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Education outcomes improving for looked after children in Scotland, but “large gaps” remain

The Scottish Government has published a new statistics report for the national Education Outcomes for Looked After Children for 2020-21.

08/08/22

Education outcomes improving for looked after children in Scotland, but “large gaps” remain

New statistics show that education outcomes for looked after young people in Scotland have generally improved in recent years, however there are still large gaps in attainment compared to the total population of pupils.

The report includes information on the attainment and destinations of school leavers and the education outcomes and post-school destinations of 1,083 ’looked after’ young people between August 2020 and July 2021 who were in the 2020-21 school leaver cohort. The young people represented in the report account for two per cent of the total school leavers in 2020-21.

The data shows that the vast majority (86%) of looked after school leavers went on to a ‘positive destination’ (for example college, training or employment) after leaving school. This figure was up from 80% in 2019-20, however falls short when compared to the total population of pupils in Scotland where 95% of school leavers were considered to have gone onto a ‘positive destination’.

The rate of exclusions among looked after children was also slashed, down to 78 per 1,000 this year compared to 152 per 1,000 in 2018-2019. By comparison however, in the total population of pupils, just 12 in 1000 were excluded.

Educational attainment among looked after children was also seen to have improved in the last ten years. In 2012-2013, 62% achieved at least one qualification at SCQF level 4 or better, compared to 71% in 2020/21. Similarly in 2012-2013, just 23% achieved at least one qualification at SCQF level 5 or better, compared to 38% this year.

While the improvements are positive, almost all school leavers (96%) have at least one qualification at level 4 or better, with 88% achieving at least one qualification at level 5 or better. At the higher levels of qualification, 15% of looked after school leavers have at least one qualification at level 6 or better, compared with 66% of all leavers. The report also notes that a general trend of rising educational attainment can be seen across all children, so data showing better outcomes for looked after young people may be attributable to this, rather than improvements specifically for those looked after children.

The statistics also reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the experiences and outcomes of care experienced pupils. In both 2020 and 2021 the pandemic led to the cancellation of National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams, with grades awarded based on teacher estimates, which may have had an impact on the overall attainment of some 2020-21 school leavers. The report notes that it is also likely that the pandemic will have affected the availability of certain opportunities and choices available to some school leavers due to cancellations, and that this may have also influenced pupils’ decisions on when to leave school, for example, delaying leaving from 2019-20 to 2020-21, or leaving earlier than they had planned.

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