Report: Improving outcomes for young people through school education

March 23, 2021 by Auditor General, Accounts Commission

Attainment gap remains wide and better education data needed

Progress on closing the poverty-related attainment gap between the most and least deprived school pupils has been limited. And more evidence is needed to understand educational achievement beyond exams.

Main report - PDF 992Kb

All files

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Change in achievement rates up to latest year amongst school pupils at senior phase – percentage point change

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Exhibit B

Exhibit B

Change in the attainment gap in recent years across a range of indicators – senior phase

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Exhibit C

Exhibit C

Attainment gap between the least deprived and most deprived quintiles across a range of indicators in the latest year – senior phase

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Exhibit D

Exhibit D

Change in gap between most deprived and least deprived pupils in percentage of school leavers achieving five or more awards at level five, 2014/15 – 2018/19

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Exhibit E

Exhibit E

Change in the attainment gap in recent years across a range of indicators – Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) 2016/17 – 2018/19

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Key messages

  1. School education is not just about exam results. It also aims to improve children’s and young people’s health and wellbeing and support wider outcomes such as vocational qualifications. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected children and young people in many ways, including their learning, wellbeing and economic circumstances. Pupils living in the most challenging circumstances have been most affected by school closures.
  2. Those involved in planning, delivering and supporting school education were working well together prior to the pandemic. This strong foundation helped them to collaborate to deliver a rapid response to Covid-19 in exceptionally challenging circumstances. The pandemic has reinforced the importance of school education and other sectors working together to tackle issues which affect young people’s life chances and outcomes, such as child poverty and health and wellbeing.
  3. Both national education policy and the curriculum reflect the importance for pupils of different pathways and opportunities, and outcomes beyond exam results. There has been an increase in the types of opportunities, awards and qualifications available to children and young people and an increase in the number awarded. However, better data is needed to understand if other outcomes, like wellbeing and confidence, are improving.
  4. There is wide variation in education performance across councils, with evidence of worsening performance on some indicators in some councils. At the national level, exam performance and other attainment measures have improved. But the rate of improvement up until 2018–19 has been inconsistent across different measures. Measuring progress has been hampered by the cancellation of exams and other data gaps caused by Covid-19. This could create risks around accountability.
  5. The poverty-related attainment gap remains wide and inequalities have been exacerbated by Covid-19. Progress on closing the gap has been limited and falls short of the Scottish Government’s aims. Improvement needs to happen more quickly and there needs to be greater consistency across the country. The government and councils recognise that addressing inequalities must be at the heart of the response to Covid-19, longer-term recovery and improving education.
  6. Council spending on primary and secondary school education across Scotland increased by 5.1 per cent in real terms between 2013/14 and 2018/19, from £4.1 billion to £4.3 billion. Most of the real-terms increase in spend can be attributed to the Attainment Scotland Fund, which the Scottish Government set up in 2015/16 to close the poverty-related attainment gap. When this is excluded, real-terms spending increased by 0.7 per cent during the period, to just over £4.1 billion. The Scottish Government had put over £200 million of extra money into Covid-19 mitigation measures and education recovery by early January 2021.

Videos

Key facts from our report

A transcript of this video is available to download with the other files on this page.

Stephen Boyle talks about the report.

A transcript of this video is available to download with the other files on this page.

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