CAMPAIGNERS have raised deep concerns over a fall in the number of young people with additional support needs, such as autism and dyslexia, going on to “positive destinations” after leaving school.

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition said the latest figures, which cover those who left school in 2018/19, were “deeply disappointing”.

Critics also pointed to the fact young people from richer backgrounds are still much more likely than their poorer counterparts to be in higher education nine months after leaving school.

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Education Secretary John Swinney said the number of school leavers going on to either college or university has reached the highest level on record.

Figures show more than three out of five school leavers continued their education, with 38.4 per cent last year going on to higher education and 23.3% opting for further education.

However, the figures also show that one in 10 youngsters from Scotland’s most deprived areas were unemployed after leaving school, with the proportion joining the dole queue almost four times higher than for teenagers from better-off communities.

Scottish Government statistics show that in April this year 92.9% of youngsters who left school in 2018/19 were classed as being in a “positive destination” – such as having gone on to college, university, work or training – down slightly from 93.3% the previous year.

But school leavers with additional support needs (ASN) were less likely to go on to a positive destination (87.9% compared to 95.1% without).

A spokesman for the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition said: “We are deeply concerned about falling level of those school leavers with ASN such as autism, dyslexia and mental health problems in positive destinations.

“This includes further education, higher education, employment and training. “While 87.9% of those school leavers with ASN were in positive destinations in 2018/19, this is a drop on 2017/18 when the figures was 88.4%.

“For those with no ASN the figures are 95.1% and 95.3% respectively. “The attainment gap between those school leavers with ASN and those with no ASN has increased from 6.9% for 2017/18 to 7.2% in 2018/19.

“It is deeply disappointing to see a fall in the number of school leavers with ASN in positive destinations and to note that this gap is growing when compared with those with no ASN.

“There is also a clear gap between the number of those with ASN who are unemployed (10.2%), compared with those with no ASN (3.9%).”

The Scottish Government report said its figures were from early April 2020 “and therefore will not reflect the full impact of the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic”.

While the proportion going to university fell slightly from the 39% of leavers in 2017/18, the number opting for further education increased from the 22.6% recorded that year.

More than a quarter (28%) of the most recent group of school leavers went on to find a job, down slightly from the 28.3% who went into work after finishing school in 2017/18.

A further 2.3% of those who left school in 2018/19 went into training, according to the data, while 5.8% were unemployed.

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But in the most deprived areas, 9.9% of school leavers were out of work, compared with 2.6% from the least-deprived communities.

Overall 88.3% of youngsters from the poorest areas were classed as being in a positive destination, compared with 96.7% of those from the most affluent communities. This gap in achievement has more than halved since 2009/10.

But while more than half (57.2%) of teenagers from the least deprived areas went on to higher education, less than a quarter (24.5%) of their counterparts from the most deprived areas achieved this.

Meanwhile, almost a third (31.5%) of school leavers from these areas opted for further education, compared with 14.5% of youngsters from the least deprived areas.

Mr Swinney, who is also the Deputy First Minister, said: “Closing the poverty-related attainment gap remains our defining mission, and the gap between young Scots from the most and least deprived areas entering a positive destination has closed significantly over the last decade.

“In addition, the proportion of young people going on to further and higher education combined is the highest on record.”