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Education bosses report improvements at Highland primary schools

By Nicola Sinclair, Local Democracy Reporter

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Highland is the second most improved council in Scotland, in terms of attainment in certain areas.
Highland is the second most improved council in Scotland, in terms of attainment in certain areas.

Members of Highland Council’s education committee offered thanks to primary schools across the region, who delivered a strong improvement in attainment.

Literacy is up 10 per cent on last year across primary school levels, while numeracy has improved by nine per cent.

While this is still behind the national average, it’s a substantial increase in one year. It makes Highland the second most improved council in Scotland.

The education committee considered a detailed primary school attainment report.

They welcomed the good news but also observed that they still have a long way to go.

In 2022, Highland was languishing at the bottom of the national league table for literacy and numeracy scores in primary school.

It prompted outrage in the council chamber, and a new strategy to improve attainment across the board.

Now, education bosses have returned to councillors with a big jump up in performance.

Literacy has improved by 12 per cent in primary one, seven per cent in primary four and 11 per cent in primary seven. Numeracy is up nine per cent, six per cent and 11% in the same age levels.

Overall, in 2021/22, 59 per cent of primary school pupils achieved the necessary standard in literacy. That’s a 10 per cent increase on the previous year. However, it’s still 12 per cent behind the national average of 71 per cent.

Numeracy results are better, at 69 per cent across primary schools – a nine per cent improvement on 2020/21. But the Scottish average is nine per cent higher again, at 78 per cent.

While they’ve not yet closed the gap, Highland councillors took time to congratulate primary school staff and pupils on their achievement.

“This is a good news story and we should be thanking all our schools in turning around the statistics,” said Councillor Drew Millar. “We have all come through difficult times. This is a bit of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel, but there’s still a long way to go.”

Education bosses emphasised that attainment isn’t just about academic assessment – it’s also about pupils’ wellbeing.

Even with double-digit improvements in several measures, Highland primaries are still falling short of the national average.

But education bosses believe this could be more about assessment than attainment. Executive chief officer Nicky Grant put it plainly: “Some teachers were over-assessing and making judgements that were too harsh.”

Ms Grant and chairman John Finlayson said the council has since rolled out training to give staff the confidence to award the top marks. Schools are working together to achieve a consistent approach to assessment and moderation.

And the council has set ambitions to catch up with the national average within two years.

Councillor Alasdair Christie said Highland is still in the lower quartile nationally, adding: “None of us want to be there. There’s a lot to be celebrated but let’s move up a division.”

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