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by Kirsteen Paterson
09 August 2022
Scottish exam results: Government under fire as attainment gap grows

Pupils at Auchmuty High in Fife were amongst those receiving their grades today

Scottish exam results: Government under fire as attainment gap grows

The attainment gap between Scotland's richest and poorest pupils is getting wider, exam results confirm.

As many as 138,000 learners are receiving their results today. 

And data from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) shows a growing gulf between learners from the most and least deprived communities.

The Higher pass rate for those living in the 20 per cent most deprived areas was 70.2 per cent, compared with 85.1 per cent from those from the 20 per cent wealthiest areas.

The near-15 per cent difference is larger than that recorded last year, when those from the worst-off areas recorded a pass rate of 83.2 per cent and their richest counterparts managed 91 per cent. 

The 2021 figures were set at a time when teacher assessments were used to establish grades due to disruption around the pandemic.

The Scottish Government has defended the gap as smaller than in 2019, when it stood at almost 17 per cent.

And the pattern is the same for National 5 and Advanced Higher levels.

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has said the pandemic "disproportionately impacted learners from more disadvantaged backgrounds" and the SNP-Green administration is "determined to accelerate the progress" made on the matter, investing £1bn in the Scottish Attainment Challenge this parliamentary term.

But Oliver Mundell, education spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, said the widening gap is "a badge of shame for the First Minister and a shocking indictment of the SNP's dismal record on education". Stating that talented pupils from poorer communities are "being failed", he said: "Nicola Sturgeon described eliminating it as the 'defining mission' of her government, and yet this year the cap has widened to a chasm yet again."

At Higher level, the A-mark gap between the richest and poorest pupils stands at 23.2 per cent.

Scottish Lib Dem education spokesman Willie Rennie said that "our students deserve much more from their Scottish Government than desperate spinning about the closure of the poverty-related attainment gap". Rennie said: "At best the gap is stagnant, at worst it has widened, depending on which year is used as a comparison.

"The SNP promised the gap would close by 2026 and these results show that the government has little chance of achieving its number one priority."

However, Scottish Greens education spokesperson Ross Greer said the appeals system open to pupils aiming to challenge their grades is "a signficant improvement on what was offered before", criteria widened to include "exceptional circumstances" like Covid-related absence. He went on: "I'm glad that we were able to improve the appeals system and I hope it's well used by those who need it, but far more fundamental change is required. 

"The Scottish Greens have long argued that high-stakes end-of-term exams are a poor way of judging a young person’s attainment and are a major contributor towards the attainment gap between pupils from the most and least disadvantaged backgrounds. That's why, following the fiasco in 2020, we secured a review and reform process. That look into how our Victorian-era exams system should change is now underway and young people are directly shaping it."

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