Attainment gap dubbed 'national embarrassment'
New figures have revealed the scale of the attainment gap between looked after children and the general pupil population in Scotland despite some improvements.
The Education Outcomes for Looked After Children statistics reveal that just 39 per cent of looked after children had one or more National 5 qualification compared with 86 per cent for all pupils.
The figures also show that 76 per cent of looked after children are in positive destinations – work, training or study - nine months after leaving school compared with 93 per cent for all pupils.
And just 4.5 per cent of looked after children went into higher education three months after leaving school compared with 41 per cent of all school leavers.
While the attainment gap has narrowed over the last five years, the statistics from 2017-18 have been described as a “national embarrassment” and have led to calls for urgent reform.
Scottish Labour's education spokesperson, Iain Gray, said: "While we recognise that the situation has improved for care experienced young people in the last decade, these shocking statistics highlight that the young people in our care are still being failed.
"Only days ago, the First Minister reiterated her promises to improve things for care experienced young people. We need more than promises though.
"That not even 40 per cent achieved at least one National 5 qualification is a national embarrassment. These young people are having their life chances significantly narrowed by a system that is clearly not meeting their needs.
"The Independent Care Review, led by Fiona Duncan, is doing incredibly important work. These statistics, however, show that reform can’t wait and the government must start implementing its early recommendations as and when the review announce them, without delay."
A spokesperson for the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition said: “It is great to see that the proportion of looked-after children experiencing positive educational outcomes has increased.
“However, it should be noted that there are still significant gaps when compared with all pupils.
“While 39 per cent of looked after children had one or more qualification at SCQF level 5 in 2017/18, this is 86 per cent for all pupils, and while 76 per cent of looked after children are in positive destinations such as further education, higher education and training nine months after leaving school, this is 93 per cent for all pupils.
“It should also be noted that only four per cent of looked after children enter higher education while this figure is 39 per cent for all school leavers.
“While the figures published today are extremely encouraging, we know that there is more to do to ensure that our looked after children have the opportunity to fulfil their full potential in life and succeed.
“As we know, those who are looked after experience some of the poorest outcomes of any group in society and face a high risk of homelessness, destitution, loneliness and sometimes prison. So, while progress has been made, there is still much to be done to support these vulnerable children and young people reach their full potentials.”
Overall, the number of young people entering positive destinations within nine months of leaving school is the highest on record, at 93.2 per cent.
Education Secretary John Swinney said: “More young Scots are studying, training or working within nine months of leaving school than ever before.
“Importantly, that also includes more young Scots from the most deprived communities, with the gap closing significantly over the last decade.
“I am also particularly pleased to see the proportion of looked-after children entering further and higher education at a record high – this is real progress and shows the action we are taking to close the poverty related attainment gap in Scotland is working.
“While the figures published today are extremely encouraging, we know that there is more to do to ensure that all our young people have the opportunity to fulfil their full potential in life and succeed - regardless of their background.”
Four years on from the launch of the Scottish Attainment Challenge, Holyrood will examine the role of assessments in measuring individual student outcomes and the progress that has been made in closing the poverty-related attainment gap. Find out more here: https://www.holyrood.com/event/closing-attainment-gap-measuring-progress-and-improving-outcomes