Sturgeon promises investment in education to tackle inequality

By Robert Outram, The CA magazine

26 February 2015

Scotland's First Minister outlines her vision to improve access to education.

Investment in education is the key to tackling inequality, according to Scotland's First Minister and Leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) Nicola Sturgeon. 

Ms Sturgeon was speaking last night at the last of a series of seminars in Edinburgh, hosted by the David Hume Institute and supported by ICAS, featuring the leaders of the main Scottish parties.

She promised action to improve opportunities for young people from disadvantaged communities at all levels of the education system, from pre-school through to higher education.

The measures she outlined included:

  • More funded places for disadvantaged children in pre-school learning and investment to maintain teacher numbers.
  • Rolling out the new Masters qualification for teachers from this year –replacing the "Chartered Teacher" initiative, which is set to be scrapped – and making it mandatory for head teachers from 2018.
  • Setting up a new Commission on widening access to higher education for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, to "propose milestones, measure progress, and identify improvements" so that equal access becomes a reality "within a generation".

Ms Sturgeon argued that economic evidence showed that inequality was bad for growth, adding: "Prosperity and equality are not competing aims."

She challenged the Westminster consensus in favour of austerity, reiterating the SNP's view that public spending could increase by half a per cent year on year through the life of the next UK Parliament, and still reduce the deficit.

And she stressed: "Education underpins all our efforts to create a fairer and more prosperous society… I want to see children from deprived areas have the same chance as everyone else."

Ms Sturgeon took questions after her talk, covering a range of subjects including the relationship between central and local government, the cutting of school hours by some authorities and the charitable status of private schools. On the latter, she said there were no plans to end the schools' charitable status but added that "the exemption needs to be earned" by the schools themselves.

ICAS chief executive Anton Colella said that civic society had an important role working with government to raise aspirations, to which Ms Sturgeon agreed.

Asked whether she would like to see the new tax varying powers being proposed for the Scottish Parliament used to fund educational initiatives, Ms Sturgeon said: "We will have to look at the circumstances at the time. There is no point in having powers if you are not going to consider using them, but no government would commit to its tax policy four or five years from now."


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