Attainment gap between rich and poor pupils grows since 2020

The gap between the results of the most deprived and most affluent was bigger than last year, SQA data showed.

Attainment gap between rich and poor pupils grows since 2020 PA Media

The attainment gap between the most deprived and least deprived pupils’ school results has grown slightly from last year, but remains lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Results from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) show that those in the fifth most deprived areas achieved A to C grades at a lower rate than those in the fifth least deprived areas.

For Higher results, the difference went from 6.5% last year to 7.9% in the 2021 results.

Both of these were down considerably from the pre-pandemic figures in 2019, which showed a 16.9% gap.

The SQA said the different models of assessments used in the wake of coronavirus made it difficult to compare figures on a year-to-year basis, while the slight increase in 2021 is unlikely to be statistically significant.

Traditional exams were scrapped in the wake of coronavirus, with a teacher-led “alternative certification model” taking place in the most recent year.

Tackling the poverty-related attainment gap has been a key goal for the Scottish Government.

Discussing the attainment gap during a briefing with journalists on Tuesday, SQA chief executive, Fiona Robertson, said a number of issues influenced results between years.

She said: “Learners have faced disruption to learning and teaching this year.

“The Scottish Government’s equity audit highlighted some of the challenges young people have faced that go beyond assessment.

“We’ve modified approaches to assessment to address disruption to learning, providing additional flexibility to deal with exceptional circumstances of this year.”

She said there had been movements in the attainment gap each year, while the overall gap had narrowed since 2017’s figures.

The Scottish Conservatives highlighted that the pass rate for pupils from the most deprived areas had fallen at a faster rate than those from the least deprived.

Education spokesman Oliver Mundell said: “Congratulations to Scotland’s school pupils who deserve a huge amount of praise for battling through another incredibly difficult year.

“Despite the disruption they faced, the SNP’s system has judged them more harshly than last year’s pupils, as we warned was the case.

“Compared to last year, grades are down across the board. The attainment gap is up.

“That should set alarm bells ringing that this year’s system is just as flawed and unfair as the shambles pupils suffered last year.

“But most damning of all, pupils from poorer backgrounds have been marked down the most from 2020 to 2021.

“They are twice as likely to see their grades fall at Higher and Advanced Higher than children from the most affluent areas, year-on-year.

“That is nothing short of a disgrace.

“It is apparent that once again, young people have been judged because of where they come from and where they go to school.”

Scottish Labour’s Education spokesman, Michael Marra, said: “Scottish education has suffered from a total lack of leadership this year.

“We see this in everything from the late cancellation of exams, to the shambolic rollout of the Alternative Certification Model, to the appeals system which took none of this year’s extraordinary circumstances into account.

“This system has widened the educational attainment gap in Scotland, meaning that poorest pupils have been impacted the worst by the SQA and Scottish Government mismanagement.

“The result is that there are many young people, particularly in our poorest communities, who have not achieved the grades they had hoped, or deserved.

“The Government should implement a re-sit guarantee without delay, and offer a further education place to any young person impacted by the disruption of the pandemic who wishes to re-take their subjects.”

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