Article for Scotsman on education and early intervention

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SCOTLAND’S schools have always played a key role in helping people out of poverty. But despite government efforts, around one in five of Scotland’s children is still growing up in a poor household. The 2007 OECD report into schooling in Scotland said that schools were not doing enough to ensure that every child could transcend a disadvantaged background. For many, the school system succeeds in giving them the education they need, whatever their circumstances. But for others, poor outcomes at school pass from one generation to the next. If your parents did not succeed at school and then were unable to find employment, you are more likely to struggle yourself.

What can be done to break this cycle? Ask any professional, whether in education, social work or criminal justice, and they will agree that early intervention is the key. If you can identify a child with difficulties early enough, and provide appropriate support, you can avoid more severe (and costly) problems later on. This approach requires a great deal of collaboration between the different professions, as well as commitment to channel resources, and to give the professionals the freedom and autonomy to deliver what a child needs.

To be fair, a great deal of progress has been made in this area in recent years. This approach is key to both the government’s “Getting it right for every child” framework and the Curriculum for Excellence. Identifying a key professional to bring resources together can maximise the benefit. Yet it is notoriously difficult to calculate the impact of early intervention.

In the wake of the emergency Budget, which challenged almost every sector of the civil service to cut 25 per cent off their budgets, there is a real danger that continuing to prioritise and develop integrated working will be seen as an expensive luxury. Yet if schools are to enable every young person to reach their full potential they will need to be able to deliver early, integrated support. The challenge is huge, and no single profession can tackle it alone.

• Mark Ballard is the assistant director (policy) at Barnardo’s Scotland


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