SNP accused of education pledge '˜con' as student support falls

The Scottish Government's promise to make education its top priority has been branded a 'con' by Scottish Labour after new budget analysis showed cuts to support for the poorest students.

Handout photo issued by the Scottish Government of Education Secretary John Swinney at Towerbank Primary School, Edinburgh, where he launched a scheme of free packs of books and games which are being delivered to all children in primaries two and three by the Scottish Book Trust as part of the Read, Write, Count campaign. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday November 10, 2016. The bundles are said to have been designed to provide a fun learning experience for youngsters at school and home, with experts hoping they will encourage parents to engage actively in their child's learning. See PA story SCOTLAND Reading. Photo credit should read: Scottish Government/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

The party highlighted figures produced by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (Spice), which showed a drop in funding for the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) from £39.6 million in the 2016/17 draft budget to £29.6 million in 2017/18.

EMAs provide financial support to eligible 16 to 19-year-olds who want to continue studying at school or college.

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The Spice figures also show a drop in the “Inspiring Scotland’s 14-19-year-olds” fund, from £4 million in 2016/17 to £3 million in 2017/18.

The fund invests in projects to help disadvantaged young people into education, training or employment.

Employment and training interventions funding - aimed at improving young people’s job prospects - is also down from £12.8 million to £11.4 million, according to the figures.

Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray said: “These cuts reveal the SNP’s promises to make education its priority to be nothing more than a shameless pre-election con.

“This budget cuts support for the poorest students to stay on at school or college - that’s an incredible priority for a Government which seemingly wants to cut the attainment gap between the richest and the rest.

“If demand for EMA is 6% down then that does not explain a 25% budget cut.”

He added: “Young people need all the support they can get to make the most of the opportunities of school or college, it beggars belief that the SNP Government plans to slash that support while claiming to care about education.

“These cuts are on top of £327 million pounds of cuts to local councils who provide the funding for our schools and social care.”

Labour plans to table amendments to the budget, which will use new powers over income tax to boost spending on public services.