Alan Milburn warns attainment in education is failing deprived Scots
Scotland is at risk from “sleepwalking” into a social mobility crisis unless there is urgent change, an influential body has claimed.
Alan Milburn, chair of the UK’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, warned education and business leaders in Edinburgh the lack of focus on social mobility in the political debate in Scotland could cost this generation of young people dear.
Policies like free university tuition fees may even have lulled policy-makers into believing Scotland has the problem cracked.
In a speech to education leaders, Milburn set out the case for radical new approaches being adopted to defuse what he calls a “ticking social mobility time bomb.”
“There is a risk that Scotland will sleepwalk into a social mobility crisis unless urgent action is taken,” he said.
“Action is needed at every level from cradle to career if Scotland is to break the link between demography and destiny.
“That will require the whole of Scotland - government, local councils, local communities, employers and educators – to be mobilised behind shared new approaches to defuse the ticking social mobility time-bomb.”
New targets had to be introduced to narrow the gap in attainment in Scottish schools between better-off and less well-off students.
Only one in 10 young people who live in the most deprived areas get at least five Highers at level six or above compared to one in four elsewhere in the country.
Millburn also said the Scottish Government should do more to monitor the performance of poorer pupils in schools and publish more data so that parents and teachers can see which schools are doing well and which are not.
And colleges need to be helping employers reduce youth unemployment and create more high quality apprenticeships while universities – including the ancient institutions of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews – should be doing more to diversify their social intakes.
“It must become a national priority for the attainment of disadvantaged children to rise and the attainment gap between them and their better-off peers to close,” he said.
“When almost one in five young people in Scotland leave school only to join the dole queue that is not just a social injustice.
"It is a moral outrage and it must change if social progress is to be made.”
His intervention follows the commission’s annual report, published last month, which highlighted the “real danger” the UK as a whole will become a permanently divided society unless things change.
There is little to suggest that Scotland is not going the same way, the report states.
National Union of Students president Gordon Malloney backed Milburn's call, adding that education provided the most important route out of poverty and it was time more was done to expand opportunities.
"Universities can't achieve fair access alone, but we know they can do much, much more," he said.
"At the same time we need to see schools working to close the attainment gap between pupils, colleges offering high quality vocational opportunities, and universities, particularly the ancients, opening their doors to more students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“We now have many of the fundamental foundations in place to achieve fair access - free education, widening access targets and legislation, and investment from government.
He added: "These won't work on their own. We need to build on these foundations, focussing on universities working harder with colleges and schools, to see far greater numbers of people from disadvantaged backgrounds reach their full potential.”