by Schools Improvement Net: http://schoolsimprovement.net/scottish-education-why-dont-the-sums-add-up/
Education policy researcher Gill Wyness asks how Scottish higher
education participation rates are so high when inequality of school
attainment is rife. This is from the Guardian …
Scotland’s differing attitude towards higher education continues to the present day.
The government’s decision to abolish tuition fees after devolution was intended to “restore Scotland’s centuries-old tradition of free education”
and ensure that its high rates of university participation continued.
And the domestic higher education sector does seem to be flourishing.
The higher education initial participation rate (which measures the proportion of 16-30 year olds in higher education) stood at 56% in Scotland in 2011,
7 percentage points higher than England’s 49%.
But before breaking out
the whisky, it is worth studying Scotland’s education figures in a bit
more detail, an exercise we recently performed at LSE.
Scotland’s apparent historic prioritisation of education holds up
when it comes to compulsory school education. Around 80% of young people
in Scotland achieve five or more standard grades - roughly the same
figure as GCSE attainment in England.
But when it comes to the next
level of education - Scottish Highers, essential for entrance to
university - attainment of Scottish pupils is surprisingly low compared
Only 37% of young people in Scotland achieved three or more Highers
(enough to get into some but not all degree programmes at Scottish
colleges and universities) by the end of sixth year in 2011. By way of
rough comparison, 52% of English students got two A-levels.
looking at the proportion of Scottish young people getting five Highers -
enough for a chance to get into an elite institution, the proportion
slips back to 26%.
How can Scotland’s higher education participation rate be so high
when many of Scotland’s young people don’t appear to be achieving the
results to get into degree programmes?
The answer may lie in the
Scottish executive’s definition of higher education, which includes one
and two year higher national diploma (HND) and higher national
certificate (HNC) courses as well as degrees.
Statistics show that
almost half of Scotland’s higher education students are actually
studying for the former. This may not be a problem, of course.
Scotland’s education system is
known for its flexibility and has a history of promoting shorter
courses, which can be topped up later. However, research shows that
individuals with fewer years of education gain lower wage returns on
And perhaps more significantly, HNDs and HNCs may carry less
cachet in job markets in England and overseas, making Scotland’s economy
potentially more insular.
But a further and potentially more damning issue emerges around
inequality of educational outcomes. Our research revealed startling
levels of inequality in attainment between Scottish pupils from
different socio-economic groups.
As early as age seven, there are large
differences in reading and maths attainment between children from rich
and poor backgrounds. These inequalities increase with age.
At the age of 15, the richest quartile of pupils achieved 549 points on the well-recognised international PISA test in
2009, on a par with the average score in Hong Kong (which was placed
third in the OECD for maths that year). The bottom quartile achieved
only 456 points, on a par with Turkey, which was placed 44th.
Data published by the Guardian’s datablog reveals
equally shocking statistics.
In 2011 only 220 - that’s 2% - of the
poorest fifth of Scottish pupils managed to achieve sufficient grades in
their fifth year (three or more As at Higher) to get them into one of
the best universities, versus 17% of the richest fifth.
In my own home
town of Dundee, only five pupils from the poorest quintile achieved
three or more As.
Evidence from the Scottish Government’s new post-16 bill backs up this evidence.
It reports that 11% of students attending university in 2010/11 came
from the 20% most deprived areas. This bill aims to target this group
and ensure they have “fair access” to education.
This seems like a laudable goal, and it’s good news that the
inequality in our education system is being brought into the referendum
debate. But the fact remains that Scotland’s long devolved education
system has done little to tackle this shameful issue.
Inequality is a
deep-rooted problem which starts in youth, and an independent Scotland
will have to focus its resources far beyond post-16 outcomes if it wants
to get to grips with it.
Gill Wyness is a researcher in education policy at the London School of Economics and the liberal think tank CentreForum - follow it on Twitter @CentreForum
More at: Scottish education: why don’t the sums add up?
What do you think Scotland is getting right in terms of education
and where is it going wrong? Why, in particular, is equality of
attainment so low? Please share in the comments or on twitter…