Row over Scottish ministers’ education gap claims

Higher education minister Richard Lochhead is amid the row
Higher education minister Richard Lochhead is amid the row
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A row has broken out over the Scottish Government’s claims it has cut the gap in educational attainment between richer and poorer areas of the country.

Analysis of this year’s university entrant numbers by the Tories show the percentage gap between youngsters from more affluent and poorer parts of the country widened slightly this year compared with 2018.

But ministers point to the actual number of youngsters from the poorest backgrounds who have made it to university which shows a slight fall compared with those from the most affluent areas. 
Nicola Sturgeon staked her personal reputation on driving down the gap between schools in richer and poorer areas of the country less than a year after becoming First Minister.

But while the share of students from the most deprived areas has increased by 0.1 per cent, there has been a 0.8 per cent increase in students from the most affluent areas, meaning the attainment gap widened by 0.7 per cent to 27.2 per cent.

The figures from university body Ucas also show that the number of Scottish students at Scottish universities has decreased by over 1000, or 4 per cent, in the last year to 27,880. This fall is more extensive than the 3.1 per cent drop in 18 year olds in Scotland applying to Scots universities.

Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “The gap between the most and least well off students has risen and it is utterly misleading of the SNP government to claim otherwise.

“While it is extremely welcome that more deprived students are getting to university, it is simply ridiculous to suggest that this means there has been a reduction in the attainment gap.

“In addition to these findings, over one thousand fewer Scottish students are going to Scottish universities than was the case last year and the SNP cannot claim that this is a result of demographic changes alone. There are other factors at play, most specially the damaging SNP cap on higher education places. These misrepresentations from SNP are unacceptable and they should apologise.”

But the government points to the actual numbers in the poorest) social strata and the most well off social strata across all students at university which point to a It shows the gap falling from 4,410 to 4,000. Among 18-year-olds starting this year, the gap fell by 20 to 3210. However, these figures don’t account for youngsters in the middle of the social strata.

Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead said: “It is simply wrong to claim that the gap in student numbers between the richest and poorest has not closed. The figures are clear and the gap has closed by almost 10 percent compared to last year’s statistics.”

During a keynote speech in Edinburgh’s Westerhailes in August 2015, the Ms Sturgeon said: I want to be judged on this. If you are not, as First Minister, prepared to put your neck on the line on the education of our young people then what are you prepared to.”