YOUR report (“Quality state schools can phase out private rivals”, April 19) highlights the attainment gap in education.

Poverty and educational inequality have co-existed for a long time. I started teaching at the age of 19 in a Fife mining community, where deprivation stared me in the face. I came across one wee girl whose attendance at school was very erratic.

When I questioned her, she tearfully explained that she could not manage to school every day because she had to share a pair of shoes with her brother. The “shoes” were a pair of leaky welly boots.

My sister came to the rescue with some second-hand shoes, which led to an immediate improvement in attendance and attainment.

There were great hopes and expectations that the comprehensive revolution of the 1960s would narrow the attainment gap. When he was Secretary of State for Scotland, Willie Ross introduced comprehensive education without even the need for an Act of Parliament. He simply sent out a circular to all local authorities telling them to abolish selection and fee-paying in all state schools.

Such radical measures certainly helped, yet here we are, over half a century later, still talking about the need to narrow the attainment gap.

It would be wrong, of course, to confuse equality of attainment with equality of opportunity.

The former is unachievable but the latter is both achievable and desirable. What, then, can be done to improve the attainment of pupils from deprived areas?

First of all, extra resources must be concentrated on those who are most in need. Smaller class sizes, homework clubs and the provision of home internet connection would help, but I have always believed that the most valuable educational resource is a good teacher and sometimes good teaching requires one-to-one communication, especially for pupils who experience difficulties.

An increasing number of parents seem to be paying for extra private tuition for their children but many parents on low incomes simply cannot afford the additional cost. The inevitable result is a widening of the attainment gap.

The Scottish Government should intervene by organising and paying for the recruitment of a pool of unemployed and retired teachers who are willing to give a few hours’ or even one hour per week’s tuition to young people from deprived home backgrounds.

Most retired teachers understandably want to enjoy their retirement but there may be some with time on their hands who would be very capable of giving one-to-one tuition, possibly in the comfort their own home, when Covid restrictions are eased.

At the start of the current pandemic, retired NHS staff were asked to consider helping out. The same pandemic threatens to widen even further the educational attainment gap, with long-term devastating consequences for a whole generation of deprived young people. Would enough retired teachers respond to the challenge?

An imaginative recruitment campaign is worth a try.

Dennis Canavan, Bannockburn.

Taking children out of poverty

IT is, of course, entirely John Milne’s choice as to how he will vote in May (letters, April 20), but I find it strange that he has placed his trust in Anas Sarwar to alleviate child poverty, as Mr Sarwar, by his own admission, won’t be in power after May’s election, and has his sights set on coming second.

Given the wide-ranging proposals put forward by someone who does have her sights set on winning the election and lifting children out of poverty, with such mechanisms as doubling the new and unique to Scotland Child Benefit, providing free breakfasts and lunches for all primary school children, and laptops or tablets for all school pupils, with a wrap-around system of childcare free to low-income families, I would suggest that the best route to take children out of poverty would be for Mr Milne to give both his votes to the SNP.

Ruth Marr, Stirling.

Defending the indefensible

MAYBE Bob MacDougall (letters, April 20) is stretching credibility to suggest that, in an independent Scotland, shipyards couldn’t contract for overseas orders. Here are some equally bizarre extrapolations of my own: the remaining 5,000 or so BAE systems workers throughout the UK making these frigates could have been made millionaires for half the cost of the frigates so far.

The frigates in turn are being built to help protect two new aircraft carriers the UK can only ever use in distant offensive actions – assuming, that is, that the UK can ever afford enough planes of its own to fly from them to make the circumstances viable. The F-35 Lightning planes cost £80 million a pop and are so expensive to run that the US, which makes them, are considering scrapping the $1.5 trillion project and designing a new plane.

To sum up: Westminster is building frigates to defend horrendously expensive aircraft carriers that may soon become redundant. Perhaps an independent Scotland may be better at husbanding its financial resources.

David J Crawford, Glasgow.

A parting of the ways?

THE one thing that Scotland appears to be a world leader in is poverty.

Not only do we have serious issues such as child and fuel poverty, but with the recent revelation that one in seven Scottish adults apparently suffers from “data poverty” there is yet another “poverty” to add to the ever-expanding list along with “nature”, “hygiene”, “exercise”, “spiritual” and “culture” in Scotland.

Personally, I suffer from “hair poverty”. How do I get a Scottish Government grant for this?

David Bone, Girvan.

Guarantee of EU membership

SCOTLAND is, and always has been, a relatively poor country.

The one action which rescued Scotland from its third-world status was the Act of Union with England in 1707 to form the United Kingdom, a union which has proved to be immensely profitable for both Scotland and England.

The disaster that is Brexit shows only too clearly the perils of setting up more boundaries between countries, as Britain has done with its former principal trading partner, Europe. For Scotland to commit a similar act of folly with its principal trading partner, England, would be catastrophic. The so-called answer proposed by the SNP is for Scotland, as a separate country, to join (not to rejoin) the EU.

Apart from the fact that Scotland would have far less freedom as a member of the EU than it has as a devolved part of the UK, there is the serious question of whether Scotland would be accepted as a member of the EU.

Scotland has a much larger capital debt than is allowed under EU rules, and its membership would have to be approved by all of the existing members of the EU. This includes countries such as Spain, which already has its own independence problem with the province of Catalonia, which is unlikely to make it sympathetic to Scotland’s cause.

It would be madness to hold a referendum on Scottish independence until the Scottish Government has obtained an unqualified guarantee from the whole of the EU that Scotland, on becoming independent, would be accepted as a full member of the Union, and on what terms.

The alternative of independence outside the EU and outside all other trading blocks, with nocurrency and no international bank, is suicidal.

Finally, it must not be forgotten that the Westminster Government can be voted out of office at not more than five-year intervals, while the break-up of the UK would be permanent and irreversible.

James Cormie, Perth.

Look abroad for neutral chairman

NEIL Mackay (“There is one easy solution to blow away stench of lobbying”, April 20) writes that Nigel Boardman, selected by Boris Johnson to head the inquiry, has links to a private bank which has links to the Tory party.

Whether this will skew the outcome remains to be seen. In view of the need to have the inquiry headed by a neutral chairman, would it not be better to get a lawyer from Australia, Canada or New Zealand to head it? And if not, why not?

George Smith, Clydebank.

Who believes Boris now?

ALTHOUGH briefly a briefing room, the million-pound makeover of Number 9 Downing Street tells us a great deal about the Prime Minister.

He takes up fancies with great enthusiasm and trumpet-blowing then quickly drops them when he tires of them or they become inconvenient or embarrassing or are revealed as vain folly.

Even on the day of debriefing the briefing room he was at it again, impetuously announcing that all measures would be taken to prevent the proposed football European Super League and that he would legislate against it.

The league seems to have fallen apart faster than his promise, of course. But does anyone really believe anything he says?

Grant McKechnie, Rutherglen.