Attainment gap widens in the Borders

The attainment gap between pupils in the most and least deprived areas of the Scottish Borders has risen, according to a report on education, published by Audit Scotland.

By Kevin Janiak
Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 4:53 pm
As pupils prepare to return to school on April 19, a report on education by Audit Scotland shows the attainment gap is widening in the Borders. Photo: Bill McBurnie.
As pupils prepare to return to school on April 19, a report on education by Audit Scotland shows the attainment gap is widening in the Borders. Photo: Bill McBurnie.

The report, released in March, looks at the difference of achievement of pupils from the poorest and most affluent areas within council regions who have attained five or more awards at SQA level 5 in the school year 2018/19.

While most council areas showed a reduction in the gap, and Scotland as a whole bettering the situation by 3%, the gap has increased by 1.5% in the Borders, which means it is now wider here than any other Scottish council area. The same figures reveal that pupils from deprived backgrounds in the Borders were near the bottom when it comes to attainment, with only East Lothian having a poorer record.

While the Borders had a larger percentage of pupils achieving these grades than in the past, with 84.9% of school leavers achieving one award or more at SCQF level 5 or better (1.8% more than in 2013/14) and 63.9% achieving five or more such grades (0.7% more than 2013/14), it is the widening gap that is the worrying statistic.

A Scottish Borders Council spokesperson said: “This is just a single measure, and only looks at the number of pupils attaining five SQA Level 5 awards.

"Scottish Borders Council’s performance has improved across a number of other areas, and of course the number of SQA awards should not be the only measure of the success of our young people.

“The council remains committed to closing the attainment gap through a range of interventions and looks forward to receiving the next allocation from the Attainment Scotland Fund to help our schools tackle this issue.”

The council’s Inspire Learning programme, where all pupils from primary five upwards were issued with iPads so that they can learn remotely, did help pupils work through the first and second lockdown school closures.

However, those in the poorest families with no wi-fi available will have struggled to keep up with their peers.

The report concluded that the poverty-related attainment gap remains wide in Scotland, and that “existing inequalities have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Ian Davidson, the Labour candidate for the Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire constituency in the upcoming Scottish elections, said he had asked the council to explain the widening attainment gap in the region.

He told The Southern: “Interestingly, the council does not dispute that these figures, chosen by Audit Scotland as an accurate and valuable measure of educational inequality, show that Borders has the widest attainment gap in Scotland, that it is growing and that the Borders’ young people from modest backgrounds are among the very lowest achievers in Scotland.

“Closing the attainment gap should not depend upon extra money, it should be at the core of everything the council does.”

The report concludes: “There is wide variation in performance across councils, including examples of worsening performance in some councils on some indicators."

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.”