Margaret Curran, Social Justice Minister, who launched the third social justice report on Monday, said many of the indicators outlined in the 119-page report "demonstrate that our policies are working". Schools, however, are not making a major contribution.
Ms Curran pointed to the pound;31 million the Executive is setting aside over the next three years to help families out of poverty. Details of how the money is to be spent have not yet been revealed. This is in addition to pound;20 million for child care announced last September to encourage people in disadvantaged areas into training and work.
The report notes: "Overall attainment of pupils at the end of compulsory schooling is improving, with small improvements by the poorest performing pupils. Of the 20 per cent most deprived schools, around 80 per cent showed an increase in the proportion of pupils achieving at least five Standard grades at the highest level (Credits 1 and 2).
"We are making progress on discipline in schools and the number of removals from the register is falling, although the time lost through temporary exclusions is not yet moving in the right direction."
A more detailed reading of the report shows that, while attainment of the poorest performers is rising, this is in line with their peer groups. The report concludes: "Data broadly constant, no clear trend."
The objective of reducing by a third the number of days lost through exclusion and truancy is being hampered because the Executive is unable to distinguish truancy figures from unauthorised absences. While permanent exclusions are falling, the number of temporary exclusions is up slightly from just over 250 half days lost in 1998-99 to 300 last year.
There is also insufficient information to gauge success in ensuring that all young people leave local authority care with at least a Standard grade in English and maths. Data will become available for the first time next year.
The plan to halve the number of 16-19s who are not in education, training or employment is showing erratic progress, from a 16 per cent peak in 1994-95 to a 14 per cent plateau for five of the past seven years. The report highlights the benefits of initiatives such as Glasgow's vocational training programme which it believes will leave pupils better prepared to move into education, training or a job.
Only two of the six education milestones show progress. The latest figures up to 2001 show improvements in national test scores in P2, P3 and P7 - although the report points out these are minimum levels of attainment.
The number of P2 pupils passing at the appropriate level over the past three years has increased from 35 per cent in reading to 50 per cent; from just under 20 per cent in writing to 30 per cent; and from nearly 70 per cent in maths to just over 70 per cent.
The P3 picture is more successful than the P7 one, however, in line with the long-standing difficulty for primary schools of keeping momentum going into the upper primary. While more than 90 per cent of P3 pupils have been at the right level for 5-14 maths, performance fell away to 60-70 per cent for the equivalent P7 level.
Improvements are also registered in pre-school learning and care. The number of three-year-olds in education is up from 65 per cent three years ago to just over 80 per cent. Participation by four-year-olds is virtually 100 per cent.