Poverty is no excuse

25th January 2008 at 00:00
In 2001, Arthur Herman published a book with the grandiose title The Scots' Invention of the Modern World. He explained how 18th-century Scotland became the creative cauldron of the modern world, with education right at the heart of its success.

The publication of the OECD report on Scottish schools, juxtaposed with our mediocre economic growth and social malaise, will ensure there will be no equivalent book proclaiming that Scotland is punching above its weight at the start of the 21st century.

However, let us caw canny. The OECD report, although it did indicate that we were slipping down the international educational table, nonetheless highlighted significant strengths in our educational system. Likewise, although the exam statistics make very uncomfortable reading for some schools, there are some real success stories, such as rural Wallace Hall Academy in Dumfries and Galloway and urban Castlemilk High in Glasgow.

Unfortunately, there are also examples of those who wear poverty like a cloak to conceal their inadequacy, as an excuse for their inability to improve the life chances of pupils and, according to this report, their inability to enable those in relative poverty to break free.

Throwing money at the problem is not the solution. Scotland, at its apogee, was a country where the people were known for their resilience, creativity and hard work. Today, despite educating children for a minimum of 11 years and spending a significant chunk of GDP on education, we have 35,000 school leavers between the age of 16 and 19 who have graduated into a life of poverty and despair.

However, the news is not all bleak: individual schools and teachers can make a difference. But why have schools like Wallace Hall and Castlemilk made such progress in contrast to so many others in similar socio-economic circumstances? There is no excuse for not creating good schools - no matter the economic or social background.

David Halliday, Eyemouth High, Borders.

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