The Holyrood baby already faces the attainment gap

Written by Tom Freeman on 23 June 2016 in Feature

What does Save the Children's research on the attainment gap mean for Kirsty, our fictional Holyrood baby? 

Baby book N - credit Stacy Spensley​

Scotland’s chief statistician revealed this week that while the number of school leavers going to positive destinations is increasing, Scotland’s attainment gap between rich and poor pupils persists.

Research produced last week by Save the Children showed the attainment gap is often created before children even reach school.

Kirsty, the Holyrood baby, is six weeks old today. She has just smiled for the first time. Her brain is developing rapidly and has been preparing her for the world since she was in the womb. She is currently making 1,000 synaptic connections a second, so every moment she is spoken to - or ignored - makes a difference.

She is due at the GP for a health check. As well as checking her leg and hip joints, spine, reflexes, eyes and genitals and listen to her heart, the doctor will ask about that smile.


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At least 7,000 children in Scotland have problems in language and speech development in the early years, according to the Save the Children research, and are twice as likely among more deprived communities.

A health visitor will also assess Kirsty’s development between 27 and 30 months. By that time Kirsty’s mum Caley may have returned to work.

Save the Children’s policy manager, Vicky Crichton tells Holyrood support needs to be there for them.

“At her 27-30 month child health check, mum Caley will be asked about how well Kirsty is developing – whether she is able to walk up the stairs unaided, jump and draw a line – questions designed to test her fine motor and problem solving skills,” she says.

She’ll also be assessed on her language and communication skills.

“For many children growing up in poorer households, this can be problematic. Kirsty is less likely to have access to books and toys that help her learn and develop in the home,” says Crichton.

“Caley may be stressed about trying to make ends meet, and finding it difficult to dedicate quality time that can help Kirsty’s early language come along quickly, such as reading story books, singing songs and having rich conversations that expose her to lots of new words. And although Kirsty will qualify for free nursery hours, she may not be taking those up and benefitting from the support that a quality early learning setting can provide.”

By the time she’s three, Save the Children hopes that she’s in the position where mum Caley has extra resources and support to help Kirsty with her speech and language.

“There’s much that can be done to ensure that Kirsty doesn’t start behind when she reaches primary school. If there was a qualified early years teacher in Kirsty’s nursery and extra training on how to support early language development for those who work in childcare, it might give Kirsty the boost she needed to start school with the same language skills as her better off peers,” says Crichton.

Kirsty’s brain development right now, however, depends greatly on her immediate surroundings and, ultimately, Caley’s parenting style.

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