Closing the attainment gap

Report outlines progress made towards achieving equity in education.  

Good progress is being made towards closing the poverty-related attainment gap, a new report has found.

The study examines improvements made through the Scottish Attainment Challenge, and wider education policies, towards closing the attainment gap during this Parliamentary term.

The report highlights a number of key strengths in the education system, including a systemic change in culture and ethos, improved learning and teaching, strengthened collaboration, work with families and communities and a focus on health and wellbeing.

The findings show:

  • the gap between the proportion of primary pupils (P1, P4 and P7 combined) from the most and least deprived areas achieving the expected level in literacy and numeracy has narrowed since 2016-17
  • the gap between the proportion of S3 pupils from the most and least deprived areas who achieved their expected level in numeracy narrowed between 2016-17 and 2018-19
  • the participation gap between those who live in the most deprived and least deprived areas has narrowed year-on-year between 2016-17 and 2019-2020
  • 96% of headteachers felt that they had a good awareness of the range of approaches that can help close the poverty-related attainment gap
  • 90% of headteachers reported they had seen an improvement in closing the gap in their schools in the past five years
  • 88% of headteachers expect to see improvements in closing the gap over the next five years

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said:

“Closing the poverty-related attainment gap and giving every young person the chance to fulfil their full potential, regardless of their background, remains our defining mission. Our ambition is a long-term one and this report clearly shows significant progress has been made in the last five years. We know that COVID-19 has made our ambition of achieving equity in education harder and I would like to thank all of our teachers and support staff for their extraordinary contribution and resilience shown throughout the pandemic.

“We have put in place a comprehensive range of measures, supported by the £750 million Attainment Scotland Fund, to turn the corner with the attainment gap. We have seen improvements across a number of indicators, including a narrowing of the gap between pupils from the most and least deprived areas achieving the expected level in literacy and numeracy. Longer term we have also seen the gap narrow in initial positive destinations and the proportion of pupils achieving one pass or more at SCQF Level 5 and 6.

“The International Council of Education Advisers has acknowledged progress is being made and headteachers are positive about the impact of our measures, have a clear understanding of what is working and are optimistic about improvements being embedded and continuing over the next five years. I am greatly encouraged by this welcome progress and am confident we are on the right path.

“To mitigate against the impact of the pandemic, we are investing a record £200 million in the Attainment Scotland Fund in 2021-22, including an additional £20 million of Pupil Equity Funding. We are also investing £50 million in the Challenge Authorities and Schools Programmes next year and will support the Care Experienced Children and Young People Fund with more than £11 million. This is alongside £375 million in education recovery over this year and next to recruit additional teachers and support staff and address digital exclusion.

“I am determined to continue to support our young people through these unprecedented times and the evidence from this report and the Equity Audit will guide our thinking for the next phase of the Scottish Attainment Challenge. Now, more than ever, there is a need to stay the course with our vision of equity and excellence.”

Looking at performance of pupils since 2009-10, the report also finds:

  • the percentage of school leavers in a positive initial destination consistently increased between 2009-10 and 2018-19, for all leavers. The gap in positive initial destinations also decreased in this period
  • the gap between pupils achieving 1 pass or more at SCQF Level 5 has reduced from 33.3 percentage points in 2009-10 to 20.8 percentage points in 2019-20
  • the gap between pupils achieving 1 pass or more at SCQF Level 6 has reduced from 45.6 percentage points in 2009-10 to 36.1 percentage points in 2019-20

Gayle Gorman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education and Chief Executive of Education Scotland, said:

"We are happy to see the improvements detailed in the report and it is heartening that nine out of ten schools have seen a recent improvement in closing the poverty-related attainment gap. We recognise this work is more important than ever and the evidence from this report and the Equity Audit will inform the Scottish Attainment Challenge moving forward.

“Our Attainment Advisors have strong partnerships with every local authority and remain focused on working collaboratively with them, our schools and their community partners to ensure our most disadvantaged learners continue to be supported to achieve their aspirations. This is a long-term commitment that has been supported by a system-wide, collaborative endeavour across Scottish education to make Scotland the best place to grow and learn.”

Professor Chris Chapman, Senior Academic Adviser to the Scottish Attainment Challenge programme, said:

“This report highlights both government’s commitment to equity and the cultural change that has occurred in Scottish education over the past five years. The drive to improve outcomes for children and young people from Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities has been placed centre stage of the reform agenda.

“Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the challenge and magnified the necessity of ensuring that all children and young people reach their full potential irrespective of their circumstances.”


Closing the poverty-related attainment gap – a report on progress 2016-2021

Closing the poverty related attainment gap - summary report 

Attainment Scotland Fund – Year 5 Evaluation report

Since 2015-16 over £750 million has been invested in the SAC through the Attainment Scotland Fund (ASF).

As a result of COVID-19 and the closure of schools in March 2020, the ACEL 2019-20 data collection did not go ahead. Therefore the latest data available is 2018-19, and reliable comparisons can be made back to 2016-17.


Media enquiries

Back to top