SCOTLAND’S 32 local authorities will have a legal duty to close the “attainment gap” between rich and poor schoolchildren.

Details of the Education (Scotland) Bill were announced yesterday by Education Secretary Angela Constance.

Launching the bill during a visit to St Mary’s RC Primary School in Leith in Edinburgh, the Minister said: “Our bill underlines our expectations of local councils in the process of addressing educational inequality. Specifically the bill will place a statutory duty on councils to narrow the attainment gap and introduce a new requirement for councils and ministers to report on progress in achieving that."

The bill has been much trailed, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announcing her desire to close the attainment gap soon after taking the top job.

The First Minister has already announced the £100 million attainment fund and her desire to cherry-pick the most attractive parts of the London Challenge, which saw the UK capital’s inner-city schools go from being some of the worst in Britain to some of the best.

The Education Bill also contains provisions to promote Gaelic education by placing a duty on councils to provide Gaelic-medium primary education if parents request it. The minister also announced an extra £1m for schools to help buy textbooks and other resources for the new Higher qualifications.

Details of the bill are being sent to all parents.

Conservative MSP Liz Smith was sceptical that the legislation would work. She said: “These are the usual hard words from the Scottish Government on a critical issue without a single idea of how to turn these words into action.

“It’s all very well coming up with a legal requirement, but as we’ve seen with patient waiting times it hardly guarantees success. Closing the attainment gap is one of the most important issues facing the Scottish Parliament.”

The MSP continued: “Only when a very definitive plan of action is produced will people believe this is a Scottish Government prepared to do something about the issue.”

The Tory MP was supported by Cosla, the body that represents most of Scotland’s local authorities.

Its education convener Douglas Chapman told the BBC most councils were addressing education inequalities and he feared the bill might get in the way of work already happening. “Let’s have a look to see if we’re on the right track with these initiatives and if there is legislative intervention required then, by all means, let’s have a discussion about it," he said. "But let’s not at the same time allow that legislation to get in the way of progress.”

The bill was welcomed by Neil Mathers, head of Save the Children in Scotland, who said: “A legal requirement to close the attainment gap shows that Scotland no longer accepts that lottery of birth matters more than a child’s talent or effort at school.

“It is unacceptable that children living in low-income households, and in deprived communities, have significantly less chance of doing well at school and it is unacceptable that this has continued for so long.”