School exam achievements rise but social inequalities remain, say experts

British school pupils are performing substantially better in exams than they did 20 years ago, but social class inequalities in education have changed little, a research conference at the University of Edinburgh will hear today, Friday, 12 May.

Attainment and participation in higher education is up in England, Scotland and Wales, but a higher proportion of young people in Scotland gained qualifications for entry to higher education and more went on to University at 18 than in England and Wales. In Scotland, but not in England, levels of social inequality in attainment at 16 have narrowed slightly in the last 20 years. However, inequalities in attainment at 18 and in entry to higher education were wider in Scotland than in England, and inequalities in attainment at 18 did not narrow over the period, as in England.

Dr Linda Croxford, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Educational Sociology at the University of Edinburgh says that between the mid-1980s and 2002 the period of the study the proportion of young people entering higher education at 18 has risen from 11% to 27%. She said: "In the past, the majority of young people expected to leave school at 16 and find a job, but now more young people realise the importance of staying longer in education."

Professor David Raffe, Director of Research in the University's School of Education comments: "The Scottish system encouraged higher participation and attainment beyond 16 but the middle classes have taken most advantage. Our findings pre-date the new courses and qualifications introduced by Higher Still, and we need more research to find out if they have spread opportunities more widely. Despite wider inequalities, Scottish working-class youngsters consistently outperformed their English peers."


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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