Education recovery in 2020/21
Since the onset of COVID-19, the Scottish Government has placed protecting the interests of children and young people at the heart of our response. Schools remaining safe, open and welcoming – with a focus on health, wellbeing and intensified support for reducing inequity and enabling the highest quality of learning and teaching – has been a critical component of that priority. We know lockdown has been particularly difficult for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the forthcoming Equity Audit will provide more detail on those issues.
Education remains, by far, the most effective means we have to improve the life chances of all of our young people. That has not changed. If anything, the disproportionate impact that closing our schools had on the most disadvantaged in our society has demonstrated even more clearly the vital role that they play. There are many excellent teachers, schools, and colleges in Scotland providing a high quality education to our children and young people. In these uncertain times, it is more important than ever that we continue to recognise the great work being done in many of Scotland's schools, and the achievements of our children and young people. Those who work with schools, such as local authorities, national agencies and RICs, must do everything possible to support schools with the education recovery effort and to intensify and deepen progress with our pursuit of achieving excellence and equity.
Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs)
Prior to the disruption caused by COVID-19, there was gathering momentum around collaboration within and across the 6 RICs, building upon the progress made in previous years. This was supported by the regional teams within Education Scotland, with more frequent information-sharing, and data driven discussions around improvement.
The latest RIC regional improvement plans take account of the ongoing challenges resulting from COVID-19 and, as a result, have a strong focus on educational recovery and renewal, as well as support for the developing national e-learning offer (set out in more detail below).
Education Scotland has had, and will continue to have, a substantial national advisory role in relation to education recovery.
To support education recovery, Education Scotland has reviewed its corporate plan with a clear aim to support "recovery, quality, and improvement in Scottish education and thereby securing the delivery of better learning experiences, and excellence and equity, for Scottish learners." All of Education Scotland's work in the 2020/21 school year will address one of four priorities:
- System leadership
- Education support and improvement
- Professional learning
The health and wellbeing of school staff is key to addressing all of those priorities in this recovery year. Education Scotland will work with key partners to pilot and evaluate a package of support focused on educator wellbeing which contains three main elements:
a. Mental health support for the schools workforce with access to reflective supervision.
b. Coaching and mentoring education system offer.
c. Enhanced support for post-probation teachers.
a. Reflective supervision for educators will help support the mental wellbeing of staff who provide regular, close support to children, young people and families who themselves have experienced, or are experiencing their own significant distress and/or trauma.
b. Education Scotland has also put in place a 1-2-1 coaching offer for Headteachers which will be widened out to other educators from January 2021 as well as a programme to support post-probation teachers. The coaching and mentoring offer provides professional learning to increase the coaching and mentoring capacity within the education system to ensure that there is long term sustainability in developing an established coaching culture, and offers immediate access to coaching and mentoring for target groups to provide targeted and intensive support.
c. 'Stepping Stones: Support for teachers in their early career', is the package of enhanced support for post-probation teachers and represents accelerated and focused support for school staff which builds on pre-existing work which had been progressing in partnership with stakeholders prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. This package will include a space on the Education Scotland Professional Learning resource which will provide access to a series of workshops, online national 'Blethers', Coaching and Mentoring Matters resources and specific PLAs. This package of support is designed to provide immediate support to the education system.
In addition to supporting the wellbeing of teachers, Education Scotland continues to provide mental health and wellbeing learning and teaching resources for teachers to meet the needs of all children and young people through the recovery period. Many of these have been collated here: https://education.gov.scot/media/ajhbcvmx/positive-mental-wellbeing-resources.pdf.
Professional learning will largely be delivered online, which has proven to be very successful, however Education Scotland is ready to re-introduce some face-to-face learning when it is safe to do so. The national offer will be flexible and responsive to the kinds of support that individual practitioners need as we progress through the recovery year. Having a national focus for support to the system allows for faster dissemination of good practice and enables practitioners from across Scotland to benefit from the best of practice.
Education Scotland will continue to work in partnership with local authorities and RICs to ensure the support offered at all levels of the system is meeting the needs of the profession. Education Scotland will continue to provide updates of key national messages relating to learning, teaching and assessment and moderation through appropriate forums.
To support headteachers during lockdown, more opportunities to engage online were offered, including a range of 'Headspace' sessions designed to offer a space for headteachers to share issues and challenges and benefit from the experience of others. Eight online sessions for headteachers were offered as part the Headspace 2019/20 programme of events. Themes included early learning and primary transitions, secondary transitions, leading remote learning, leadership in challenging times, health and wellbeing for headteachers, and recovery planning for schools, including a Blether with colleagues in public health. Over 200 headteachers joined these Headspace sessions and 'Big Blether' events.
National e-learning offer
Although schools are open, we are continuing to develop support for remote learning, including through Glow (the national online learning environment which is freely available to all learners and teachers in Scotland) Scotland Learns and the National e-learning Offer. The offer, which has been developed in partnership between the Scottish Government, Education Scotland, e-Sgoil, the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES), and the Regional Improvement Collaboratives, complements the online learning being provided by schools, local authorities and RICs across Scotland and covers the key themes of "live" (i.e. provision of live, synchronised learning and teaching), "recorded" (provision of recorded lesson content) and "supported" (online learning and teaching resources), as well as associated professional development support for practitioners.
- Live: E-Sgoil, originally created to offer greater learning opportunities for pupils in the Western Isles, provides online learning resources and live learning and teaching across primary and secondary levels. Since September 2020, e-Sgoil has had in place programmes across BGE and senior phase to support schools' contingency plans, and e-Sgoil has responded to all requests made by schools to support young people learning at home whilst self-isolating. Almost 3000 young people from 273 secondary schools across all local authorities have made over 7000 registrations to access senior phase study support webinars. E-Sgoil will continue to develop its offer during 2021, and will continue as a key aspect within the national offer.
- Recorded: Work is being undertaken by the West Partnership to provide a package of recorded lessons for schools to access across Scotland. 195 recorded lessons are now available for use in the senior phase and a further 53 in BGE. The Tayside Regional Improvement Collaborative and South East Improvement Collaborative are developing further recorded content. Further content will be added in relation to physical education, modern studies, chemistry, interdisciplinary learning, English and other subject areas, and we will continue to work with all RICs to develop arrangements within their own regions and across Scotland.
- Supported: Education Scotland has been working with several hundred practitioners from local authorities across Scotland to prepare, quality assure and share supported learning and digital materials. Around 14,000 sets of materials across 14 subjects are currently available. Further work will be taken forward to increase the offer by encouraging contributions from across the education community. This will include content that has been filmed in partnership with SSERC, BBC Bitesize, Edinburgh Napier University and other partners as well as additional subject content on Physical Education, English, Modern Studies and Modern Languages.
- Support for professional learning is developing more skilled and confident teachers. Our teachers and schools retain the leadership role in order to determine the precise arrangements for remote learning for their learners. DigiLearn provides support on how to use digital tools and pedagogical approaches to deliver online learning, including engaging learners with active digital learning, live mixed delivery between school and home, and creating videos for learners. Since March 2020, Digilearn has received around 80,000 visits and over 179,000 page views, with nearly 3,000 hours of YouTube resources viewed. In addition, over 7,000 practitioners have benefited from 127 webinars on digital learning and teaching. Further support will continue to reflect the professional learning priorities of practitioners
The National e-learning offer will continue across all four aspects. Detailed improvement activity is set out under each driver of improvement.
The experience of lockdown also demonstrated that access to technology is essential to securing excellence and equity in education in Scotland. The Scottish Government is investing £25 million to support digital inclusion amongst disadvantaged children and young people. Funding allocations for digital devices and connectivity solutions have been made to all 32 local authorities for them to secure connection packages and laptops/devices to meet local needs. At end-November 2020, almost 50,000 devices and over 9,000 connectivity solutions had been distributed to learners across Scotland. In total, the programme is expected to benefit up to 70,000 disadvantaged children and young people.
National Improvement Hub
A number of schools continue to drive forward good practice during this recovery period. Education Scotland has collected examples of effective practice and published them on the National Improvement Hub to celebrate the work of staff in ensuring children and young people enjoy high-quality learning experiences. These include outdoor learning before and into the recovery phase at Gartocharn primary school in West Dunbartonshire, Grange primary school in Angus ensuring that no child misses out, and approaches to moderation leading to high quality learning, teaching, and assessment at Townhill primary school in Fife.
The Hub also highlights a partnership project which was developed in Royston, Glasgow, using a family learning approach to safe play during COVID-19. The project helps parents to develop the skills and confidence to support their child with their learning, health and wellbeing and any additional identified needs.
SQA support for assessment in 2020/21
Professor Priestley's Review of the National Qualifications 2020 experience and the report's recommendations, helped inform the approach to assessment and certification set out by the Deputy First Minister to Parliament on 7 October. The first recommendation from the review, was the suspension of the 2021 National 5 exam diet. In view of that recommendation, and having consulted widely, including through the CERG and with learners, teachers and parents, the Deputy First Minister decided to cancel National 5 examinations in 2021. Furthermore, unavoidable COVID-19 related disruption to learning means that it is impossible to guarantee that all learners will be in a position to have the best chance of performing to their true potential in exams in 2021. As a result the Deputy First Minister announced to Parliament on 8 December that Higher and Advanced Higher exams would not go ahead in 2021.
The measures being put in place for 2020-21 are: that National 5, Highers and Advanced Highers will be awarded based on an alternative assessment model, rather than the usual exam. An individual pupils' work and teachers will determine grades, not an exam; with the emphasis being on quality not quantity of evidence.
SQA is engaging widely and has set up a National Qualifications 2021 Group with representation from key stakeholders to develop and disseminate advice for National 5 courses and this model will form the basis of the arrangements for Higher and Advanced Higher. The group will meet weekly to drive and monitor progress.
It is supported by a working group (also chaired by SQA with membership reflecting its strategic counterpart) which has developed subject-specific guidance for National 5 courses, has co-created advice on the alternative certification approach for National 5, and will do so for Higher and Advanced Higher courses.
More widely, SQA has taken note of the findings of the Professor Priestley review, as well as its own lessons learned from awarding in 2020, and will be reflecting on these as it delivers the arrangements for 2021. SQA is also reviewing its appeals process to ensure it aligns with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). This will include consulting with relevant stakeholders, including young people.
Mental health and wellbeing
Children and young people's mental health and wellbeing was a key focus within plans and approaches to educational recovery.
Our guidance on the delivery of a recovery curriculum and continuity in learning, published in June, both highlighted the importance of recognising the impact of COVID-19 and school closure on children and young people's mental health and wellbeing.
As part of our plans for the return to school, we published a new document which brings together the resources which are available to school staff to support children and young people's mental health and wellbeing. The resource highlights materials to support learning and sources of support for school staff, on particular matters. This publication delivered the first element of the three part Programme for Government commitments, further details of which are provided below.
The Scottish Government's commitment to supporting children and young people's mental health and wellbeing was already in place, including increased support for pupils, delivered through schools. Education authorities responded positively to the increased concerns for children and young people's mental health and wellbeing and sought to deliver earlier than anticipated, wherever possible, the commitment to access to counselling support through schools. There was significant progress in the delivery of this commitment, and there is now in place access to counselling support through schools across Scotland.
A Mental Health In Schools working group has been established to support the Scottish Government's ongoing commitment to supporting positive mental health in children and young people in school. A contractor has been appointed by the Scottish Government to develop an online, open access Professional Learning Resource in Mental Health & Wellbeing for all school staff across Primary and Secondary education in Scotland.
As part of the development of the free training resource for all school staff, the project team will consult with school staff, children and young people and families on what should be included to assist school staff to best support positive mental health in school. The contractor will report on a regular basis to the Scottish Government and the Mental Health in Schools Working Group. To complement the professional learning resource and the publication of resources, the Group are also developing a Framework for a Whole School Approach to support children and young people's positive mental health and wellbeing. The framework will provide school leaders and practitioners with guidance on measures that can be introduced across the full aspect of a school day to support mental wellbeing, both in children and young people and in the school environment.
It is expected that this training and whole school approach framework will be available by Spring 2021 and will deliver the final element of this Programme for Government commitment
Improving the voice of young people
Children and young people's experiences and opinions of the impact of COVID-19 are a vital aspect of the recovery process. To make sure that young people's voices can be heard, Young Scot is in the process of establishing an Education Recovery Youth Panel, as a successor to the successful Scottish Learner Panel project. It will consist of around 25 learners from across Scotland, aged between 9 and 18 years old. The panel will meet on a monthly basis and will have regular opportunities to meet and provide feedback to the Deputy First Minister. Recommendations from the panel, will feed into CERG, which already includes a member from the Scottish Youth Parliament. Together with the learner engagement strategy being developed by the SQA, all of these activities will ensure the rights and needs of young people are at the heart of the next steps in education recovery.