Progress in narrowing Scottish school attainment gap for care experienced pupils

The latest trend with a narrowing of the attainment gap for care-experienced pupils has been welcomed, but differences remain ‘significant’

School attainment levels for Scottish pupils who have been in care are moving in the “right direction”, but they remain significantly below their classmates.

Statistics produced by the Scottish Government show 78.3 per cent of “looked after” children left school in 2021/22 with at least one qualification at level four or better, such as National 4. This represented a big increase on the 70.9 per cent recorded in 2020/21, but remained far below the rate of 96.4 per cent for all pupils.

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Meanwhile, the gap between the proportion of leavers looked after within the year and all children who achieved one or more qualification at level five or better has fallen from 63.9 percentage points in 2009/10 to 50.4 percentage points in 2018/19, and to 40.3 percentage points in 2021/22.

School pupils. David Jones/PA WireSchool pupils. David Jones/PA Wire
School pupils. David Jones/PA Wire

The proportion of care experienced pupils who stayed on at school to S5 or S6 also increased, rising from 62.7 per cent in 2020/21 to 68.3 per cent 2021/22, moving closer to the overall rate of 70.8 per cent.

However, there was a slight decrease in the percentage of looked after school leavers who were in “positive” destinations during follow-up checks after leaving school, such as employment, training, further or higher education.

The rate fell from 71 per cent in 2020/21 to 70.4 per cent the following year, and compared to 93.5 per cent for all school leavers.

Louise Hunter, chief executive at Who Cares? Scotland, the nation’s only independent membership organisation for care experienced people, welcomed the wider trend outlined in the statistics, but said further progress was required.

“The most recent figures show steps in the right direction for care experienced students and it’s positive to see an increase on last year’s figures for attainment and leaving stage,” she said. "Everyone needs the right support structures around them to be able to succeed in education and achieve their goals.

"We know that when care experienced people are provided with understanding, encouraging support from those around them, they can triumph. But from the statistics we can see there are still significant differences when comparing the educational outcomes of care experienced young people to their non-care experienced peers.”

She added: “There’s still not enough being done to support care experienced people and work must be done to address these inequalities. We must ensure every child and young person in Scotland has what they need to succeed.”

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The report assesses outcomes for 1,068 leavers who were “looked after” within the year, as well as 1,356 leavers who were care-experienced at any point aged 12 or over, and 2,030 leavers who were care-experienced at any point aged 5 or above.

Earlier this month, Scottish ministers were criticised after this year’s exam results showed a widening of the attainment gap between the wealthiest and poorest pupils. There was a 16 percentage point gap at Higher, up from 14.9 points last year, 7.9 in 2021 and 6.4 in 2020.

Education secretary Jenny Gilruth said the figures on the poverty-related gap were “undoubtedly a concern for me”. Former first minister Nicola Sturgeon once described closing the attainment gap as the “defining mission” of her government.



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