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Schools are no affair of MPs

EDUCATION'S role in combating poverty has been sidelined by the all-party Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster. None of 39 recommendations released on Wednesday apply directly to pre-school or school education, despite the emphasis throughout on child and family poverty.

MPs prefer to focus on a raft of measures promoted by the anti-poverty lobby. Issues such as homelessness - labelled a "disgrace to modern Scotland" - benefit reform, fuel and rural poverty, debt management and the promotion of credit unions receive priority. Education is given no more than a passing mention.

In contrast, the Scottish Executive last November targeted core skills in primary schools, cuts in truancy levels and qualifications for school-leavers as it pledged to "make child poverty a thing of the past within a generation".

The Westminster committee, chaired by David Marshall, th Glasgow MP, underlines that one in three Scottish children are at risk from poverty. About one in four households are living on incomes below half of the average. Two-thirds of lone parents are classed as poor.

MPs acknowledge the Government's initiatives, such as its national childcare strategy, but say the message is failing to reach those most in need. Residents in Govan told MPs during a fact-finding tour that some parents did not bother applying for jobs because of inadequate provision for their young children.

The report, however, argues that society's prospects would improve if parenting skills were raised. "It might well be in the best interests of the child for it to be alloacted appropriate subsidised child care while parents earn an income which would place the family on a surer economic footing and allow the development of a decent lifestyle."

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