Teachers union decries damaging impact of austerity on children’s lives

The Educational Institute of Scotland, the country’s largest teaching union, has drawn attention to the key role played by austerity in the attainment gap, and made it clear that teachers cannot solve poverty alone.

EIS president Nicola Fisher criticised those who suggested that poverty reduction could be confined to the classrooms, saying that:

"I think we actually have to look at the fact that this will take a whole society to fix and stop expecting the teachers and the schools to fix it all.”

Child poverty has risen rapidly in Scotland since 2010. Earlier this year it was revealed that one in four children is now in poverty, and TUC research showed that the number of children in poverty in working households has shot up by 52% over the same period. Average attainment for poorer students is two to three years behind their richer peers by the time they reach highers, according to the Sutton Trust.

‘Education is a silver bullet’, so said Sam Seaborn, a lead character in the TV programme the West Wing that influenced the minds of every politico for a generation. This attitude has lodged education squarely at the forefront of the minds of policymakers when it comes to tackling poverty. 

When the Pupil Premium was rolled out across England, Headteachers found themselves forced to use it for basic welfare, rather than focusing on raising educational attainment, leading to chastisement from Government ministers who insisted that the fund should not be used to ‘substitute for expired social programmes’. Welfare and education are inextricably, but the strategy of the Scottish Government has got it backwards. The attainment gap is a result of poverty and inequality, not the other way round.

Commenting on the evidence from the EIS, Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet spokesperson for the Eradication of Poverty, Elaine Smith criticised the masking role played by the Pupil Equity Fund:

“The Scottish government’s Pupil Equity Fund is a good idea in principle - in fact it was a Labour idea originally - but the funding has to be genuinely additional, rather than just covering the cuts as it is just now.”

“Closing the attainment gap between the richest and the poorest children won’t just happen in the classrooms - it requires Scotland to be a fairer country in every sense.

“Only Labour is willing to take the radical steps we need to tackle the shame of child poverty.

“A Scottish Labour government would increase child benefit, fix our broken housing market by reforming the private rented sector and building more council houses, and stopping the cuts to lifeline local services.”

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