FORMER Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray believes the Borders is being left behind because of a lack of funding for education.

The shadow cabinet spokesperson for Education and Skills was in Galashiels last week to learn about some of the barriers young people face when it comes to skills and employment. He visited Galashiels Academy, Borders College and the Galashiels Works project in the town.

Mr Gray said the current allocation of school funding is too heavily concentrated in other parts of the country, to the detriment of the Borders.

Speaking to the Border Telegraph, he said: “The Scottish Government’s Attainment Challenge is an example of Borders being left out. This is £25m per year for four years, designed to 'close the attainment gap.'

“When a child starts school, their chances of success still depends more on what their parents earn than their own ability, hard work or even the school they go to. That is wrong.

“Unfortunately they have divided this money between seven councils in the West of Scotland, and a handful of primary schools elsewhere. Only two primary schools in the Borders get any at all, and none in Galashiels.

“The idea that the other sixty or so primaries in the Borders area have no children from poorer families who would benefit form this extra support is just ridiculous.”

Mr Gray said that Scottish Labour would propose a 'Fair Start Fund,' which would see a payment of £1000 for every child from a poorer family, direct to their school. Head teachers could then use these funds in a way they see fit, be that extra teachers, or classroom assistants.

He said under this proposal, Borders Primary schools would share around £860,000 every year, and some could benefit by as much as £100,000.

During his trip to Galashiels Academy, he met students planning to study medicine, teaching, biochemistry, with some aiming for Oxford University.

He said he was also very struck by the innovative work underway to support those pupils who are finding success at school difficult. This includes senior students mentoring younger pupils, as well as some dedicated teachers.

However he fears this could be undermined by a reduction in council's budget. “All of this good work will face pressure because of brutal cuts to the council’s budget, which is £10m in real terms this year alone.

“Dedicated teachers and their efforts should be supported, not undermined. That support is most effective as early as possible, because by the time children get to secondary school, the gap in attainment is already there.

“Of course some pupils will leave school with little to show for it. We must also ensure they have other chances to get into work and make a life for themselves.

“That is why the Galashiels Works project is so important too. The young people I met there may not have had a great experience at school, but they have real aspirations and need a chance to achieve them.

Mr Gray was also impressed with what he saw at Borders College, in challenging financial circumstances. “This is another sector which has seen its budgets slashed in recent years. Indeed across Scotland there are 152,000 fewer college places than there were nine years ago.

“Yet the Principal, Liz McIntyre was able to describe lots of ways in which the college is working more closely with schools, universities and local employers to create a better chance for young people.

“I saw a lot of great work in skills and education in Galashiels. Frankly it needs more support from the government in Edinburgh, and Scottish Labour is arguing for exactly that.”