Attainment gap widens in Scotland's colleges

Scotland's colleges have seen a widening of the attainment gap which sees poor students outperformed by those from richer backgrounds, a new report has revealed.

Politicians and teaching unions expressed concern at the increasing gulf between rich and poor after it was identified by Scotland’s spending watchdog.

The report by the Auditor General also found that colleges need £360 million to tackle their maintenance backlog.

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Despite the multi-million pound bill, the further education sector has been awarded just £27 bmillion to deal with “very high priority” repairs. Five colleges have repair bills of more than £20 million, while West College Scotland has a backlog totalling £49 million alone.

Ross Greer, the West of Scotland Green MSP, said reversing college cuts would close the attainment gap. Picture: John Devlin

The document found that the gap between further education students in the 10 per cent least deprived and 10 per cent most deprived areas had increased by two percentage points over the last few years. The gap was five percentage points in 2011-12 and had widened to seven percentage points in 2016-17.

A widening gap was also observed among those studying higher education courses at college. In higher education subjects the gap increased by 0.2 percentage points – from 7.5 percentage points in 2011-12 to 7.7 percentage points in 2016.

Yesterday EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said, “The EIS is concerned to note that attainment gap between students from the least and the most deprived areas is continuing to grow.  Although colleges are making an increased contribution to widening access, there is still work to be done to ensure equality of opportunity for all students in further education.”

Ross Greer, the West of Scotland Green MSP, said reversing college cuts would close the attainment gap. Mr Greer said: “Less than 24 hours after John Swinney was singing the praises of the government in closing the attainment gap and delivering ‘real improvement’ in schools, we learn from this Audit Scotland report that the attainment gap between college students from well-off and poorer areas is actually widening. Ministers should immediately agree to the report’s recommendation that they work with colleges to examine why the gap is growing. I’d suggest that ten years of budget cuts to schools and colleges is a good place to start and reversing that should be their top priority.”

Further and Higher Education minister Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “We are already working with colleges to raise attainment throug our national improvement programme and increased grants and bursaries for students from the lowest income families. More students from deprived backgrounds are completing college courses and this report highlights the importance of colleges ensuring people have ongoing support throughout their studies so they can fulfil their potential.”