The report - ‘Closing the attainment gap in Scottish education’ - by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) looks at attempts that have been made to tackle the gap between children from high and low-income households, and makes recommendations for educators and policy-makers about what is likely to work.
According to the JRF, existing research shows that the attainment gap between Scotland’s richest and poorest children begins in pre-school and continues throughout primary and secondary school.
By the age of five, there is an attainment gap of 10 months in problem solving development between children from low-income and high-income households and a 13-month gap in vocabulary.
The report argues that projects and interventions which have been implemented in Scotland to raise attainment or to address low achievement associated with poverty need stronger, more focused, and data-driven evaluations to identify those that have been effective so they can be scaled up, and to learn from those that have not been as successful.
It goes on to list the interventions that have had a positive impact on reducing the attainment gap, including:
- parental involvement programmes that focus on helping mothers and fathers to use appropriate strategies to support their child’s learning at home;
- high-quality, full daycare for pre-school children from disadvantaged backgrounds;
- carefully implemented nurture groups and programmes to increase social, emotional and behavourial competencies;
- whole-school reforms, particularly those that are informed by research evidence and focus on improving attainment by using effective pedagogies;
- academically focused after-school activities;
- targeted funding, which is protected from budget cuts.
The report concludes by making a number of key recommendations to national Government, Education Scotland - the national body responsible for supporting learning and teaching, local authorities, school staff and other stakeholders such as charities.
For national Government, the JRF recommends more robust attainment data be made available to primary and secondary teachers to help schools shape interventions, monitoring and their internal curriculum. As well as this, the charity suggests establishing a national knowledge bank for education professionals to draw upon.
Recommendations for Education Scotland include: commissioning national projects and identifying local projects that focus on closing the poverty gap in attainment and that make good use of data in monitoring and evaluating impact.
One suggestion for school staff is to implement research-informed interventions to raise achievement among economically disadvantaged groups in a way that will have a positive impact on individual pupils, the class and school.
Jackie Brock, chief executive of Children in Scotland, said, ‘What is really welcome about this report is that it identifies the agenda for a whole range of pre-school and education leaders and organisations on the action required and, based on evidence, about what could work to eradicate the attainment gap which bedevils Scottish education.’