Scotland's East-West divide requires radical solutions

12th August 2011 at 01:00
We should follow Westminster's lead to raise educational aspiration in Glasgow

Imagine you are Health Secretary and a report lands on your desk with damning information about an area of Glasgow having the shortest life expectancy in the whole of the UK. It's not a peculiarly Scottish thing, for only 44 miles east the life expectancy in Edinburgh is among the highest in the UK. The media would be going ape and politicians, especially among the opposition parties, would be demanding action. Would you not want to do something about that?

Imagine then that you are Education Secretary and a report lands on your desk with damning information about an area of Glasgow having the highest number of adults without any qualifications in the whole of the UK. It's not a peculiarly Scottish thing, for only 44 miles east the number of people with qualifications in Edinburgh is among the highest in the UK.

Have you heard a cheep from anyone about the dire state of educational outcomes in Glasgow North East? Have you heard Education Secretary Mike Russell announcing any initiatives, commissions, inquiries, reports or even the appointment of a Czar to at least show concern and willing?

Two weeks ago, the University and College Union published a table of UK parliamentary constituencies showing that more than one-third of working age people (35.3 per cent) in Glasgow North East have no school qualifications. This was not an isolated example, with Glasgow having four of the 10 worst areas in the UK.

The Glasgow-Edinburgh divide was striking, with every Edinburgh constituency placed in the top third for educational achievement across the UK, while every constituency in Glasgow was below the UK average.

The problem that the east of Glasgow faces is that the number of unqualified adults is so high that it is normal to know hardly anyone who has a Higher or even a Standard grade. In such circumstances, a poverty of aspiration exists - and more caustic, a demonisation of academic study.

Pupils who try to do well at school are portrayed by many of their peers as snobs, toffs and smart alecs, making it "cool" to hate school and acceptable to disrupt the education of everyone else.

In England, Michael Gove is allowing new schools to be created to bring competition to education authorities that have failed so many children. Mike Russell should take a leaf out of his book and open up education in Glasgow to new suppliers who can drive up standards and improve outcomes for those who need it most.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, the worst life expectancy in the UK is in Glasgow - a full seven years below any Edinburgh constituency - but that's for another article in another journal on another day.

Brian Monteith, Political commentator.

Brian Monteith is a public service reform consultant and former MSP.

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