

Until we make credible efforts to close the wealth gap, the education gap will continue to widen.