This has been a year like no other. Our response to COVID-19 has demonstrated the collective strengths of our education system, as we worked together to mitigate the worst impacts of the pandemic on our learners.
The positive values and ethos of Scottish education, and especially the shared commitment of equity, has been essential this year. This underpinned the quick action that local authorities took in March to establish the hubs which provided support to the most vulnerable young people and the children of key workers. It was no surprise to me that so many of our dedicated school staff volunteered to work in the hubs to provide that support in the most unsettling of times. And I know how hard teachers worked to support their pupils and deliver remote learning while schools were closed.
The commitment of school leaders to reopen schools to all pupils in August, and to keep them safe, open and welcoming has been remarkable. All school staff have worked tirelessly throughout to continue to provide a high quality and rewarding learning environment and experience. I remain deeply grateful to each and every one of them.
I also want to pay tribute to our children and young people. Their energy and resilience to overcome the challenges of school closures and wider restrictions has been hugely impressive. I believe that Curriculum for Excellence, with its focus on breadth of learning and individual development, has helped Scotland's young people adapt to these changed circumstances this year.
On a related note, Scotland's score in the PISA 'global competency' assessment – where we ranked fourth across all participating nations - demonstrates the progress that Scotland has made in supporting young people to be well-informed and effective global citizens, and reflects the values set out in CfE.
Education recovery will be key in the year ahead, with a continued focus on health and wellbeing, as well as intensified support for reducing inequity and enabling the highest quality of learning and teaching.
This year's Improvement Plan, therefore, reflects this recovery agenda and sets out the action we will take over the coming year to redress the impact of 2020 on our young people. It is, as ever, informed by input from the International Council of Education Advisers, who have detailed knowledge and understanding of how others across the world are looking to address these challenges and what is working well. The outputs from our forthcoming Equity Audit will further improve our understanding of the targeted and specific action that is needed to offset the impact on those who may have been most affected by the pandemic.
I have no doubt that 2021 will also bring challenges, but I am confident that our young people and our schools will continue to rise to those challenges and that it will be another successful year for Scottish education.
John Swinney MSP
Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills