IT HAS now been over seven years since the first minister stood in Edinburgh and claimed that it was her driving mission to close the poverty-related attainment gap.

Nicola Sturgeon was, of course, quite correct to make this her political priority. 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.

It is of the utmost importance that every young person in Scotland should be able to succeed to the fullest of their abilities regardless of their background. But seven years on from the first minister’s famous speech, the data shows that those from the most-deprived backgrounds still face a significant disadvantage in their educational journey.

The most recent Audit Scotland report on this issue showed that there has been limited progress in closing the attainment gap over recent years, and that it has even widened in some respects.

The SNP Government’s own data also shows us just how much work there is still to do in this area, with the most recent Curriculum for Excellence Levels showing that many pupils are still failing to reach the expected levels of literacy and numeracy.

Unfortunately, this lack of progress in closing the attainment gap looks unlikely to change any time soon. Last week, we heard that one local authority is drawing up plans to cut 800 teaching posts as a result of the huge cuts to their budget for 2023-24.

No doubt, councils across the country will be having to make equally difficult decisions.

Clackmannanshire Council, for example, will have to make up for a loss of over £800,000 in attainment gap over the next four years.

This was funding that was originally allocated specifically to local authorities which face particular challenges in closing the attainment gap – but which the SNP have now decided to direct elsewhere.

Removing such significant levels 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.

A decade of local authority funding cuts will have consequences for many council services, and it has reached the stage where even councils’ schools budgets are at risk.

Given all of this, it is perhaps unsurprising that the first minister herself recently admitted that she has effectively dropped her long-standing promise to close the attainment gap completely.

The SNP government may claim that it is still a priority for them, but after the last seven years of coming up with nothing more than excuses, this simply won’t wash wish parents any longer.

The first minister was right that closing the attainment gap should be a national mission. But with the eighth anniversary of the first minister’s speech coming up this year, I wish that this government would act like it believes this too.