New statistics show 69 per cent of 11 and 12-year-old pupils in Scotland reached the expected standard in writing in 2017.
The statistics, published by the Scottish government, also reveal wide variation between authorities – with fewer than half of pupils (49 per cent) in Clackmannanshire reaching the expected standard in writing by the end of P7, compared to 85 per cent in East Dunbartonshire and East Renfrewshire.
In reading, 76 per cent of P7 pupils achieving the expected level overall.
But again, there was wide variation in the proportion of P7 pupils hitting the benchmark. In East Ayrshire, 64 per cent reached the expected level, compared to 88 per cent in East Dunbartonshire and East Renfrewshire.
In numeracy, the overall proportion of P7 pupils achieving the expected level was 70 per cent. The figures varied from 54 per cent in Clackmannanshire to 86 per cent in East Renfrewshire.
The figures – based on teachers’ judgements of their pupils’ performance in literacy and numeracy at P1, P4, P7 and S3 – have been attacked in the past for their unreliability. And the Scottish government warns against comparing councils, saying the figures are “experimental” and the deprivation context of councils must be considered when interpreting the statistics.
According to the government, the figures published next year will be more robust because teacher judgements will be informed by the new standardised assessments in literacy and numeracy that pupils are due to sit for the first time this year.
Currently, there is a concern that teachers’ opinions about what constitutes achieving a level might vary considerably between councils – and even between schools.
Correct writing levels
The Scottish government said overall the proportion of pupils achieving the correct level for numeracy, reading, writing and listening and talking fell as they moved through primary – so in P1 (ages 5 and 6), 77 per cent hit expected level for writing overall, but by P7 that figure had dropped to 69 per cent; in P1 80 per cent hit the expected level for reading, but by P7 that figure dropped to 76 per cent; in P1 85 per cent hit the expected level for listening and talking, but by P7 that figure dropped to 81 per cent, and in P1 83 per cent hit the expected level for numeracy, but by P7 that figure had dropped to 70 per cent.
However by S3, when pupils are aged 15 and 16, around 90 per cent of children attained the minimum level of literacy and numeracy expected of them, the government said.
The figures also show the performance gap between pupils from the most and least deprived areas widens throughout the primary stages.
Within primary schools, the largest gap was at P7 in writing (22 percentage points); with the smallest gap at P1 in listening and talking (12 percentage points). At S3, the largest gap was in numeracy performance at 15 percentage points.
'Scale of the challenge'
A higher percentage of girls achieve the expected level for literacy and numeracy compared to boys across all age groups.
Welcoming the figures, the education secretary John Swinney said investment in education was reaping rewards, with “the vast majority of children in S3 achieving the minimum attainment level expected of them or better”.
He added: “I recognise the scale of the challenge involved in closing the poverty-related attainment gap. That is why we are doubling free early learning and childcare to give every child the best start in life and reforming education, backed by £750 million over the course of this Parliament through the Attainment Scotland Fund.
“We have also set out a robust package of indicators to measure progress closing the attainment gap and are publishing more data than ever on children’s progress under Curriculum for Excellence.”
The children and young people spokesman for council umbrella body Cosla, Stephen McCabe, said there was much to be celebrated in Scottish education "but still a lot to be done to truly address the poverty-related attainment gap and to continue to improve children’s happiness and wellbeing". He added: "Councils across Scotland will work with their partners to continue putting children first in everything we do."