There are fresh fears for the life chances of Scotland’s poorest children after a major report found only limited progress had been made in closing the educational attainment gap.

Differences between disadvantaged youngsters and their better-off peers remain “wide”, according to analysis by the Auditor General and the Accounts Commission.

The research also warns that inequalities have been “exacerbated” by the impact of Covid-19.

And while it acknowledges improvement in exam performance and other measures at the national level, the report says this has been inconsistent, with indicators in some local authority areas heading in the wrong direction.

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Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland, said: “Significantly reducing the attainment gap is complex.

“But the pace of improvement has to increase as part of the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 recovery planning.

“That process needs to particularly focus on the pandemic’s impact on the most disadvantaged children and young people.”

Elma Murray, interim chair of the Accounts Commission, added: “It is vital that councils, schools and their partners work to reduce the wide variation in outcomes as well as understanding and tackling the short and longer-term impact of Covid-19 on learning and wellbeing.”

HeraldScotland: Nicola Sturgeon said previously that her record in office should be judged on whether she is successful in eliminating the attainment gap.Nicola Sturgeon said previously that her record in office should be judged on whether she is successful in eliminating the attainment gap.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in 2015 that her record in office should be judged on whether Scotland eliminates the attainment gap.

Yesterday, her Government released its own report which said there had been good progress in closing it.

Differences between the proportion of primary pupils from the most and least deprived areas achieving the expected level in literacy and numeracy have reduced since 2016-17, according to the findings.

The document also shows a narrowing of the gap in numeracy at S3 level between 2016-17 and 2018-19.

But, pointing to the Auditor General/ Accounts Commission report, union leaders said they were worried.

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Larry Flanagan, general secretary at the EIS, Scotland’s largest teaching union, said: “The impact of poverty on children’s life chances remains a matter of huge concern, and much more needs to be done to support young people living in poverty to overcome the barriers that they continue to face.

“Schools do all that they can with insufficient resources to support young people from all backgrounds but cannot, in isolation, overcome such serious societal issues as inequality and poverty.

“We have long known of the devastating impact that poverty can have on young people, and this has been made worse during the pandemic.”

HeraldScotland: EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan.EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan.

He added: “It is clear that much greater and sustained investment is needed to tackle the impact of poverty on young people’s education, and all of Scotland’s political parties must fully commit to tackling this issue in the context of education recovery during the next Parliament.”

John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary, insisted that “good progress” was being made but said closing the attainment gap remained a “long-term and complex” endeavour.

“We will give full consideration to the issues raised and recommendation made in Audit Scotland’s report,” he added.

“We have put in place a comprehensive range of measures, supported by the £750 million Attainment Scotland Fund, to turn the corner with the attainment gap.

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“We have seen improvements across a number of indicators, including a narrowing of the gap between pupils from the most and least deprived areas achieving the expected level in literacy and numeracy.

"Longer term, we have also seen the gap narrow in initial positive destinations and the proportion of pupils achieving one pass or more at SCQF Level 5 and 6.”