Attainment gap still too wide

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School pupils from the most deprived areas of the Borders are lagging behind their counterparts in reading, writing, and numeracy, according to a new report by council education chiefs.

Figures show that the most disadvantaged children in the Borders consistently fail to achieve as many Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) levels in listening, reading, writing and numeracy than their privileged counterparts at every age group.

The difference is most pronounced at ages 10-11, when students are working towards their CfE level 2, as figures show that the most well-off Borders pupils are almost twice as likely to achieve a numeracy level 2 than the most deprived pupils.

In 2017/18, just 44% of pupils from the lowest quintile of deprivation attained a CfE level 2 in numeracy, compared to the most privileged pupils, of which 86% achieved a level 2 in numeracy.

This gap in attainment is also seen in listening, reading, and writing, where just 59%, 54%, and 48% of the most disadvantaged pupils achieve a pass grade in each respective subject.

The report, presented to councillors by outgoing director of children and young people’s services Donna Manson, says that closing the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged children is a priority for the local authority.

The report reads: “To support schools in developing, implementing and evaluating targeted interventions for our most vulnerable children and young people, Scottish Borders Council seconded two promoted practitioners to serve as attainment officers.

“Support has included issuing local authority guidance, supporting headteachers in carrying out analysis and identification of need, identifying and signposting to appropriate interventions.

“The attainment officers have met regularly with headteachers, school clusters and school teams to discuss progress and plan next steps, share knowledge gained through their own professional learning as well as establishing links with other local authority leads.”

The report highlights the support for parents Scottish Borders Council provides, including parenting classes, employability programmes, welfare claimant support, breastfeeding groups, baby massage classes, holiday clubs and cookery classes.

The report continues: “These different approaches to engaging with parents of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged learners are having a significant impact.

“Those participating in the family learning classes are reporting increased aspirations for their children and, importantly, for themselves.

“Parents are reporting: improved parenting skills; increased persistence and uptake in breastfeeding; increased nutrition; stability and routine through holiday periods; and increase in income for many families and for some, access to further education.”

Children living in deprived areas of the Scottish Borders have much lower educational attainment rates than similarly disadvantaged children in the rest of Scotland.

Figures provided by the local government benchmarking framework show that nearly one in five disadvantaged children in the Scottish Borders achieved five or more national 5 qualifications in 2016-17.

Nationally, 41% of children from deprived areas of Scotland achieved these results, compared with Scottish Borders’ 21%.