The Scottish Government’s education record was under fresh attack tonight after new figures showed over one quarter of children do not meet literacy and numeracy standards when leaving primary school.
Scottish Government statistics looking at the SNP’s flagship Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) policy also highlighted yawning attainment gap, which sees pupils from wealthier backgrounds outperform their poorer counterparts.
The publication of the figures comes a week after it emerged Scotland’s schools had recorded their worst-ever performance in the latest set of Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) test.
Today’s figures revealed that 72 per cent of primary seven pupils achieved the required level for reading down from 75 per cent in primary four and 81 per cent in primary one.
The figures were worse when it came to writing with more than one third failing to reach the required standard.
Just 65 per cent of primary seven pupils reached the required level for writing, a decline from the 69 per cent achieved in primary four and the 78 per cent recorded in primary one.
A total of 68 per cent of those in the final year of primary school reached the standard for numeracy, a fall from the 73 per cent in primary four and the 84 per cent in primary one.
The standard of “listening and talking” was higher with 77 per cent reaching the required standard.
Nicola Sturgeon has made closing the attainment gap the key priority of her Government. But the Curriculum for Excellence figures highlighted the work that needs to be done.
For each area, a higher proportion of pupils living in the least-deprived areas achieve the CfE level relevant to their stage compared to pupils living in the most-deprived areas.
The gap between pupils from the 20 per cent most-deprived areas and those from the least-deprived areas for writing at primary seven is 23 per cent, for example.
When it came to writing 78 per cent of those from the most affluent areas achieved the standard compared with just 54 per cent from the poorest areas. Similar findings were recorded for reading with 84 per cent of primary seven children from rich areas reaching the standard compared with 63 per cent recorded by those from poor areas.
When it came to numeracy 80 per cent of primary seven pupils from the wealthiest areas performed to the required standard compared with 58 per cent in the most deprived areas.
The figures also revealed that the gap between academic standards reached by those from differing backgrounds became wider and as children went through the primary school system.
At secondary school the figures identified a disparity between S3 results across the country. While 97 per cent of S3 pupils in East Dunbartonshire were reaching the required standard (level 3) or above in numeracy, only 58 per cent were reaching that level in Clackmannanshire. And while 98 per cent of pupils in East Dunbartonshire were reaching level 3 or above in writing, only 67 per cent of pupils were reaching the same level in Aberdeen.
Education Secretary John Swinney defended his government’s record by arguing that the number of teachers now stood at 50,970 teachers in 2016, an increase of 253 full-time equivalent on the previous year.
His opponents, however, argued that teacher numbers were thousands below the levels they were when the SNP first came to power, with 3,616 fewer secondary teachers and 4,113 fewer teachers overall compared to 2007. Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary Liz Smith said: “These statistics are more proof if any was needed that the attainment gap in Scotland is a wide as ever. It’s clear from these figures that there are massive issues in delivering CfE in some areas of the country, and that the confusion surrounding its implementation is starting to have a hugely negative effect.”
She added: “With teacher numbers having plummeted from the levels they were at a decade ago, it once again calls into question whether the CfE can be delivered properly.” Labour Education spokesperson Iain Gray said: “The SNP’s school shame has deepened with these statistics. The scale of their ten years of failure becomes more apparent by the day. We have seen huge cuts to teacher numbers, support staff, and investment per pupil alongside increasing class sizes. As a result, the attainment gap between the richest and the rest in Scotland is simply scandalous. Pupils not reaching expected standards in reading, writing and numeracy is a failure in social and economic policy by the SNP government.”
Mr Swinney said: “I very much welcome the rise in teacher numbers compared to last year.
“We can also see that class sizes are broadly stable and the pupil-teacher ratio has been maintained. This is all good news, particularly when you consider the teacher recruitment challenges being faced in some areas.
“The initial teacher judgement data, published today for the very first time, illuminates progress being made in different parts of the country and by children in our least and most deprived areas.
“These figures shine a light on where excellence already exists and where there is more to do, both to target resources and to ensure that children are getting the right support at the right time.
“They come ahead of the introduction of standardised assessments next year and provide a basis upon which to build our knowledge about how children are progressing at school.
“The wide variation in some of the data does, however, highlight the value that standardised assessment will bring.
“Currently there are inconsistencies in the way young people’s progress is being assessed and reported in schools across the country.
“The standardised assessments will provide teachers with nationally consistent data to help inform their professional judgement.”