Poverty-related Attainment Gap

– in the Scottish Parliament on 23 March 2023.

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Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

5. To ask the First Minister what the outcomes have been of the Scottish Government’s “defining mission” to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap. (S6F-01940)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

This G overnment’s commitment is to substantially eliminate the poverty-related attainment gap in this parliamentary session, and good progress is being made on that.

The latest achievement of curriculum for excellence levels data demonstrated the biggest single-year decrease in the poverty-related gap in primary numeracy and literacy levels since records began.

We are improving outcomes for young people impacted by poverty beyond school, too. The percentage of 2021-22 school leavers in a positive initial destination is the highest on record, and the poverty-related attainment gap is at a record low, down two thirds since 2009-10. More young people than ever from deprived communities secured a place at university, and the previous commissioner for widening access described our approach as an “unambiguous success”.

That is a record that I am proud of, and I very much look forward to seeing my successor build on it.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

Objectively, the best that we can say is that the First Minister tried and failed—because education in Scotland is poorer.

Here is the First Minister’s record: fewer maths teachers; fewer technical education teachers; fewer computing science teachers; fewer language teachers; narrowing subject choice; and Scotland plummeting down the international league tables. On CFE levels in primary schools, her record is: literacy falling; reading falling; writing falling; numeracy falling; the attainment gap widening; and attainment falling overall.

Can the First Minister honestly stand there and say, hand on heart, that education was her top priority?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Yes, I can.

In his initial question, Stephen Kerr asked me about “outcomes”; I have just checked and that was the word that he used. I therefore gave him the data on the outcomes, but he obviously did not like it, so he wants to talk about inputs. Let me therefore talk now about inputs.

When I became First Minister, the number of school teachers in Scotland was 49,521. Today, the number of school teachers in Scotland is 53,459, which is an 8 per cent increase. In early learning and childcare settings, the numbers have increased as well. In Scotland, we have the most teachers per pupil in the United Kingdom, and education spend per person is higher than in either England or Wales. In Scotland, we have 7,573 teachers per 100,000 pupils; in England, where the Tories are in power, the number is just 5,734. In Scotland, we spend £7,600 per pupil; the Tories in England spend just £6,700.

Yes, I am proud of this Government’s record on education, and I really look forward to seeing it being built upon.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

The recent Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis of Scottish tax and benefit reform found that the lowest-income families in Scotland are significantly better off—by around £2,000 on average—as a result of this Scottish National Party Scottish Government’s progressive tax and benefits policies. If that can be achieved with limited powers, how much further does the First Minister think that we could go if we were not beholden to a UK Government with policies that directly undermine this Government’s mission to tackle poverty? [



Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I thank Paul McLennan for that question. Again—this may be the last opportunity that I have to point it out—it is really obvious how uncomfortable the Conservatives in the chamber become when we talk about poverty. That should be noted.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies rightly acknowledges the impact that progressive choices are having for low-income families. To quote the IFS briefly, it highlighted that the Scottish Government

“has made clearly a distributional choice ... to channel a lot more money towards low-income families with children in particular and that has a meaningful impact on incomes.”

If I had to single out the thing of which I am most proud, it is that—helping to lift children out of poverty, in marked contrast to the approach of the UK Government’s welfare system, which pushes children into poverty. That is the difference—that is the contrast.