The Scottish Government’s policy on raising attainment will continue to take account of children, families and communities that are affected by poverty.
In the Scottish attainment challenge, we have used the Scottish index of multiple deprivation—a long-established set of indicators that show levels of deprivation in communities across Scotland—to identify the seven authorities with the greatest concentration of children of primary school age living in the 20 per cent most deprived areas in Scotland. Using the SIMD, we identified an additional 57 primary schools outside the seven challenge authority areas that are serving the most deprived communities, and they have been allocated moneys through the attainment Scotland fund.
An additional £100 million a year will be invested in schools across Scotland as a result of a package of reforms to council tax that the First Minister outlined earlier this month. Further, the Education (Scotland) Bill, which Parliament passed unanimously last month, places legal duties on the Scottish ministers and education authorities to reduce inequalities of outcome that are caused by socioeconomic disadvantage.
The national improvement framework focuses on raising attainment and closing the gap—on delivering both excellence and equity. It will provide the evidence to make substantial progress in eliminating the attainment gap within a decade.
We have already set out ambitions to further expand early learning and childcare provision to 1,140 hours per year. That is building on the previous expansion to 600 hours for three and four-year-olds and the 27 per cent of two-year-olds who benefit the most. In the previous session of Parliament, we delivered free school meals for those in primaries 1 to 3, which benefits 135,000 children and saves families £380 a year for each child.
If we are re-elected, we will expand early learning and childcare to fully include day provision and will ensure that our youngest children get access to a healthy and nutritious meal that improves their capacity to learn without the stigma of means testing. We will also replace the sure start maternity grant with a new and expanded maternity and early years allowance for those on lower incomes—40 to 50 per cent of families might qualify. The payment on the birth of a first child will increase from £500 to £600 and we will restore payments of £300 for second and subsequent children. We will also make payments of £250 to help to meet additional costs that low-income parents face at two further stages in a child’s life: when they start nursery and again when they start school.
We have a comprehensive range of measures, because we understand completely that, to allow children to flourish, we have to act early and effectively to address the attainment gap in the earliest years of children’s lives. The Government is completely and utterly focused on that comprehensive package.