Liz May, National Co-ordinator for Action for Sick Children Scotland and SCSC member, writes in Third Force News on the opportunity the new Scottish Parliament has to deliver greater equality of opportunity.
With the return of an SNP Government there is a real opportunity for it, and the other political parties, to close the educational attainment gap and deliver a more equal society.
It should of course be highlighted that we would like to pass our thanks to all the political parties for the commitments they gave in their manifestos to address the needs of vulnerable children and young people in our society.
The Coalition’s vision, to make Scotland one of the best places in the world for vulnerable children and young people to grow up in is a bold one, but with the mandate the Scottish Government now has, it is a vision that it should aspire to deliver on.
The SNP’s manifesto sets out the challenge to deliver “An Equal and Fair Society”. Set against a background of dramatic public spending cuts this will mean innovative thinking, and greater partnership working with independent and third sector service providers is needed to deliver on this.
Education is the biggest tool in the policy box for equalising society, but is one that presents the greatest challenge and is one where we look for boldness.
More than one in five pupils are identified as having Additional Support Needs, and if we are to reduce the attainment gap, we must provide them with the care and support they need, whether they are in mainstream or in additional support for learning schools.
There has been a great focus on improving the lives of care experienced children and young people. This group have some of the worst educational and employment outcomes in our society. The aspiration to deliver for them must be turned into a reality and a root and branch review of the Scottish care system undertaken. We are heartened that the First Minister is sympathetic to this proposal and look forward to it being progressed.
There is a cross-party consensus that much more needs to be done to help the increasing number of children and young people identified with mental health problems. A refocusing on preventative support and early intervention to address this challenge is to be welcomed, as well as increased levels of investment in services. By ensuring that we can prevent or address mental health problems developing there is a tremendous cost saving for both the economy and society. We therefore await the proposed new Mental Health Strategy due out this year with interest.
The Scottish Government has, through its electoral mandate, been presented with an incredible opportunity and one which carries with it a great deal of responsibility. We would urge it, and the other political parties, to be bold and innovative in their efforts to close the educational attainment gap and deliver a more equal society.