Closing the attainment gap – a realistic proposition or an elusive pipe-dream?

Mowat, Joan Gaynor (2017) Closing the attainment gap – a realistic proposition or an elusive pipe-dream? Journal of Education Policy, 33 (2). pp. 299-321. ISSN 0268-0939 (

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The attainment gap associated with socio-economic status is an international problem that is highly resistant to change. This conceptual paper critiques the drive by the Scottish Government to address the attainment gap through the Scottish Attainment Challenge and the National Improvement Framework. It draws upon a range of theoretical perspectives but principally examines the problem through the lens of Steiner- Khamsi’s (2014) concepts of ‘reception’ and ‘translation’ of policy and through examination of the international and national (Scottish) policy contexts. The paper argues that, rather than focussing narrowly upon attainment outcomes, an holistic approach should be adopted which takes account of the economic, social and relational constraints which impact upon families in poverty, calling for a systems-level approach. ‘Schools cannot go it alone’: there is a need to focus upon a wide range of public policy to redress inequalities in society. Whilst the Scottish Government has looked to the London/City/National Challenge as a potential solution to the problem, the complexities and limitations of policy borrowing need to be understood. Higher Education Institutions, government agencies, local authorities and schools need to work in partnership to develop research informed practice which will impact upon learning outcomes for all children and young people.