Resource Spending Review: Equality and Fairer Scotland Statement

This report considers some of the key opportunities and challenges that the Scottish Government faces over this parliamentary term; what these mean for inequality, fairness and human rights; and how the spending review and other initiatives respond.

Opportunity/Challenge 6: Deliver greater progress towards closing the attainment gap

What does the evidence tell us?

  • Poverty impacts children and young people's ability to both access and engage with education.
  • Prior to the pandemic, progress was being made in reducing the poverty-related attainment gap for primary school pupils, but the pandemic has contributed to a widening of the gap because pupils in the most deprived areas experienced a bigger drop in attainment. In 2020-21, the attainment gap in literacy among primary school pupils was 24.7 percentage points and the attainment gap for numeracy was 21.4 percentage points.[74]
  • For school leavers, the poverty related attainment gap narrowed in 2020-21 for one or more pass at SCQF level 5 or better, and also at level 6 or better, potentially in part due to the alternative approaches taken to determine grades in 2020 and 2021 following the cancellation of exams. In 2020-21, the attainment gap for one or more pass at SCQF level 5 or better was 18.2 percentage points, a reduction from 33.3 percentage points in 2009-10. At SCQF Level 6 or better the attainment gap in 2021-22 was 34.4 percentage points, a reduction from 45.6 percentage points in 2009-10.[75]
  • Pupils recorded as Asian-Chinese continue to have high levels of attainment compared to other groups, with 94.7% achieving one pass or more at SCQF Level 6 or better, compared to 64.9% of White Scottish pupils.[76]
  • Pupils with a recorded Additional Support Need (ASN) have poorer attainment than pupils without an ASN. In 2020-21, the gap between pupils with a recorded ASN and pupils without an ASN for one or more pass at SCQF levels 5 or better was 19.5 percentage points. At SCQF Level 6 or better the gap between pupils with a recorded ASN and those without was 29.9 percentage points in 2020-21.[77]
  • The gap between pupils from the most and least deprived areas in positive destinations has been decreasing over time. Between 2019-20 and 2020-21 the proportion of school leavers in a positive initial destination increased by more among leavers from the most deprived areas than it has among those from the least deprived areas. This has led to a decrease in the deprivation gap, from 6.3 percentage points in 2019-20 to 4.8 percentage points in 2020-21 – the smallest gap on record.[78]
  • Females continue to be more likely to enter positive destinations than males: 96.2% of females and 94.7% of males entered a positive destination in 2020-21. This result is consistent with previous years.[79]

What are we doing to address this?

A key policy approach to mitigating the potential impact of poverty on educational outcomes is the Scottish Attainment Challenge and the changes to that programme for 2022-23 through to 2025-26, which have been designed to increase the pace of progress in tackling the poverty related attainment gap.

The refreshed £1 billion Scottish Attainment Challenge creates an opportunity to better recognise the importance of health and wellbeing and wider experiences in ensuring children and young people can attain academically and progress to and sustain positive destinations, including further or higher education or well-paid work.

From 2022-23 the Scottish Attainment Challenge programme sees:

  • A broader recognition of children and young people's achievements and attainment – set out in its wider mission to use education to improve outcomes for children and young people impacted by poverty, with a focus on tackling the poverty related attainment gap.
  • Continued empowerment of school leaders through £520 million of Pupil Equity Funding over the next four years.
  • A clearer and funded strategic role for all local authorities – a change from targeting local authority investment towards just nine "Challenge Authorities", recognising that poverty impacts children and young people across all of Scotland.
  • Continued, funded, support for care experienced children and young people.
  • A clear framework to support recovery and accelerate progress, led by Education Scotland but with clear responsibilities for all parts of the education system – including for local authorities to set clear, ambitious, and transparent aims for progress. This will enable a clearer line of sight right through the system on the impact of local approaches.

It is clear that collaboration between schools and local authorities, and between education services and wider children's and other services will be vital to success. The allocation of £1 billion to support the Scottish Attainment Challenge is a significant investment, but does not come alone. It is targeted, additional funding to support those children and young people who most need. Further, it comes alongside a range of policy initiatives and investments which are complementary, including:

  • A commitment to fund 3,500 extra teachers and 500 support staff over this Parliamentary term.
  • Continued commitment to the Promise (made to care experienced children, young people, adults, and their families)
  • Commitment to widening access to higher education.
  • Mitigating the cost of the school day by scrapping curriculum charges and increasing the school clothing grant.
  • Provision of digital devices to children and young people; and
  • Expansion of free school meals.



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