Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
The wealth divide in Britain is entrenched and it is vicious. A monstrous creature, it plunges its tentacles into every crevice of our lives, suffocating social mobility and ensnaring its victims in a quagmire of disadvantage. It stakes its claim over what is affluent and what is “the rest”, apportioning opportunity accordingly.
This has been the case for decades. Little has changed.
Yet, perhaps where this system delivers its cruellest blow is in education. When the plentiful supplies of advantage and opportunity were being dished out, it was children from low-income households who missed out the most. Perhaps more clearly than ever before, how much money your family has is determining how well you do at school.
This bitter reminder of our ruthless class divide is understatedly termed, the “educational attainment gap”.
Whilst admittedly, the Scottish government has diagnosed the problem, through its’ “Scottish Attainment Challenge” and cash injections in the form of Pupil Equity Funding, the festering injustice remains very much untreated.
Consider the dire state of our socially segregated education system. Children from low-income households are at a shameful disadvantage compared to those from better-off homes. The attainment gap is clear from a young age, with a shocking chasm of 13 months in vocabulary by age 5. This rift grows ever more cavernous as time progresses, with the attainment gap for writing at 21% right through primary and secondary school.
COVID-19 has shone a new light on this inequity. Children who are already the victims of the wealth divide, finding themselves stranded on the wrong side of an ever-widening attainment ravine, are the ones left to suffer. Taken out of school alongside their more affluent peers to protect them against COVID-19, their educational experiences will now be the hardest hit.
I have been playing a small role as a volunteer for an Edinburgh-based charity called People Know How which is helping mitigate the social impact of COVID-19. One of the charity’s initiatives sees it provide refurbished computers. Indeed, how is a child who is already falling behind at school; whose parents cannot afford a computer nor internet access, supposed to continue their education online? In fact, the Scottish Government has found that more than one-third of low-income houses don’t have internet access at all. This presents just one in a myriad of undertows dragging down pupils who are already struggling to keep their heads above the water.
Of course, it is not just vulnerable pupils that COVID-19 hits the hardest, but our elderly, our sick and our under-paid health care workers. Whilst the country is quite rightly staying at home to protect our fantastic NHS, consider this new spotlight, bright and unobscured, shining on the cruel social inequities that have been allowed to fester for years.
This pandemic has laid the burning injustices in our society bare for all to see. Ignorance can no longer be pled. It is time that we witnessed an uninhibited levelling of the great playing field of life – starting with education.