The Herald

Ministers drop key pledge to close the education attainment gap by 2026


THE Scottish Education Secretary has dropped a key government pledge to substantia­lly eliminate the poverty-related attainment gap in Scotland’s schools by 2026.

Shirley-anne Somerville admitted ministers had made slow progress before the pandemic and refused to set a new “arbitrary date” for completion.

Pressed by MSPS yesterday, she claimed the ambition has “always been a long-term project” – despite setting a clear target in 2016 to close the gap within a decade.

Nicola Sturgeon’s 2016 Programme for Government stated “it is the defining mission of this government to close the poverty-related attainment gap”.

It said: “We intend to make significan­t progress within the lifetime of this parliament (20162021) and substantia­lly eliminate the gap over the course of the next decade. That is a yardstick by which the people of Scotland can measure our success.”

The latest official figures, published in December, found the attainment gap between pupils from the most and least deprived areas increased to the highest level on record, with the largest ever difference­s in primary pupils achieving the expected levels in literacy and numeracy. The Curriculum for Excellence education statistics figures for literacy revealed 80.7 per cent of primary pupils in the most affluent areas were at or above the expected standard, compared to 56% of those from the poorest background­s.

With the attainment levels falling by three percentage points for the most well-off, and 7.1 percentage points for the most deprived since 2018-19, the gap stood at 24.7 percentage points, according to the statistics.

Ms Somerville blamed the lack of progress on the pandemic, budget cuts from Westminste­r and a global economic slowdown.

She told the Scottish Parliament’s education committee there will be “greater pace of change” in the years ahead.

Conservati­ve MSP Stephen Kerr, the committee convener, asked: “When will we see improvemen­t to the extent that the gap has been closed?”

Ms Somerville replied: “I’m not going to set an arbitrary date when the attainment gap will be closed, particular­ly so close to the experience­s we are still having with the pandemic.”

She said she would not dictate a policy and a target but would instead “work with local government . . . to deliver the aims that are correct for their area”.

The Education Secretary said good progress was being made before the pandemic, despite a report by Audit Scotland, the public spending watchdog, that described it as limited.

Scottish Conservati­ve shadow education secretary Oliver Mundell said: “There could be no clearer admission of failure from the SNP Government than them giving up on this totemic pledge.

“This is the ultimate betrayal of youngsters from disadvanta­ged background­s by Nicola Sturgeon.”

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