Closing the attainment gap

New analysis shows greater proportion of deprived pupils entering higher education.

A new analysis of school leaver destination statistics published by the Scottish Government reveals that the poverty-related attainment gap has begun to narrow over the past five years.

The figures show that the proportion of young people entering higher education at college or university directly from school has increased faster among those from the most deprived areas in Scotland when compared to the least deprived. 

In 2012, 20.4% of school leavers in the 20% most deprived areas went straight into higher education from school, compared to 58.6% of pupils from the 20% least deprived.

In 2016, the percentage of school leavers entering higher education from the most deprived areas had risen to 24%, with the percentage entering from the least deprived up to 60.5%.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney welcomed the analysis but said more needed to be done to widen access to higher education, given the figures also demonstrated that young people from Scotland’s least deprived areas are more than 2.5 times more likely to go into higher education straight from school than their counterparts from the most deprived areas.

Mr Swinney said:

“I want every child to have an equal opportunity to go to college and university and to succeed in life, no matter their circumstances. This new, detailed analysis provides welcome evidence that we are beginning to make progress in that aim and closing the poverty-related attainment gap.

“However, it also demonstrates the scale of the challenge in creating equity and excellence in our education system. The status quo is not an option - change is needed, and indeed change is happening.

“We need to reform our approach to get the whole system pulling in the same direction with an integrated framework that meets the needs of all young people at every stage of their journey through education.

“We are taking forward the actions recommended by the Commission on Widening Access, including the appointment of the Fair Access Commissioner to drive the whole system approach needed in this area. We are also reviewing the learner journey from 15 to 24 to ensure that the system of post-school education works effectively and efficiently to provide support to those who need it the most.  This breakdown helps to show what we are beginning to get it right and what more we need to do.”



Supplementary analysis of last month’s school leaver destination statistics has been released today and shows:

  • A record proportion of young people from Scotland’s most deprived communities are continuing their education, entering training, volunteering or getting a job after they leave school.
  • A record proportion of school leavers from all backgrounds went directly into higher education in 2015/16. The proportion from the most deprived areas was 24% - up from 22.2% in 2014/15 and up from 20.4% in 2011/12.
  • There was also a narrowing of the gap in school leavers initially in further education. In 2012, 34.9% of pupils from the most deprived areas went on to further education, by 2016 this had risen to 35.9%.  Over the same time period, the percentage of pupils from the least deprived areas in further education went from 17.2% to 16.1%.
  • Over the same period, the percentage of school leavers from the most deprived areas entering employment has risen year-on-year, from 16.8% in 2011/12 to 21.2% in 2015/16.

Scottish Funding Council figures published in March showed an increase, in 2015-16, to the proportion of entrants to higher education from the 20% most deprived areas in Scotland, with wide variation among universities and colleges.


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