Mindful of the gap of centuries

10th December 2004 at 00:00
We are not of the school that demands action this day - or even yesterday.

It is all too common, alas, for pundits to proclaim a policy as having failed when the ink is barely dry on the manifesto. The importance of entering such caveats is particularly in need of emphasis when judging initiatives on inclusion and "closing the opportunity gap," which have the daunting ambition of redressing not just years but centuries of disadvantage. The contribution schools can make to this process is particularly restricted, given that they are hugely shaped by the society which surrounds them.

Nonetheless, there will be major disappointment at the latest findings from the Scottish School Leavers Survey (page 1). It is not that anybody expected to wake up and find that educational disadvantage had been eclipsed. But the figures do underline the scale of the gap that exists between the two sides of the track, in turn underlining the extent of the challenge that faces ministers. The study reveals not only that the "lottery of birth" continues to disadvantage many from the lowest socio-economic groups but that those to whom much has been given enjoy a cumulative advantage.

The connections between social and educational disadvantage are well-established and depressingly rehearsed in this latest piece of research. There are plenty of policies in place to tackle the spiral of decline. Let us hope their impact is just a matter of time.

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