Education attainment gaps are narrowing but remain "substantial" in Scotland, according to a major UK-wide report on Covid and social mobility.
The report, from the UK government's Social Mobility Commission, also says that free university tuition has created "equality of opportunity" but "doesn’t necessarily close the attainment gap".
A report summary highlights that Scotland "has more generous child poverty policies than the UK government".
Background: Child poverty was rising before Covid
Attainment gap: Progress on closing the attainment gap ‘limited’
Child poverty: How a primary school helped to feed a community
The report adds: "But [Scotland] has no explicit social mobility strategy and social mobility outcomes have not yet shifted, despite lower rates of child poverty than other nations. Entitlements such as free university may be benefitting the more advantaged and leaving fewer resources to support disadvantaged people."
Social mobility in Scotland: the report's findings
The Social Mobility Commission's report findings about Scotland include:
- Educational attainment gaps are narrowing but they are still substantial. Only about 83 per cent of pupils from the most deprived areas reach the expected standard at secondary school, compared with 96 per cent of pupils from the least deprived areas. The gap has remained about the same for the past three years.
- Free tuition creates equality of opportunity to access higher education but by itself doesn’t necessarily close the attainment gap. The gap in progression to higher education between young people from most and least deprived areas is large (24.5 per cent and 57.2 per cent respectively in 2018-19), although it has narrowed in the past decade (from 38.1 to 32.8 percentage points).
- Children, working-age adults and pensioners all experienced an increase in poverty between 2012-15 and 2017-20. The number living in relative poverty (after housing costs) increased by 30,000 for each age group – to 240,000 for children, 650,000 for working-age adults and 150,000 for people of pensionable age.
- Scotland has consistently had low rates of child poverty compared with England and Wales, but 24.3 per cent, or 240,000 children, remain in poverty. This is damaging to those children’s future social mobility prospects. Scotland has more generous child poverty benefits than the UK government and "strategically focuses on lowering rates", which, the Social Mobility Commission says, "we applaud".
Each UK nation was found to have "taken symbolic steps to try to address equality and social mobility". In April 2018, for example, Scotland became the first to enact the "socioeconomic duty" of the 2010 Equality Act, which requires public authorities to consider socioeconomic impact when making decisions. Scotland also has has "more generous child poverty policies than the UK government".
Looking across the UK, the report says that "focusing on child poverty and inequality without an explicit effort on social mobility doesn’t work" and that, while "no nation has found this balance", "many of the most significant levers for change often lie with the UK government".
The report adds: "Despite strong and visible commitments to tackling poverty and inequality, we find that Scotland and Wales have not yet made progress on all of our key indicators."
The report can be read here.