THERE was depressing news earlier this week when it emerged that the number of children in Scotland living in poverty has risen by 60,000 over the last year.

The second annual report from the UK-wide Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, established under the 2010 Child Poverty Act, showed 200,000 children were living in absolute poverty - up 30,000 on the previous year.

While the report was a wide-ranging analysis of the extent and impact of poverty across Britain, there was also a strong focus on the role of education in bringing about change, from widening access to universities and colleges to supporting vulnerable children as early as possible.

There were concerning figures for Scotland here too, with low percentages of pupils from deprived backgrounds entering the highly selective "ancient universities" compared to their counterparts from non-deprived areas.

And the report also urged the Scottish Government to review its recent cuts to grants for the poorest students, who will be leaving university with higher levels of debt as a result - although they do not pay tuition fees in Scotland unlike other parts of the UK.

But the most significant barrier to improving the life chances of pupils from deprived areas in Scotland appeared to be the lack of transparent data around disadvantaged pupils.

Referring to its previous 2013 report, the commission said it had found a lack of emphasis on closing the attainment gap between rich and poor students in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK adding: "We called for greater focus on this by targeting funding, programmes and better, more transparent data."

Progress made since then has not been viewed particularly positively by the commission.

Whilst acknowledging the Scottish Government has introduced a new online tool for schools and local authorities to identify where improvements could be made, alongside a number of other initiatives, it said such programmes did not focus specifically on pupils from disadvantaged households, as required.

"The Commission believes that Scotland must focus these programmes, and any new ones, on raising educational outcomes for disadvantaged pupils," the report states. "The most significant issue remains the lack of transparent data around disadvantaged pupils, which frustrates efforts to close the attainment gap and improve social mobility. Currently, Scotland's improvement schemes in education are not targeted to the most disadvantaged.

"Most interventions do not have robust evaluations in place to fully understand their impact on attainment - we have no way of knowing which are worth continuing or scaling up."

If Scotland is serious about closing the attainment gap, the report concludes, the "limitations of Scotland's collection and use of data and analysis on children from disadvantaged backgrounds urgently need to be addressed".