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Yawning attainment gap between richest and poorest pupils remains

Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth is set to make a statement to Holyrood on Tuesday afternoon on attainment | Alamy

Yawning attainment gap between richest and poorest pupils remains

The attainment gap between pupils from the most and least deprived areas of Scotland remains considerable, despite some narrowing post-pandemic.

New statistics published by the Scottish Government put the literacy gap among primary school pupils at 20.5 percentage points and the numeracy gap at 17 percentage points.

That compares to 20.7 percentage points and 16.8 percentage points in the 2018-19 data, the last data set from before the coronavirus pandemic.

The gap is narrower among older pupils, with the literacy gap among secondary students at 13.7 percentage points (down 0.1 points from 2018-19) and the numeracy gap at 13.6 percentage points (up 0.1 points from 2018-19).

The figures follow a damning OECD report last week, which revealed educational performance in Scotland had slipped down global rankings.

The Programme for International Assessment (Pisa) report found reductions in Scottish results across maths, reading and science – and for the first time put Scotland behind the OECD averages in maths and science.

First Minister Humza Yousaf accepted the results were “poor” and his education secretary, Jenny Gilruth, is set to make a statement to Holyrood on Tuesday afternoon on attainment.

But today’s statistics also found 73 per cent of primary pupils achieved the expected literacy level in 2022-23, the highest figure on record, while 88 per cent of S3 pupils achieved expected results.

For numeracy, 80 per cent of primary schools reached expected levels, also higher than previous years, and 90 per cent of S3 students achieved their expected level.

Gilruth said: “These findings are the most up to date statistics on attainment and are comprehensive across all publicly funded schools in Scotland, demonstrating a clear rise in standards above pre-pandemic levels among primary school pupils. Along with this year’s SQA results, they point to widespread rises in attainment.

“I recognise that there is no room for complacency and our programme of reform across the education and skills system will help identify where further improvements can be made and will look to drive enhanced attainment to ensure all young people meet their full potential.”

Teaching union EIS said the positive figures were a "testement" to young people and teacher staff "despite the extremely challenging circumstances".

But general secretary Andrea Bradley added: “Inadequate funding of our education system, over many years, has left our schools under-resourced and under-staffed.

“The Scottish Government has previously pledged to employ 3,500 additional teachers to ease the load on over-burdened teachers, and to enhance the educational experience of pupils in our schools. We are still waiting for this to be delivered – and imagine how much more could be achieved if the Scottish Government keeps its promise.”

But Scottish Lib Dem education spokesperson Willie Rennie said the government had made “virtually no progress” on closing the poverty-related attainment gap.

He said: “The SNP seem to have no clue why the gap isn’t closing and why performance overall has slipped.  Their reform agenda has stalled so they now seem to have no clue about how to improve the performance of Scottish education. The responsibility on the education secretary to fill this vacuum is huge.”

A separate set of statistics released by the government also revealed attendance rates has hit the lowest on record, dropping to 90.2 per cent in 2022-23.

There were also 11,676 exclusions made over the year.

Conservative education spokesman Liam Kerr said: “Standards have fallen, violence has spiralled out of control and teachers are being subjected to horrific verbal and physical abuse. Many understandably feel that the SNP Government has stood by and allowed this to happen.

“Today’s figures also show that the poverty-related attainment gap – which the SNP vowed to eliminate years ago – remains stubbornly high.

“Teachers do a vital job, yet the SNP has left them overstretched and under-resourced. For the sake of our children’s education, it cannot continue.”

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