Attainment gap between most and least deprived areas widens, exam results show

The Scottish Qualifications Authority published exam results on Tuesday.

Exam results in Scotland
Exam results in Scotland

The attainment gap between the most and least deprived areas of Scotland has grown wider since last year, exam result figures show.

Figures from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) show that for pupils in the 20% most deprived areas of Scotland, the Higher pass rate was 70.2% this year, down from 83.2% last year

In the 20% least deprived areas, the Higher pass rate stood at 85.1%, down from 91% last year when teacher assessments were used.

The SQA said the attainment gap between the most and least deprived areas of Scotland was 15 percentage points in 2022, up from 7.8 percentage points in 2021.

However the gap is narrower than in 2019, when it was 16.9 percentage points.

For National 5, the gap in 2022 was 14.6 percentage points – down from 17.1 percentage points in 2019 but up from 9.1 in 2021.

The gap for Advanced Higher was 13.2 percentage points this year – down from 13.6 percentage points in 2019 but up from 5.5 last year.

Scotland’s Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville visited Stirling High School on Tuesday to speak to pupils who had received their results.

Asked what the factors were behind the widening of the attainment gap, Ms Somerville said the assessment process was “very different” to that of the last two years.

She told the PA news agency: “When we compare this year’s to the last time we had exams, we’ve seen a slight closing of the attainment gap, which I think is a real testament to the hard work of our young people.

“We’re determined to support that with the £1 billion worth of expenses that the Scottish Government is putting in through the Scottish Attainment Challenge, and the additional funding we are giving to local authorities to provide more teachers.”

The deprivation areas are determined by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD), which divides the country into quintiles.

Scottish Conservative education spokesman Oliver Mundell said: “The widening attainment gap is a badge of shame for the First Minister and a shocking indictment of the SNP’s dismal record on education.

“Nicola Sturgeon described eliminating it as the ‘defining mission’ of her Government, and yet this year the gap has widened to a chasm yet again.”

He added: “It’s unforgivable that year after year, talented pupils from poorer parts of the country are being failed by the SNP. But it seems they are no longer serious about tackling this issue.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman Willie Rennie said: “Every pupil who has worked hard for these results deserves credit and congratulations especially as this has been a year of significant disruption. They have achieved much in difficult circumstances.

“But in return our students deserve more from their Scottish Government than desperate spinning about the closure of the poverty-related attainment gap.

“At best the gap is stagnant, at worst it has widened depending on which year is used as a comparison.

“The SNP promised the gap would close by 2026 and these results show that the Government have little chance of achieving their number one priority.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “The attainment gap is still entrenched, and this was to be a national priority of the Scottish Government to remove the attainment gap.

“We should also recognise that through Covid many years of education were lost for our young people and friendships and that had an impact.

“We’re now going head first into a cost-of-living crisis where more children are going to be pushed into poverty.

“I fear that the attainment gap will get even more entrenched, particularly in those more poor and deprived areas.

“We need the Government to get their head out of the sand and confront the cost-of-living crisis and also be true to that promise to remove that attainment gap.”

In response to criticism from opposition parties, Ms Somerville told PA that the suggestion poorer pupils have been betrayed is “a real disservice to our young people who have worked under very, very difficult circumstances to have near-record pass rates for an exam year”.

She added that the Scottish Government was seeing progress towards closing the attainment gap by its 2026 target before the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We know that’s been made more difficult because of the pandemic, not just in Scotland, but right across different education systems, but we are absolutely determined to still fulfil that commitment.”

Other figures released on Tuesday showed the gap between university admission rates in the least and most affluent areas was 26.7 percentage points.

The acceptance rate for 18-year-olds in the poorest areas stood at 14.6% this year, compared to 41.3% for the richest.

When compared to the last exam diet in 2019, the gap has reduced, while acceptance rates on the whole have increased from 11.4% and 39.6% respectively.

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