In welcoming the publication by the Scottish Government of the 2014 revision of the Child Poverty Strategy with its emphasis on reducing the attainment gap affecting pupils from the poorest backgrounds, Congress notes that simply amending institutional practice or seeking change without accounting for the impact on those delivering public services of recent and continuing cutbacks will fail to see the goals of the Strategy achieved.
Congress therefore calls upon both the Scottish and UK Governments to make ending child poverty a reality together with resourcing public services with the necessary tools to end the attainment gap for the poorest pupils.
We live in a country that is rich in natural resources, rich in its history and rich in its internationalism.
We claim for ourselves a character based upon education, tolerance and looking after the Common Weal.
But there is a stain on that character.
That stain is the fact that so many of Scotland’s children, too many of Scotland’s children – 1 in 5 – grow up in poverty.
In some streets and schemes in Scotland, it’s one hundred percent of the families that are living below the breadline.
This poverty is a crucial factor in leading to a continuing attainment gap between the richest and the poorest in our society.
Just this week, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published research that quantified this gap.
By aged 3 there’s already a clear gap in both vocabulary and problem solving. Between the richest and the poorest.
By aged 5 this is a 13-month gap in vocabulary development and a 10-month gap in problem solving.
This gap continues throughout school.
Researchers point to the data from surveys of both literacy and numeracy, showing that in literacy:
‘Overall, there was a 17, 14 and 16 percentage point difference between children from the least and most deprived backgrounds at P4, P7 and S2 .
‘In numeracy the gap widens throughout primary schooling to leave a pupil from the most deprived backgrounds to be only half as likely to be performing well or very well than those from least deprived backgrounds.
Finally, whilst attainment at the end of S4 has risen overall… a significant and persistent gap remains.
What therefore is does the government propose to do about it?
Earlier this year, the Scottish government updated its Child Poverty Strategy.
In it there are number of key steps in the period ahead:
Firstly to reduce income poverty and material deprivation.
Secondly, to break inter-generational cycles of poverty, inequality and deprivation.
Third, to address area-based factors which currently exacerbate the effects of individual poverty.
Congress, I do not believe that any of these things are in any way disagreeable.
But are they achievable?
At the heart of the strategy is of course, education.
So what are the big agendas for education in making progress in this area?
As we might expect the list is as follows:
CFE, reforms to Initial Teacher Education, the new Scottish College for Educational Leadership, the Insight benchmarking tool, GIRFEC…and a plethora of schemes, initiatives, committees and reports.
The authors of the Joseph Rowntree report have called for some immediate action:
First, Government should provide guidance for schools on how to use the policies and freedoms they have to make a difference to poorer children.
Second to start talking to schools about the data they need, and how they must use it.
Third, Give teachers and head teachers robust knowledge about what has worked, or what is likely to work to reduce the attainment gap.
These are all important suggestions.
But if the result is more assessment and testing to generate more data it may not work.
Even if there is to be better data or advice – where will the time come from to analyse and incorporate this?
As budgets are cut, and pressure increases – when will we be able to link up with partners to plan better outcomes for pupils?
If there are learning and teaching approaches better at reducing the attainment gap – where is the time to develop and adopt them?
Like most people here today, I have a job,
A good standard of living,
And no problems meeting many of my wants.
But the parents of many of our pupils, have no job,
A very low standard of living,
And real problems in meeting their needs.
There is hardly a person in this room,
nor any teacher in Scotland,
who wouldn’t want to do all that they can to reduce the attainment gap.
But, if it is just another target to be set amongst dozens,
if it’s just yet another priority in an endless list,
it will never happen.
We cannot reduce the attainment gap for pupils by increasing the development gap for teachers.
But there are other challenges we face.
As both you, President and Aamar Anwar said yesterday, we have massive inequality in wealth.
The richest 20% of the population have 60% of the wealth – 100 times more than the bottom 20%.
The richest 1% have as much wealth as 60% of the population.
This is simply immoral – and requires government to act and act now.
And if the government wishes to see the attainment gap close then it must resource and equip us to play our part in doing so.
The Scottish Government in their strategy and in their Independence White Paper say that they are limited by what devolution only allows them to do.
But it doesn’t matter if we have a devolved Scotland or an independent Scotland what we need is a more equal Scotland.
It’s not Westminster that has failed to support teachers in cfe or new national qualifications.
And yes it is Westminster that has given us austerity but it’s Holyrood that’s given us a council tax freeze – and a consequent funded gap for local councils.
And in relation to Child poverty.
It doesn’t matter who is the monkey and who is the organ grinder, we need action from all levels of government that puts ending child poverty at the centre – at the centre of what is does.
And it must put public services and their staff into a position to best achieve that goal.
Only then can we ensure teachers and schools support all children, all children to grow up in dignity and with the chance to fulfil their potential.
Please support the motion.