We have a moral imperative to ensure that all young people in Scotland receive a first class education in their local school. That is why the relentless focus of this Government is to deliver an education system in Scotland which raises attainment for all, closes the attainment gap, and enables all children and young people to fulfil their potential. The National Improvement Framework (NIF) was introduced to help us achieve that vision and, in my regular visits to schools across Scotland, I am encouraged to see that it is now firmly embedded, and being used as a focus for excellence and equity in Scottish education.
Last year, the NIF had a clear emphasis on building a self-improving education system and, one year on, the evidence is showing that we are making progress, and that a culture based around empowerment is starting to take root in our schools. This is helping us to achieve what the International Council of Education Advisers (ICEA) has described as the kind of incremental gains that are necessary in order to deliver the sustained improvement we want. For example the increase in entries and pass rates across National 5, with the total number of passes up 3.4% and the pass rate increasing by 0.7 percentage points, as well as the increase in the percentage of pupils achieving the expected CfE level in literacy and numeracy at most stages.
There is still much to do, but I believe we are on the right track. This was endorsed by the ICEA at its meeting in September 2019. The ICEA advised me that we should now aim for a period of consolidation and stability to ensure the improvement work has time to become fully embedded.
The Scottish Attainment Challenge and Pupil Equity Funding have already empowered schools by allowing them to design solutions and take decisions specific to their school community. That is why this Government has committed to extend funding for both initiatives beyond the end of this Parliamentary term. I have also committed to providing high quality support for school leaders many of whom are now beginning to operate in an increasingly empowered environment. With this in mind I am pleased to note that Education Scotland has expanded the support it provides for headteachers and will now provide a range of professional learning opportunities specifically focused on school empowerment. Every local authority now has a dedicated Attainment Adviser to work directly with them, and their schools, to support them to improve leadership, learning, teaching and assessment, and engagement with families and communities.
The 2020 NIF and Improvement Plan focuses on continuity and consistency and emphasizes how we will continue to work in partnership with teachers, parents, local government and the wider education sector - to ensure that schools are supported to take the key decisions relevant to them. Young people have the right to expect a first class education, so it is important to ensure that we can provide support and assistance to improve performance in individual schools where that is needed. I am confident that this collaborative approach, through which we share a view of empowerment and take collective responsibility for change, will result in improved outcomes for all of Scotland’s children and young people.
John Swinney MSP
Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills