It has been another challenging year in Scottish education as the pandemic has continued to have a big impact on all that happens in our schools and early learning and childcare settings.
Since coming into post in May, I have been struck by the hard work and commitment of our teachers, non-teaching staff and early learning and childcare practitioners. They have faced extreme challenges during the pandemic and I want to thank them for all they have done and continue to do. Getting to grips with teaching in a pandemic, implementing national and local COVID guidance and mitigations and keeping schools and early learning and childcare settings as safe as possible at the same time as continuing to nurture, support and educate children and young people is a massive achievement. The successful implementation of the commitment to offer 1140 funded hours of learning and childcare to every eligible child, and the alternative certification model for national qualifications are also key achievements that all involved should be proud of.
I also want to pay tribute to children and young people themselves – the pandemic has hit them hardest of all, not least through the closure of schools and early learning and childcare settings in January, and their continued energy and resilience is inspirational.
At national level, there have been challenges too. The need to support and guide schools, local authorities, and early learning and childcare providers, responding to the OECD, Audit Scotland and other reports on Scottish education and implementing the national reform programme have all been challenging, but good progress has been made on all of them.
As we move into 2022, this National Improvement Framework and Improvement Plan reaffirms our commitment to achieving excellence and equity for children and young people. We remain committed to this important agenda for the long term, and providing certainty and stability to the education system in so doing. We have however updated the vision, priorities and drivers of improvement. The annual review of the NIF over the last three months showed strong support for these to better articulate the centrality of children and young people, their voice in education and their rights. There was also universal support for renaming the school leadership and school improvement drivers to include early learning and childcare in order to reflect the continuous nature of the Scottish education system from 3-18. We have also broadened the focus of the former “assessment of children’s progress” driver of improvement to “curriculum and assessment” to better reflect that these aspects of learning are intertwined.
In determining key activity and priorities for 2022, we are mindful of the findings of the 2020/21 Achievement of CfE Levels data which has shown a decline in literacy and numeracy levels as well as an increase in the poverty related attainment gap. We are enhancing targeted support for literacy and numeracy as a result. Activity for 2022 also takes account of local authority improvement plans recommendations and next steps from our education recovery strategy, as well as the latest ICEA report, the Audit Scotland report and the recent OECD reviews.
I believe it is right to reaffirm our commitment to excellence and equity, and to set out our plans for 2022 at this time. I am very much aware, that the pandemic is ongoing and that schools and early learning and childcare settings are still facing many operational challenges such as increased staff absence. In the short term the challenges posed by the pandemic will continue and capacity for improvement work may be limited at this time. The priority focus will rightly remain on the health and wellbeing of children, young people, and staff.
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