The stark impact of deprivation on exam success was highlighted yesterday with the publication of exam results for Scotland's 32 local authorities.

As previous studies have shown, council areas which serve some of the most deprived parts of Scotland are once again largely outperformed by those in the wealthiest areas.

Figures from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) show that Glasgow, Dundee, North Ayrshire and West Dunbartonshire are among the councils with the lowest attainment rates at Standard Grade and Higher.

However, analysis by The Herald shows that all have a much higher proportion of pupils on free school meals than the national average of 14.6% - a key indicator of deprivation. In Glasgow, 32% of pupils are on free meals.

In contrast, the best performing councils, including East Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire, Stirling and the Western Isles all have much lower proportions of pupils on free school meals. In East Renfrewshire, the figure is 8.3%.

The only authority in the top 10 for Highers which has a higher proportion of pupils on free school meals than the average is South Lanarkshire.

The SQA figures also highlighted the gulf between the performance of girls and boys across all subjects and stages. By the end of S4, 78% of girls had achieved five or more Standard Grades at general level compared with 72% of boys, while in S5, 25% of girls achieved three or more Highers against 19% of boys.

Eric Wilkinson, professor of education at Glasgow University, said: "This is a motivational problem in the sense that boys are not engaging with the learning process in the same way as girls and that is a professional matter for teachers to address."

The latest figures to highlight the gulf in exam attainment between rich and poor will spark renewed concerns that not enough is being done to address the problem.

Last year, HM Inspectorate of Education found the gap between the best and worst-performing pupils in Scotland was growing wider, despite a raft of government initiatives and £19bn spent on education since devolution.

Officials in Glasgow believe they are turning the corner, with an improved set of Standard Grade exams lifting them off the bottom of the table for the first time. Dundee is the only council with fewer pupils achieving five or more Standard Grades. However, Glasgow still has a much lower proportion of pupils achieving three or more Highers.

Glasgow councillor Gordon Matheson, executive member for education, said: "We don't believe there is a magic formula to improve attainment, but we are hopeful the benefits of new initiatives will feed through into our exam results over the next few years."

A spokesman for Dundee said: "There is still a lot of work to be done and that is why we are undertaking a range of long-term initiatives."

Alan Lafferty, education convener of East Renfrewshire Council welcomed the exceptional figures at Higher, which the council believes are a result of scrapping Standard Grades and moving to Intermediate exams a few years ago. "Intermediates are a more suitable examination in every way in the preparation for Higher grade," he said.

Isabel Hutton, education spokeswoman for Cosla, which represents local authorities, called for the "inequalities arising from deprivation" to be removed.

A Scottish Government spokesman said the focus by ministers of early intervention, cutting class sizes in deprived areas and ensuring teachers were retained in nurseries would all help to raise attainment across the board.