Publication - Progress report

Closing the poverty-related attainment gap: progress report 2016 to 2021

Published: 22 Mar 2021

This report presents the evidence of progress towards achieving this defining mission over the period of the parliament 2016-2021. In doing so it also acknowledges the disruptive and detrimental impact of COVID-19.

110 page PDF

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110 page PDF

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Contents
Closing the poverty-related attainment gap: progress report 2016 to 2021
6. Progress towards achieving long-term outcomes

110 page PDF

4.0 MB

6. Progress towards achieving long-term outcomes

There are four long term outcomes that the Challenge aims to achieve in order to progress towards the strategic aim of closing the poverty-related attainment gap. These are:

  • Embedded and sustained practices related to addressing the impact of poverty related attainment.
  • All children and young people are achieving the expected or excellent educational outcome, regardless of their background.
  • An education system which is aspirational, inclusive in ethos, practice and approaches for all including teachers, parents and carers, children and young people.
  • Closing of the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged children and young people.

This chapter uses a range of evidence – headteacher views, attainment data and wider data – to assess progress towards these long-term outcomes.

Summary

Perceptions of progress

Headteachers are very positive about the impact of SAC in their school and optimistic about improvements being embedded and continuing over the next five years.

  • 9 in 10 schools report seeing an improvement in closing the poverty-related gap in attainment and/or health and wellbeing, while a similar proportion of schools (88%) expect to see an improvement in the next five years.
  • A great majority (84%) of headteachers indicated that the approach to achieving equity is embedded within the school community to either a great extent (35%) or a moderate extent (49%).
  • Ability to implement approaches relevant to the school, teaching and staffing resources, and high quality learning and teaching, were perceived to be the most important factors in supporting closing the attainment gap.

Progress in improving attainment

Progress in closing the poverty-related attainment gap has been made on a number of measures, although the level of such progress is varied depending on the measure under consideration. For the majority of measures, attainment of those from the most deprived areas has increased, although in some cases not at the same rate as for those from the least deprived areas.

  • Change in the attainment gap across the Challenge Authorities is varied, and on some measures the gap has widened. However, this is largely not due to performance worsening, but instead that performance in the most deprived areas has improved but not kept pace with performance of those from the least deprived areas.
  • The gap between the proportion of primary pupils (P1, P4 and P7 combined) from the most and least deprived areas who achieved their expected level in literacy and numeracy has narrowed since 2016/17.
  • At S3, the gap between the proportion of pupils from the most and least deprived areas who achieved their expected level in literacy reduced slightly between 2016/17 and 2017/18, but then increased slightly between 2017/18 and 2018/19. There has been a narrowing of the gap between the most and least deprived areas for pupils in S3 who achieved their expected level in numeracy since 2016/17.

Progress in wider education measures

A range of key wider data sources may provide insight into the longer term benefits of the SAC for young people. Across a range of data sources, an increasing proportion of young people from the most deprived areas are in education, employment or training; are in a positive initial and follow up destination after school, or are accessing Higher/Further Education. The gap between young people from the most and least deprived areas has narrowed across all these measures.

  • The Annual Participation Measure – the proportion of young people in education, employment or training – shows there has been an overall reduction in the participation gap between those living in the most deprived areas compared to those living in the least deprived areas (9.9 percentage points in 2020, 10.5 percentage points in 2019, 10.8 percentage points in 2018, 11.6 percentage points in 2017).
  • The percentage of school leavers in a positive initial destination consistently increased between 2009/10 and 2018/19, for leavers from both the most deprived and least deprived areas. The gap in positive initial destinations also decreased in this period. However, the proportions in positive initial destinations fell in 2019/20 for leavers from both the most and least deprived areas and the gap widened. This is likely to at least in part reflect the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Overall, a greater proportion of school leavers from the most deprived areas were reported to be in Higher/Further Education as a positive initial destination in 2019/20 (65.7%) than in 2013/14 (58.8%).
  • Between 2013/14 and 2019/20, the total Undergraduate Higher Education entrants from the most deprived areas increased from 14,730 to 16,500. In the same period, the proportion of all entrants from the most deprived areas increased from 17.2% to 19.4%.

6.1 Perceptions of progress

9 in 10 schools reported seeing an improvement in closing the poverty-related gap in attainment and/or health and wellbeing, while a similar proportion of schools (88%) expect to see an improvement in the next five years

  • 9 in 10 schools reported seeing an improvement in closing the poverty related gap in attainment and/or health and wellbeing as a result of ASF supported approaches. This included 20% that had seen 'a lot' of improvement to date.
  • There has been a 12-point increase since 2017 in the proportion of schools reporting an improvement in closing the gap; from 78% in 2017, to 88% in 2018, 91% in 2019, and 90% in 2020.
  • Almost 9 out of 10 schools (88%) expected to see improvement in closing the gap over the next five years, although this represents a 10-point reduction since the 2019 survey. This included 21% who expected to see 'a lot' of improvement.
  • Survey responses indicated some correlation between schools having already seen improvement, and expectations of further improvement; 67% of those who had seen ‘a lot’ of improvement to date expected to see ‘a lot’ more, compared with 11% of those who had only seen ‘a little’ improvement to date.

The survey showed some variation in views across funding streams, with Schools Programme respondents most likely to report an improvement in closing the gap. Schools who only receive PEF funding, particularly those with a lower PEF allocation, were least likely to report an improvement.

Analysis indicates that the headteachers most likely to have seen progress in closing the gap were those who had seen a change in culture or ethos (more collaborative working and/or embedding the approach to equity) or have improved their understanding of barriers faced by children, young people and families.

Challenge Authority progress reports highlight improvement in terms of the impact of approaches on ‘soft indicators’ of health and wellbeing, with evidence cited of, for example, improved readiness to learn, decreased disruption in the classroom, and improved social and emotional competence.

Improvements were also indicated in terms of increasing practitioner confidence, knowledge and practice in supporting health and wellbeing, as a result of professional learning and a strategic focus on health and wellbeing in policy and guidance. Pupil voice was also noted as a further form of impact evidence in terms of improvements in health and wellbeing. A number of Challenge Authorities described data gathered on such measures as social and emotional competence, reduced disruptive behaviours, improved empathy and problem solving skills.

6.2 Factors supporting progress in closing the attainment gap

Ability to implement approaches relevant to the school, teaching and staffing resources, and high quality learning and teaching, were perceived to be the most important factors in supporting closing the attainment gap.

Headteachers were asked to report factors that supported progress towards closing the poverty-related gap in attainment or health and being (Figure 8.1). The most common factors chose were the ability to implement approaches relevant to school (58% of headteachers), teaching and staff resources (52%), higher quality learning and teaching (45%), use of evidence/data (40%) and engagement with families (30%). The results show the importance of flexibility in approach, resources, supporting practitioners, and engaging with families.

Figure 6.1: Factors supporting progress towards closing the poverty-related gap in attainment or health and wellbeing
Chart showing the most common factors supporting progress in schools

The factors listed above link back positively to the short/medium term outcomes that were considered in the previous section. For example, ability to implement approaches relevant to school was the most common factor listed as supporting progress, while 93% of headteachers agreed that they were able to select the approach that was most effective for their school. Use of evidence/data was also listed as an important factor to supporting progress, with 84% of headteachers agreeing that they were ‘good’ or ‘very good’ at using data to inform development of their approach.

Early analysis from the 2020 Headteacher Survey considered the relationship between perceived progress in closing the gap and other aspects of headteachers’ experiences. This analysis indicates that a number of respondent groups are more likely to have seen progress in closing the gap. In particular, survey results indicate that key factors in closing the gap include changes of culture or ethos (such as embedding the approach to equity or improved collaborative working), better understanding of barriers faced by pupils and families, skills and knowledge in use of data and evidence, and engagement with families and communities.

Table 6.1: Respondent groups most likely to have seen progress in closing the gap (2020)

  • Feel that approach to achieving equity has been embedded within school community
  • Feel they understand the challenges and barriers faced by pupils and parents affected by poverty
  • Feel ASF has helped to develop staff data and evidence skills
  • Have seen an increase in collaborative working
  • Feel their measuring of progress and impact of approaches is ‘very good’ or ‘good’
  • Feel their use of data and evidence to measure impact is ‘very good’ or ‘good’
  • Engagement with families and communities has been part of the school approach
  • Approach to equity has developed from the previous school year

Headteachers were also asked in the survey about the key factors that limited in progress in closing the attainment gap. Staff time and workload, and reduction in other services/resources were seen as the main factors limiting progress in closing the poverty-related attainment gap. Each were mentioned by 44% of respondents. Other commonly mentioned factors included staffing resources and recruitment, level of PEF received and staff absences.

Figure 6.2: Factors limiting progress towards closing the poverty-related gap in attainment or health and wellbeing
Chart showing that factors limiting progress included staff workload, and reduction in services

6.3 Progress in improving attainment

This section provides detail on the various data and evidence that provide insight into the closing of the attainment gap. This includes attainment measures (ACEL and school leaver attainment) and wider measures related to educational attainment and deprivation.

The assessment of progress in terms of whether the gap is narrowing is nuanced and impacted by many contextual factors. Given the scope/timescales for some data collections, it can be difficult in the short to medium term to assess the extent of progress. Evidence of some of the impacts may not emerge in data until the longer term (for example, SCQF Level 5 and 6 qualifications data will not emerge for a considerable number of years for current primary pupils).

6.3.1 Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels (ACEL)

ACEL data reports on the percentage of pupils who have achieved the expected Curriculum for Excellence levels in Literacy and Numeracy. It covers publicly funded Primary 1, Primary 4, Primary 7 and Secondary 3 pupils.

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.

Primary school attainment

The proportion of primary children achieving the expected level in literacy and numeracy has steadily increased between 2016/17 and 2018/19 in Challenge Authorities, non-Challenge Authorities and in Scotland overall.

The gap between the proportion of primary children from the most and least deprived areas that have achieved the expected level in literacy narrowed for Challenge Authorities, non-Challenge Authorities and Scotland overall between 2017/18 and 2018/19. For numeracy, the gap widened slightly for Challenge Authorities and non-Challenge Authorities between 2017/18 and 2018/19, and remained the same at Scotland level.

The attainment of primary pupils (P1, P4 and P7 pupils combined) in literacy and numeracy are outlined below, based on analysis of ACEL data for 2016/17 to 2018/19.

Figure 6.3: Percentage of P1, P4 and P7 pupils (combined) achieving expected Level in Literacy and Numeracy by SIMD, 2016/17 to 2018/19
Chart showing that the SIMD gap in CfE levels for primary pupils narrowed in literacy and numeracy

Source: Achievement of CfE Levels data collection

In terms of primary school pupils’ literacy and numeracy performance:

  • The gap between the proportion of primary pupils (P1, P4 and P7 combined) from the most and least deprived areas who achieved their expected level in literacy has narrowed since 2016/17.
  • The gap between the proportion of primary pupils (P1, P4 and P7 combined) from the most and least deprived areas who achieved their expected level in numeracy narrowed between 2016/17 and 2017/18 and remained stable in 2018/19.
  • The proportion of primary pupils achieving the expected level in literacy has steadily increased in Challenge Authorities, from 67.5% in 2016/17 to 69.1% in 2017/18, and 70.8% in 2018/19.
  • This proportion has also increased in non-Challenge Authorities (70.1% in 2016/17 to 73.0% in 2018/19) and Scotland overall (69.2% in 2016/17 to 72.3% in 2018/19).
  • For Challenge Authorities, the gap between the proportion of Primary pupils from the most and least deprived areas widened from 19.8 percentage points in 2016/17 to 20.9 percentage points in 2017/18, and narrowed to 20.2 in 2018/19.
  • At Scotland level, the gap narrowed from 2016/17 to 2018/19. The literacy attainment gap for non-Challenge Authorities closed from 24.7 percentage points in 2016/17 to 22.6 percentage points in 2017/18, and further narrowed to 22.2 percentage points in 2018/19.
Secondary school (S3) attainment

At S3, the gap between the proportion of young people from the most and least deprived areas who achieved their expected level in literacy reduced slightly between 2016/17 and 2017/18, but then increased slightly between 2017/18 and 2018/19. There has been a narrowing of the gap between the most and least deprived areas for young people in S3 who achieved their expected level in numeracy since 2016/17.

Figure 6.4: Percentage of S3 pupils achieving Third Level or better, by SIMD, for Literacy and Numeracy, 2016/17 to 2018/19
Chart showing that the SIMD gap in CfE levels for secondary pupils has narrowed in numeracy

Source: Achievement of CfE Levels data collection

Comparing levels of attainment across Challenge Authorities (combined) and Scotland, from 2016/17 to 2018/19, shows that:

  • The proportion of secondary school pupils achieving the expected level in literacy has remained broadly the same in Challenge Authorities, with 87.2% in 2016/17 and 87.1% in 2017/18, as well as 86.9% in 2018/19.
  • Over the same period of time, this proportion has increased in non-Challenge Authorities (87.1% in 2016/17 to 88.4% in 2018/19) and at Scotland level (87.1% in 2016/17 to 87.9% in 2018/19).
  • The proportion of S3 pupils achieving the expected level in numeracy has risen in Challenge Authorities (combined), from 86.6% in 2016/17, to 87.2% in 2017/18 and 87.3% in 2018/19.
  • While there has been an increase in attainment for Challenge Authorities (combined), over the same time period, there has been a greater increase in non-Challenge Authorities (combined) (88.9% in 2016/17 to 91.5% in 2018/19).

Looking at the size of the gap between the proportion of S3 young people from the most and least deprived areas that have achieved the expected level in literacy and numeracy, from 2016/17 to 2018/19:

  • For literacy, the gap within Challenge Authorities (combined) widened from 11.3 percentage points to 12.8 percentage points in 2017/18, and further increased to 13.5 percentage points in 2018/19.
  • For non-Challenge Authorities, the literacy gap closed each year from 17.2 percentage points in 2016/17, 15.5 percentage points in 2017/18, to 15.2 percentage points 2018/19. Literacy remained broadly stable at a Scotland level, with a slight narrowing from 13.6 percentage points in 2016/17 to 13.3 percentage points in 2017/18, followed by an increase to 13.8 percentage points in 2018/19.
  • The numeracy gap between attainment in the most and least deprived areas has narrowed for Challenge Authorities (combined), non-Challenge Authorities (combined) and Scotland overall.
  • For non-Challenge Authorities, the gap in numeracy reduced from 16.4 percentage points in 2016/17 to 14.6 percentage points, and to 13.1 percentage points in 2018/19.
  • The gap in numeracy for Challenge Authorities reduced from 13.9 percentage points in 2016/17 to 13.6 percentage points in 2017/18, and further narrowed to 13.3 percentage points in 2018/19.

6.3.2 School leaver attainment: percentage of school leavers achieving awards by SCQF level

The attainment of school leavers in Scotland is based on the Summary Statistics for Attainment and Initial Leaver Destinations publication. This data includes attainment in National Qualifications achieved throughout all stages of a pupil’s schooling, covering all school leavers from publicly funded mainstream schools.

This section will consider the proportion of school leavers attaining one pass or more at a given SCQF level or better (SCQF Level 4 to 6) in Challenge Authorities (combined), non-Challenge Authorities (combined) and Scotland overall, from 2009/10 to 2019/20.

The coronavirus (COVID-19 ) pandemic led to the cancellation of 2020 National 5 (SCQF Level 5), Higher (SCQF Level 6) and Advanced Higher (SCQF Level 7) exams and external marking of coursework. Grades in these qualifications in 2019/20 were instead based on teacher estimates. For this reason a dashed line break in the series has been placed between 2018/19 and 2019/20 to indicate that care must be taken when comparing 2019/20 attainment to that of earlier years. Interpretation must take full account of the different certification methods and a change in the attainment levels in 2019/20 should not be seen as an indication that performance has improved or worsened without further evidence.

Chart 8.5 shows the proportions of school leavers from the most and least deprived areas who attained 1 pass or more at SCQF Levels 4 or better, 5 or better and 6 or better.

Figure 6.5 Percentage of school leavers by attainment at SCQF Level 4, by SIMD 1 quintile, 2009/10 to 2019/20 a
Chart showing the SIMD gap at SCQF Level 4 narrowed between 2009/10 and 2016/17

The gap between the proportion of school leavers from the most deprived and least deprived areas attaining 1 pass or more at SCQF Level 4 or better, was 7.1 percentage points in 2019/20. This is up from 6.7 percentage points in 2018/19 due to a small reduction in the proportion of leavers from the most deprived areas who attained a pass at this level. Following a steady reduction in the gap between 2009/10 (11.3 percentage points) and 2016/17 (5.9 percentage points), the gap has widened each year and in 2019/20 is the widest it has been since 2012/13.

Figure 6.6: Percentage of school leavers by attainment at SCQF Level 5, by SIMD 1quintile, 2009/10 to 2019/20
Chart showing the SIMD gap at SCQF Level 5 decreased between 2009/10 and 2017/18

At SCQF Level 5 or better, the gap was 20.8 percentage points in 2019/20. This is up from 20.2 percentage points in 2018/19. The proportion attaining 1 pass or more has increased slightly for school leavers from the most deprived areas but increased by more for those from the least deprived areas which has led to the gap widening.

Between 2009/10 and 2016/17 the attainment gap at SCQF Level 5 or better reduced steadily from 33.3 percentage points to 19.3 percentage points. Since then it has increased to 20.8 percentage points in 2019/20.

Figure 6.7: Percentage of school leavers by attainment at SCQF Level 6, by SIMD 1 quintile, 2009/10 to 2019/20
Chart showing the deprivation gap at SCQF Level 6 narrowed between 2009/10 and 2018/19

At SCQF Level 6 or better, the gap was 36.1 percentage points in 2019/20. This is up slightly from 35.8 percentage points in 2018/19. The proportion attaining 1 pass or more has increased for both school leavers from the most and least deprived areas but has increased by more for those from the least deprived areas which has led to the gap widening slightly. Over the longer term, the gap has reduced from 45.6 percentage points in 2009/10.

Challenge Authorities

As outlined above, care should be taken when making comparisons between 2019/20 and earlier years and any increase or decrease should not be interpreted as indicating improving or worsening performance without further evidence.

The proportion of school leavers attaining one pass or more at SCQF Level 5 or better for Challenge Authorities (combined) slightly increased in 2019/20 to 84.2% from 83.7% in 2018/19. This represented a return to 2017/18 levels (84.2%) but was down on 84.8% in 2016/17.

A similar pattern was seen at Scotland level and for non-Challenge Authorities (combined) whereby the proportion of leavers with 1 or more pass at SCQF Level 5 increased between 2018/19 and 2019/20, after a decrease the previous year.

The proportion of school leavers attaining one or more pass at SCQF Level 6 or better has seen a similar trend across Challenge Authorities (combined), and Scotland overall, from 2016/17 to 2019/20. This trend has featured an increase from 2016/17 to 2017/18, followed by a decrease in 2018/19 and then an increase of more than 3 percentage points in 2019/20.

In Challenge Authorities, the proportion increased from 59.1% in 2016/17 to 61.9% in 2019/20. In non-Challenge Authorities there was an increase from 62.1% to 64.7% in 2019/20.

From 2016/17 to 2019/20, the proportion of school leavers attaining one or more pass at SCQF Level 7 or better for Challenge Authorities (combined), non-Challenge Authorities (combined) and Scotland increased slightly in 2017/18, decreased marginally in 2018/19 before increasing by around 4 percentage points in 2019/20.

In Challenge Authorities, the proportion slightly increased from 15.4% in 2016/17 to 15.9% in 2017/18, decreased to 14.8% in 2018/19 and rose to 18.7% in 2019/20. In non-Challenge Authorities there was an increase from 21.0% in 2016/17 to 22.0% in 2017/18, a decrease to 20.9% in 2018/19 then an increase to 25.1% in 2019/20. At Scotland level there was an increase from 19.3% in 2016/17 to 20.2% in 2017/18, a decrease to 19.1% in 2018/19 and an increase in 2019/20 to 23.2%.

Gap between school leavers from the most and least deprived areas

At SCQF Level 5:

  • The percentage point gap between the proportion of school leavers from the most and least deprived areas attaining one or more pass reduced slightly for Challenge Authorities and at Scotland level between 2016/17 to 2018/19.
  • The gap widened for Challenge Authorities (combined) from 2016/17 to 2017/18 (18.3 to 18.8 percentage points) before decreasing again slightly in 2018/19 (18.5 percentage points) and widening to 19.4 percentage points in 2019/20.
  • A similar pattern is seen at Scotland level with 19.3% in 2016/17 increasing to 20.3% in 2017/18, a slight decrease in 2018/19 to 20.2% and an increase to 20.8 percentage points in 2019/20.
  • In non-Challenge authorities (combined), the gap has consistently increased between 2016/17 to 2019/20 from 21.7 percentage points in 2016/17, to 22.7 percentage points in 2017/18, 22.9 percentage points in 2018/19 and 23.2 percentage points in 2019/20.

At SCQF Level 6 or better:

  • The gap between the proportion of school leavers from the most and least deprived areas that have attained one pass or more narrowed across Challenge Authorities (combined) between 2016/17 and 2019/20.
  • The gap declined steadily from 2016/17 (37.9 percentage points), 2017/18 (36.3 percentage points), 2018/19 (35.2 percentage points) to 2019/20 (35.1 percentage points).
  • The gap widened in non-Challenge Authorities (combined) from 2016/17 to 2017/18 (40.3 to 41.1 percentage points), and subsequently decreased in 2018/19 (39.6 percentage points) and again in 2019/20 (39.5 percentage points).

At SCQF Level 7 or better:

  • The gap at SCQF Level 7 or better for Challenge Authorities (combined) decreased between 2016/17 and 2017/18 and subsequently closed further between 2017/18 and 2018/19.
  • The gap narrowed for Challenge Authorities (combined) from 2016/17 to 2017/18 (20.9 to 20.4 percentage points), and decreased again in 2018/19 (18.8 percentage points), rising to 23.4 percentage points in 2019/20.
  • In non-Challenge authorities (combined), the gap increased slightly from 26.5 percentage points in 2016/17, to 26.6 percent in 2017/18 before reducing to 24.3 percentage points in 2018/19 before increasing to 28.6 percentage points in 2019/20.

6.3.3 Annual Participation Measure (APM)

The participation gap between those who live in the most deprived and least deprived areas narrowed year-on-year between 2017 and 2020.

The APMis another measure for considering progress in closing the poverty-related attainment gap, set out in the NIF. It is produced by Skills Development Scotland and reports on the economic and employment activity of the 16-19 year old cohort.

The proportion of 16-19 year olds participating in education, training or employment was 92.1% in 2020 which represents an increase of 0.5 percentage points compared to 91.6% in 2019. This is the highest rate since the inception of the APM. The 2019 figure showed a decrease of 0.2 percentage points compared to the 2018 figure (91.8%). Previous figures were 91.1% (2017) and 90.4% (2016).

Between 2019 and 2020 the participation rate rose in 20 of the 32 local authorities. Although there remains variation in the participation rate by local authority, the gap between the highest and lowest participation rates reduced from 9.3 percentage points in 2017 to 7.5 percentage points in 2020. Similarly the participation gap between those who lived in the most deprived areas and those in the least deprived areas continues to show narrowing with a gap of 9.9 percentage points in 2020 (compared to 12.9 percentage points in 2016, 11.5 percentage points in 2017, 10.8 percentage points in 2018 and 10.5 percentage points in 2019).

Looking specifically at the participation rate in the Challenge Authorities, seven of the nine recorded a slight increase between year 4 and year 5 of the ASF. This represents an increase from 2019 where six of the nine recorded a slight increase between Year 3 and Year 4 of the ASF. In 2018 seven out of the nine recorded an increase between Year 2 and Year 3 of the ASF.

in the rate of participation amongst those within the most deprived areas. With regards to Challenge Authorities:

  • In Year 5 of the ASF, four Challenge Authorities had a smaller or similar participation gap compared to Scotland.
  • Between Year 4 and 5 of the ASF, the participation gap narrowed in seven Challenge Authorities.
  • In Year 5 of the ASF, the participation rate for those living in the 20% most deprived areas was higher or similar in four Challenge Authorities, compared to Scotland.
  • Between Year 4 and 5 of the ASF, the participation rate for those living in the 20% most deprived areas increased or was maintained in six Challenge Authorities.

6.4 Progress in improving Health and Wellbeing measures

6.4.1 Attendance rates

The attendance rate of pupils from the most deprived areas decreased between 2016/17 and 2018/19.

93% was the total attendance rate recorded for 2018/19. This is very similar to previous years. The attendance rate was higher for primary schools (94.5%) than secondary schools (90.7%) and special schools (90.1%).

Pupils from the most deprived areas had lower attendance rates, with those living in the most deprived areas having an attendance rate that was 5.0 percentage points lower than the pupils living in the least deprived areas. The gap in attendance rates for primary school pupils increased between 2016/17 and 2018/19 and, whilst the gap is greater in secondary schools, it remained the same in years 2016/17 – 2018/19. Whilst the attendance of pupils from the least deprived areas remained fairly stable over time, the attendance rate of the most deprived pupils decreased.

Attainment Advisor 5 year local authority reports also included evidence on attendance. A few reports detailed improvement in the overall attendance of learners affected by poverty over time and in narrowing the attendance gap. A few also identify improvement in the attendance of looked after children and young people.

Data indicates that in the majority of local authorities, it was recognised that there is a steady or persistent gap in the attendance of children and young people affected by poverty and those who are not. Nevertheless, there is evidence across individual local authorities of focused approaches to attendance which have successfully improved the attendance of targeted learners, increasing attendance and positively impacting upon attainment. Approaches taken to effectively improve attendance for targeted learners and so impact upon attainment were varied and tailored to individual local authorities and schools. For example, participation among children and young people who are care-experienced has improved in a variety of ways through supported curricular and wider experiences such as school equipment, excursions and access to leisure facilities.

6.4.2 Exclusion rates

While the exclusion rate for pupils from the most deprived areas is higher than that for the least deprived, the exclusion rate has been falling year on year since 2006/07.

The exclusion rate for all pupils in 2018/19 was 21.6 per 1,000 pupils. This has been falling year on year since 2006/07. Rates of exclusions per 1,000 pupils for pupils living in the most deprived areas were 35.4 per 1,000 pupils compared with 8.2 per 1,000 pupils living in the least deprived areas. Secondary schools had a higher exclusion rate than primary schools and the gap in exclusion rates was also higher in secondary schools.

From 2014/15 to 2016/17, the primary exclusion rate for pupils from the most deprived areas decreased for four Challenge Authorities. The gap in secondary exclusion rates narrowed in six of the nine Challenge Authorities between 2014/15 and 2016/17.

Exclusion rates are around seven times as high among looked after children (152 per 1,000 pupils) compared to all pupils. However, this rate has fallen substantially, from 397 per 1,000 pupils in 2009/10 to 152 per 1,000 pupils in 2018/19.

Exclusion rates for children and young people affected by poverty is reducing as a result of an increased focus on inclusion. However it is also recognised that children and young people affected by poverty continue to be at higher risk of being excluded than their more affluent peers. There was no notable difference in trends or patterns across the Challenge Authority, Schools Programme and PEF strands of the SAC programme with regards to inclusion. Almost all local authorities were observed to have approaches and initiatives which are mitigating against risks of exclusion for all and particularly those affected by poverty.

6.4.3 Health and wellbeing measures

Information on health and wellbeing is available from the Scottish Health Survey and the Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey (SALSUS). The findings are based on two variables: scores on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) which measures emotional and behaviour problems, and the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS). Mental wellbeing is measures using the WEMWBS questionnaire and is used as a sub measure to report progress around health and wellbeing in the ASF Evaluation.

Total Difficulties Score

The social, emotional and behavioural development of children has been measured via the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). The SDQ is a brief behavioural screening questionnaire designed for use with the 3-16 age group.

The SDQ comprises 25 questions covering themes such as consideration, hyperactivity, malaise, mood, sociability, obedience, anxiety and unhappiness. It is used to measure five aspects of development: emotional symptoms; conduct problems; hyperactivity/ inattention; peer relationship problems; and pro-social behaviour.

A score was calculated for each of the five aspects, as well as an overall ‘total difficulties’ score which was generated by summing the scores from all the domains, except pro-social behaviour. The total difficulties score ranged from 0 to 40 with a higher score indicating greater evidence of difficulties. There are established thresholds indicating ‘normal’ (score of 13 or less), ‘borderline’ (14-16) or ‘abnormal’ scores (17 or above).

Regardless of age, children in the most deprived areas were more likely to have a borderline or abnormal total difficulties score. This is summarised in Table 8.2 and further detail is given in the paragraphs that follow.

Table 6.2: Total Difficulties Score – By Deprivation
Year Most disadvantaged(bottom 20% SIMD) Least disadvantaged(top 20% SIMD) Gap
% % Percentage points
Total difficulties score(aged 4-12) 2012/15 22 6 16
2014/17 22 10 12
2015/18 25 10 15
2016/19 25 9 16
Total difficulties score(aged 13 & 15) 2015 34 26 8
2018 42 34 8
Children aged 4-12 years old

Children in the most deprived areas were more likely to have a borderline or abnormal total difficulties score (25%) than those in the least deprived (9%) in 2016/19. Whilst the gap of 16 percentage points initially decreased (12 percentage points in 2014/17 and 15 percentage points in 2015/18), it returned to 16 percentage points in 2016/19.

Children aged 13 and 15 years old

Children in the most deprived areas were more likely to have a borderline or abnormal total difficulties score (42%) than those in the least deprived (34%) in 2018. The gap was also 8 percentage points in 2015 (the proportion of children aged 13 and 15 with a borderline or abnormal total difficulties score in the most and least deprived areas both increased and by the same amount.

Health and wellbeing sub-measures

Mental wellbeing score

Overall, mental wellbeing among 13 to 15 year olds decreased with age for all children. Mental wellbeing recorded higher levels for 13 to 15 year old boys than for girls. The figure below presents data by year group and gender.

Mental wellbeing showed a correlation with areas of deprivation. Overall, pupils in the least deprived areas had a higher WEMWBS mean score indicating better mental wellbeing than those in the most deprived areas. Table 8.3 shows the mental wellbeing score by those most and least deprived and displays the gap between the two.

Table 6.3: Mental Wellbeing mean score – By Deprivation, 2018
All children Most disadvantaged(bottom 20% SIMD) Least disadvantaged(top 20% SIMD) Gap
Mental Wellbeing Score (13 year old boys) 50.0 48.4 51.2 2.8
Mental Wellbeing Score (13 year old girls) 46.3 45.0 47.0 2.0
Mental Wellbeing Score (15 year old boys) 48.3 48.0 48.7 0.7
Mental Wellbeing Score (15 year old girls) 43.3 41.9 43.9 2.0

6.5 Progress in wider education measures

6.5.1 International comparisons

Social background is less of a factor in performance in PISA for pupils in Scotland than the OECD international average.

Scotland’s participation in PISA allows for international comparisons of the impact of social background on attainment. Analysis shows that there is a weaker link between background and attainment in Scotland than the OECD average, and that the link is weaker than it was in 2009.

PISA uses an Index of Economic, Social and Cultural Status (ESCS) to analyse results by social background. It is constructed from the responses given by students in their background questionnaire and collects information on parental education and occupation, learning resources in the home and cultural possessions. This index is not directly comparable to the SIMD. The ESCS index is used to derive a number of measures, each of which tell us something different about the impact of social background on performance.

Resilient students

A ‘resilient’ student is one who achieves a high score in PISA despite having a disadvantaged social background. PISA results show that the proportion of disadvantaged students who were academically resilient was higher in Scotland (13.9%) than on average across OECD countries and economies (11.3%). This marks the overall progress made on academic resilience since 2012.

Strength of relationship between ESCS and reading performance

The percentage share of the variation in performance explained by ESCS tells us how strong the relationship is between reading ability and social background. The strength of relationship between social disadvantage and a pupil’s score was lower in Scotland than the OECD average. About 8% of the variation in Scotland could be explained by socio-economic factors. This was similar to the position for reading in 2015 (9%) and 2012 (11%), but less than 2009 (14%). The strength of relationship between social background and reading performance in PISA is weaker now than it was in 2009.

Variation in score by ESCS

The ESCS gradient, shows how much score varies on average with each step (one point) in social background. The extent of the relationship between deprivation and reading performance (or “gradient”) in Scotland was lower than the OECD average at around 32 points. Therefore, for every one point change in ESCS, reading score changes by 32 points. This is similar to 2015 (32 points) and 2012 (35 points) but better than 2009 (44 points). Therefore the impact that social background has on reading performance in PISA is lower now that it was in 2009.

6.5.2 School leaver positive initial destinations

The percentage of school leavers in a positive initial destination consistently increased between 2009/10 and 2018/19, for leavers from both the most deprived and least deprived areas. The gap in positive initial destinations also decreased in this period. However, the proportions in positive initial destinations fell in 2019/20 for leavers from both the most and least deprived areas and the gap widened. This is likely to at least in part reflect the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2018/19, the proportion of school leavers in positive initial destinations from the most deprived areas was 92.4% compared to 88.3% in 2013/14. Over the same period, the deprivation gap between the most deprived and least deprived areas reduced from 8.2 percentage points to 5.4 percentage points.

The 2019/20 figures on school leavers’ initial destinations will reflect the impact of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) on choices made by, and opportunities available to, pupils upon leaving school during the pandemic.

The proportion of school leavers in positive destinations fell from 95.0% to 93.3% in 2019/20. The proportion of school leavers in employment fell from 22.9% in 2018/19 to 16.2% in 2019/20. 44.2% of school leavers were in Higher Education, the highest proportion of all categories and the highest percentage since consistent records began in 2009/10.

Figure 6.7 shows that the percentage of school leavers in a positive initial destination has decreased in 2019/20, both for leavers from the most deprived and least deprived areas. The proportion of school leavers in a positive initial destination has fallen by more amongst leavers from the most deprived areas than it has amongst those from the least deprived areas which has led to an increase in the deprivation gap, from 5.4 percentage points in 2018/19 to 6.3 percentage points in 2019/20.

Figure 6.8: Percentage of school leavers in a positive initial destination, by SIMD, 2009/10 to 2019/20
Chart showing the SIMD gap in positive initial destinations decreased between 2009/10 and 2018/19

Between 2015/16 and 2018/19, there was a shift in positive initial destinations for school leavers from the most deprived areas, with a greater proportion in Higher Education (25.9%, up from 24.0%) and employment (21.3% compared to 21.2%). The proportion that were unemployed (seeking or not seeking work) decreased from 10.7% in 2013/14 to 7.2% in 2018/19. However, this increased to 9.0% in 2019/20 after the impact of coronavirus. Further education remains the most common initial destination for school leavers from the most deprived areas (37.0%). These 2019/20 figures will reflect the impact of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) on choices made by, and opportunities available to, pupils upon leaving school during the pandemic.

Overall, a greater proportion of school leavers from the most deprived areas were reported to be in Higher/Further Education as a positive initial destination in 2018/19 (62.9%) than in 2013/14 (58.9%). Despite a reduction in overall positive destination for this group in 2019/20, the proportion of school leavers from the most deprived areas reported to be in Higher/Further Education increased again to 65.7%.

Improvements in initial positive destinations for all featured strongly in Education Scotland 5 year evidence, with a recognition that the gap between leavers living in the areas most and least affected by poverty is narrowing. This includes looked after children; the proportion of young people who were looked after and achieving positive destinations has been improving. This was described as fluctuating around or above the national average for almost all of the local authorities reporting on this.

6.5.3 Access to higher education

The Scottish Government’s Programme for Government 2014-15 set out the ambition that a child born at that time in one of Scotland’s most deprived communities should, by the time of leaving school, have the same chance of going to university as one born in one of the country’s least deprived areas.

The Commission on Widening Access set out a series of targets to realise the ambition of equality of access to higher education in Scotland. This includes that, by 2021, students from the most deprived backgrounds should represent at least 16% of full-time first-degree entrants to Scottish universities as a whole. This target was effectively met early, with 15.9% of entrants being from the most deprived areas, an increase from 13.9% in 2014/15.

Between 2013/14 and 2019/20, the total Undergraduate Higher Education entrants from the most deprived areas increased from 14,730 to 16,500. In the same period, the proportion of all entrants from the most deprived areas increased from 17.2% to 19.4%.

The majority of Higher Education Institutions (12 out of 18) increased their proportion of those in the most deprived areas between 2017-18 and 2018-19. Some have made substantial advances in this single year. For example, University of St Andrews has increased its portion of first-degree entrants from the most deprived areas from 7.5% to 10.6% and University of Edinburgh from 8.1% to 10.8%. Among the pre-1992 universities, University of Strathclyde (17.4%) and University of Dundee (16.2%) show the largest improvement.

There has also been an increase in the proportion of students from the most deprived areas entering Further Education. In the period between 2014/15 and 2018/19, the proportion of students from the most deprived areas in Further Education Institutions increased from 22.9% to 24.8%.

6.6 Sustainability of improvements

A great majority (84%) of headteachers indicated that the approach to achieving equity is embedded within the school community to either a great extent (35%) or a moderate extent (49%).k

A key focus of the ASF approaches is sustainability – how these approaches will be maintained if they prove to be successful. The more sustainable the approach is, the more successful it is perceived to be. Many schools attribute the sustainability of approaches to career long professional learning as a means of embedding approaches in schools.

Around a third (34%) of headteachers in the 2020 survey expected that the ASF supported improvement they had seen to date will be sustainable beyond the years of funding. Views were more positive on the extent to which the focus on equity will be sustainable beyond the years of funding; 58% felt that this will be the case, a 17-point increase on the 2019 survey. Survey findings show some variation across key respondent groups, with primary headteachers less likely to feel that the focus on equity will be sustainable beyond funding.

Survey findings suggested a correlation between the views on sustainability and perceived improvement to date. Those who had seen improvement to date in the poverty-related attainment gap were more likely to expect improvements to be sustainable beyond the funding period.

A great majority (84%) of headteachers indicated that the approach to achieving equity is embedded within the school community to either a great extent (35%) or a moderate extent (49%). No headteachers indicated that the approach wasn’t embedded at all.

Local authority perspectives

At the broader local authority level, evidence from the Local Authority Survey 2019 indicated that local authorities were broadly positive regarding the extent to which the focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap would be sustainable beyond the years of the fund. All 24 local authorities that responded to this survey question agreed that the focus on closing the gap would be sustainable to some degree (8 to a great extent, 11 to some extent and 5 to a limited extent). Of the seven Challenge Authorities who responded to this question on sustainability of focus, three viewed the focus would be sustainable to a great extent, and four to some extent.

The 2019 Local Authority Survey explored factors impacting on the sustainability of focus. Sustainability concerns related to staffing and budget were seen as key, following withdrawal of funding. Local authority respondents also indicated that activities such as collaboration, ‘pooling’ of resources, good practice sharing, building capacity and focusing on staff professional development would help deliver sustainability.

Factors promoting or hindering sustainability

Analysis of the 2019 Headteacher Survey data indicated that staff training and development was, by some margin, the most common factor for schools who expect their improvement and/or focus on equity to be sustainable. More than half of those who expected their approach to be sustainable referred to staff training, development and capacity building. This included development of existing staff (including embedding practice) to ensure the sustainability of their approach, and training and development of new staff.

The importance of staff is also reflected in 'loss of staffing and skills' being by far the most common reason given for schools who felt their approach would not be sustainable. Some respondents felt that schools would lose staff capacity in the absence of ASF support, and that this would have an inevitable negative impact on their ability to maintain their approach to closing the poverty-related attainment gap.

Actions to support, encourage and/or plan for sustainability were also explored in Local Authority Survey 2019 responses. In addition to affirmations of commitment to sustainability, there were also statements of specific actions both at local authority and at school level. There was evidence of both strategic approaches and actions towards sustainability, as well as actions at a local level and within specific initiatives.

Within Challenge Authority progress reports, several made explicit mention of the extent to which authorities were considering and/or addressing sustainability in their local authority. This included, for example, specific actions such as taking steps to rationalise interventions or develop an exit strategy; as well as broader focus on culture change and ethos, partnership working, capacity building (such as provision of career long professional learning ( CLPL ) to staff groups); and focus on leadership.


Contact

Email: ScottishAttainmentChallenge@gov.scot