The Scottish Government has ruled out giving schools extra cash to raise the attainment of children living in poverty, raising fears that Scotland will lag behind England, where such a policy already exists.
The Save the Children charity this week called for a "pupil premium" in Scotland, as it published figures showing an "absolutely scandalous" 61 per cent gap in S4 exam performance between pupils registered for free school meals and those who were not.
The money - additional to deprivation-linked funding already factored into school budgets - could only be used for improving the performance of the poorest pupils, while the scheme would increase local and national accountability for their performance and clearly define education's role in eradicating child poverty, it said.
Save the Children stressed that decisions on how to use the premium within schools should be at the discretion of heads, based on guidance showing what is proven to work, such as: extra teachers; one-to-one tuition; after-school or holiday study programmes; learning mentors; involving parents in children's learning; and nurture groups. Schools would be required to monitor and report on the impact the dedicated funding had made, as would HMIE.
Save the Children pointed to a study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, which concluded that a pupil premium was likely to have a direct impact on pupils' attainment. The charity has not yet decided on an appropriate figure for Scotland - or whether it should vary by authority - although it has recommended pound;3,000 per child in England.
The Scottish Government said it had no plans to consider a pupil premium and pointed instead to initiatives such as: the legal limit of 25 pupils in P1 classes, announced this week; raising standards through Curriculum for Excellence; increased eligibility for free school meals; the appointment of former Labour health minister Susan Deacon as an "early years champion"; and the Additional Support for Learning Act's requirement that education authorities support children whose learning is hampered by circumstances at home.
Save the Children policy officer Claire Telfer said the charity had been encouraged by the Westminster's Government's recently-announced pupil premium scheme, which will release extra funding - the amount not yet determined - for poorer children and by the promises of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to introduce the scheme north of the border.
She said that an approach specifically targeting poor children was needed, as broader initiatives alone could not bridge the attainment gap.