The Scottish Government has published (28 July 2022) the national Education Outcomes for Looked After Children for 2020-2021 statistics report. ‘Looked after’ is the term which is used in legislation in Scotland to mandate care and protection of children.

This report includes data on the attainment and destinations of school leavers and the education outcomes and post-school destinations of 1083 (an increase of 140 from the previous year) care experienced young people between August 2020 and July 2021 and who were school leavers in the 2020-21. These young people make up 2% of the total school leaver 2020-21 cohort.

Whilst this report shows that the education outcomes for care experienced children have improved, there are still large gaps in attainment compared to the total population of pupils in Scotland.


71% of 'looked after school leavers' achieved 1 or more qualification at SCQF level 4 or better. Down from 72% in 2019/20. C
ompared with 96% of all leavers 2020/21

The difference for higher level qualifications is even more pronounced. The number with of school leavers with qualification at SCQF level 5 or better was 38% for looked after children and more than double that at 88% for all school leavers. Attainment levels of the very top qualification, SCQF 7 was 2% for looked after children and 24% for all school leavers. Clearly work needs to be done to achieve any semblance of parity. 

Attendance and Positive Destination 

Attendance levels and those moving on to a positive initial destination were both up with figures of 88% and 86% respectively. However we need to question how long those who entered the positive destination were supported to stay there. The 9 month follow up data does show a slight drop in figures but we would need to look beyond this period for a true picture of long-term destinations.

When you analyse the 'positive destination' breakdown there is also a clear disparity with only 8% going on to Higher Education, albeit that a rise of 1% from the previous year, compared with 45% of all school leavers. As per last year there is a much higher proportion of looked after children going on to Further Education (47% looked after, up 4% from last year, compared with 23% all pupils, down 1% from previous year). 

Outcome by Care Setting
There are marked differences in attainment relative to which care setting a young person finds themselves. Those in kinship or foster care have the highest numbers achieving SQF level 5 or better (53% and 65% for foster carers), whereas those looked after at home or in residential care do less well (15% and 25% respectively).

It appears as though some improvements have been made and we need to consider the impact of COVID on the previous year's figures, but there's clearly a long way to go. 

Many care experienced children and young people face additional personal and financial barriers which can impact on these figures, or mean that they go on to study or train at a different time in their life compared to the total population of pupils in Scotland. We know that the Care Experienced Bursaries have played a huge role in allowing looked after children to attend further and higher education so please do continue to support care leavers to 'tick the box' to ensure they get the support they are entitled to. But we also have to ensure that those who decide not to continue in education are supported which is why we argue for a Guaranteed Income for Care Leavers to ensure all care leavers have the financial security to strive rather than just survive.

What is clear is that there is much still to be done to ensure that care leavers educational outcomes are indistinguishable from their peers. More information on how Staf supports this agenda can be found here

Real full report