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Scotland: Quality early learning vital to close attainment gap

Children must start school equipped with the building blocks that will help them thrive.

This week the Scottish government announced its Programme for Government 2015-16, which sets out the ambition to ‘close the attainment gap completely’ and to put that goal at the heart of their agenda.

As an organisation that has been highlighting the impact of poverty on children’s education, we wholeheartedly agree with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s statement that ‘tackling inequalities must start early’.

Save the Children in Scotland wants to see ambitious solutions that go ‘beyond the school gates’ that recognise and encourage the vital role that families play in their children’s learning. With extra focus and investment, schools and communities can support families to overcome these disadvantages.

For those families who will benefit from extra free hours of early learning and childcare, these announcements will be welcome, but a focus on quality is the missing element in the debate.

We want to see greater investment in increasing the quality of early learning and childcare services. To close the attainment gap a child needs to start school not just equipped with a school bag and pencil case, but having benefited from rich early learning opportunities that will enable them to thrive in the classroom.

The National Improvement Framework should focus on guiding schools, teachers and parents to identify issues early, act quickly and put the best provision in place to ensure that children find school a supportive environment.

A bold commitment to getting all children reading well by the end of primary school is further needed if the First Minister is to be successful in closing the attainment gap. We know that one in five children from poor families in Scotland leaves primary school unable to read well. This isn’t good enough for Scotland’s children – without strong reading skills, too many children fall behind and may never catch up.

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