While 57.7 per cent of pupils from the wealthiest fifth of the population got at least one A, just 35.6 per cent of their peers in the most deprived group did so.
The number of university places so far offered to students from the poorest areas of Scotland has risen by 6.8 per cent, but this was eclipsed by the 13.1 per cent increase in places for pupils from the richest.
Asked why the attainment gap had widened, the Scottish Qualifications Authority’s Fiona Robertson said “learners have faced disruption to learning and teaching this year” and added that the Scottish government’s equity audit had “highlighted some of the challenges young people have faced that go beyond assessment”.
This is undoubtedly true. The attainment gap is a problem for the education system as a whole, not just those determining the grades, with teachers at the frontline of efforts to address it.
However, it is also a wider societal issue that goes to the heart of what life in modern Scotland should be like, as opposed to the actual reality.
Scotland should be a meritocracy, in which people with talent are able to fulfil it regardless of their socio-economic status. No one should suffer or miss out on the opportunities of a lifetime simply because of the accident of their birth.
This is an issue of fairness to the individuals concerned but also one of national economic necessity. Scotland will only prosper if it fosters talent, rather than stifling it.
The widening of the attainment gap in recent years shows we are heading in the wrong direction. Covid may provide a temporary ‘excuse’ but the reality is that the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities that were already a serious factor.
‘Postcode prejudice’ has long been an insidious and under-reported form of discrimination. But communists, antediluvian aristocrats and the rest are wrong; humans are not divided into different ‘classes’. However, unless we get a grip on this problem, we will make them seem increasingly real and continue to unjustly blight the lives of more of our fellow citizens, our equals, and Scotland as a whole.