Education Partners
Education Partners

New analysis, undertaken by the Poverty Alliance on behalf of The Robertson Trust, has examined the evidence on the links between poverty, education and work pathways for young people in Scotland and across the UK. It found evidence that the poverty-attainment gap – already identified by the Scottish Government as a key priority – shows signs of increasing and risks being further compounded by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The review reveals that as of 2018-19:

  • Infants living in deprived areas, aged 27-30 months, are 16% more likely to display development concerns
  • Just over 2 in 5 young people living in the most deprived areas achieve one or more Higher when leaving school (43.5%) compared to almost 4 in 5 young people living in the least deprived areas (79.3%)
  • Inequalities continue into post-16 education and work pathways with one in ten school leavers living in the most deprived areas in Scotland unemployed nine months after the end of the school year, compared to 2.6% of young people in the least deprived areas.

Despite a range of policies, strategies and initiatives having reformed the Scottish educational and employment landscape over the last six years, most notably the expansion of early learning and childcare and the Scottish Attainment Challenge, the review highlighted Covid-19’s disproportionate impact on single parents and low-income households.

Emerging evidence has also shown the negative impacts of the pandemic on the educational outcomes for children and young people from deprived areas due to the digital divide and lack of access to educational related resources.

Income inadequacy prevents children from low-income households being able to fully participate in education and initiatives seeking to reduce the attainment gap should put reducing financial barriers at the centre. The review also highlights the importance of initiatives like one-to-one tutoring, mentoring and careers education targeted at young people living in more deprived areas; initiatives that, the review concludes, are currently lacking in Scotland.

Our Chief Executive, Jim McCormick, said:

“At The Robertson Trust, we are keen to understand how best we can maximise the contribution of education and fair work in reducing poverty. This report not only highlights the stark differences in educational experiences that children and young people from different backgrounds face across Scotland but also where some of the evidence gaps currently exist when it comes to what works and why.

“Although many of the findings will be familiar to those working tirelessly to narrow the attainment gap, this analysis shines a bright light on the disproportionate impact Covid-19 has had on those already most affected. This is particularly concerning given the clear link between childhood disadvantage, low educational attainment and future poverty.

“We will use the findings to help us shape our own role as an independent funder in this area and it is our hope that the review will stimulate renewed commitment to act across Scotland.”

Poverty Alliance Director, Peter Kelly, commented:

“Scotland is a country that believes that every child should have every chance. However this review makes clear that too many of our young people are seeing their life chances restricted by poverty. The educational attainment gap is stark in Scotland, and is an injustice that we cannot allow to continue.

“We know that the pandemic is compounding the gap. But we also know the action that we have to take to loosen the grip of poverty on the lives of families across Scotland, and to ensure that every young person in Scotland has access to the same opportunities.

“That means using every lever at our disposal to boost family incomes, as well as increasing support for interventions like one-to-one tutoring and mentoring for young people from low-income backgrounds.”

Richard Stewart Family Learning Centre

“The kindness and generosity of Spirit Aid has enabled our children to have fantastic outdoor gear to enjoy their outdoor learning experiences, allowed families to have a lovely surprise at Christmas of a food hamper and helped the Nursery Santa to bring amazing presents to the children. Their support throughout the year helps all our children but in the covid pandemic they have also had a huge impact in supporting our most vulnerable families.”

Jenny Winsley

St. Philip’s Day Services

“I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of the staff and young people of St Philip’s School to extend our sincere thanks to you for the outstanding support you provided to many of our young people and their families throughout the national lockdown period.  The support you provided greatly helped many families across North and South Lanarkshire who experienced exceptionally challenging times and your support made a huge difference to them.  The young people and their families were immensely appreciative of your support and you certainly made a massive difference to their quality of life throughout this period.”

Julie Ross

John Paul Academy

“In John Paul Academy our staff work with some of the most disadvantaged young people in our city which places challenges on the ability of our school to achieve good outcomes. Our link with Spirit Aid has provided an essential lifeline for those unduly affected by poverty. Our partnership has ensured that no young person goes hungry and that they have the necessary clothing and equipment to access their education. Spirit Aid has given hope to our community and allowed young people to see their part in helping others affected by hardship. Spirit Aid have helped in changing the culture in our school so that young people recognise their part in the wider community and the need for them to look after each other.”

Hampden School

“Spirit Aid are wonderful supporters of the children and families of Hampden School.  Spirit Aid ensure that our children all get a wonderful Christmas gift and help support some of our most vulnerable families with Christmas Hampers.  There is no doubt that without this support families would struggle more at Christmas time. Every member of staff is hugely grateful for the wonderful donations that Spirit Aid makes, which ensures all our children and families enjoy a special Christmas.”

What is the Journey to Success? 

The Robertson Trust’s Scholarship has supported career development amongst Scottish undergraduates since 1992. Through our Journey to Success self-development programme we have supported thousands of talented young people to succeed at university and increase their graduate career prospects.  

Understanding that a major barrier to participation in higher education is lack of finances, we also offer a bursary of up to £4000 p.a. to each of our Scholars.  

Receipt of this bursary is dependent on active participation in Journey to Success training sessions and events, the submission of regular reports to the Scholarship team and ongoing evidence of good academic progress. 

Robertson Scholars are an incredible pool of talent who recognize that working with others makes them stronger. There are over 700 Scholars across Scotland’s universities, studying a broad range of subjects. This network of peer support is a powerful resource for the young people who maintain it. 

Find out more about Journey to Success

What does the Scholarship involve? 

The Robertson Trust Scholarship is designed to be much more than a financial bursary, although we realise that our financial support is vital to our Scholars.  

The Journey to Success programme guides Robertson Scholars towards finding their graduate career path and to develop the skills they will need as young professionals through the following initiatives: 

  • Welcome Weekend: designed to begin building the peer support networks Scholars need to ease their transition into university and maximise the potential of their degree. 
  • Leadership development: encourage second year Scholars to support their peers throughout the Welcome Weekend and the first year at university.  
  • Personal development training sessions: improve the self-awareness needed for university and graduate recruitment success. 
  • Career Pathways: support Scholars to source meaningful work experience, access careers awareness-raising activities and make professional contacts. 
  • Alumni Network: encourages our Alumni to mentor younger Scholars and ‘give back’ to the Scholarship. 

To retain a place on the Scholarship successful candidates must complete the induction process (the Welcome Weekend), attend two self-development workshops each year and submit a written report describing how they are progressing through university at the end of each academic term. 

As a highly competitive award failure to engage with the Scholarship Team or the activities they facilitate can result in removal from the Scholarship.  

How are Robertson Scholars chosen? 

With over 300 applications each year for only 150 places, it is vital that we identify young people who can work together. We adhere to set criteria for nominations to ensure that only candidates with the potential to be part of our self-development programme are considered. 

Our team of assessors look for those positive characteristics that make a good candidate. These are a high degree of academic potential and the ambition and ability to make a commitment to participating in the Journey to Success programme whilst studying at degree level.  

Applications should therefore show a willingness to engage with our training opportunities, have a genuine interest in self-development and a desire to collaborate with others to achieve change.  

In assessing each application, we acknowledge the difficulty some candidates may face in describing personal challenges, but these should be balanced with examples of resilience, positive outlook and connectivity with their local community as a celebration of their abilities. 

We are looking for young people who have the drive but not necessarily the means to be successful in higher education, and we rely on our partners, who will have known them for many years, to help select the best possible candidates. We ask our partners in education to complete a form about each nomination telling us about their background and their engagement with education.  

The final decision as to a young person’s suitability for the Scholarship, however, always rests with the team of assessors drawn from across The Robertson Trust. 

Application Assessment Criteria: The Journey to Success 

All applications must be submitted by one of our partner schools or universities according to the following guidelines: 

  • 16-25 year olds accessing a programme of undergraduate study at a Scottish University;  
  • Candidates are assessed according to both financial need and academic ability; it is expected that recipients of the award are high achievers; 
  • Commitment to learning and a keenness to participate on our self-development programme, The Journey to Success; 
  • Clear indication of financial need i.e. evidence of low income, receipt of EMA/Free School Meals, entitlement to maximum amount of SAAS; 
  • Evidence of socio-economic challenges or care experience impacting on education; 
  • Resident in Scotland at time of application; 
  • ‘Leave to remain’ within the UK; 
  • Only first degrees with evidence of a university offer can be consideredJourney to Success alumni share their experiences

How to apply

All applications for Journey to Success are made by schools or universities. We do not accept direct applications from students or families.

If you are from a school, college or university and would like to find out about the application process, please email