‘Traditional ethos’ in Scots schools hitting attainment gap fight

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The “outdated” and “traditional ethos” of some schools in Scotland may be a barrier to Nicola Sturgeon’s flagship drive to close the gap in standards between affluent and poorer ares of the country, MSPs have been told.

Many teachers still do not understand the impact of ­poverty and adversity on youngsters, according to charity Barnardo’s Scotland.

Many schools and institutions are not open to change and doing things differently, MSPs were told. Picture: John Devlin

Many schools and institutions are not open to change and doing things differently, MSPs were told. Picture: John Devlin

The First Minister has urged Scots to “judge her” on the progress she makes in driving down the attainment gap in schools while in government, and Holyrood’s education committee is conducting an inquiry into the achievement of youngsters living in poverty.

But Martin Crewe, head of charity Barnardo’s Scotland, says the stress caused by Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) can undermine their ability to learn.

“Our experience is that there can be a lack of understanding from teaching staff about the impact of poverty and adversity, in particular the impact of in-work poverty for children and families,” Mr Crewe says in a submission to MSPs.

“A ‘traditional school ethos’ is still present in some schools with examples of outdated practice which does not place the health and wellbeing of the child at the centre, for example ‘if you can’t learn, engage or behave you are out of the class,’” Mr Crewe added.

“More often than not, what is going on in a child’s home life is the reason they are unable to concentrate, take part or engage with their learning.”

Education has become political after recent years saw Scotland fall down international league tables in key areas like maths and science. There can also be “differing views” among schools about what is causing the attainment gap, Mr Crewe adds, with little priority given to the impact of poverty and adversity.

“We work with lots of fantastic schools and staff, but our overall experience is that there can still be some resistance to constructive feedback from partner agencies and there may still be a professional hierarchy at play,” Mr Crewe goes on.

“Many schools and institutions are open to change and doing things differently, however others are not and in those cases it is sometimes easier to see the child in terms of ‘bad behaviour’ or ‘poor parenting’ than to bring about institutional change within an establishment.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said ministers are investing in “new and innovative” approaches to address the impact of poverty on attainment in school and offering teachers support.

“However, we recognise there is more work to do to ensure families get the right support, at the right time, to prevent a cycle of adversity being passed down from generation to generation.”