SIX years have now passed since the first minister stood in Edinburgh and proclaimed, without a hint of ambiguity in her voice, that it was her driving mission to close the poverty related attainment gap.

The first minister declared that closing this gap was a ‘moral challenge’ and is something that goes to the heart of who we are as a nation. Indeed, she was right about both these things.

Every young person should be able to succeed to the fullest of their abilities regardless of their background, and it is to Scotland’s shame that young people from deprived backgrounds still face significant barriers to their education when compared to their non-deprived counterparts.

But six years on from the first minister’s speech, the attainment gap is still just as present in our education system as it ever was.

Progress in closing this gap has been minimal, and in some respects the gap has even widened. This was confirmed when, back in March, an Audit Scotland report exposed just how much work there is still to do in this area.

And the Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels released earlier this month paint a similarly disappointing picture.

This data showed that the literacy gap between the richest and poorest primary pupils has increased from 20.7 per cent to 24.7 per cent, with the gap for numeracy also having increased from 16.8 per cent to 21.4 per cent. In both cases, this is the widest this gap has been since these records began.

The effects of the pandemic have been damaging to young people’s education the world-over. But this failure to close the attainment gap lies squarely at the door of this SNP Government, who for years have failed to show true commitment in their efforts to tackle this problem.

Unfortunately, this lack of commitment only looks set to continue going forward. Last month we learned that the SNP have decided to redistribute their Scottish Attainment Challenge fund, which will result in money being taken away from some of the most deprived communities in Scotland.

As somewhere where such funding is much needed, Clackmannanshire has previously benefitted from this fund, and next year will receive £1.3million in additional attainment funding.

But while teachers across the whole region won’t hesitate in saying just how much this funding is still needed, over the next five years it will reduce to well under half its current level – to less than £500,000.

It goes without saying that removing over £800,000 of funding from schools across Clackmannanshire is not something that will improve young people’s prospects, and it is not something that will do anything at all to close the attainment gap.

It is nothing more than yet another ill-thought-out plan from an SNP government that is all out of ideas.

The first minister was right about the importance of this issue when she made those now infamous commitments six years ago. I believe that closing the attainment gap should truly be a national mission.

I just wish that this government would act like it believes this too.