Evening Express

Pupil attendance gap during Covid-19 could create ‘unforgivable legacy’

The Scottish Conservatives said more needs to be done to support pupils (Jane Barlow/PA)

The Scottish Conservatives have warned an attendance gap between pupils from the most and least deprived areas during the Covid-19 pandemic could create an “unforgivable legacy”.

Analysis of official statistics suggests an average of 4.1% of children from the poorest areas have not attended school for coronavirus-related reasons.

That compares with 2.1% of pupils from the least deprived parts of the country who have been absent on average, according to the most recent seven days of data.

On school days between October 26 and November 3, the attendance rate for pupils from the most deprived areas was 87% on average, compared with 95% for children in the least deprived areas.

Scottish Conservative education spokesman Jamie Greene argued more needs to be done to support pupils who are missing school for coronavirus-related reasons.

Mr Greene said: “It’s extremely concerning that pupils from the poorest areas are more likely to be missing out on school than wealthier ones and that prevalence of Covid-19 in deprived communities still appears to be stubbornly higher than in wealthier ones.

“The SNP have failed to close the attainment gap between the wealthiest and poorest pupils and this attendance gap will now only serve to widen it.

“If this pandemic results in poorer children falling further behind that would be an unforgivable legacy and the Government must act now to prevent that.

“We’re not seeing anywhere near enough support to help pupils who are off school, yet the SNP has shamefully refused to support our proposals for a national tutoring programme which would ensure that no pupil is left behind.”

Asked about the disparity after her coronavirus statement at Holyrood on Tuesday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “There will be a number of reasons why the differentials in attendance figures at schools are as they are.

“We look at that carefully, we look at attendance figures at schools on a daily basis and the Deputy First Minister in particular pays closes attention to them.

“Fundamentally, the most important thing is to take all of the necessary steps to support children to be at school and to support our schools to stay open for as long as possible through this pandemic.

“That’s what we are very focused on and where we think there is a need to have additional measures in place to support that, or indeed provide additional help, we will always consider doing so.”