As a member of the Scottish Parliament's education and culture committee, I was struck by the scale of the task facing us all in levelling the educational playing field for children across Scotland.
During the course of our enquiry into the attainment levels for looked- after children we found that, despite 56 per cent of school leavers achieving five or more qualifications, only 4.7 per cent of children looked after away from home and 0.5 per cent of children looked after at home reached the same level. When one considers that there are 16,000 looked-after children in Scotland and nearly 5,500 children looked after at home, the problem comes into focus.
There is a sensitive balance that must be struck between supporting families at home and intervening to remove children from harmful situations, which is why we have agreed to hold another enquiry into this area. The committee has recommended that this issue is addressed in the Scottish government's early years and national parenting strategies.
These are some of Scotland's most vulnerable children and deserve our interest and attention. We must work with health visitors, social workers, teachers and other professionals to help children to reach their full potential.
It must also be stressed that educational attainment is only one part of the jigsaw. Extra-curricular activities provide vital opportunities for children to socialise outside an educational environment and to develop transferable skills for later life. However, evidence suggests that uptake of these extra-curricular opportunities is lower among looked-after children than others, illuminating the holistic approach that must be taken to this issue.
Helping children to reach their potential is not only a moral imperative, but a social and economic imperative as well. Education is one of the greatest tools we have for enabling social mobility, and the width and depth of this gap in attainment is unacceptable. Working to reduce the gap must be a priority, and is something I shall continue to press within the committee.
As a former member of Highland Council, I would also like to highlight the recent report released by the council on children who are looked after at home in the region. I urge everybody to read both reports, and welcome correspondence from anyone who believes they can help in our efforts to help reduce this gap.
It is vital that we do everything we can to listen and learn from past experiences.
Jean Urquhart, MSP for Highlands and Islands.