Closing the attainment gap in Scottish education

Closing the attainment gap in Scottish education
Joseph Rowntree Foundation
May 2014


Children from low-income households in Scotland do significantly worse at school than those from better-off homes. This review explores the nature and consequences of this educational ‘attainment gap’. It considers the need for better research and evaluation evidence to improve policy and practice and proposes actions to reduce the gap.


Key points


• The gap between children from low-income and high-income households starts early. By age 5, it is 10–13 months. Lower attainment in literacy and numeracy is linked to deprivation throughout primary school. By age 12–14 (S2), pupils from better-off areas are more than twice as likely as those from the most deprived areas to do well in numeracy. Attainment at 16 (the end of S4) has risen overall, but a significant and persistent gap remains between groups. 


• Parental socio-economic background has more influence than the school attended.


• Children from deprived households leave school earlier. Low attainment is strongly linked to destinations after school, with long-term effects on job prospects.


• A range of evidence-based approaches can reduce the attainment gap. These span: high-quality, pre-school education; whole-school reforms based on timely, relevant data; and closer partnerships between home and schools. 


• The researchers conclude that:


– advice about developing the curriculum, improving educational outcomes for all pupils and inspecting schools should explicitly provide guidance on reducing the link between poverty and attainment; 


– lack of data, research and evaluation evidence for schools and local authorities currently hampers progress. The Scottish education community needs a national evidence base of what works and professional development in how to use evidence. This will help practitioners differentiate proven, promising and unproven approaches and inform choices about: appropriate curriculum design, resource allocation and how to monitor and evaluate practice for impact. 


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