Little progress made on education attainment gap in Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon has said closing the attainment gap, which sees children from rich backgrounds outperform their poorer counterparts, is a key priority for the government
Nicola Sturgeon has said closing the attainment gap, which sees children from rich backgrounds outperform their poorer counterparts, is a key priority for the government
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The Scottish Government’s education record has come under fire as figures show falling numbers of school-leavers ending up in “positive destinations” and little progress on closing the attainment gap.

Official statistics showed that 8.6 per cent of those leaving school in 2015-16 failed to make it to work, training or further/higher education. That was an increase from the 8 per cent who made it to a so-called “positive destination” the previous year and the first fall in the figures since 2012-13.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said closing the attainment gap, which sees children from rich backgrounds outperform their poorer counterparts, is a key priority for the government.

But, according to the statistics, just 85 per cent of those from the poorest backgrounds made it to a positive destination in 2015-16 compared with 96.2 per cent of those from the richest backgrounds who did.

The 11.2 percentage points gap between the richest and the poorest was an increase on the ten-point gap recorded in 2014-15.

The proportion of children from the most deprived backgrounds finding themselves in a positive destination fell from the 86.3 per cent recorded in 2014-15.

In the past, the Scottish Government ministers have used the percentage of children finding themselves in “positive destinations” after leaving school to defend their handling of the education brief.

A “positive destination” is defined as being in higher education, further education, training, voluntary work, employment or activity agreements.

Analysis of the statistics showed fewer than 4 per cent of the richest 20 per cent of children don’t go on to employment, education or training. When it comes to the poorest 20 per cent, 15 per cent of those school leavers don’t make into employment, education or training.

Overall, the percentage of school leavers going to either further or higher education has fallen from 62.5 per cent in 2013-14 to 59.7 per cent in 2015-16.

The Conservative education spokeswoman, Liz Smith, said: “The number of young people going on to positive destinations is one of the First Minister’s go-to statistics when she is under pressure. Now she can’t even say that is increasing. The likelihood of a school-leaver ending up at university, college, training or work is still far too dependent on their background.”

Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: “Nicola Sturgeon promised to make education her top priority. Instead the gap between the richest and the poorest has grown as opportunities for school leavers are closed off.”

Education Secretary John Swinney said the number of youngsters from the poorest parts of Scotland leaving school with at least one Higher had increased, but admitted more progress had to be made.

Mr Swinney said: ““While this is a step in the right direction, there is still more to do to close the gap between our most and least vulnerable ­children, and raise attainment for all.”