Three Rs on the up and up

Henry Hepburn reports on how Glasgow schools are closing the literacy and numeracy gap on the rest of Scotland

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Glasgow's intensive efforts to improve literacy and numeracy appear to have paid off, with grades for reading, writing and maths among 5-14 year olds at their highest-ever levels.

Figures in a draft council report show the city's primary and secondary schools are closing the gap on the rest of Scotland, while performance in Highers is also improving steadily.

City leaders stress that there is still room to improve - nearly half of pupils aged 5-14 are not reaching the required level for writing, and nearly 40 per cent fall short in maths and reading.

The results are nevertheless significant, given that Glasgow has to contend with some of the UK's most deprived areas and faces an influx of refugees and asylum seekers with little English.

The performance of pupils in Glasgow schools was singled out as a key challenge for Scotland as a whole in last year's report on Scottish schools from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It pointed out that every second child in S2 in the city under-achieved in reading (although these were 2004 figures).

This week's more up-to-date figures, therefore, represented good news. It was tempered by a drop in Standard grade attainment, although the city council believes results were affected by 300 S4 pupils, who would in the past have left school; instead, they stayed on to take vocational courses not accredited by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

Gordon Matheson, the city council's executive member for education, was almost muted in his response to this year's results, underlining that there was still much to do.

"We are far from resting on our laurels," he said. "It's important to recognise and celebrate the progress that's being made, but we do have a long road to travel."

He said the city's large number of looked-after children and its linguistic diversity - about 100 languages are spoken by city schoolchildren - meant that "we need to work hard to stand still".

Margaret Doran, executive director of education and social work, has also made clear she expects performance to keep improving.

The results come after the city council's wide-ranging education commission published its recommendations in 2007, following two years gathering the views of headteachers, college principals, academics and others from the education and business communities.

The commission, chaired by the city's former education director Ronnie O'Connor, called for a "zero tolerance" approach to poor literacy and numeracy, and proposed that specialist teams should be set up to visit schools and ensure basic standards were maintained.

All Glasgow schools are also being expected to use synthetic phonics, a teaching method that focuses on the sounds of groups of letters and which has been successfully used in West Dunbartonshire and Clackmannanshire.

The figures in full

In primary schools last session, 83.2 per cent of pupils reached the appropriate level for reading, up from 80.3 per cent in 2005-06.

l In the same period, the number at the right level for writing rose to 75.9 per cent (from 73 per cent), and for maths to 86.7 per cent (from 84.8 per cent).

In secondary, the number achieving the required standard in reading by the end of S2 increased to 62 per cent (from 56.3 per cent), in writing to 53.4 per cent (from 47 per cent) and in maths to 60.3 per cent (from 55.6 per cent).

In 2008, the proportion of pupils gaining one or more Higher by the end of S5 was 28 per cent, up 2 per cent from 2006. Some 15 per cent gained three or more (up 3 per cent), while those gaining five or more stayed at 5 per cent.

Some 20 per cent had gained three or more Highers by the end of S6 (up 2 per cent since 2006), while 13 per cent achieved five or more (also up 2 per cent).

At Standard grade, the trend was downward, with only 22 per cent achieving five or more passes at Credit level, a drop of 2 per cent. Passes at a minimum of Foundation or General level also fell by 2 per cent in the same period, to 84 and 65 per cent.

There was a 1 per cent improvement in English and maths passes at Foundation or better, up to 87 percent.

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