SCOTLAND’S attainment gap has no single cause and there
will be no single solution.
is easy to understand why the debate around improving the performance and
prospects of children fromScotland’s poorest areas is often
focused on our classrooms.
Education will, of course, help close the gap, but our
teachers and schools will never close it on their own. That is because the gap
is not caused by education but by poverty.
Schools can make a difference to the trajectory of a
child’s life, but any intervention will be more powerful if it also addresses
the complex causes of poverty.
This demands a partnership between educators, local
authorities, charities, children, families and communities.
The Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland,
representing children’s charities, is right to emphasise the importance of
partnership and planning.
Their #plan4children campaign is urging candidates in
May’s council elections to work with them to plan and deliver the most
effective children’s services founded on early intervention.
Services, whoever is providing them, need to be based on
strong analysis of what works best.
We must ensure best evidence is drawn on, best practice adopted
and best schemes extended.
The research is there, but how each service is actually
delivered and how they join together is crucial. A project’s success or failure
will often depend on how well connected it is to other services and that, in
turn, depends on local authorities building strong, working relationships with
The challenge for councils is to locate the charities
delivering the most efficient, effective work and then work out how to roll it
out as an extended partnership.
Charities often deliver a really good pilot project, but
transition into the mainstream is more difficult, for the charity and the
Scotland’s child poverty strategy talks about pockets,
prospects and places, that is maximising household income, increasing opportunities,
and improving neighbourhoods, and it is founded on ensuring services are
integrated at point of use.
The strategy has the big vision, but the challenge is how
to translate that vision into reality. Sometimes it happens very well,
sometimes it doesn’t.
Councils need to understand what charities are doing in
the communities and how that links into schools and social services.
Barnardo’s ran a project called Threads in Renfrewshire,
for example, encouraging parents to interact more with their children and use
reading and writing in everyday life. That needs to happen more.
There are some real challenges to greater partnership at
the moment. There is uncertainty around the future structure of local
authorities, the future structure of our schools, and the future levels of
Our charities also face uncertainty with services
regularly put out to tender by councils and increasing competition.
One thing remains certain, however. No one thing will
close the attainment gap, but the priority must be concerted and unified action
to deliver proven and effective services.