A political row erupted this week as opposition parties claimed that the latest school attainment statistics pointed to a growing educational divide and a two-tier school system.
Even before the government published the latest exams data on the Scottish Schools Online website - allowing the press to create performance league tables - Johann Lamont (pictured) used a speech marking her first anniversary as Scottish Labour leader to highlight a "simply unacceptable" divide between rich and poor in educational achievement.
She used figures released in November to make her point: in 2011, only 220 (2.5 per cent) out of nearly 9,000 S5 pupils who live in the poorest areas achieved three or more Higher passes at A. In Glasgow, only 58 pupils out of nearly 2,400 S5 pupils living in the poorest 20 per cent of households achieved three Higher passes at A; in Edinburgh, the figure was seven, and in Dundee, five.
The Scottish Conservatives followed up the publication of the Scottish Schools Online figures with a press release naming the schools in Dundee, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh with the best and poorest performances - comparing their record of gaining five or more Higher passes in S5 with their local authority and national averages.
The party's education spokeswoman, Liz Smith, said: "The gap seems to be widening across the country, which chimes with warnings from the further education sector and employers that many of our secondary children are not achieving a good standard of literacy. There has to be much more focus on spelling, grammar and punctuation at the earliest stages and it's up to the education secretary to demonstrate this is being introduced in all our schools as part of Curriculum for Excellence."
The EIS union condemned the use of exams data to construct "flawed and damaging" league tables of schools' performance.
General secretary Larry Flanagan added: "It is clear that deprivation continues to impact adversely on the attainment of too many pupils and this is an area which needs to be addressed as we move forward towards the new Curriculum for Excellence senior phase."
Education secretary Michael Russell said: "Curriculum for Excellence is making a difference in our schools and there is consistent progress right across Scotland. Where specific areas for improvement are identified, Education Scotland provides support to raise standards."
Photo: Pupils celebrate at Williamwood High, Scotland's `top-performing' school. Photo credit: Martin Shields Herald and Times Group