Scottish Government's education record under fire

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.

Education Secretary John Swinney
Education Secretary John Swinney

Scottish Government statistics have revealed 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 eight per cent, who made it to a so-called “positive destination” the previous year and the first fall in the figures since 2012/13.

Nicola Sturgeon has said closing the attainment gap that 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 the 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 10 points 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 higher education, further education, training, voluntary work, employment or activity agreements.

Analysis of the statistics showed fewer than four per cent of the richest 20 per cent don’t go on to employment, education or training. When it comes to the poorest 20 percent, 15 per cent of 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 Tory shadow education secretary 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.
“What’s more, 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: These figures are yet another black mark against the SNP’s record on education.

“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 pointed to figures showing the number of youngsters from the poorest parts of Scotland leaving school with at least one Higher has increased.

But despite the progress, the number of children from deprived areas with a Higher is juust over half the rate of pupils from the least-deprived communities who do so.

In the most-deprived areas, 42.7 per cent of those leaving school in 2015-16 had a minimum qualification of one Higher, up by 1.5 points from 41.2% the previous year.

However, in the most-affluent parts of the country 81.2 per cent of school leavers in 2015-16 had one Higher or more, a rise of 0.9 points from 2014-15.

Education Secretary John Swinney admitted there was “still more to do”.

Mr Swinney said: “It is encouraging to see the number of young people attaining qualifications at higher level or above increasing - and I am particularly pleased to see a notable improvement in the proportion of young people who are looked-after and care-experienced gaining a qualification.

“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.

“That is what the reforms I announced last week are designed to do.”