Measuring the attainment gap
Closing the poverty related attainment gap remains a top priority for this Government - we want every child to have a fair chance in life, and we know that a good education is the foundation of that. Pre-pandemic, the poverty related attainment gap was closing, but the negative impact of the pandemic cannot be ignored and this remains a complex and long-term endeavour. While there have been positive indications of progress, there are also variations in the pace of that progress across the country (as highlighted in the Audit Scotland report) and we know that the impact of COVID-19 is likely to have placed further pressure on the gap. We are working with partners to design the best approaches to supporting education recovery and accelerating progress in closing the attainment gap, through the refreshed Scottish Attainment Challenge. This refreshed programme will also aim to tackle variation in outcomes for young people across the country.
The Audit Scotland report recommended that the Scottish Government should work with stakeholders to agree an approach to dealing with the challenges created by data disruption in 2020 and 2021.
There is reliable data in the 2022 NIF which gives us a clear picture of how well our young people are doing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The National Qualification results in 2020 and 2021 provide an accurate picture of the qualifications awarded to learners in those years. Comparisons with previous and future years is possible, provided it is done with an understanding of the different underlying assessment methodologies.
- The 2021 data for Insight – the tool used by schools for improvement in the senior phase – was released as usual in September, therefore schools and local authorities continue to have the same data available to them as in a “normal” year to enable them to drive forward improvement activity tailored to their own context.
- ACEL data for primary schools has been collected for 2020/21 and it is possible to compare this with data from previous years.
Any gaps relate to national gathering of these data. However, teachers and schools routinely assess progress in literacy and numeracy, which means that the key actors have access to the information they need to inform their learning and teaching. Although national statistics provide helpful information on trends over the long term, big data alone isn’t what drives improvement in education systems. For that we need small data based on teachers’ professional observations, formative assessments, and reflections of what is happening during teaching and learning. At a school level, even without the official ACEL data, teachers have had, and will still have, the “small data” necessary to ensure they can assess the attainment of the children and young people in their classes and plan next steps appropriate for each individual.
Since the introduction of the NIF in 2016, there has been an increase in the data and wider performance information that is collected by the Scottish Government and Education Scotland and published in the National Improvement Framework Interactive Evidence Report (NIFIER). In the 2018 NIF and Improvement Plan, we set out our approach to measuring the poverty related attainment gap between children and young people from the least and most disadvantaged communities. After a formal consultation process, we identified 11 key measures to assess progress, and a further 15 sub-measures that reflect the key stages of the learner journey and the breadth of issues that can impact on attainment, particularly children and young people’s health and wellbeing.
We intend to carry out a formal consultation process to review the key measures and sub-measures to ensure they remain relevant, are comprehensive and, as recommended by Audit Scotland, provide an accurate understanding of the wide range of learners’ achievement, support a fuller understanding of the gaps in achievement and life chances between different groups of learners, and how this is captured across the full learner journey. We intend to carry out this consultation during the first half of 2022 with the revised measures in place for the 2023 NIF in December 2022.
11 key measures
Of the 11 key measures, the impact of COVID-19 meant data is not available to update for four of the measures. Of the remaining measures, there was a narrowing of the gap in two, and a widening of the gap in five.
27-30 month review (children showing no concerns across all domains)
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected delivery of child health reviews. The effects of service adaptation in response to COVID-19 will only have affected a small proportion of the reviews reported in these data, which cover children who became eligible up to 31 March 2020. As some children would be expected to receive their reviews in the months following the month in which they became eligible, a proportion of the data reflects services delivered in the period after March 2020. NHS Boards which tend to carry out reviews when children are slightly older e.g. 27-30 month reviews in NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde, have seen a greater impact of the pandemic on this 2019/20 cohort of children, as they would have been due to review many of these children in the months after March 2020.
In 2016/17, there was a change to the domains assessed by health visitors at a child's 27-30 month review. Between April 2013 and March 2017, health visitors assessed children across nine domains at their review (speech, language and communication; attention; fine motor; gross motor; social; emotional; behavioural; vision; and hearing). Since April 2017, these nine domains became eight new domains (speech, language and communication; gross motor; fine motor; personal/social; emotional/behavioural; vision; hearing; and problem solving).
This change has had an impact on the statistics produced for this key measure since 2017/18, largely due to the fact that not all Health Boards were assessing the new problem solving domain that was introduced in April 2017. As a result of this, the statistics produced for this key measure since 2017/18 are much lower than in pre-2017/18, because it is now not known if a child actually has no concerns across all of the current eight developmental domains (because if one or more domain is not assessed then we do not know if this is indeed the case.)
There does appear to have been an improvement in the percentage of children aged 27-30 months who had no concerns identified across all eight domains, from 51% in 2017/18 to 68% in 2019/20. The gap between children living in the most and least deprived areas of Scotland has remained fairly constant at around 16 percentage points between 2015/16 and 2018/19, however the gap decreased to 13.8 percentage points in 2019/20. Whilst the percentage of children having no concerns across all domains has increased in both the most and least deprived areas in 2019/20, the increase in the percentage of children from the most deprived areas assessed as having no concerns has been greater than that for children in the least deprived areas.
HWB:Children total difficulties score (age 4-12)
The impact of covid-19 on data collection means there is no update available for 2017-20. The gap between children in the most deprived and least deprived areas has remained the same between 2012-15 and 2016-19, at 16 percentage points.
HWB:Children total difficulties score (age 13&15)
The impact of covid-19 on data collection means there is no update available for 2020.
The gap between children in the most deprived and least deprived areas has remained the same between 2015 and 2018, at 8 percentage points.
This means that we have not seen demonstrable progress against the stretch aims for either of these measures.
Primary - Literacy (P1, P4, P7 combined)
Primary - Numeracy (P1, P4, P7 combined)
As a result of COVID-19 and the closure of school buildings in March 2020, the Scottish Government decided that it would not be appropriate for the collection of Achievement of CfE level (ACEL) data for 2019/20 to go ahead. The collection did go ahead as planned for primary schools for 2020/21. The data shows that pupils from the least deprived areas performed better than pupils from the most deprived areas at all stages. The gap between the proportion of primary pupils from the most and least deprived areas who achieved their expected level in literacy has widened since 2018/19 and is now wider than at any point since 2016/17 (the first year for which comparable data is available). Similarly for numeracy the gap between the proportion of primary pupils from the most and least deprived areas who achieved their expected level has widened since 2018/19 and is now wider at any point since 2016/17.
Secondary - Literacy (S3, 3rd level or better)
Secondary - Numeracy (S3, 3rd level or better)
As with the primary ACEL data this was not collected for 2019/20 because of school building closures. It was decided not to collect this data in 2020/21 because of the pressure on secondary schools in summer 2021, in order to avoid placing an additional burden on secondary schools which were in the process of implementing the Alternative Certification Model.
SCQF Levels 4, 5 and 6 (1 or more on leaving school)
The leavers’ attainment data may include attainment gained throughout all stages of a pupil’s education at school. The approach to awarding grades in National 5s, Highers and Advanced Highers in 2020 differed from in previous years and means that the 2019/20 school leaver attainment figures are not directly comparable to previous years. They do however continue to provide an accurate measure of the attainment with which school leavers in Scotland left school.
The data based on school leaver attainment between 2015/16 and 2019/20 shows an increase in the gap for pupils leaving school with 1 or more qualification at SCQF Level 4 from 6.1 percentage points in 2015/16 to 7.1 percentage points in 2019/20. This is due to a decrease in the percentage of pupils leaving school from the most deprived areas with at least one qualification at this level (for pupils from the least deprived areas there has been no change).
Over the same time period, there has been little change in the percentage of pupils from the most deprived areas leaving school with 1 or more qualification at SCQF Level 5, whilst there has been a small increase in those from the least deprived areas achieving at SCQF Level 5. As such, the gap has increased slightly between 2015/16 and 2019/20.
For pupils who left school with 1 or more qualification at SCQF Level 6, the gap narrowed between 2015/16 and 2018/19, from 38.5 percentage points to 35.8 percentage points. 2019/20 saw a slight increase in the gap, to 36.1 percentage points, however this remains below the levels seen up to 2017/18. In the latest year, the percentage of pupils from the most deprived areas achieving 1 or more qualifications at SCQF Level 6 increased at a slightly lower rate than those from the least deprived areas.
This means that, for these 3 measures combined, the gap is not closing as quickly as set out in the stretch aims.
The effects of COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdown measures, which have been impacting Scotland and the economy since March 2020, will also have impacted on young adults’ participation. The effective closure of the economy is likely to have affected the opportunities available to young adults and the choices they made e.g., a decline in employment opportunities or choosing to remain in education.
The participation measure shows that the proportion of 16-19 year olds participating in education, training or employment has been improving since 2017, from 91.1 percent in 2017 to 92.2 percent in 2021. The gap between the proportion of 16-19 year olds in the most and least deprived areas participating in education, training, and employment has narrowed from 11.5 percentage points to 9.3 percentage points over the same period.
This narrowing of the gap is due to the proportion of 16-19 year olds participating in education, training or employment increasing by 2.3 percentage points for those in the most deprived areas whilst remaining largely unchanged for those from the least deprived areas. Although clear improvements have been made, the gap is not closing as quickly as set out in the stretch aim.
Summary tables of the key measures are set out below, while the 15 sub-measures can be seen in the NIF Interactive Evidence Report.
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