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REVOLUTION, FIRST MINISTER; HOLYROOD 2016 EXPERTS URGE NICOLA STURGEON TO HOLYROOD 2016 EXPERTS URGE NICOLA STURGEON TODELIVER HER PLEDGE TO GIVE EVERY CHILD, EVERY CHANCE; Campaigners SNP leader must be bold.

Byline: Julie-Anne Barnes

Education experts yesterday urged Nicola Sturgeon to close Scotland's shameful attainment gap by all means necessary if she wins power on Thursday.

The First Minister insists transforming the future of children from poorer neighbourhoods will be her Government's No1 aim if the SNP take charge again.

The party's manifesto explicitly states closing the attainment gap is their priority and Sturgeon says she wants to be judged on whether she can drive through dramatic improvements to the early years and education of Scotland's poorest children.

But Keir Bloomer, an educational consultant and former director of education at Clackmannanshire Council, warned change will not come easy.

He said: "I think Nicola Sturgeon is sincere in her intentions and that this matters to her a lot.

"She has given education a degree of prominence it hasn't enjoyed before but tackling attainment is about what you do with resources and the quality of teaching.

"One of the problems with the education system is that it is uniform. You don't learn anything because everyone's experience is the same. Change will not come easily."

" According to the SNP's manifesto, our educationwill system should not follow a "one size fits all" model.

Sturgeon wants to extend responsibilities that sit solely with local authorities to allocate more resources directly to head teachers, enabling them to take decisions based on their school's circumstances.

The First Minister, speaking to the Sunday Mail after we launched our Every Child, Every Chance campaign, said providing more and better nursery care was another priority.

She also wants parents to have more say when it comes to school governance.

The SNP's manifesto has encouraged Paula Speirs, who is spearheading a campaign to take control of St Joseph's Primary School in Milngavie, near Glasgow, which has been earmarked for closure.

Yesterday, she urged Sturgeon to be bold and put the promises of radical change into practice.

She said: "We are champing at the bit. We are encouraged by her intentions and they align very well with our proposals.

"Our proposals would allow her to start looking at successful models. There are already a few schools that are out of local authority control.

"We are not trying to break the education system but if our local authority aren't going to create a vision of a school for the 21st century, we will.

"We are asking Nicola Sturgeon to let us use our talents, allow us to do it ourselves."

Paula said the Government must encourage teachers to lead that change.

She said: "We have quite a few teachers in our community who work in a number of schools across Glasgow and East Dunbartonshire and they say they are frustrated they are no longer able to do things that add value to their work. They look at our model and that is what they want.

"There will always be teachers set in their ways but I think we are pushing at an open door with Nicola Sturgeon. She will want results fast.

"We have already said that there should be very clear criteria about what success would mean and to be clear about that before we start. We don't want this to fail and neither does Nicola Sturgeon."

Bloomer also believes offering more control over budgets and governance could prove successful.

He said: "There is quite a lot of research evidence that countries in which schools have greater freedom do better.

"It seems we will see greater autonomy for schools. Schools that have devolved budgets are currently set up in such a way that they have very little control over their money. It would be possible to increase the autonomy of schools very substantially by just strengthening their flexibility in terms of their budget."

Sturgeon has visited New York and London to see for herself projects that have reversed the fortunes of some of the worstperforming schools in the world.

But Bloomer pointed out that 60 per cent of disadvantaged children don't go to school in a disadvantaged area.

He added: "The goal Sturgeon has set herself is to close the attainment gap. I assume she means completely.

"No country in the world has succeeded in that. If we take her literally on that, I don't think she will succeed."

The SNP's promise of dramatic action to close the gap has concerned some teachers.

Andrea Bradley, assistant secretary at the EIS teachers' union, said: "We have some concerns that there would be more likelihood of outcomes being less equitable and that the risk of the attainment gap widening would be greater.

"For all the challenges local authorities face, there is equity of provision in their delivery of comprehensive education.

"If you take education out of their control, you could encourage a whole culture of competition between schools - and that is less likely to deliver the equitable outcomes that we need for children and young people."

She added: "We have no doubt of Nicola Sturgeon's commitment to close the attainment gap. But a lot of focus is on the introduction of standardised assessment as part of the National Improvement Framework as a means of gathering extra data.

"We have a degree of concern around this. There is already a lot of information within the system about how pupils are progressing.

"The EIS are of the view that because politicians aren't best placed to interpret the existing data, they are looking for a shorthand way of collecting data that they can understand.

"We will wait and see what the final design of the standardised assessments will be but we have concerns about the over-assessment of learners, the inappropriate use of assessment and overemphasis on gathering data for accountability purposes."

Bradley said if Sturgeon decided to copy the schools improvement blueprint adopted in London, then she must allocate the same resources.

She said: "The schools in the London Challenge were awarded significant packages and additional resourcing to make those transformational changes through, for example, the employment of additional teachers.

"During the first part of the PS20million funding for the Scottish Attainment Challenge there was an option for local authorities to employ additional teachers. But many local authorities are finding it difficult to recruit teachers."

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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 1, 2016
Words:1069
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