A global survey says standards in reading, maths and science are falling.
Some Children 'Failed By School'
Scotland's Education Secretary said bluntly that some children are "failed by school'' as set out her determination to close the achievement gap that exists between rich and poor.
Angela Constance argued that with poverty levels rising as a result of welfare reforms action was needed to "ensure that those children growing up hardest hit by austerity are not consigned to failure at school''.
She spoke out in a speech at Glasgow University, where she recalled the stigma of coming from a "poor'' area when she was at school.
Making a speech six months after becoming Education Secretary, Ms Constance told an audience at the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change that she could remember "some of the stigma in the 70s and 80s of being from a working-class family with divorced parents''
She recalled the "green ticket for free school meals'' and added: "I remember hearing in class the village that I came from was being described as 'poor'.''
Ms Constance added: "I don't want the same education I got for our children today - I want better.''
In her speech she said she was "shining a light'' on some of the weaknesses in Scotland's education system, as well as its strengths
Giving what she described as an "honest evaluation'', the Education Secretary said: "Let's be blunt. While some children excel at school and many children do very well, there are some children who are failed by school.''
She said the recent survey on literacy and numeracy in Scotland's schools had revealed a "drop in performance in both reading and writing'' and had found ``no positive evidence of a reducing deprivation gap''.
Many of those who are worst affected are "losing out on their childhoods because they are growing up in poverty'', Ms Constance said
"Tackling this inequality is a priority not only for the Scottish Government but for me personally.
"I am determined to close the attainment gap.
"No child should be born to fail. Every child should have the same chance to fulfil his or her potential.''
While she acknowledged the "barrier poverty presents to attainment'' she added: "Let me be crystal clear. This Government is committed to doing all in its power to eradicate poverty in Scotland - but it will never be acceptable for poverty to be an excuse for failure.''
Ms Constance said the fall in literacy meant there is a "need to step up the pace of change''
But she also stressed: "We must be led by the evidence of what works - not by fads, fashions or knee-jerk reactions. And not by dogma, ideology or vested interest.''
To help achieve this a national improvement framework is to be established, in line with the best practice from higher performing education systems around the world.
The teaching union the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) welcomed the comments made by Ms Constance on the need to tackle poverty and close the attainment gap.
General secretary Larry Flanagan said: "The EIS welcomes the Cabinet Secretary's strong commitment to tackling poverty and acknowledging the impact that it can have on young people's educational chances. The EIS is fully committed to working in partnership to reduce the impact of poverty on education, and on the shared agenda of tackling the attainment gap.''
He went on: "However, we also must recognise and acknowledge that the age of austerity has a serious and growing impact on the home lives of many young people that is outwith the control of the school. While teachers will do all they can to reduce the impact of poverty on young people's educational chances, the reality is that this is not a problem that schools can solve in isolation. Poverty is an issue that society, as a whole, must commit to tackling.''
A spokesman for council body Cosla said: "It is clear from the tone and criticism of teachers in the Cabinet Secretary's speech that we need to get on and address some of the issues raised in relation to teachers rather than obsess about the amount of them we have across Scotland at any one particular moment in time.
"This vindicates our position and clearly shows that it is the quality of teaching and the outcome that is important, not the number of teachers, which is nothing more than a crude input measure.''
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