Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) Levels 2020-21

Results of the achievement of curriculum for excellence (CFE) levels 2020 to 2021.

This document is part of a collection

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.1 Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) Levels Data

This publication provides information on the proportion of school pupils who have achieved the expected Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) Levels in literacy and numeracy relevant to their stage.

Achievement of CfE level data is based on teachers' professional judgements of individual pupil performance (see Chapter 8.1.1 for more information). This report refers to the school year 2020/21; the data reflects what pupils have achieved by the end of the school year – i.e. June 2021.

Figures are based on pupils in publicly funded mainstream schools, in the 32 local authorities and one grant aided school. Data is collected for pupils in the stages[1] that follow. Data for S3 pupils was not collected in 2020/21; for more information see Chapter 1.3.

Figure showing that data is collected for pupils in P1 (5 to 6 years old), P4 (8 to 9 years old) and P7 (11 to 12 years old)

From these, a combined primary figure (P1, P4 and P7) has also been calculated.

The national and local authority data within this report covers pupils within mainstream schools, including those in special units integrated within mainstream schools.

Usually this publication would present data for pupils attending standalone special schools or units in a separate chapter. However, for 2020/21 this data was not collected; for more information see Chapter 1.3.

A small number of pupils (less than one percent) for whom the teacher has been unable to make a professional judgement are not included.

(English and Gàidhlig)

(English and Gàidhlig)

Listening and Talking
(English and Gàidhlig)


Data is collected on pupil performance in four areas, known as organisers:

The achievement of 'literacy' is also included in the publication (English and Gàidhlig). A pupil is reported to have achieved the expected level in Literacy if they have achieved the expected level in all three of the literacy organisers: reading, writing, and listening and talking. For more information on how this has been calculated, see Chapter

This publication focuses on the organisers based in the English language and Numeracy. For pupils based in Gaelic medium schools/classes, the English language organisers are collected at relevant stages and are included in the national and local authority data. Information on achievement of CfE levels in Gàidhlig can be found in Chapter 5. For more information about Gaelic medium education, see Chapter

1.2 Curriculum for Excellence Levels

Curriculum for Excellence is designed to provide a coherent, more flexible and enriched curriculum for children and young people aged from 3 to 18. The curriculum includes the totality of experiences, which are planned for children and young people through their education, wherever they are being educated.

Curriculum for Excellence defines five levels of learning. The first four levels in the Broad General Education phase are described in the Experiences and Outcomes, with progression to qualifications described under a fifth level, the Senior Phase.

The path most children and young people are expected to follow through the levels reflects the stages of maturation of children and young people and the changing ways in which they engage with learning as they develop.

Some children and young people will start learning at these levels earlier and others later, depending upon individual needs and aptitudes. The framework is, however, designed to be flexible in order to permit careful planning for those with additional support needs, including those who, for example, have a learning difficulty or those who are particularly high attaining.

The diagram below shows the five curriculum levels[2]:

Diagram: Curriculum Levels 
Diagram showing the five curriculum levels : Early Level (age 3 to P1), First Level (P2 to P4), Second Level (P5 to P7), Third/Fourth Level (S1 to S3) and Senior Phase (S4 to S6).

The publication focusses on the Broad General Education phase which covers children from pre-school through to the end of S3. However, S3 pupil data was not collected for the 2020/21 publication; for more information see Chapter 1.3.

The Senior Phase is for young people in S4 to S6 and is designed to build on the experiences and outcomes of the Broad General Education phase, and to allow young people to take qualifications and courses that suit their ability and interests. Scottish Government statistics on the attainment of young people in senior phase are based on point of leaving; these statistics can be found on School education statistics.

1.2.1 Pupils with complex needs

The majority of school pupils in Scotland follow CfE; for a very small percentage of pupils it is unlikely that they will progress through the CfE levels during their time in education. This is due to pupils having long-term significant and complex additional support needs.

In some local authorities, pupils with complex needs are integrated into their mainstream schools; data on the performance of these pupils has been included throughout this publication.

However, in other local authorities, school pupils with complex needs may attend a special school or standalone special unit. Usually in this publication information on the performance of these pupils would be presented separately reflecting the fact that it is not necessarily appropriate to assign them to a specific stage. This year however, data was not collected for pupils in standalone special schools; for more information see Chapter 1.3.

The treatment of pupils with complex needs across different local authorities should be kept in mind when making comparisons between local authorities, or between individual schools.

Young people with long-term significant and complex additional support needs are recorded within the data as 'pupil following individual milestones'. Where these pupils are learning within a mainstream school or special unit integrated within a mainstream school they will be included in the national and local authority analysis and counted as not having achieved a CfE Level.

1.2.2 Pupils for whom the teacher was unable to make a judgement

Children for whom the teacher has been unable to make a professional judgement are not included; for example, if a pupil has recently moved to the school, and the teacher feels there has not been sufficient time to form a professional judgement of a pupil's performance. This affects less than one per cent of pupils within the Achievement of CfE Levels data. These pupils are not included in the calculations of the proportions of pupils achieving the expected CfE Levels.

1.3 Impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on these statistics

1.3.1 Impact on data collection for 2019/20 and 2020/21

The Scottish Government did not collect Achievement of CfE Levels data for any pupils in 2019/20. Schools were closed in Scotland between March 2020 and the end of the academic year as a result of the pandemic meaning that they were closed on the planned ACEL census date of 8th June 2020. It was concluded that it would not be possible to collect consistent data that was fit for purpose and that any attempt to do so would add considerably to other pressures on school and education authority staff. The decision was therefore taken to suspend the data collection.

For 2020/21 (this publication) we have collected data for Primary school (P1, P4 and P7) pupils only. Secondary school and special school data was not collected due to other pressures on these schools including implementation of the SQA National Qualifications Alternative Certification Model which was used to award National 5s, Highers and Advanced Highers in 2021.

The current intention is to collect all data– for Primary, Secondary and Special school pupils – in 2021/22, although this will be kept under review.

1.3.2 Impact on children's learning

The closure of schools in March 2020 and January 2021 is likely to have had a negative effect on some pupils' progress and attainment with socio-economically deprived children amongst those who may have been most negatively affected[3]. It is therefore likely to have had an impact on the CfE levels some children have achieved. This will be reflected in the 2020/21 figures in this report and should be kept in mind when interpreting these and, in particular, when comparing with figures for 2018/19 and before.

1.3.3 Impact on data quality

As part of the quality assurance process, feedback was sought from local authority data suppliers on the process of compiling the data and on factors which may affect data quality. Feedback was received from 27 out of 32 local authorities. The majority of data providers provided substantive feedback covering the assessment process followed by schools, their own quality assurance of the data and any concerns over the quality of the data.

In general most local authorities indicated that they were confident in the data quality with a number citing further improvements planned for future data collections. A small number of authorities noted that they still had concerns about the consistency of judgements across schools within the authority and, therefore, across the country as a whole.

Many authorities noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had had an impact on the data submitted this year. Whilst most local authorities said that they were confident that the data provided was an accurate reflection of the assessment that had been possible a number reported that the pandemic meant teachers had reduced opportunities to gather evidence on which to make judgements. This was due, for example, to school closures and self-isolation of pupils and teachers.

The pandemic has also impacted on the nature and quantity of the moderation exercises (which help develop a shared understanding of standards and expectations) which some schools and local authorities have been able to conduct. In particular local authorities mentioned that face-to-face moderation could not take place and that moderation exercises were often limited to in school rather than between schools. This may have impacted on the consistency of some of the teacher judgement data this year.



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