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by Andrew Learmonth
14 December 2021
Poorest pupils suffer most as pandemic widens attainment gap

Poorest pupils suffer most as pandemic widens attainment gap

Scotland’s attainment gap has widened over the pandemic, according to the latest literacy and numeracy statistics released by the Scottish Government. 

The government said Covid and the resulting lockdown had had had a "significant impact" on learning.

Numeracy levels fell from 79.1 per cent in 2018/19 to 74.7 per cent, while literacy levels declined from 72.3 per cent two years ago to 66.9 per cent last year.

While attainment was down across Scotland, it fell the sharpest in the most-deprived areas.

In numeracy, the attainment gap grew from 16.8 percentage points to to 21.4 percentage points, while in literacy it jumped from  20.7 percentage points to 24.7 percentage points.

Just half of P4 pupils from the most deprived backgrounds met the expected level in literacy – a level achieved by almost 80 per cent of their peers from the least deprived backgrounds.

The figures also revealed that girls outperformed boys. The largest gap between the sexes was in writing, with girls 12 points ahead.

Scottish Conservative Shadow Minister for Education, Oliver Mundell, said the results should “shame Nicola Sturgeon”. 

The MSP said: “These shocking results reveal the brutal impact on young people of Covid, which has been heightened by years of SNP failure.

“Scotland’s schools came into the pandemic unprepared after 14 years of the SNP letting standards slip.

“The double whammy of Covid and the SNP’s botched reforms have sent the attainment gap between the richest and poorest pupils spiralling to its worst-ever level.”

Scottish Greens education spokesperson Ross Greer said: “Putting the health and safety of pupils, school staff the wider community first was absolutely the right thing to do but it has had a damaging effect on attainment, particularly for the most disadvantaged young people.

"That’s why the cooperation agreement between the Greens and Scottish Government puts such a high priority on education and tackling child poverty.”

However, Lib Dem MSP Willie Rennie said the SNP-Green government couldn’t hide behind the lockdown. 

“Education was meant to be Nicola Sturgeon’s top priority but the government barely made a dent in the attainment gap pre-pandemic. Now the figures have crashed. Instead of closing the attainment gap it's wider than ever.

“The SNP can’t just blame the pandemic as the attainment gap was yawning before we’d even heard of Covid-19.

“The Scottish Government failed to get laptops out to tens of thousands of children who needed them fast. Now it is failing to properly employ thousands of qualified teachers who should be spending every day helping children catch up. No wonder these statistics are devastating."

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville is due to address MSPs on Tuesday afternoon.

Speaking ahead of the statement, she said the trend year-on-year before the pandemic had been positive. 

“Unfortunately, the disruption caused by Covid-19 presented serious challenges for learners not just in Scotland but internationally,” the minister added.

“Improving educational outcomes is at the heart of our education recovery work, which is continuing at pace. This includes recruiting 3,500 additional teachers and 500 support staff over this parliamentary term.

"We also continue to press on with our mission to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap, backed by a record £1bn investment. Later today, in a statement to parliament, I will highlight our new and ongoing work to support numeracy and literacy in our schools.

“Since the start of the pandemic, we have committed half a billion pounds to support education, and other data published today reflects some of the progress that has been made. The 2021 Summary Statistics for Schools in Scotland show that there are now over 2,000 more teachers than before the start of the pandemic.

“The additional staff have, so far, brought the ratio of pupils to teachers to 13.2 - its lowest since 2009, directly supporting children by increasing the amount of teacher attention available to each child.” 

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