Literacy gap revealed

National study reveals rift between rich and poor

Henry Hepburn

News article image

The scale of the performance gap between rich and poor children has been unveiled for the first time in a landmark national survey of literacy standards.

Researchers, who set tests for pupils in almost every school in Scotland, have found persistent problems for children from the most deprived across age groups.

The Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy, which published its first findings on numeracy last year, found a 21 percentage point divide between children in the most and least deprived areas who, in writing, perform "well" or "very well" or even better.

The equivalent gap for reading is also wide and stays relatively stable as children move from P4 (17 percentage points) to S2 (16 points).

Learning minister Alasdair Allan said: "We are committed to improving literacy and breaking the link with deprivation. Although it follows historical and international trends, it is not acceptable that those in deprived areas do less well."

Mr Allan said that the government was taking "clear action" through the Literacy Action Plan and early-years initiatives, such as PlayTalkRead for the youngest children.

He stressed that the survey - which involved 10,100 children, 4,900 teachers and 2,100 schools - showed that more than 90 per cent of children were within or above expected reading and writing levels, with more than 80 per cent within or above expected levels for speaking and listening.

Performance and enjoyment of learning often drop at secondary school, and some experts say the parameters of success are too wide.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan, an English teacher, said: "Generally speaking, the survey results offer a welcome reassurance that pupils continue to perform well in Scottish schools and that key aspects of Curriculum for Excellence are taking root."

But Mr Flanagan said he was concerned at "the clear evidence that poverty and deprivation continue to impact on young people's progress". The EIS has called for specific action to address the impact of poverty on education.

Mr Flanagan also criticised some aspects of how the report had been compiled. "(It) uses language such as `working within their respective levels', which is not how progress should be measured. Progress is a continuum; the levels are indicative, not replacement categories for the old 5-14 framework."

University of Strathclyde literacy expert Sue Ellis said the levels used to assess children's literacy were "really wide", so the survey did not allow "a fine-graded notion of where kids are".

For example, the first level of Curriculum for Excellence ends at P4, "so if you are below the level, you must have the reading or writing ability of a P1, which is a long, long way behind" - in other words, to have a high number of people at the right level is only to be expected.

She added: "Gender and social class are still the strongest impact factors when it comes to reading and writing. Reading for pleasure is what closes the gender and the social-class gap."


- Most children perform well or very well at the relevant Curriculum for Excellence level for their age;

- Children from the most deprived areas consistently perform less well than those from better-off areas;

- In P4, 92 per cent of children enjoy reading, but the proportion drops to 62 per cent by S2.

- Only 5 per cent of P4s are not working within expected levels for listening and talking, but that rises to 17 per cent in S2.

- Secondary non-English teachers are significantly less confident than English and primary teachers when handed responsibility for literacy;

- Only 14 per cent of P4s think learning is "boring", but the figure increases to 37 per cent in S2;

- Girls tend to outperform boys; in S2 writing, 70 per cent do well, very well or even better, compared with 58 per cent of boys.

Photo credit: Alamy

Original headline: Literacy chasm between rich and poor revealed

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Henry Hepburn

Latest stories

Student support: three ways to help Year 13s navigate this year

Three ways colleges can support Year 13s this year

The future may be uncertain for all of us – but for Year 13s who will progress from FE next summer, it's more precarious than most. Alfie Payne sets out how to best support those students
Alfie Payne 26 Sep 2020

Coronavirus and schools: LIVE 25/9

A one-stop shop for teachers who want to know what impact the ongoing pandemic will have on their working lives
Tes Reporter 25 Sep 2020