Leader comment: The scandal of state school fees

State school education should be free for all (Picture: Getty)
State school education should be free for all (Picture: Getty)
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The idea that any child, regardless of their parents’ wealth, can do well in school is a key ‘Scottish value’.

For the education of children in Scotland to suffer because of the poverty of their parents is a scandal of the highest order.

This is a country that has long held dear the idea of a ‘lad o’ pairts’ – a poor child who was able to do well because of our education system and a meritocratic attitude that values ability over social status. It is a concept that perhaps rests on our past glories, but still, if state school education in subjects from English and music to home economics and art now comes with a fee that some cannot afford, it is a betrayal of one of the central tenets of the ‘Scottish values’ that some politicians like to trumpet.

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However, faced with reports that parents are getting into debt to their child’s school because they are unable to pay for materials and other expenses and that some pupils are avoiding certain subjects because of the expense, the Scottish Government and councils responded with shameful attempts to pass the buck.

That must stop immediately and a solution must be found as a matter of the highest priority.

Nicola Sturgeon has said closing the attainment gap between rich and poor in education is her top priority, so for this to be happening on her watch must be doubly concerning for our First Minister.

What is now needed is greater evidence of her commitment to the cause she has sought to champion and she should start by ensuring education is free and available to all children, regardless of their depth of their parents’ pockets.

Sturgeon hopes Scotland will become an independent country, but few of its potential citizens – and probably even fewer SNP supporters – would be happy to create a nation where this was not the case.

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And this is not simply a problem and an injustice for the individuals who are missing out on a decent education.

A patchwork school system is an inefficient way to get the best out of our population. Every child should be given the chance to achieve their full potential for their own sake, but also for the sake of our rather lacklustre economy.

It’s not good enough for the Scottish Government to blame Tory austerity or councils for failing to spend their much-reduced budgets correctly, or for councils to blame SNP austerity. Such squabbling will only delay the necessary changes. They must instead get together and find a way to ensure this most precious of ‘Scottish values’ is not lost.