Volunteer teachers can close the attainment gap, say Tories

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Education Secretary John Swinney have been urged to back volunteer tutor programmes for pupils from deprived backgrounds.

Many parents cant afford the fees charged by tutors to give children a little extra help. Photograph: Getty

The Conservatives said Scottish ministers could follow the example of UK government-funded schemes which sign up volunteers to provide extra tuition to pupils from poorer families who would struggle to afford the cost of up to £40 per hour. Charities such as Action Tutoring – backed by funding from the Cabinet Office – recruited volunteers in London, Liverpool, Birmingham and Sheffield to provide tuition free of charge.

A similar scheme in Glasgow, the Volunteer Tutors Organisation, relies on donations to help disadvantaged pupils in the city and has appealed for funding on its website.

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Scottish Conservatives further education spokesman Oliver Mundell said: “Extra tuition is recognised as one of the best ways to give students an extra leg up, but for too many children from low-income families they are priced out of the market.

“Across the UK, charities which provide volunteer tuition for disadvantaged children are doing fantastic work levelling out the playing field. All parties in Scotland want to reduce the attainment gap, and we believe the Scottish Government could look to see what help it can provide to do more. Rather than spend yet more public money on bureaucracy, the SNP government might consider giving support to charities which can ensure disadvantaged pupils get the tuition they need, but can’t currently afford.”

Sturgeon has made closing the attainment gap, which sees pupils from wealthier backgrounds outperform poorer counterparts, a key priority of the Scottish Government.

A series of studies have identified the discrepancy between rich and poor. Last year, for example, the Scottish Government’s own analysis found only 54 per cent of children from the poorest areas in the final year of primary school met the standard of writing expected for that age group by the Curriculum for Excellence. This compared with 78 per cent of those in the wealthiest areas. Only 58 per cent of P7 children in the most deprived areas met the standard for numeracy, compared with 80 per cent in the best-off areas. 

Overall, more than a quarter of all P7 children failed to meet reading standards, more than a third failed to achieve the expected level for writing and almost a third did not reach the benchmark for numeracy.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Through the Scottish Attainment Challenge we are encouraging schools and local authorities to develop their own approaches, drawing on evidence-based practice of what works and tailoring their plans for closing the poverty-related attainment gap to their own circumstances. This includes £120 million of Pupil Equity Funding to be spent at the discretion of headteachers and school leaders in 2017-18.”