Education attainment in Fife falls to lowest level in four years

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Education chiefs grilled over a widening in Fife primary schools' attainment gap say they remain committed to narrowing it by a factor of five within four years.

Attainment has fallen to its lowest level in four years with 36.8% and 30.3% of primary-age children failing to meet age-appropriate expectations in reading, writing and maths as of 2019/20.

In addition, the attainment gap - the difference in performance between children from impoverished and affluent areas - has grown to 25.9 percentage points in literacy and 22.4 percentage points in numeracy.

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Fife school bosses hope to close this gap to as few as five percentage points by 2025, though accept this may not be possible.

Councillors had differing views over Fife's education attainment gap.Councillors had differing views over Fife's education attainment gap.
Councillors had differing views over Fife's education attainment gap.

In her report to a Fife council committee earlier this month, Angela Logue, head of education and children's services, said staff were continuing to address the wider inequality issues that contribute to lower attainment such as health and wellbeing and a lack of support for vulnerable and care experienced pupils.

Post-Covid, the council is laying on additional staff and expanding its psychology services for pupils, and says around 12,000 devices have been distributed to support remote learning.

"We are not just doing what we've always done," she said.

"We're very aware of the need for targeted and disproportionate approaches and we're trying to plan for these and share good practice."

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Cllr David Alexander called the report's goals "ambitious" and "inspirational" (Pic: George McLuskie)Cllr David Alexander called the report's goals "ambitious" and "inspirational" (Pic: George McLuskie)
Cllr David Alexander called the report's goals "ambitious" and "inspirational" (Pic: George McLuskie)
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However, Conservative councillor Tony Miklinski called the growing gap "disturbing", while Labour group leader and council co-leader David Ross described the results as "quite disappointing".

Cllr Ross added: "When you look at the progress we made between 2012 and 2017, it was significant.

"I know there's been a change in the way the data is gathered but that doesn't change the trends that we've seen.

"Yes, Covid has changed the nature of the game completely but we shouldn't look at education in isolation - it needs the context of poverty, supporting families, and all the other things the council does."

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Education matters in Fife Council are delegated to the SNP's Craig Walker, who defended his record and characterised attacks on it as "firing the starting gun on next year's elections".

"Far from being disappointing, in my view this is a very excellent report," he said.

"Before Covid, we were going in the right direction. Our staff and pupils have done a fantastic job.

"There's no doubt there are challenges and difficulties that have arisen as a result of the crisis."

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In a storming riposte to his Labour counterpart, SNP group leader and council co-leader David Alexander called the report's goals "ambitious" and "inspirational".

"We have loads of work going on in every area and if anyone thinks there was once a 'golden age' of education in Fife I'm happy to show them reports that show something very very different," he thundered.

"Believe me - we were in a very very bad position before 2012 and we are getting better. Rant over."

Fife is not the only local authority struggling with the attainment gap. Ministers have poured millions of pounds into closing the attainment gap, including £215m in 2021/22 alone - to seemingly little effect.

An Audit Scotland report published in March concluded that national efforts in recent years have been "inconsistent" and had fallen short of the Scottish Government's aims.