Leaders: By the book approach to close attainment gap

MUCH has been made of attempts to tackle Scotland’s attainment gap – the yawning gulf in academic achievement which exists between those from the poorest and most affluent of homes.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made addressing educational attainment the number one priority of her government. Picture: Michael Gillen
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made addressing educational attainment the number one priority of her government. Picture: Michael Gillen

Yet for all the warm words, remarkably little has been done to tackle this sad indictment of Scotland’s education system.

But while the issue of poverty and achievement are inextricably linked, there are more basic concerns – often taken for granted by many – which blight the lives of many of our young people.

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That is why attempts by Scotland’s largest teaching union to “poverty proof” the classroom are to be welcomed.

In new advice issued to its members, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) offers help with issues such as uniform policies, class trips and access to computers.

A new booklet, entitled Face up to Child Poverty, is being published following an EIS survey in which teachers and lecturers were asked to share their experiences of the impact of poverty on their pupils and students.

A copy of the booklet will be sent to all schools and colleges in Scotland next week.

In a country where some schools expect every student to learn from an iPad but where others must feed those who arrive undernourished, the literature is long overdue.

Rather than resting on its laurels, the EIS has come up with a strategy which will not take pupils out of poverty, but ease their difficulties.

School can be very expensive indeed. What child wants to admit that their parents simply cannot afford a new uniform, class trip or expensive tablet?

This sort of thing can have a harmful and long-term effect on self-confidence which can carry on long after school.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made addressing educational attainment the number one priority of her government.

But since it came to power in 2007 the SNP has made next to no impact on the general rule that exam results have for decades been determined as much by a child’s postcode as anything else.

While there are some remarkable schools bucking the trend, those with the best Higher results tend to be those with the lowest proportion receiving free school meals.

Ms Sturgeon has staked her reputation on closing the attainment gap, and she is to be commended for that.

However, in an area where there has been much in the way of words but little in the way of action, the EIS has produced something substantive.

A booklet is not going to close the attainment gap or put food in the bellies of hungry children, but it can make a difference.

We hope that Scotland’s teachers respond positively to this guidance and that this relatively small contribution can make a big difference to those affected and to Scottish society as a whole.

Road map that must be followed

As ONE major capital infrastructure project is completed, another starts.

The day after the Borders Railway officially opened, work began on the dualling of the A9. And not before time.

The £3 billion scheme – the biggest ever transport project in Scotland – is expected to take ten years to complete.

That’s a lot of disruption, and if this project had got under way after the big announcement was made eight years ago, we would nearly be there by now.

Estimated for completion in 2017, the first stage of this ambitious project will see 750,000 tonnes of excavation work carried out on the five-mile stretch from Kincraig to Dalraddy in the Highlands.

From 21 September, a 40mph speed restriction will operate on the road as work is carried out.

The entire project will see 80 miles of the key route between Perth and Inverness – often dubbed Scotland’s most dangerous road – upgraded by 2025.

We can’t change what has happened in the past.

What the Scottish Government can influence now is the roll out of this project.

There must be some concern about how the scheme will pan out, given that funding has only been committed for one section.

It would be easy for the government to postpone a section on the basis that the necessary funding could not be found, while still maintaining an overall commitment to full dualling at some stage in the future.

But the government needs to keep this project on track and at long last bring this route up to standard.