The Government and Education Scotland continually engage with headteachers and local authorities on closing the education attainment gap. Discussions take place on all school inspections and through support activities.
In February and early March, Education Scotland ran five leadership events across Scotland, for all secondary school headteachers and deputes, at which the education attainment gap was discussed and ways of closing that gap were shared. Additionally, a networking event for headteachers from all 57 schools that are involved in the attainment Scotland fund programme was held on 23 February in Glasgow. That event provided an opportunity for them to share their experiences of the work they are doing to close the education attainment gap. Education Scotland’s area lead officers are involved in on-going discussions with all 32 local authorities on strategies to close the education attainment gap.
Given the Scottish Government’s clear commitment to close the attainment gap, together with the leadership that has been provided by the First Minister and the cabinet secretary, what further assurance can the cabinet secretary provide that the work of the commission on widening access—particularly its recommendation that one in five students at university should, in future, be from deprived backgrounds—will not be undermined by any attempt by the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council to cut the existing funding available for programmes to support the entry of working class students into university?
I am very clear that there must be no diminution of efforts. In my letter of guidance to the Scottish funding council, I made it very clear that the Scottish Government expects the funding council to drive further and faster progress in the widening access agenda, using all the levers at its disposal and informed, of course, by the findings and recommendations of the commission on widening access. Having immediately accepted the commission’s recommended target that 20 per cent of students from the most deprived backgrounds must represent 20 per cent of entrants to higher education by 2030, I also expect to see that progress reflected in continued improvements in national measures. Therefore, far from there being a reduction in the number of students from poorer backgrounds, we very much expect numbers to increase.