The gap between pupils from the most and least deprived areas who go on to university, college or a job after school is closing, new figures show.
The difference in the proportions of former pupils from the least and the most deprived areas classed as being in a "positive destination" nine months after leaving school has dropped from 11.2 percentage points in 2015-16 to 8.8 percentage points in 2016-17, according Scottish government figures published today.
In 2016-17, 87.6 per cent of school leavers from the most deprived areas were in a positive destination after school, compared with 96.4 per cent from the least deprived areas.
This is an improvement from 2015-16, when 85 per cent of school leavers from the most deprived areas were in a positive destination after school, compared with 96.2 per cent from the least deprived areas.
Overall, 92.9 per cent of last year’s school leavers were recorded as being in a positive destination – the highest figure since 2009-10.
The figures are being highlighted by the Scottish government as evidence that its push to close the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils is working.
However, the statistics also show that less than half (43 per cent) of last year’s school leavers from the most deprived areas attained one or more Higher, compared with 80.6 per cent of school leavers from the least deprived areas.
Progress narrowing that gap between 2015-16 and 2016-17 has been negligible.
There has also been slow progress in closing the gap at National 5 level; 94.8 per cent of the most advantaged school leavers attained at least one pass at N5 or better in 2016-17, compared with 75.5 per cent of the least advantaged.
Controversy over the figures
The positive destination statistics are controversial, having been branded a “fraud” by one of Scottish education’s most prominent figures, Keir Bloomer.
Mr Bloomer argues that "dead-end jobs", in which young people are working for the minimum wage or less, should not be counted as positive destinations.
Last year, Tes Scotland revealed that the Scottish government had admitted that school leavers working on zero-hours contracts were classed as being in a positive destination because they were in employment.
The most common positive destinations for the 2016-17 school leavers from the most deprived areas were further education (32.3 per cent), followed by employment (26.6 per cent). Just over a fifth (22.1 per cent) entered higher education.
The most common positive destinations for the pupils from the least deprived areas, however, were higher education (61.7 per cent), followed by employment (21.5 per cent).
The statistics also showed a record 29.9 per cent of all 2016-17 school leavers had five or more passes at Higher or equivalent in 2016-17, up from 22.2 per cent in 2009-10 and 29.7 per cent in 2015-16.
Overall, 2 per cent of school leavers last year attained no passes at the equivalent of National 3 or better – the same as in 2015-16.
Education secretary John Swinney said the figures were indicative of a high-performing education system, and praised schools and teachers for giving “every child the opportunity to fulfil their full potential in life”.
He added: “Already the action of this government is delivering real improvement in our schools, and implementation of reforms to empower schools and school leaders will accelerate this.”