By Dr Laura Robertson

IN a just society, children and young people’s life chances would not be affected by where they live. But across Scotland’s communities right now, almost one in four children live in poverty, with large gaps in educational attainment between children and young people from Scotland’s least and most deprived areas.

Tackling the poverty-related attainment gap was announced as a “defining mission” of the Scottish Government in 2016. Yet a report published today by the Poverty Alliance, on behalf of The Robertson Trust, underlines that the poverty-related attainment gap in Scotland begins in the early years and gets wider overtime, and suggests there has been limited progress in closing the gap since 2016.

The statistics are stark, with infants living in the most deprived areas in Scotland being 16 per cent more likely to display developmental concerns. Disparities in attainment continue through the school years with just over two in five young people living in the most deprived areas leaving school with one or more Highers, compared to almost four in five of their peers living in the least deprived areas. Beyond the school gates, there is a clear link between lower educational attainment and poorer job prospects, with low-paid and insecure work the end result for too many of our young people.

We know the pandemic is compounding the gap. With nurseries and schools – understandably, given the public health crisis – closed again to most pupils, our new report highlights evidence of the disproportionate impacts on low-income families. A report by the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland last year found the cost burdens of school closures have fallen most heavily on families living on a low income. Research conducted by the University of Strathclyde also revealed that following the reopening of schools in August 2020, absences from school due to Covid-19-related reasons were twice as high for pupils from the most deprived areas than their peers living in the least deprived areas.

With mounting pressures on low-income families, it is critical that young people living in the grip of poverty can access the right support. Whilst the Scottish Government has taken a range of actions to tackle the gap in recent years, more needs to be done to recognise the insecure and precarious financial situations of households across Scotland, and the impact this has on education.

This should include more support for initiatives that we know work, like one-to-one tutoring and mentoring, as well as careers education targeted at young people living in deprived areas. These have to, of course, be accompanied by more action to boost the incomes of families struggling to stay afloat.

It is clear that inequalities in educational are holding our young people back. If we want to ensure that every young person in Scotland really does have every chance then now, more than ever, efforts to close the poverty-related attainment gap must redouble.

Dr Laura Robertson is a Research Officer with the Poverty Alliance