The Attainment Gap

You have to admire any politician who puts education at the heart of their personal agenda and when that politician is the First Minister then you suspect there will be a number of people whose career is also dependent on ensuring education improves. More than this, Nicola Sturgeon has actually asked to be judged on her ability to reduce the ‘attainment gap’. The First Minister is absolutely right to focus on this area.

So what is the ‘attainment gap’? Currently, Scotland languishes at the bottom of this particular performance indicator. That is to say, 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. These attainment disparities are nothing short of a national disgrace and an unacceptable iniquity.

The Government, however, is in very real danger of seeing this attainment gap widen. That would be a disaster for the First Minister but also for the nation’s children. All Scottish children should have the opportunity of a first-class education but few, it would seem, are receiving it.

The problem is that HMIe, Education Scotland, Local Authority Education chiefs and Government Ministers are focusing on attainment almost solely. Of course, human nature will mean that Head Teachers will ensure that their attainment figures improve or, at the very worst, remain stable. In practice, this will cause schools (particularly high-performing ones) to create circumstances which ensure pupils that may fail an exam are not allowed to sit the exam. We see this already – the stakes are so high that the less academic pupils are being side-lined or presented for examinations at a lower level than they could potentially achieve. Why? Because schools are about to be judged and scrutinised on their attainment figures. Heaven help the Head whose school’s attainment figures drop…

At the other end of the social divide, pupils will continue to attain poorly. So, in essence, the gap will widen and I can guarantee that this scenario WILL happen. So what’s the answer?

If a child learns because he has been told to by a higher authority…

If a child does not develop their own work ethic…

If a child attends a school where she feels frightened or insecure or unsupported…

then each of these children will achieve less than their potential.

In other words, the sole focus in Scottish schools should be on the development of a positive culture in a safe environment where learning is engaging and enjoyable. HMIe should be inspecting schools on that basis and that basis alone.

If you get the learning ENVIRONMENT right, attainment will improve. Automatically. Guaranteed.

As the ad says, ‘Simples.’