- In 2020/21, 37% of school leavers who were looked after within the year left school in S4 or earlier, compared to 11% of all school leavers.
- Attainment for school leavers who were looked after within the last year has risen over the last ten years, especially at SCQF levels 5 and 6. This follows a similar pattern to attainment levels for all children. However, looked after children continue to have lower attainment than all children at all SCQF levels.
- Looked after leavers who were in foster care or with friends or relatives had higher attainment than other placement types, especially at home with parents.
The national and local authority data used within this section covers pupils in publicly funded mainstream schools in the 32 local authorities, and one grant aided school.
Impact of COVID-19 on School Leaver Attainment
Grades awarded in National 5 (SCQF Level 5), Higher (SCQF Level 6) and Advanced Higher (SCQF Level 7) National Qualifications are typically assessed externally via examinations and/or coursework. In both 2020 and 2021 the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic led to the cancellation of exams and alternative approaches were taken to determining grades.
In 2021 the Alternative Certification Model (ACM) required teachers and lecturers to use their professional judgement of a learner's demonstrated attainment to determine provisional results in line with subject-specific guidance. SQA carried out national quality assurance on selected courses from each school. It is not possible to fully determine the extent to which the certification methods used in 2020 affected attainment levels of the 2019/20 school leaver cohort and therefore the impact on trends over time.
Age of school leavers
This section presents data on the educational attainment of the estimated 1,083 young people who were looked after during the period 1 August 2020 to 31 July 2021 who left school during 2020/21.
Looked after children tend to leave school at earlier stages, as shown in Chart 1a. In 2020/21, 37% of school leavers who were looked after within the year left school in S4 or earlier, compared to 11% of all school leavers.
As can be seen in Chart 1b above, the proportion of children looked after in the last year leaving school in S4 or earlier was fairly stable between 2016/17 and 2019/20. However, this year it has fallen by 6 percentage points (from 43% in 2019/20). Chart 1b also shows the proportion of looked after leavers who left school in S4 or earlier has remained considerably higher than for all school leavers.
Highest level of qualification
The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) is Scotland's national qualifications framework, used as the basis for reporting attainment. The SCQF has 12 levels which indicate the level of difficulty of a particular qualification, and allow for broad comparisons to be made between qualifications (Illustration 1). It also allows learners, employers, and the public in general to understand the range of skills and learning that should be achieved at each level.
Highers (SCQF Level 6) are generally taken in S5/S6 and Advanced Highers (SCQF 7) are generally taken in S6. Highers, sometimes along with Advanced Highers, are the Scottish qualifications required for entry into Higher Education.
|School leavers looked after within the last year||All School Leavers|
|1 or more qualification at SCQF level 3 or better||84||98|
|1 or more qualification at SCQF level 4 or better||71||96|
|1 or more qualification at SCQF level 5 or better||38||88|
|1 or more qualification at SCQF level 6 or better||15||66|
|1 or more qualification at SCQF level 7||2||24|
|No passes at SCQF 3 or better||16||2|
Almost all school leavers (96%) have at least one qualification at level 4 or better (see Table 1.1). This compares with 71% of young people looked after within the last year leaving school with the same level of qualifications. At the higher levels of qualification, 15% of looked after school leavers have at least one qualification at level 6 or better, compared with 66% of all leavers.
Chart 2a shows the percentage of school leavers who were looked after within the year who left school with one or more qualifications at each SCQF level and Chart 2b shows the same for all school leavers. The percentage of looked after school leavers achieving all SCQF qualification levels is consistently lower than all school leavers; however, the gap between educational attainment among looked after leavers and all school leavers has narrowed notably over the last ten years for SCQF levels 5 and below. Most of the improvement in attainment for looked after school leavers occurred between 2011/12 and 2013/14, but attainment at level SCQF 4 and above has improved slightly since 2013/14.
The proportion of leavers looked after within the year with no qualifications at SCQF 3 or higher decreased from 25% in 2009/10 to 17% in 2011/12. This figure has fluctuated around that level since then, and was 16% in 2020/21. Attainment at higher levels has increased since 2012/13: from 62% to 71% at SCQF level 4 or better in 2020/21, from 23% to 38% at SCQF level 5 or better, and from 4% to 15% at SCQF level 6 or better in 2020/21.
Type of accommodation
When a young person is looked after, they can be 'placed' in various types of care setting. Placements can be at home with parents (where a child is subject to a Supervision Requirement and continues to live in their usual place of residence), foster care, kinship care (where they are living with friends or relatives) or residential care. Table 1.2 presents the attainment level of leavers looked after within the last year by type of placement.
Educational attainment varies across the types of accommodation in which children who were looked after within the last year were placed. School leavers who were in foster care provided by the local authority over the last year had the highest rate of achieving at least one qualification at SCQF level 5 or higher of all looked after leavers (66%), and 64% those who were in foster care purchased by the local authority achieved at least one qualification at SCQF level 5 or better, compared with 38% of all looked after school leavers. School leavers staying with friends or relatives at some point over the last year achieved at least one qualification at SCQF level 5 or better at a higher rate than looked after leavers in general, at 53%.
School leavers who were looked after within the last year 'at home with parents' had lower levels of attainment compared with most other placement types, and the lowest attainment across all placement types up to SCQF level 5.
Children looked after in voluntary homes and in other residential accommodation at some point over the year saw large improvements in attainment compared to the year before. However, it is important to note when interpreting these figures that the overall number of children in residential accommodation types only represents a small proportion of looked-after children and may not be indicative of a wider pattern.
|Looked after leavers|
|% No passes at SCQF 3 or better||% with 1 or more qualification at SCQF|
|Level 3 or better||Level 4 or better||Level 5 or better||Level 6 or better||Level 7 or better|
|In the community (children with one placement)|
|At home with parents||28||72||52||15||3||*|
|With friends or relatives||9||91||82||53||22||3|
|With foster carers provided by LA||4||96||91||66||35||6|
|With foster carers purchased by LA||10||90||88||64||37||7|
|In other community(2)||*||*||*||*||*||*|
|Residential Accommodation (children with one placement)|
|In local authority home||16||84||69||25||*||0|
|In voluntary home||8||92||85||31||0||0|
|In other residential(3)||17||83||78||36||*||*|
|More than one placement||17||83||64||26||6||0|
|All looked after within the last year||16||84||71||38||15||2|
(1) Cells containing * represent small numbers that have been suppressed to maintain confidentiality.
(2) Includes supported accommodation and with prospective adopters.
(3) Includes in residential school, secure care accommodation and crisis care.
Number of placements in the last year
Young people who are looked after may be looked after in different residences over time. Moving to a new residence or a new carer is recorded as a change in placement. Table 1.3 shows that a slightly higher percentage of leavers looked after within the year with one or two placements achieved at least one qualification at SCQF level 3 or better (84%) than did those with three or more placements (80%). A higher proportion of leavers with one placement within the year achieved qualifications at attainment levels SCQF 4 and above than those with 2 or 3 placements within the year.
|Number of placements||No passes at SCQF level 3 or better||1 or more qualification at SCQF level 3 or better||1 or more qualification at SCQF level 4 or better||1 or more qualification at SCQF level 5 or better||1 or more qualification at SCQF level 6 or better||1 or more qualification at SCQF level 7 or better|
|3 or more||20||80||57||23||*||0|
|All looked after within the last year||16||84||71||38||15||2|
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