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SNP’s “betrayal” over widening university attainment gap

The SNP Government has been accused of “betraying” youngsters from the poorest backgrounds after “appalling” figures revealed a 50-per-cent widening of the attainment gap for university access. 

UCAS’s recently-published end of cycle report shows that, from 2018 to 2022, the gulf between the proportion of youngsters from the most and least deprived backgrounds being accepted into higher education grew from 6.1 percentage points to 9.2. 

The figures follow a similar trend to last month’s official annual stats for schools, which revealed that the attainment gap is wider now than it was before the pandemic on a variety of metrics for primary and secondary pupils. 

Nicola Sturgeon previously vowed it was her mission to close the attainment gap completely. 

Shadow education secretary Stephen Kerr said the data across the board makes a mockery of that vow, and that the attainment gap was getting even worse under the SNP’s “abysmal” stewardship. 

He added the UCAS university stats were “shocking” and “unacceptable”.  

Scottish Conservative shadow cabinet secretary for education Stephen Kerr MSP said: “Nothing sums up the SNP’s abysmal education record more than their utter failure to eradicate the attainment gap. 

“Nicola Sturgeon wanted us to judge her on education, claiming it was her ‘number one priority’. 

“But since she made the pledge to eliminate the attainment gap, there has been no progress – in fact, the opposite. We’ve witnessed the SNP’s repeated failure to close it in schools across Scotland, and now we are seeing it in our universities too.  

“It’s appalling that this government is betraying young Scots from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.  

“A good education can be a passport out of poverty and it’s unforgivable that this is being denied to so many talented youngsters because of the SNP’s failings. 

“The substantial widening of the attainment gap for university entry is shocking and unacceptable. 

“The UCAS statistics should be a source of shame for Nicola Sturgeon, who has comprehensively broken her promises on education.  

“She must finally start to deliver on her attainment gap pledge before even more young Scots have their futures derailed by SNP incompetence.” 

Notes: 

 

The gap between the most and least deprived Scottish pupils being accepted into university has increased by 50% since 2018. The UCAS end of cycle report reveals that in 2022 the gap between the most and least deprived Scottish domiciled applicants being accepted into university was 9.2 percentage points. This compares to 6.1 percentage points in 2018. (UCAS End of Cycle Data, 8 December 2022, link). 

The proportion of Scottish Students from the most deprived backgrounds accepted into university is the same level as 2018. The UCAS end of cycle report reveals that in 2022 the proportion of applicants accepted into university from the most deprived background was 69.1% in Scotland. This compares to 2018 when proportion of applicants accepted into university from the most deprived background was 69%. (UCAS End of Cycle Data, 8 December 2022, link).  

The proportion of Scottish Students from the least deprived backgrounds accepted into university has increased since 2018. The UCAS end of cycle report reveals that in 2022 the proportion of applicants accepted into university from the least deprived background was 78.3% in Scotland. This compares to 2018 when proportion of applicants accepted into university from the least deprived background was 75.1%. (UCAS End of Cycle Data, 8 December 2022, link).  

The attainment gap between the most and least deprived Primary 1, 4 and 7 pupils achieving the expected CfE level in reading, writing, listening & talking, literacy and numeracy is wider than in 2018-19. In 2022 the gap between the most and least deprived primary pupils achieving the expected CfE levels is wider than in 2018-19 pre-pandemic. (Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) Levels 2021/22, 13 December 2022, link). 

Fewer Primary 1, 4 and 7 pupils are achieving the expected CfE level in reading, writing, listening & talking, literacy and numeracy than in 2018-19. The latest statistics show that the number of pupils achieving the CfE levels in these areas is lower than pre-pandemic.(Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) Levels 2021/22, 13 December 2022, link). 

The attainment gap between the least and most deprived is wider than in 2016/17. The attainment gap for S3 pupils achieving the expected levels of literacy is wider than in 2016/17 while for numeracy it has remained the same. In 2021/22 the gap between the most and least deprived achieving the expected levels in numeracy was 16.3 percentage points. This compares to 13.6 percentage points in 2016/17, while for numeracy the attainment gap between the most and least deprived has remained at 15 percentage points. (National Improvement Framework Interactive Evidence Report, 13 December 2022, link). 

Fewer pupils in S3 are achieving the expected CfE levels in Literacy and Numeracy than in 2018-19. In 2021/22 85.5% of S3 pupils achieved the expected level or better in literacy while 89.1% achieved the expected level or better in numeracy. This compares to 2018/19 where 87.9% and 90.% achieved the expected or better levels in literacy and numeracy. (National Improvement Framework Interactive Evidence Report, 13 December 2022, link). 

Attainment: Percentage of P1,4,7 pupils achieving expected CfE levels, 2018/19 – 2021/22 

 

Reading 

Writing 

Listening & Talking 

Literacy 

Numeracy 

2021/22 

78% Down 2pp 

73% Down 2pp 

85% Down 1pp 

71% Down 1pp 

78% Down 1pp 

2018/19 

80% 

75% 

86% 

72% 

79% 

Attainment Gap: Percentage of P1, P4 and P7 pupils (combined) achieving expected CfE level in Literacy by SIMD, 2016/17 to 2021/22 

 

2016/17 

2017/18 

2018/19 

2020/21 

2021/22 

Attainment Gap 

21.1 percentage points 

21.6 percentage points 

20.7 percentage points 

24.7 percentage points 

21.3 percentage points  

           

Attainment Gap: Percentage of P1, P4 and P7 pupils (combined) achieving expected CfE level in Numeracy by SIMD, 2016/17 to 2021/22 

 

2016/17 

2017/18 

2018/19 

2020/21 

2021/22 

Attainment Gap 

17.6 percentage points 

16.8 percentage points 

16.8 percentage points 

21.4  percentage points 

17.8 percentage points  

           

Attainment: Percentage of S3 pupils achieving third level or better expected CfE levels, 2018/19 – 2021/22 

 

Reading 

Writing 

Listening & Talking 

Literacy 

Numeracy 

2021/22 

88% Down 3pp 

87% Down 3pp 

89% Down 2pp 

86% Down 2pp 

89% Down 1pp 

2018/19 

91% 

90% 

91% 

88% 

90% 

Attainment Gap: Percentage of S3 pupils achieving Third Level or better in Literacy by SIMD, 2016/17 to 2021/22 

 

2016/17 

2017/18 

2018/19 

2020/21 

2021/22 

Attainment Gap 

13.6 percentage points 

13.3 percentage points 

13.8 percentage points 

N/A 

16.3 percentage points  

           

Attainment Gap: Percentage of S3 pupils achieving Third Level or better in Numeracy by SIMD, 2016/17 to 2021/22 

 

2016/17 

2017/18 

2018/19 

2020/21 

2021/22 

Attainment Gap 

14.9 percentage points 

14.0 percentage points 

13.5 percentage points 

N/A 

15.0 percentage points