Study reveals gulf in social mobility between councils

A new report has revealed the gulf between local authorities when it comes to tackling low educational attainment among school pupils from Scotland's most deprived neighbourhoods.

Figures highlighted by the UK Social Mobility Commission suggests there are big differences in the effectiveness of councils in reducing the attainment gap.

In parts of the country, the reading and writing performance of pupils from the wealthiest parts of the country is almost a third better than those from the poorest areas, while in other local authorities the gap is negligible.

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Using controversial new Scottish Government data, the Social Mobility Commission ranked local authorities in terms of the average gap in reading and writing attainment in P1, P7 and S3.

At P1, the difference in the proportion of pupils achieving the expected level was almost 34% between the most and least deprived pupils in Highland, the worst-performing area.

At P7, Aberdeenshire came bottom of the table, with an attainment gap of over 40%. And Aberdeenshire also had the widest gap between the best and worst-off pupils at S3, at 40%.

However, the tables are likely to attract controversy as they have been put together using attainment data published last year, based on ‘teacher professional judgements’ of pupils’ standards.

The reports authors sounded a note of caution over their use of ‘experimental data’. New standardised assessments are being rolled out that will measure pupils’ results in key areas. Nicola Sturgeon has pledged that the data from tests will not be used to create school league tables.

The SMC report highlighted the opportunity gap across Scotland in a number of areas.

The poverty gap in university admissions is widest in Stirling, where just 10.2% of pupils from the poorest neighbourhoods enter higher education, compared with 64.8% in the richest areas.

In East Renfrewshire and Dumfries and Galloway, 30% of employees are paid less than the living wage of £8.75 per hour, more than double the proportion in Edinburgh.

In Edinburgh and East Dunbartonshire, just over 40% of jobs are in managerial or professional roles, almost twice the proportion in Dundee, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, Dumfries and Galloway or Moray.

However, despite being among the best paid parts of Scotland, residents in Edinburgh and East Renfrewshire also face the greatest struggle finding an affordable place to live, with house prices almost eight times the median annual salary.

“Education and employment outcomes vary widely across Scotland – with deprived, post industrial areas tending to report lower outcomes, while affluent rural areas tend to report higher outcomes,” the SMC report concludes.

“Even within authority areas, there are large gaps in outcomes between the most deprived and least deprived parts of the area.”

Tom Mason, the Scottish Conservative MSP for the North East said: “I think parents will be very disturbed to read the findings of this study.

“While we must treat anything described as ‘experimental data’ with some degree of caution, we cannot afford to be complacent about our children’s education.

“The fact that these statistics are showing that there is a significant attainment gap between pupils from poorer backgrounds and those from better off backgrounds is a major concern.

“Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly said that reducing the attainment gap is her top priority. To date, there is no sign that this is the reality.”