Publication - Strategy/plan

Education: improvement framework and plan - 2021

Sets out the vision and priorities for Scottish education that have been agreed across the system, and the national improvement activity that needs to be undertaken to help deliver those key priorities.

86 page PDF

2.3 MB

86 page PDF

2.3 MB

Education: improvement framework and plan - 2021
Our vision for education in Scotland

86 page PDF

2.3 MB

Our vision for education in Scotland 

  • Excellence through raising attainment: ensuring that every child achieves the highest standards in literacy and numeracy, as well as the knowledge and skills necessary to shape their future  as successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens, and effective contributors; 
  • Achieving equity: ensuring every child has the same opportunity to succeed, with a particular focus on closing the poverty related attainment gap. 

We need Scottish education to deliver both excellence in terms of ensuring children and young people acquire a broad range of skills and capacities at the highest levels, whilst also delivering equity so that every child and young person should thrive and have the best opportunity to succeed, regardless of their social circumstances or additional needs. 

In order to achieve this, we are working with our partners to develop an empowered and collaborative system, where everyone's contribution is heard and valued and improving children and young people's outcomes is at the heart of everything we do.

Key priorities of the National Improvement Framework 

  • Improvement in attainment, particularly in literacy and numeracy 
  • Closing the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged children and young people
  • Improvement in children and young people's health and wellbeing 
  • Improvement in employability skills and sustained, positive school-leaver destinations for all young people 
Relationship between the NIF and the other strategic frameworks in Scottish education
Graphic representing the Relationship between the NIF and the other strategic frameworks in Scottish educations

The response of the Scottish education system to COVID-19

The Scottish education system has responded collectively to mitigate the worst impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and young people across Scotland. The key principles of that response can be characterised as follows:

  • Partnership and collaboration – as exemplified by the quick, local response to setting up childcare hubs, and the ongoing work of the COVID-19 Education Recovery Group (CERG.)
  • Data and evidence led – including drawing on the multi-disciplinary advice of the Scientific Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children's Issues
  • Agility and flexibility – being quick to respond to rapidly-changing circumstances and evolving evidence
  • A priority on equity – including via the initial childcare hubs, investment in digital devices, and ongoing provision of free school meals

At the start of 2020, we were building an empowered and collaborative education system, where decisions about children and young people's education were made as close to them as possible.  This need for empowerment had been a common theme running through the advice and recommendations from the ICEA over the last 4 years, as was the need to strengthen collaboration at all levels of the system.

However on 20 March, as a result of COVID-19, we made the tough decision to close Scotland's schools and find new and innovative ways to continue the business of learning and teaching.  At that point, the immediate priority became the need to ensure support was provided quickly to the most vulnerable children and families, many of whom relied on schools to provide a safe, nurturing, and supportive environment.  

What became clear was that the work that had already taken place to strengthen leadership, and build collaboration throughout Scottish education, had laid a foundation for co-operation across Scotland.  The education community demonstrated its determination to reduce the harms of school closure as much as possible. Food parcels and essential learning resources, including electronic devices and stationery, were delivered to those who needed them most.  Staff worked tirelessly to protect the interests of our children and young people, and to ensure ongoing provision of free school meals.

Local authority teams worked quickly to establish childcare hubs for vulnerable children, and those of key workers, to allow their parents or carers to participate in the national response to COVID-19.  These were run by dedicated school staff, and many community partners, who volunteered to support the hubs, which continued to run throughout the summer term and the school holidays.  

COVID-19 Education Recovery Group

The Scottish Government established the COVID-19 Education Recovery Group (CERG) to bring together key stakeholders and decision makers from across the Scottish education system, to enable effective collaboration and work across organisational and structural boundaries to support the response and recovery efforts.  Working with CERG, the Scottish Government produced and published a strategic framework for the reopening of schools, which was based on the consensus view at the time that physical distancing in schools was going to be a necessity for some considerable time to come.  One member of the ICEA described the strategic framework as 'the best scenario building paper on school re-opening he had seen anywhere in the world'.[1]

Subsequently, there was a sustained downward trend in COVID-19 infections and deaths in Scotland, and it became possible to plan for pupils to return to school full time in August.  The return to full time schooling was considered to be the best possible outcome given the impact that school closure had on children and young people across Scotland, particularly those from a disadvantaged background.  For example, we knew from the Lockdown Lowdown, a survey carried out by the Scottish Youth Parliament and Young Scot, that over two-fifths of young people were concerned about school closures, and almost the same number were concerned about their mental wellbeing. 

Although Scotland's schools returned full time in August, this earlier work to develop remote or blended learning models remains an essential contingency.  We know that there may be circumstances in which, based on clear evidence and public health considerations, or other relevant factors (e.g. minimum staffing requirements) specific schools require either to close, or to implement remote learning, for a defined period of time.

Recovery and continuity

In recognition of the need for more granular scientific advice on education and children's issues, the Scottish Government established a sub-group of the main COVID-19 Advisory Group.  The Scientific Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children's Issues has produced a suite of advice which informed the development of guidance to support a safe return to school in August.  The guidance has been updated on a regular basis to support the continuing safe implementation of a full-time return to school, and to reflect the new levels approach within Coronavirus (COVID-19): Scotland's Strategic Framework . It takes full account of the evolving COVID-19 situation in Scotland, the experience of reopening schools to date, the advice received from scientific and public health experts, and the advice of CERG and other key stakeholders including children and young people.

We are still in the midst of a pandemic and, even while the schools are open, some learners will have experienced interrupted learning for a range of reasons.  As we continue through the academic year, Scotland's schools, teachers, and other educators, will face many new challenges, and it is vital to ensure that everyone in the education system has the support necessary to meet the wide and varied needs of all learners.

The Scottish Government remains committed to facilitating greater school-based decision making, and will engage with this again, once the education system in Scotland agrees collectively that it has sufficient capacity to do so.  A key part of this will be reflecting on what has been learned during the pandemic, and considering how key issues including budgets, improvement, curriculum choice, and staffing decisions can be managed in an empowered and resilient system going forward.

Effective leadership has been, and will continue to be, fundamental to recovery. This has also been emphasised by the ICEA, which highlighted that school leaders are in the front line of COVID-19 on a daily basis.  That is why a clear recovery support system is required for teachers and school leaders.  

It is also important that education recovery is not seem as simply aiming to return Scottish education to the way it was before the pandemic hit.  Scotland's response to the pandemic has highlighted the importance of creating a more flexible and resilient system, which can operate just as well in a crisis as it does under more normal circumstances.  

The need to focus on education recovery support, and build a more resilient system, is reflected throughout the improvement activities set out in this NIF and Improvement Plan.  

COVID-19 Case Study – Peebles High School

Relationship between the NIF and the other strategic frameworks in Scottish education
Photograph showing a tablet which played a significant part in supporting Peebles High School students’ learning during lockdown

Scottish Borders Council has introduced the Inspire Learning Programme with tablets, to raise attainment and support equity and inclusion for all pupils. At Peebles High School, the programme came into its own during lockdown, when it played a significant part in supporting students' learning.  On the tablet, teachers had access to a suite of applications, including Glow 365 apps, which enabled them to set up "live lessons" for students, as well as to support students' learning at their own pace.  The ability to record teacher voice notes to give feedback was both time efficient, and added a personal touch which is often missing in online teaching.  Students prefer to have verbal feedback from their own teachers.

Much of the practice that had sustained us in lockdown proved to be just as valuable on our welcome return to face to face teaching in August. Many students enjoy the personalisation and choice afforded by ready access to core digital resources. Digital formative assessment activities have been effective and help maintain engagement during triple periods, which have been introduced to reduce movement around the school in the senior phase. Mixed delivery is another new format we have been able to incorporate into our teaching repertoire. Students who are self-isolating can join a subject Team, including Teams meetings and participate in the classroom learning experience to stay on track with their learning. 

COVID-19 Case Study - Glasgow Recovery Curriculum

The Glasgow Recovery Curriculum provided a framework within which schools could plan the curriculum, in their context, for children returning after lockdown. It linked national guidance to key issues and priorities in the Glasgow Improvement Challenge, and to issues from the impact of lockdown. It emphasised every school should identify a rationale for their Recovery Curriculum linked to the refreshed Curriculum for Excellence narrative.

The guidance highlighted the need for an initial focus on health and wellbeing to support children with understanding their experience of lockdown. The Glasgow Improvement Challenge is about improving levels of literacy and numeracy so this was a priority in the Recovery Curriculum, but feedback from our parents indicated that they did not want a narrow curriculum for their children on their return to school, so the guidance emphasised schools should plan in all curricular areas.

The issues were the need to identify lost learning through well planned learning, not through standardised tests; the importance of maximising the opportunities provided by learning outside and exploring interdisciplinary learning, especially in secondary schools. The Glasgow Improvement Challenge developed 3 modules: Holistic Assessment, Bridging the Gap and Approaches to Differentiation, to support teachers in delivering their planned curriculum and extended the literacy, numeracy and STEM frameworks with outdoor learning activities.

The impact of the Recovery Curriculum was that all schools effectively identified children's levels of well-being. Teachers were highly effective in identifying any learning loss, and planning experiences to support recovery; children quickly made progress in literacy and numeracy and were given exciting outdoor learning experiences in all areas of the curriculum. In all schools, Glasgow children and young people made a positive return to school.

COVID-19 Case Study – Renfrewshire's local education recovery plan

Relationship between the NIF and the other strategic frameworks in Scottish education
A graphic portraying the three elements of Renfrewshire’s local education recovery plan - Respond, Recover and Renew

Build Back Better

The main objective of our recovery plan was to support the safety, wellbeing, resilience and successful transition back into establishments for all children and young people.

The plan was underpinned by an evidence based conceptual framework, Build Back Better.  It took cognisance of national guidance as well as enabling establishments and services to devise their own individual recovery plans, based on the specific circumstances they operate within.  

In line with the conceptual framework, phased strategic outcomes were developed under five operational domains of action by a recovery planning group.  Operational plans with clear timescales were subsequently developed to take forward the outcomes.    

A cross-service governance board provided strategic leadership and expertise ensuring the achievement of the strategic outcomes and vision.  The board included representatives from a range of services in the local authority.   This collaborative approach was a strength of the strategy. 

As part of our improvement journey, an evaluation framework was built into the plan to help us understand the overall impact, challenges and lessons learned.  

The conceptual framework provided a clear recovery planning tool which was practical and flexible, allowing efforts to be coordinated across the system.  

All establishments re-opened with supportive risk assessments in place.  With a strong focus on the overall health and wellbeing of all, children, young people and staff transitioned back safely to their establishments.