Thousands of schools across Scotland are to share more than £120m to help close the educational attainment gap.


The money will go directly to 2 387 schools based on the level of deprivation in their catchment area. Schools will then be free to use the money in the way they think best suited to help disadvantaged pupils close the attainment gap in literacy and numeracy.

I feel sure one reader (Alasdair?) will have good ideas on this. My own view is that, in the main, it should be used to reduce class sizes in these key areas and at key points such as S1 and S2 when, in particular, disaffected, adolescent males lose the most ground on their peers in more affluent areas.

Although we know of the above problem from statistics, other age groups in Scotland do not suffer from the massive attainments gaps found in England. We also know that teacher/pupil ratios in Scotland are more favourable than elsewhere in the UK.

The pupil/teacher ratio is only one of several factors likely to narrow attainment gaps, but it is an important one and one which governments can do something directly about. Once more, this suggests the SNP government in Scotland is making a difference, not seen under previous Labour/Lib Dem administrations and clearly not a high priority for the Tory one in Westminster. Notably, UK fee-paying schools use their ratio of 9 pupils per teacher as a marketing tool and say:

‘Significantly smaller class sizes are proven to improve academic achievement as the ability to spend more time with each child allows teachers to get to know their personal strengths, weaknesses and learning styles, ensuring that their individual needs are met.’

See this for more:

SNP Government increases teacher numbers to create far superior pupil/teacher ratios and much smaller attainment gaps than in England

You may have read of criticisms suggesting that giving more power to head teachers and by implication taking it away from local councils might not be effective. For a rebuttal of this largely Labour and political attack on anything the SNP do, see:

In the Herald, SNP warned that giving more power to head-teachers in Sweden “led to declining standards” No it didn’t.

From a report in Insider yesterday, see these details:

‘Glasgow City Council, Scotland’s largest authority, will benefit from more than a sixth of the cash, receiving £21.8m to help fund improvements at 191 schools. The Education Secretary, John Swinney, announced the funding breakdown ahead of a visit to St Francis RC Primary School in Dundee, where staff used part of the cash they received in the first funding round to set up six week-long summer schools focused on boosting literacy, numeracy and well-being for pupils in the most deprived areas. Neil Lowden, the headteacher of St Francis RC Primary School, said the cash from the scheme “has had a significant impact on how I have managed my school in terms of the absolute focus on raising attainment in literacy and numeracy as well as improving outcomes in health and wellbeing for the children in St Francis”.’

Long experience in education has taught me to be wary of initiatives from politicians but this one does seem to leave the key decision-making where it should be, in the schools.


4 thoughts on “Thousands of schools across Scotland are to share more than £120m to help close the educational attainment gap.

  1. Alasdair Macdonald January 31, 2018 / 9:42 pm

    Since you asked, I think it should go mainly to early years of primary schools and to pre-school. I think that we should not spend the money mainly on teachers to reduce class sizes. We get far more teaching assistants than teachers for the same amount of money. I think Wendy Alexander was right when she established a pupil/adult ratio rather than a pupil/teacher one. There are a number of good examples, such as Glasgow’s ‘nurture classes’, which demonstrate effective practices.
    I think that money should not all be spent on staffing.

    Some could be spent on food preparation and I think a number of the big supermarkets would help, since most of them have public good funds and local managers have discretion on how to disperse this. Our principal Teacher of Home Economics established a ‘fresh fruit initiative’, whereby every pupil when she or he went to HE was provided with a range of fresh fruits, including ‘exotic’ ones. The local supermarket manager – whose children attended the school – ordered from the company’s depot a wide range, including every conceivable type of melon, kumquats, damsons, lychees, dates, pomelos, pomegranates. Half was donated and the rest was charged at cost price. Enhancing nutrition is of proven value.

    The ‘daily mile’ could become standard, but using local parks and engaging grandparents and parents as helpers, so that it could be scooted, skated, cycled as well as walked.

    Arts experiences should become standard, particularly drama and making music.

    More time could be given to play, particularly in the outdoors.

    Parental support groups could be established.

    The testing regime would have to be made much more flexible and the emphasis on 3Rs reduced with more emphasis given to experiences and socialisation.

    I hope these thoughts are useful.

    PS Recently, I heard an interview with the former Labour Minister, Brian Wilson. He was talking about Mrs May’s botched cabinet reshuffle. Interestingly, he felt that reshuffles should rarely happen because they were essentially PMs exercising disciplinary power to exercise their authority and reduce challenges to their leadership. They were rarely for the purpose of good governance. So, there was little incentive for MPs to become real experts in particular areas and this meant that essentially Ministers simply became puppets of the professional civil service. Indeed, he felt that the inexperience of ministers did more harm than good. His view was that Ministers should be Ministers for the entire period of the Parliament (with exceptions for death, poor health, gross incompetence, criminal behaviour) and that the Pm should simply be a real primus inter pares. He felt that when he was abruptly switched to Trade and, within days lead a delegation to China, that he actually did harm on that visit. He had been Minister for Education at the Scottish Office (pre-Scottish Parliament). It was something in which he had a genuine interest. Also, he had rapidly become convinced that INVESTING MONEY IN EARLY YEARS WAS THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY OF IMPROVING ATTAINMENT AND THAT HE INTENDED TO SHIFT THE EMPHASIS IN FUNDING INCREASINGLY TOWARDS EARLY YEARS. However, for his own reason’s Mr Blair switched him to Trade and, only now, more than 20 years later is John Swinney coming round to implementing that. My estimation of Mr Wilson, incorrigible unionist that he is, has risen quite considerably. He is not all bad!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • johnrobertson834 February 1, 2018 / 10:00 am

      I agree the funding system is upside down with most for HE and least for pre-school though the early years of secondary are also worthy of extra resources.


  2. John Gordon February 1, 2018 / 11:18 am

    I agree that the focus should be on early years. To close the gap, more needs to be done to enrich the experience of disadvantaged kids, together with acknowledging and valuing the life experience they bring to the classroom. Teachers tend to bring their own attitudes and experience with them and often overlook the fact that they need to engage with the kids from the kids’ perspective and work from that basis.

    However, the whole education debate ignores the elephant in the room which is the gross imbalance in wealth in Scotland and the rest of the UK.
    That and the class system needs to change to achieve more equitable outcomes. Long term, pumping cash into education will only really work if home life can also be made easier.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alasdair Macdonald February 1, 2018 / 2:41 pm

      John Gordon,

      You are right to highlight the class issue; not ‘class’ as in teaching unit, but as a socio/economic classification. In any meaningful analyses of educational data, it is the one which correlates most strongly with outcomes. Of course, as any person with even a minor knowledge of statistics and philosophy is aware that a correlation is not the same as a cause. However, it does indicate that there is something to be investigated to see if there is, indeed, a causal link. And, that has been done and there is a lot of strong empirical evidence to support early intervention and there is also empirical evidence that that these interventions bring about the desired changes. Of course the ‘perfection fallacists’ point to the fact that not everyone has benefited, and therefore the intervention has failed.

      You refer in your first paragraph to the attitudes of teachers and you make a strong point. A fair proportion of our teaching force, nowhere near a majority, but a significant minority. One of my betes noir the former head of Ofsted in England, Mr Chris Woodhead, put it as high as 33%. In my experience, it is not as high as that but in my time (which ended 9 years ago) I reckon 10/15% had attitudes which were inimical. In one school in which I worked (nearly 30 years ago now) 57% of all recorded incidents of reported pupil indiscipline were by ONE teacher, out of a staff of 50. In another school, 13 teaching staff were adversely affected in having to deal with the consequences of the conduct of one colleague, who clearly had serious psychological problems. However, he refused to recognise them, his trade union unequivocally supported him (despite the other 13 also being members of the same union) and the education directorate were inactive because it was a problem in a location 10 miles away from where they conducted their daily business. and, any investigation would have revealed a failure on their part, in employing this teacher, in failing to provide him with the support he needed and in failing to terminate his employment because he was clearly incompetent and temperamentally unsuited.

      You make the valid point about the problematic home lives which many children have to face and which many often, heroically, cope with. Our politics has to deal seriously with the issue of inequality and I think this was a failure of the Labour Government 1997/2010.. Undoubtedly, it did invest money and there were substantial gains for many people. However, they failed to argue the case and establish a hegemony. When the financial crash came, they immediately transferred almost unimaginably large tranches of public money to the financial sector, with nothing like the kind of accountability they were demanding from public servants with their targets/compliance regime. When the Con/LibDems came to power in2010, they rapidly reversed most of the gains Labour had brought and did so with a fair degree of public acquiescence – even from those who were going to lose – because Labour had failed to establish a different hegemony. Indeed, because many senior Labour figures – consider Mr Blair’s, Ms Harman’s Ms Abbott’s decisions about the education of their children and the migration of senior Labour figures to ‘billets’ with financial organisation, private health care providers, arms companies, energy suppliers – many people were seriously disenchanted with politics as the way to bring about real change. But, of course the wealthy saw the opportunity to bring about change that suits them.

      Liked by 1 person

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