EDUCATIONAL standards, including 5-14 and Standard grade performances, are to be at the heart of the Scottish Executive's ambitious efforts to eradicate child poverty in 20 years.
The little-noticed significance of the "social justice" agenda set out by an array of ministers on Monday in Drumchapel is that school and college targets have extended beyond the preserve of education ministers. They are now key building blocks of a major anti-poverty policy which could make or break the Executive's reputation.
Education performance is therefore likely to be much more closely scrutinised than before by Donald Dewar, the First Minister, and Wendy Alexander, the powerful Communities Minister.
Twelve of the 29 "milestones", which will act as indicators for ensuring Scotland is on the road towards social justice, deal with children and young people, and cover education and training prospects. There will be an action plan in the spring and an annual social justice progress report.
The policy document, entitled A Scotland where everyone matters, says the objective for children is "to break (the) obscene cycle of deprivation" faced by many, particularly the 17 per cent now estimated to be living in households where no one is working.
The educational milestones for young children are:
Access for all to quality care and early learning before entering school (see page six).
Increased numbers reaching 5-14 level A by the end of primary2 and level D by the end of primary 7 in reading, writing and maths (baseline data will be available in January).
The aim of the policies on older children is to intervene before they go off the rails. The educational milestones here are:
Halving the number of 16 to 19-year-olds who are not students, in work or training, currently 17 per cent of the age-group.
All young people leaving council care, on whom separate exam data will be gathered from February, to have Standard grade maths and English.
The poorest-performing 20 per cent of pupils to come closer to the Standard grade average.
Reduction by a third in the number of days lost through exclusion and truancy.
Targets for unauthorised absences already exist to bring half-day absences in primaries down from 21 to 18 per pupil by 2001 and from 43 to 36 half-days per secondary pupil. The grand target for 2020 is that "every young person leaves school with the maximum level of skills and qualifications possible" and "every 19-year-old is engaged in education, training or work".
Other milestones for children and young people range from cutting the number of rough sleepers to reducing teenage pregnancies.
The renewed attention which will be paid to pupils struggling with Standard grade subjects will take the form of allocating values to each of the seven levels using "Scottish tariff scores". These range from 38 points for Credit level 1 to three points for Foundation level 7 and zero for those not presented for any exams.
The points difference between all Standard grade pupils and the poorest 20 per cent will then be calculated; currently the bottom fifth score 55 points against an average of 161.
But this particular effort was derided as "daft" by Professor Lindsay Paterson of Edinburgh University. "It would be much more sensible, for example, to see whether social class differences in attainment have narrowed.
"In any case if the Executive is also putting in place programmes to stretch the brightest pupils, for example through 5-14 level F and the Advanced Higher, then the spread of attainment will widen."