Number of Scottish school leavers going to 'positive destinations' falls as attainment gap grows

The Covid pandemic has been blamed for a drop in the number of young people leaving school and not entering the workforce or further education.

Education Secretary John Swinney has said the pandemic has affected school leaver destinations.

While new Scottish Government statistics show the proportion of school leavers going into "positive destinations" sitting at 93 per cent, it is the lowest percentage in five years.

Education secretary John Swinney said the fall was due to the pandemic affecting opportunities for employment, with a notable reduction in young people entering the workforce.

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However, Scottish Conservative education spokesman Jamie Greene said it was “the result of years of neglect and mismanagement”.

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The new figures show the percentage of school leavers going on to positive destinations has fallen from 95 per cent in 2018/19 and is now at its lowest since 2014/15. The gap between young people from the most and least deprived backgrounds going on to work, training or further education has grown to 6.3 per cent from 5.4 per cent in 2018/19.

Similarly, the percentage of youngsters going on to employment has fallen from 22.9 per cent to 16.2 per cent last year – the lowest percentage since comparable records began in 2009.

The attainment gap between the poorest and wealthiest children leaving school with at least one pass at National 5 rose from 20.2 per cent to 20.8 per cent last year, and from 35.8 per cent to 36.1 per cent at Higher level.

Mr Greene said: “Any Scottish school leaver going onto a course or a job which will help them secure a rewarding career is something to be welcomed. However, this year’s statistics raise major concerns about youth employment opportunities and the SNP Government need to address this with urgency.

“Covid-19 has brought unique challenges for the jobs market, but the SNP can’t just use that as an excuse to tape over years of neglect and mismanagement.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Beatrice Wishart said one measure of the poverty-related attainment gap – those attaining at least one National 4 pass – was now at its widest point since 2012/13.

“We all know that the exams system was very different last year,” she said.

“Even so, the attainment gap was steadily widening at SCQF Level 4 before the pandemic struck and today’s statistics show the same pattern. The Scottish Government can't shrug this off.”

The figures also showed young people going into higher and further education increased from 68 per cent in 2019 to 72 per cent in 2020.

Mr Swinney said it was “heartening to see a continued high proportion of pupils in positive destinations after leaving school”.

He said: "This year's statistics clearly highlight the impact of the pandemic on young people, with a sizeable decrease in those entering employment reflecting the limited opportunities in the labour market. We are providing direct support to those affected through the Young Person's Guarantee, which gives every 16-24-year-old a job, placement, training or volunteering opportunity."

He said the pandemic had also made attempts to close the poverty-related income gap more difficult. "While official measures of the attainment gap rose slightly over the year, the proportion of leavers from the most deprived areas gaining one pass or more at a given level or better rose at most levels and the attainment gap is much smaller than it was in 2009/10,” he said.

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