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by Andrew Learmonth
23 March 2021
Limited progress made on closing Scotland's attainment gap say auditors

Limited progress made on closing Scotland's attainment gap say auditors

THE SCOTTISH Government is falling behind on plans to close the poverty-related attainment gap, according to a grim new assessment from the Auditor General. 

While there has been some progress, the difference between kids in Scotland’s more prosperous areas and those in its poorest remains uncomfortably wide. 

The proportion of school leavers achieving five or more awards at level five was 82.7 per cent for pupils from the least deprived areas, compared to 46.5 per cent for school leavers from the most deprived areas – a gap of 36.2 per cent 

This is down from 41.6 per cent in 2014.

The auditors’ report, published on Tuesday, warned the pandemic could exacerbate inequalities.

Stephen Boyle, auditor general for Scotland, said: “Significantly reducing the attainment gap is complex.

“But the pace of improvement has to increase as part of the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 recovery planning.

“That process needs to particularly focus on the pandemic’s impact on the most disadvantaged children and young people.”

The Accounts Commission, which monitors local government in Scotland, also contributed to the report.

Elma Murray, interim chairwoman of the commission, said: “There is variation in educational performance across Scotland, but this is not solely about exam performance.

“Education also supports and improves the health and wellbeing of children and young people, which has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It is vital that councils, schools and their partners work to reduce the wide variation in outcomes as well as understanding and tackling the short and longer-term impact of Covid-19 on learning and wellbeing.”

Responding, Education Secretary John Swinney said: “Closing the poverty-related attainment gap across Scotland and giving every young person the chance to fulfil their full potential, regardless of their background, remains our defining mission.

“We are making good progress but closing the gap remains a long-term and complex endeavour.

“We will give full consideration to the issues raised and recommendation made in Audit Scotland’s report.”

He continued: “We have put in place a comprehensive range of measures, supported by the £750 million Attainment Scotland Fund, to turn the corner with the attainment gap.

“We have seen improvements across a number of indicators, including a narrowing of the gap between pupils from the most and least deprived areas achieving the expected level in literacy and numeracy.”

The Scottish Government also released a report on attainment which found that the gap between the proportion of primary pupils (P1, P4 and P7 combined) from the most and least deprived areas achieving the expected level in literacy and numeracy has narrowed since 2016-17.

It also said the gap between the proportion of S3 pupils from the most and least deprived areas who achieved their expected level in numeracy narrowed between 2016-17 and 2018-19.


It also claimed that 90% of headteachers reported seeing an improvement in closing the gap in their schools in the past five years.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary at the EIS, Scotland’s largest teaching union, said much more needed to be done: “The impact of poverty on children’s life chances remains a matter of huge concern, and much more needs to be done to support young people living in poverty to overcome the barriers that they continue to face.

“Schools do all that they can with insufficient resources to support young people from all backgrounds but cannot, in isolation, overcome such serious societal issues as inequality and poverty.

“We have long known of the devastating impact that poverty can have on young people, and this has been made worse during the pandemic.”


He added: “It is clear that much greater and sustained investment is needed to tackle the impact of poverty on young people’s education, and all of Scotland’s political parties must fully commit to tackling this issue in the context of education recovery during the next Parliament."

Read the most recent article written by Andrew Learmonth - Scotland has voted for a second independence referendum, says Nicola Sturgeon

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