Record narrowing of the attainment gap

Primary school literacy and numeracy improvement reaches new high.

The poverty-related attainment gaps in literacy and numeracy levels across primary schools have seen the biggest decreases since records began, official statistics show.

The gap between the proportion of primary pupils from the most and least-deprived areas achieving expected levels has narrowed by 3.4 percentage points in literacy and 3.7 percentage points in numeracy, according to the Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels (ACEL) 2021/22. This marks the largest narrowing of the gap in a year since consistent records began in 2016/17.

There has also been a record increase in the proportion of primary school pupils achieving the expected levels of literacy (up 3.7 percentage points to 70.5%) and numeracy (up 3.3 percentage points to 77.9%).

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said:

“These figures demonstrate a real recovery from the pandemic and underline our progress towards tackling the poverty-related attainment gap, and achieving excellence for all of Scotland’s children and young people.

“This record improvement over one year for primary pupils achieving the expected levels in numeracy and literacy also shows more young people are getting the support they need to reach their full potential.

“However, there is no room for complacency. I recognise that attainment levels are still largely below pre-pandemic levels and the publication of local stretch aims by local councils last week sets out clear plans to significantly narrow the poverty-related attainment gap in the years ahead.

“We know that the impact of the pandemic – compounded by the current cost of living crisis – means children and young people need our support now more than ever. We are determined to do all we can to ensure they can reach their full potential, including a record investment of £1billion over this parliamentary term in the Scottish Attainment Challenge.”


The Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels (ACEL) 2021/22 statistics  include data at Scotland level and for each local authority.

Data was collected and published for primary school pupils only in 2020/21 with the secondary school and special school  collection cancelled due to the additional work pressures on teachers resulting from the Alternative Certification Model.

Therefore, for S3 pupils comparisons cannot be made to 2020/21 as the data was not collected for that year. Attainment at this level has been close to 90 per cent for both literacy and numeracy since 2016/17. In 2021/22, 86% of S3 pupils achieved this level in literacy, with 89 per cent in numeracy.

In 2021/22, the full collection went ahead for the first time since 2018/19 meaning that data is being published for P1, P4, P7, S3 and special schools.


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