Albeit old news, it is heartening to be reminded that the Government’s school-building programme is underway and on course to develop school buildings, fit for purpose. However, it should not be buildings’ refurbishment that is at the top of the Government’s agenda.
The real disgrace within Scottish education is the attainment gap between our poorest and most affluent pupil base. Two local authority schools, separated by a mere 7 miles, in Glasgow and East Renfrewshire, illustrate this. One has 0% of its pupils attaining 5 Highers or more by the end of S5 whilst the other has 48% of its pupils achieving exactly that. This attainment gap is nothing short of a national disgrace and everyone involved in education needs to be reminded of this unacceptable iniquity. It is simply not good enough to explain this gap as being down to social background, poor environment or a culture that undervalues education.
All children can be taught but some require more effort and planning than others. To wring our hands and say that we are doing our best is simply not good enough. Resources have to be ploughed into deprived areas to ensure that Scotland is not regarded as the developed world’s weakest education system for those who live in poverty. The fact that this gap in attainment is the highest in Europe gives credence to the argument that we are not doing enough. And by resources, I do not mean money going into a big pot for more computers, more books or more equipment – what is really required is more teaching staff. We currently have thousands of teachers unable to find permanent employment who could be used to increase the pupil-teacher ratio favourably.
We need to ensure the learning that pupils undertake is well supported, engaging and that maintains as its central focus high expectation. I can imagine working in a school where no one gets 5 Highers and finding it hard to raise my expectations of the pupils sitting in front of me, but high expectation is the only way in which to alter this inequality. I am not one for the focus being entirely on qualifications per se, but I am deeply interested in education and having come from a working class background myself, I find it hard to understand why we are so accepting of such a situation. I would urge all educators to put pressure on Government to tackle academic inequalities head on and to tackle them now. Lack of money is no excuse for such a situation being tolerated, what is required is determination and a will to change and succeed.