SCHOOLS in Scotland’s most deprived communities are far less likely to offer pupils a full range of the country’s most prestigious qualification.

New figures show just two secondaries in disadvantaged areas offer more than 12 Advanced Highers compared to 27 schools in the most affluent neighbourhoods.

The figures, compiled by the Scottish Conservative Party, have sparked fears over equity of access both to school qualifications and higher education.

Advanced Higher is increasingly seen as the best preparation for university and many more pupils now stay on at school to study them before starting a degree.

Although growing numbers of pupils from disadvantaged communities are now being taught Advanced Highers at university hubs to make up for the school shortfall, Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservative Party said the “postcode lottery” was unacceptable.

She said: “Advanced Higher has been the envy of many educationalists in England yet we know that, despite new initiatives such as university hubs, a diminishing number of schools are offering a wide choice.

“Even worse is the stark postcode lottery which shows that pupils in disadvantaged areas come off worst.

“This has serious implications for the principle of widening access and ensuring that there is a level playing field for all pupils who aspire to do well in Advanced Higher and increase their chances of getting to university.”

Ms Smith said the current debate on widening access had focused on supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds by changing admissions procedures at universities.

The Scottish Government has told all higher education institutions that, by 2030, they must take 20 per cent of their intake from the poorest areas with entry thresholds lowered for disadvantaged students.

“Surely, the access debate should be focused on schools and ensuring all pupils have a fair chance to succeed. That is why denying many of them the chance to do Advanced Higher is a very serious matter,” she added.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union, said equity of access to all aspects of education - including the ability to be presented for exams - was a matter of “huge concern”.

He added: “No pupil should ever be debarred from accessing any area of the curriculum for reasons of cost.

“Sadly, in the era of government-enforced austerity in which Scottish education has been forced to exist for the past decade, secondary schools are increasingly having to make very difficult choices over which subjects they can offer. Staffing limitations often mean that Advanced Higher classes can’t be offered.”

Mr Flanagan highlighted the work of the Advanced Higher hub at Glasgow Caledonian University, but warned the issue of choice was not confined to urban areas.