Closing the attainment gap


Scotland had long been aware that, like other countries, there was a gap between how well pupils from high-income and low- income backgrounds did in education.

For instance, by the age of just 5, poorer pupils already lag behind their richer contemporaries by about a year in terms of learning, and this gap is larger than for many similar countries.

Professor Sue Ellis and Dr Edward Sosu of Strathclyde University looked at the reasons for this and what could be done about it. They knew that in Scotland parental socio-economic background has more influence on attainment than the school attended, and that children from deprived households leave school earlier with fewer qualifications, with consequent long-term effects on job prospects.Their report brought together a range of evidence-based sources on how to reduce the attainment gap in ways that recognised the constraints of Scotland’s policy context.
They carried out a systematic review of international ‘what works’ evidence, a careful analysis of how Scottish policy documents profiled attainment, poverty and social class issues, and they analysed previous Scottish interventions to identify those with an evidence-base and find out what had worked, on whom, in which circumstances, why and how. They used these different kinds of analyses to identify the key policy and practice barriers in the Scottish system as well as the potential levers for change.The report profiled the issues but also recommended specific actions for national, local, school, professional, parental and community bodies.

This work led to the Scottish government setting up a £100m Attainment Fund for schools and amending the Education (Scotland) Bill by requiring Local Authorities to report on the extent of the poverty-related attainment gap and efforts to reduce it.

It was heavily referenced in parliamentary debates and policy papers and has led to the involvement of Dr Sosu and Professor Ellis in an extensive range of working parties, public engagements and media coverage including the BBC and STV. The work is carrying on through a Scottish Funding Council funded project looking at how to widen access in Higher Education.

Read the full report at


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