FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon challenged over lack of progress on attainment gap

Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of failing her “sacred responsibility” to close the educational attainment gap between Scotland’s poorest and wealthiest children as Ruth Davidson challenged her to set a timetable to meet her promise.

The Scottish Tory Holyrood leader said it had been five years since Nicola Sturgeon had pledged to “shut the attainment gap completely” and yet a report by Audit Scotland, published Tuesday, had revealed the poverty-related attainment gap remains wide and existing inequalities have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Ms Davidson said her party had made suggestions last year about how to ensure pupils were not negatively impacted by school closures, but that all were ignored by the Scottish Government.

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Raising the report Ms Davidson – in her final appearance at First Minister’s Questions before she leaves Holyrood for the House of Lords – asked Ms Sturgeon to confirm when the gap would be closed as promised.

Ruth Davidson challenged the First Minister on the attainment gap in schools.

She said Ms Sturgeon had claimed it was her “sacred responsibility” to ensure every pupil had the chance to succeed and to “close that attainment gap completely” but after 14 years in control of education, the gap was widening.

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Audit Scotland report: Scotland's education attainment gap 'remains wide'

Rejecting the accusations, the First Minister did not give a timescale for the closure of the attainment gap, but said she would “work hard” through the next parliamentary term if the SNP are the largest party after May's election.

She said the literacy and numeracy gap in primary school pupils had narrowed, along with the gap in numeracy for S3 pupils, differences between the number of school leavers in positive destinations and leaving with one pass or more at level five.

While progress had been made, she said, it had been "hampered" by the pandemic.

"If you look at the first five years of the Scottish attainment challenge programme, there is evidence that almost all of the short and medium term outcomes have been achieved. There's been demonstrable achievements on several of the long term measures to close the attainment gap," she said.

However Ms Davidson asked how many times Ms Sturgeon would "demand" another independence referendum "before she finally gets round to closing the education gap?"

She added: “The gap between pupils from different economic backgrounds remains wide despite countless SNP vows and pledges.

“Talk is cheap. The SNP have had 14 years in charge of Scotland’s schools and it has been a pitiful record of failure.”

The First Minister said: "There will be another independence referendum if the people of Scotland vote for another independence referendum – it is called democracy."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Willie Rennie, also criticised Ms Sturgeon’s record on education, and said at the rate of the government’s progress it would take 35 years to have equity in education, which would leave behind generations of thousands of young people.

"The First Minister said, 'judge me on education'. Well, now is the time for people to judge,” he said.

“The First Minister predicted that such change “won’t be done overnight” but we have had 2,000 overnights since then. Does the First Minister accept she has had enough time and she has not done enough for young people in Scotland?"

Ms Sturgeon again said she expected "significant progress" over the five years of the next Holyrood term, if Scots returned her back to power.

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