Aberdeen launches 'poverty first' campaign

21st November 1997 at 00:00
Aberdeen has vandalism, graffiti and high crime rates but "inside the schools the atmosphere couldn't be more different"

Aberdeen is to launch a revised health strategy led by education, taking account of the impact of poverty on pupil achievement.

John Stodter, the city's director of education, told a national conference on quality assurance and school self-evaluation last week that politicians were beginning to appreciate that only education can make "the real difference" to the lives of disadvantaged families.

Linking health, poverty and educational issues, Mr Stodter advised schools not to focus on attainment and narrow measures. His "poverty first" call was endorsed by speakers at an Educational Institute of Scotland conference held last week.

Mr Stodter said: "There is a growing political realisation that only education can make the real difference over the long term."

He added: "The health targets, which we will set with schools, are more important and more pressing than attainment targets. After all, unhealthy children will not achieve their full potential. This, I think, is what Tony Blair meant when he stressed the prime importance of the profession."

In the Torry area of Aberdeen, a child of school age is five times more likely to be killed in a road accident than a child living in the western suburbs. But some schools in the most deprived areas are prospering despite the vandalism, graffiti, high crime rates and low rates of self-esteem around them.

"Inside the schools, the atmosphere couldn't be more different. It is bright and clean and pupils' work is displayed everywhere. There are the sounds of children purposefully engaged in work, with a committed staff and a tangible, positive ethos. Now these schools are changing the very nature of their own communities and they are instilling confidence in the process of education for this and future generations," Mr Stodter stated.

At the EIS conference, Brian Boyd of Jordanhill's quality in education centre, said "poverty and its related phenomena of low self-esteem, poor motivation and low aspirations still mean that the education system fails to help (pupils) achieve their potential."

The guiding principles to combat underachievement, Dr Boyd said, were to make education "child centred, family focused, community based and culturally sensitive".

Tom Devaney, a past president of the EIS, said: "The alleviation of child poverty is the biggest single education advance we could make if we want to improve standards in schools." In Glasgow, 40 per cent of pupils were on free meals, nearly 60 per cent received clothing grants, and 45 per cent of households were on income support.

Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, rejected accusations that the Government's emphasis on setting targets which focus on literacy, numeracy and attainment would narrow the curriculum. These were priority areas for parents and employers as well as the politicians, he told the Aberdeen conference. "An unacceptable proportion of young people leave school with little to show for up to 12 years of full-time education."

Archie McGlynn, who has masterminded the Scottish Office's monitoring of school performance, said earlier that the drive to get schools to analyse their quality and performance was "unstoppable".

In one of his last outings before leaving his post Mr McGlynn said improving ethos and pupils' self-esteem would boost their social and leadership skills as well as exam results.

jotter, back page

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