FMQs: First Minister denies 'failure' over her education attainment gap commitment
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was challenged on her commitment to close the poverty-related attainment gap in education within this parliament at FMQs.
Tory leader Douglas Ross pushed her on what improvements towards closing the gap completely had been made. He cited figures that show the attainment gap at primary school “is even wider than it was three years ago”.
Ross argued the gap in primary school writing, reading, literacy, and numeracy had all widened. He told the chamber that the “gap isn’t closing” and “there has been no progress”.
Sturgeon rejected the comments made by Ross and said that the specific commitment was to “substantially eliminate the attainment gap”. She argued that before the pandemic the poverty-related attainment gap “was closing” and “the negative impact of the pandemic cannot be ignored”, noting that the Department for Education south of the border said, “disruption to learning during the pandemic has had a greater impact on disadvantaged pupils”.
She added that progress is beginning to be seen again: “Pupils achieving the expected levels in 21/22 is higher than the previous year for all primary school ages.” The First Minister also mentioned that, in the same year, the largest single-year increase in primary school literacy and numeracy was recorded since records began.
Ross disagreed with Sturgeon’s outlook, telling the chamber that “she has failed the people of Scotland” and is using “the covid shield to protect” herself. He pointed to only very limited progress in some areas, pre-pandemic.
“The improvement was less than one per cent per year. It would have taken over four decades to close the attainment gap at the primary school level if we had carried on at level,” he said.
The heated back and forth continued as Ross said that levels of attainment have only “just returned to 2016 levels when the First Minister made the pledge”.
Sturgeon said the reference should be made to the “poverty-related attainment gap”. “One of the measures of our commitment to tackling that is putting money in the pockets of the poorest families in the country, at the same time Douglas Ross’s party takes money out of the pockets of the poorest families,” she said.
Sturgeon argued that “progress is being made”, saying that she “wasn’t using Covid as a shield, I was citing the evidence of the impact of Covid the same way that the department of education south of the border do”.