THE attainment gap is closing, the Scottish Government said yesterday. Successive SNP administrations have faced criticism over the fact pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds do less well in school.

Able learners from poorer households are also less likely to go to university than their better-off counterparts.

Figures produced yesterday show the gap has “begun to narrow” over the past five years. The statistics show the proportion of young people entering higher education at college or university directly from school has increased faster among those from the most deprived areas than the least deprived.

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In 2012, 20 per cent of school leavers in the 20 per cent most deprived areas went straight into higher education from school, with the rate for those from the wealthiest parts almost three times higher at 58 per cent.

Last year the position had changed slightly, with 24 per cent of poorer pupils continuing their education, compared to 60 per cent of richer students.

Despite the change, young people from Scotland’s least deprived areas are still more than 2.5 times more likely to go into higher education straight from school than those from the most deprived areas.

Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney welcomed the analysis but said more needed to be done, stating: “I want every child to have an equal opportunity to go to college and university and to succeed in life, no matter their circumstances.

“This new, detailed analysis provides welcome evidence that we are beginning to make progress in that aim and closing the poverty-related attainment gap.”

Defending his Government’s record on education, Swinney went on: “However, it also demonstrates the scale of the challenge in creating equity and excellence in our education system. The status quo is not an option – change is needed, and indeed change is happening. We need to reform our approach to get the whole system pulling in the same direction with an integrated framework that meets the needs of all young people at every stage of their journey through education.

“We are taking forward the actions recommended by the Commission on Widening Access, including the appointment of the Fair Access Commissioner to drive the whole system approach needed in this area.

“We are also reviewing the learner journey from 15 to 24 to ensure that the system of post-school education works effectively and efficiently to provide support to those who need it the most.

“This breakdown helps to show what we are beginning to get it right and what more we need to do.”