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by Gemma Fraser
10 December 2019
Attainment gap persists in Scottish schools, new figures show

Image credit: Flickr creative commons

Attainment gap persists in Scottish schools, new figures show

New figures reveal that children living in the most affluent areas of Scotland are continuing to perform at a higher level than those living in the most deprived communities.

Scotland’s Chief Statistician has today published a range of statistics, including those on school pupils’ achievement of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) levels in reading and numeracy.

The gap between the proportion of primary pupils in P1, P4 and P7 from the most and least deprived areas who achieved their expected levels in literacy and numeracy remains, although slight improvements have been made in literacy since 2016/17.

In P1, there is a 19.2 point attainment gap for literacy, which grows to a 21.5 point gap in P4 and P7.

This is replicated in numeracy, with a 13 point gap in primary one, growing to 18.3 points in primary four and then a 19.3 point gap in primary seven.

In secondary schools, the attainment between pupils from the 20 per cent most deprived areas and those from the 20 per cent least deprives areas for numeracy at S3 was 13.5 per centage points.

Scottish Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray said the size of the gap and the persistence of the issue poses serious questions.

He said: “Another day and another example of the SNP’s mismanagement of education.

“The SNP used to say education was their top priority – however, the continual existence of a large attainment gap for literacy and numeracy, as well as Scotland’s disappointing PISA results, should lay that idea to rest.

 “Rather than carrying on with needless and unwanted reforms, and ignoring the views of teachers, parents and educationalists, John Swinney should start listening to those who really know what’s going on.

 “The SNP must face up to the facts and do all they can to sort out the state of education in Scotland. If they fail to do so the parents of Scotland will give the SNP failing marks at the ballot box.”

Overall in Scotland, the percentage of pupils achieving the expected CfE level is slightly higher in primary one than the later primary stages.

In numeracy, 85 per cent of P1 pupils achieved Early Level, 77 per cent of P4 pupils achieved First Level and 76 per cent of P7 pupils achieved Second Level.

The proportion of S3 pupils achieving the relevant levels in listening and talking, reading, writing and numeracy is 90 to 91 per cent.

Meanwhile, new statistics on pupil teacher ratios show they have remained relatively stable.

While the overall number of teachers rose by 288 to 52,247, a rise in the number of pupils of 4,738 has meant that the pupil teacher ratio has remained at 13.6, while primary class sizes have also remained broadly stable.

The statistics also show the number of pupils with additional supports needs (ASN) has reached a new high of 30.9 per cent.

Campaigning organisation the Scottish Children’s Coalition said this increase in pupils identified with ASN is not backed up by the correct level of support.

A spokesperson said: “While it is promising that this increase tells us that more young people with ASN are being identified, it is against a worrying background of damaging cuts to services which has seen the the number of specialist teachers supporting those with ASN decreasing from 3,840 to 3,437, a decline of 403, representing a new low.

“There has also been a fall in the number of specialist support staff in key categories such as behaviour support staff, where the number has dropped by 58 from 2012 (from 180 to 122) and by 43 in the number of educational psychologists (from 411 to 368).

“Figures reveal that per pupil spend on those with ASN has slumped from £4,276 in 2012/13 to £3,387 in 2017/18. This amounts to a cut of £889 per pupil, representing a 26.1 per cent drop in real terms (20.8 per cent in cash terms).

 “While we are committed to the principle of inclusive education, and to the policy of educating young people with ASN in mainstream classes where this is the most appropriate environment for their learning, we have major concerns over a lack of resources and specialist staff to support these.

“It is vital that those with ASN get the care and support they need, which is also key if we are to genuinely close the educational attainment gap.”

Education Secretary John Swinney said: “These latest statistics demonstrate that our reforms are working and education in Scotland is moving in the right direction.

“I am delighted to see teacher numbers continuing to increase, with levels at their highest in a decade and the number of primary teachers being the highest since 1980.

“Since 2006 there are now fewer P1-P3 pupils in large classes of 31 or more, which is particularly important as helping children in the early years is crucial if we are to close the attainment gap between the most and least deprived.

“I am pleased to see we are making progress on equity, with attainment among the most disadvantaged children and young people improving in both literacy and numeracy at all stages of primary education. 

“We are consistently seeing steady, incremental gains in attainment across the broad general education. This is welcome progress but we know there is more to do and achieving equity and excellence is a long-term task.”



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