Bridging the gap – school attainment to be focus for education committee


The progress being made by the Scottish Government in reducing the educational attainment gap will be explored by the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee as it begins a year long piece of work on the issue.

Recent figures show a large difference between the average attainment of pupils in the most and least deprived areas. For example, 28% of children from poorer families perform well in numeracy, compared to 56% of those from advantaged backgrounds. Children from poorer families are also more likely to leave school early and without a qualification. 

The Scottish Government has recently committed to “pick up the pace” in closing the differences in attainment between children from the most and least disadvantaged backgrounds. The Committee will monitor progress and consider how successfully this commitment is being delivered by all bodies. 

Committee Convener, Stewart Maxwell MSP, said: 

“Ensuring that all Scotland’s children realise their educational potential is something everyone supports. But the persistent and significant differences in attainment suggest many of Scotland’s children may never fulfil their potential. 

“The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning recently made clear that raising attainment in schools is her “number one priority” and there is a great deal of work underway. We want to be clear about the progress being made and what still needs to change. The Committee will be looking for firm evidence that significant and sustainable improvement is being delivered.  

“We have committed to looking at this issue over the course of 2015. We are determined to hold the Scottish Government and other bodies to account for their performance on an issue of fundamental importance to pupils and parents across the country.  

“We will add further value to the debate by looking at specific issues around attainment in more depth. We intend to make a positive contribution by encouraging public discussion on ideas that could make a real difference to narrowing the gap.” 

The Committee’s work on attainment will be in three parts. The first part will involve the Committee holding a series of evidence sessions to explore specific issues that have an impact on attainment:

  • a session on the implications for schools, teachers, and pupils of the Commission for Developing Scotland's Young Workforce (the ‘Wood report’);
  • followed by an evidence session looking at how parents and guardians can work with schools to raise all pupils’ attainment, particularly those whose attainment is lowest;
  • finally, the role of the third sector and the private sector in improving the attainment and achievement of all school pupils, particularly those whose attainment is lowest. 

Later in 2015, the Committee will plan an inquiry into the attainment of pupils with physical disabilities. The Committee’s work will conclude by taking evidence from the Scottish Government and local authorities on the outcomes achieved by their efforts to improve attainment. 

The Committee is now looking for views on the following evidence sessions: 

Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce (Wood Report)

  • If the Wood report were fully implemented, what would be the likely impact on attainment in schools and which pupils would benefit most?
  • The report aims to significantly enhance vocational content “without splitting young people off into separate streams at school age”. What would be the disadvantages of such an approach and how could they be avoided?
  • Does the report – which includes a section on improving equalities – place enough emphasis on pupils’ socio-economic inequalities and how these could be overcome?

Role of parents and guardians in helping to raise attainment 

  • Do schools always explain clearly to parents how children learn throughout their school years and how parents could help their development?
  • Do schools offer particular support to the parents of pupils from the most disadvantaged communities, in order to improve the attainment of those pupils?
  • Has greater parental involvement in school education through the Parental Involvement Act (2006) led to an improvement in pupil attainment?

Role of the third sector and the private sector in improving attainment and achievement for all school pupils, particularly those who attainment is lowest

  • What is the scale of the third and private sectors’ involvement in schools, in terms of improving attainment and achievement, and what is the appropriate dividing line between their role and the role of education authorities?
  • Is the full potential of the third and private sectors in helping to improve children’s attainment and achievement being realised?
  • How successful have schools been in reporting on pupils’ wider achievements (i.e. not just examination results) such as those the third sector helps to deliver?


A report issued by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation highlighted figures from the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy which indicated that that in early secondary school, only 28% of children from poorer families are performing well in numeracy, compared to 56% of those from advantaged backgrounds. 

More information about the Committee’s work on attainment, including further information on the calls for evidence can be found on the Scottish Parliament’s website at:

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