The poverty-related attainment gap in education remains wide despite progress in recent years, a report from auditors has found.
The auditor general found that progress to improve outcomes for pupils fell short of the Scottish Government’s aims.
While exam performance at the national level has improved, progress since 2014 has been inconsistent across council areas.
In the proportion of school leavers achieving five or more awards at level five was 82.7% for pupils from the least deprived areas, compared to 46.5% for school leavers from the most deprived areas – a gap of 36.2%
This is down from 41.6% in 2014.
The findings come after a separate report from the Scottish Government on its “attainment challenge”, launched by Nicola Sturgeon in 2015.
It found that there is “strong evidence” the £750 million Attainment Scotland Fund was making a difference.
The auditors’ report, published on Tuesday, said it was important to look beyond exam results when judging education.
Better data is needed to understand if other outcomes like wellbeing and self-confidence are improving, it said.
The auditor general warned the pandemic could exacerbate inequalities within the education system.
Stephen Boyle, auditor general for Scotland, said: “Significantly reducing the attainment gap is complex.
“But the pace of improvement has to increase as part of the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 recovery planning.
“That process needs to particularly focus on the pandemic’s impact on the most disadvantaged children and young people.”
The Accounts Commission, which monitors local government in Scotland, also contributed to the report.
Elma Murray, interim chairwoman of the commission, said: “There is variation in educational performance across Scotland, but this is not solely about exam performance.
“Education also supports and improves the health and wellbeing of children and young people, which has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It is vital that councils, schools and their partners work to reduce the wide variation in outcomes as well as understanding and tackling the short and longer-term impact of Covid-19 on learning and wellbeing.”
Responding, Education Secretary John Swinney said: “Closing the poverty-related attainment gap across Scotland and giving every young person the chance to fulfil their full potential, regardless of their background, remains our defining mission.
“We are making good progress but closing the gap remains a long-term and complex endeavour.
“We will give full consideration to the issues raised and recommendation made in Audit Scotland’s report.”
He continued: “We have put in place a comprehensive range of measures, supported by the £750 million Attainment Scotland Fund, to turn the corner with the attainment gap.
“We have seen improvements across a number of indicators, including a narrowing of the gap between pupils from the most and least deprived areas achieving the expected level in literacy and numeracy.”