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Work to close attainment gap must increase in speed and scale – Somerville

A survey of head teachers found 95% believe Covid and school closures had impacted efforts to close the attainment gap (Gareth Fuller/PA)
A survey of head teachers found 95% believe Covid and school closures had impacted efforts to close the attainment gap (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The Scottish Government needs to “increase the speed and scale” of work to close the attainment gap in schools, Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has said.

She hailed the “resilience of Scottish education” as a survey of head teachers found 87% believe progress has been made in closing the gap in achievement between rich and poor students.

However, 95% of head teachers said the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting school closures had had at least some impact on progress towards closing the gap – with 54% saying there had been a “significant impact”.

Speaking about the survey, Ms Somerville said: “Progress was being made in tackling the poverty-related attainment gap before the pandemic and we now need to increase the speed and scale of this.

“That is why one of our top priorities is to accelerate both recovery and progress in tackling the poverty-related attainment gap, supported by a record £1 billion investment in the Scottish Attainment Challenge over the course of this Parliament.”

Her comments came as the Scottish Government published the findings of the sixth survey of head teachers whose schools are in receipt of Attainment Scotland Fund money.

The research covered the school year 2020-21, including a period from January to March 2021 when most schools across Scotland were closed because of the pandemic.

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said Covid had disrupted education across the world (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

This found the overwhelming majority of schools (94%) expect to see an improvement in closing the gap over the next few years.

However the Scottish Government report said: “For schools that have not seen any improvement in closing the poverty-related attainment gap, comments most commonly referred to the adverse impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“These schools referred to limited in-person contact with pupils as a result of school building closures and increased pupil absences.

The report told how “schools saw a lack of in-person contact as a key challenge associated with Covid-19 and school building closures”.

Head teachers also reported “increasing mental health and wellbeing needs” – with 78% saying this had become much more common.

A “large majority” said they used ASF cash on mental health support, as well as more remote learning and digital connectivity.

Ms Somerville said: “It’s encouraging that our headteachers are continuing to report progress towards tackling the poverty-related attainment gap, despite the impact of the pandemic.

“We know the disruption caused by Covid-19 has presented serious challenges for learning and teaching in Scotland, as it has around the world.

“But the response of schools and local authorities in adapting to this, supported by Attainment Scotland Funding, has been a testament to the resilience of Scottish education.”