John Swinney hails ‘real improvement’ in closing attainment gap

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Education Secretary John Swinney hailed the “real improvement” in Scotland’s schools after new figures showed more youngsters from the most deprived communities going to on work, training or further study.

Across Scotland 92.9 per cent of all youngsters who left school in 2016-17 went on to these “positive destinations” - which can also include voluntary work - up from 91.4 per cent the previous year.

Education Secretary John Swinney. Picture: Johnston Press

Education Secretary John Swinney. Picture: Johnston Press

In the most deprived parts of Scotland, 87.6 per cent of school leavers in 2016-17 achieved this - narrowing the gap with their counterparts in the most affluent communities.

In these areas 96.4 per cent of all leavers were in positive destinations nine months after finishing classes - with the gap between the two having been reduced to 8.7 percentage points, down from 12.9 points in 2012-13.

However the Scottish Government figures also showed almost twice as many youngsters from the least deprived areas left school with at least one good Higher pass as compared to youngsters in the worst off communities.

In 2016-17 80.6 per cent of school leavers in the most affluent parts of Scotland achieved a minimum of one Higher at grades A to C - something 43 per cent of pupils in the most deprived areas managed.

Looking at children in care, only 16 per cent of leavers who were “looked after” left school with at least one Higher pass between grades A and C.

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Across Scotland there was a slight drop in the number of leavers with this SCQF level 6 qualification, with the total going from 61.7 per cent in 2015-16 to 61.2 per cent last year.

Overall the figures showed almost four out of ten pupils (38.3 per cent) who left in 2016-17 went on to higher education - making it the most popular choice for youngsters after secondary school.

More than a quarter (28.3 per cent) of leavers went into work, with 23 per cent going on to further education, according to the data.

For youngsters who were in care, the number in “positive destinations” after leaving school has increased from 40 per cent in 2009-10 to 76 per cent in 2016-17.

Mr Swinney said: “These figures are indicative of a high performing education system, which is testament to the efforts of our teachers, our school staff and our education leaders to give every child the opportunity to fulfil their full potential in life.

“Already the action of this Government is delivering real improvement in our schools, and implementation of reforms to empower schools and school leaders will accelerate this.

“I’m particularly pleased to see an increasing proportion of looked after children leaving school with at least a Higher or equivalent, but clearly the gap is still too wide.

“The findings of the independent Care Review and this Government’s £750 million investment through the Scottish Attainment Challenge will, I believe, see us make even more progress in closing the poverty-related attainment gap in years to come.”

Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: “Any progress in closing the gap between the richest and the rest is welcome but the SNP government should not be patting itself on the back too quickly, as there is still much more improvement is needed.

“These figures show that a young person from the richest background is almost three times more likely to go to university that a young person from the poorest, and that colleges, decimated by years of SNP cuts, remains a more likely route into education for working class young people.

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“Figures of school leavers going onto employment - around one in four from the poorest backgrounds - also include young people on exploitative zero-hours contracts.

“The government should remove these jobs from positive destination figures. Labour does not believe insecure work is a positive destination for our young people.”