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Pupil poaching hides the poverty

While East Renfrewshire quietly boasts the friendly poaching of private sector students to its nominal rolls (TESS, November 1), and its schools sit beacon-like at the top of exam league tables, a new report from Poverty in Scotland claims that the proportion of children living in a low income household and below the official poverty line rose from 29 per cent to 32 per cent in the last year.

The same report describes how lone parents and ethnic minorities are more likely to be claiming benefits and a third of Scottish households claim benefits compared to a quarter in the UK as a whole.

Andrew Dilnot's acclaimed Fiscal Studies Institute Report 2001 has graphically outlined how inequalities in the UK are growing, and have been since the mid-1990s. He describes how the incomes of the top 10 per cent have doubled in real terms over this period, while the average change is about half that, and incomes at the bottom have hardly changed at all.

As inequality grows, the better off can shop around and choose whatever benefits are on offer from wherever. Sadly, there seems to be little political appetite for saying that inequality in income is itself a bad thing. One struggles to find a Scottish Executive minister even mentioning the growing income divide.

What is more, the children's hospital in Glasgow recently reported that 20 per cent of children admitted were suffering from malnutrition - yes, malnutrition for one child in five, five miles from East Renfrewshire. Consistent dire health statistics in Glasgow also confirm that if you are lucky enough to live in some places rather than others you will live up to seven years longer.

Now, we know that the school success rate of the better off by examination performance has barely increased over 20 years. Schools, it seems, are incidental to their success though it is clear that if we put such children together in wee enclaves they will do even better. The cultural capital they take to school makes success inevitable - neither the teachers nor managers in such places are better than anywhere else.

What should really matter in places like East Renfrewshire is how exam statistics break down across the economic divide by gender, "race" and family circumstance.

Are continuing and savage inequalities real testimonies to the rhetoric of joined-up thinking, social justice, social inclusion, educational "success" and the rest? Many children don't understand at first that they are being cheated. But surely cheated they are.

Andrew Johnson

Senior lecturer and co-director. Equality and Discrimination Centre. Faculty of Education. University of Strathclyde

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