Pupil attainment: closing the gap

Scottish Attainment Challenge 2022/2023 – 2025/2026

The mission of the Scottish Attainment Challenge (SAC) is to use education to improve outcomes for children and young people impacted by poverty, with a focus on tackling the poverty-related attainment gap. With support of £1 billion over the course of this parliamentary term (2021/2022 – 2025/2026) – increased from £750 million during the last parliament – the SAC programme, from 2022/2023, will include:

  • an annual investment of up to £200 million to support children and young people impacted by poverty
  • continued empowerment of headteachers through Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) as the primary model for distributing funding to the education system, with funding of approximately £130 million annually to be allocated to 97% of schools
  • continued investment to support Care Experienced Children and Young People (CECYP), contributing to keeping the Promise
  • continued support of Strategic Equity Funding (SEF) of over £43 million, which will be distributed annually to every local authority based on Children in Low Income Families Data
  • investment in national programmes to enhance supports across the system, supporting a range of national initiatives such as youth work and mentoring
  • a broader recognition of children and young people’s achievements and attainment through the policies mission to use education to improve outcomes for children and young people impacted by poverty

The Scottish Attainment Challenge has been developed in partnership with and agreed by COSLA. It builds on a range of evidence, including that contained in the following reports:

The Scottish Attainment Challenge  continues to provide support for children and young people impacted by poverty. Funding is distributed to local authorities through SEF, PEF, CECYP funding and a number of national programmes.  

Funding allocations for PEF and SEF have been confirmed on a multi-year basis until 2025/2026, giving local authorities and schools certainty to support long term planning. These allocations can be found at the links below.

Framework for Recovery and Accelerating Progress

We published the Scottish Attainment Challenge framework to:

  • reinforce our collective commitment to equity in education
  • reiterate the respective roles and responsibilities for improvement across the education system
  • highlight the SAC logic model as a key resource to help inform approaches to accelerating progress
  • encourage partnership working and collaboration at all levels of the education system and with local and third sector partners
  • set high expectations for progress in closing the poverty related attainment gap
  • require local authorities to set stretch aims for progress in closing the poverty related attainment gap by 2025/26

We published the first set of stretch aims set by local authorities for 2022/23 in December 2022. In December 2023, a summary of stretch aims set by local authorities for 2023/24 to 2025/26 were published.

Related information:

Strategic Equity Funding (SEF)

Strategic Equity Funding is provided through the £1 billion Attainment Scotland Fund to support education recovery and tackle the poverty related attainment gap.  All 32 local authorities receive funding through SEF and have a clear role to play and share £43 million annually, to invest in approaches to achieving the mission of the Scottish Attainment Challenge.

SEF allocations have been confirmed from 2022/2023 to 2025/2026, providing clarity to support strategic planning over that period. The  Strategic Equity Fund national operational guidance  has been designed to support local authorities in planning for the use of this funding.

Related information:

Pupil Equity Funding (PEF)

PEF is allocated directly to schools and targeted at closing the poverty related attainment gap. 

Every council area is benefitting from PEF and 97% of schools in Scotland have been allocated funding for pupils in P1-S3 known to be eligible for free school meals.

This funding is to be spent at the discretion of the head-teacher working in partnership with each other and their local authority, with Pupil Equity Funding: national operational guidance designed to help support those plans. Schools will now have their plans in place for using their funding and will be implementing those plans.

Related information:

Care Experienced Children and Young People funding

The Care Experienced Children and Young People Fund is provided to local authorities to enable them to target initiatives, activities, and resources that will improve the educational outcomes of this group of young people. 

This funding is distributed to local authorities, with spending directed by Chief Social Work and Education Officers, in conjunction with key planning partners to target this funding. The funding is intended to be inclusive, with care experienced children and young people from birth to the age of 26, being eligible for the fund.

Each local authority receives £1,225 per looked after child aged 5 to15 as reported in the Children's Social Work Statistics Scotland publication. 

Care Experienced Children and Young People Fund: national operational guidance 2023 to 2024 is available to support local authorities in planning for the use of this funding.

Related information:

Assessment and evaluation of attainment

We will evaluate the effectiveness of the interventions made by schools via the National Improvement Framework: drivers of improvement. This details all the evidence we will gather to monitor progress.

School education statistics also provide comprehensive data on performance including pupil and teacher information, and attainment and qualification results.

Scottish national standardised assessment

Children in P1, P4, P7 and S3 will complete online standardised assessments in literacy and numeracy, aligned to the Curriculum for Excellence. The assessments help to identify children's progress, providing information to support teachers' professional judgement.

Find out more: National Standardised Assessments for Scotland

Attainment Scotland Fund evaluation

We have been evaluating the Attainment Scotland Fund (ASF) since the inception of the Scottish Attainment Challenge. Aiming to provide learning about the overall implementation of the ASF and to assess progress towards its long-term outcomes.  

With the refresh of the Scottish Attainment Challenge in March 2022, the following key documents were developed to support the evaluation:

  • the Scottish Attainment Challenge Logic Model - developed through a collaborative process with a range of stakeholders 
  • revised Evaluation Strategy for the Attainment Scotland Fund 2022 – 2026 to ensure the evaluation continues to assess progress towards closing the poverty-related attainment gap. The strategy has been developed within the context of the new Scottish Attainment Challenge Mission and offers insights into the operation of the refreshed programme.

We will publish more evaluation outputs and list them here.

Evaluation outputs

2023 to 2024

The second analytical plan, covering 2023-24, is a companion document to the ASF Evaluation Strategy, and details evaluation priorities for the 2023-24 school year alongside a detailed analytical plan. This includes a summary of the Impact Evaluation Feasibility Study undertaken in Year 1, which provided an in-depth consideration of the most promising potential approaches to assessing impact across Years 2 – 5. In year two, we will progress the development and initial implementation of a plan for impact assessment, in line with impact feasibility study recommendations.


Thematic Reports  

The refreshed ASF Evaluation Strategy included a new thematic strand of evaluation, designed to respond to emerging system priorities and to provide learning and develop the evidence base on ‘what works and what could be improved, for whom, and in what circumstances’ at the thematic level. The consideration of a range of thematic areas is an integral part of the new Evaluation Strategy, allowing an in-depth focus on collaboratively agreed key areas of enquiry.

There are three individual thematic reports, one for each of the areas of thematic focus and a summary report which brings together an overview ‘stock-take’ on progress:

2022 to 2023

The first analytical plan for 2022-23, the first year of the refreshed Scottish Attainment Challenge.  This is a companion document to the ASF Evaluation Strategy, and details evaluation priorities for the 2022-23 school year alongside a detailed analytical plan.

Attainment Scotland Fund Evaluation: Reporting on National Improvement Framework Attainment and Health and Wellbeing Measures, 2023 

Attainment Scotland Fund - process evaluation - Scottish Attainment Challenge: local authority leads survey report 2022-2023 

History of the Attainment Scotland Fund evaluation

Prior to the Scottish Attainment Challenge refresh, the evaluation reported on an annual, retrospective basis, with an initial report on Year 1 and 2 (2015 to 2017) published in 2017, and annual evaluation reports published from 2018 to 2022. In March 2021, Scottish Government and Education Scotland published the Closing the poverty-related attainment gap: progress report 2016 to 2021 five year impact report. The most recent annual report was published in June 2022.

Regional improvement collaboratives

Regional improvement collaboratives (RICs) are an initiative which brings local authorities together to secure excellence and equity in education. RICs aim to:

  • support teachers through dedicated teams of professionals, drawing on staff from Education Scotland, local authorities and others
  • provide focus through the delivery of an annual regional plan and work programme aligned to the National Improvement Framework
  • deliver collaborative working, including sharing best practice
  • each of the 6 RICs are led by a regional lead director, who reports to the HM Chief Inspector/Chief Executive of Education Scotland

They will ensure the provision of specialist support and advice across all eight curriculum areas particularly literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing. They will also identify the particular areas for improvement within their region and ensure the interventions are put in place to address them. More information can be found on the Education Scotland website .

Back to top