Education - Achieving Excellence and Equity: national improvement framework and improvement plan 2022

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.

Introduction, vision, and key priorities



The 2022 National Improvement Framework (NIF) and Improvement Plan replaces last year’s NIF and Improvement Plan. Together with the National Improvement Framework Interactive Evidence Report, the NIF has improved the availability, quality and consistency of data, and extended understanding of what works to drive improvements for children and young people across all parts of the Scottish education system.

It 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, and can then be used to support and inform improvement planning at regional, local authority and establishment level. The improvement planning has been informed by yet another difficult year for the whole education system in dealing with the health, social, and educational impacts of COVID-19.

This complements the ongoing implementation of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), Getting It Right for Every Child (GIRFEC), and Developing the Young Workforce (DYW), which are the three supporting pillars of the Scottish education system, as well as Realising the Ambition: Being Me (2020): national practice guidance for early years in Scotland, building upon the original principles and philosophy of Pre-Birth to 3 guidance and ‘Building the Ambition’. It covers children’s learning and development from birth into the early years of primary school.

Recent reports on the Scottish education system

We recognise the importance of all parts of Scotland’s education system working together to deliver excellence and equity, using evidence from the Audit Scotland report Improving outcomes for young people through school education; the findings of the OECD: Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence: Into the Future | en | OECD; Professor Stobart’s working paper Upper secondary education student assessment in Scotland; the 2020 report from the International Council of Education Advisers (International Council of Education Advisers Report 2018-2020 - (; the Review of Implementation of Additional Support for Learning (the ASL Review);the Scottish Attainment Challenge (SAC) equity audit; the 5 year progress report on the SAC, and evidence from our own work with schools and local authorities. The Scottish Government, Education Scotland, COSLA and ADES are committed to a joint approach to improving outcomes and experiences of education for children and young people, between our organisations and in partnership with schools and local authorities.

The Audit Scotland report was published in March 2021. The report makes a number of recommendations for action and allocates responsibility for taking those forward to the Scottish Government, Education Scotland and local government as appropriate. Of particular concern to Audit Scotland was the need for more consistent and robust national data that reflects the ambitions of the national curriculum, national policy priorities such as health and wellbeing and confidence, and key priorities for COVID-19 recovery and improvement. The report also highlighted a large variation in trends in outcomes across local authority areas, with evidence of worsening performance and/or inconsistent improvement across a range of key indicators in recent years.

The OECD, reporting in June 2021, found wide support for CfE and stated that Scotland's curriculum "continues to be a bold and widely supported initiative, and its design offers the flexibility needed to improve student learning further." Professor Stobart describes CfE as a "pioneering example of 21st-century curriculum reform" and highlighted that Scotland's curriculum continues to be viewed internationally as "an inspiring example equated with good curriculum practice". The OECD also identified areas for review and improvement, and we are committed to a structured and long-term approach to the continuous improvement of CfE.

The second formal report of the ICEA covers the 2 year period of appointment from August 2018 to July 2020. The report is broadly supportive, and concludes that Scottish education exhibits many strengths and has excellent standing internationally. The ICEA acknowledges the impact COVID-19 has had on the education system in Scotland. It also states that the pandemic has reinforced the issue of equity as the defining agenda of our time, and commends the Scottish Government’s commitment to delivering both equity and excellence. The report draws on the international knowledge and expertise of ICEA members to identify both the risks and the opportunities resulting from COVID-19. The aim of the report is to support Scottish education not merely to get back to normal, but to use the crisis as an opportunity to develop a more resilient “pandemic-proof” education system for the future. It makes a number of recommendations as to how Scotland could achieve that ambition.

The Equity Audit focused particularly on the impact of the school building closures from 20 March 2020 to the early stages of re-opening of schools on 11 August 2020. The audit provides some examples of what sample schools have done to mitigate the impact, with a focus on health and wellbeing and intensifying support.

The independently chaired review of additional support for learning (ASL Review), published in June 2020, considered the learning experiences of children and young people with additional support needs. The report made recommendations across nine broad themes which seek to improve these experiences and ensure that children and young people can flourish in their learning. The Scottish Government and COSLA are firmly committed to addressing the recommendations. An Action Plan (ASL Action Plan) was published in October 2020, and set out the range of measures that would be taken, with partners to address the findings. An updated Action Plan and Progress Report were published in November 2021. These highlighted the significant progress that has been in the past 12 months, despite the challenges of COVID-19. Over the coming months, the Scottish Government and COSLA will continue to work closely with partners to review the current action plan, take stock of our achievements, despite the challenging circumstances, and agree future priorities ensuring that meaningful change is realised.

There were a number of similar themes running through the various reports published over the last year including:

  • A co-ordinated response to combatting the effects of the pandemic and a recovery in education.
  • The need to continue efforts to close the poverty related attainment gap.
  • The importance of developing the range and consistency of education data.
  • The need to combine effective collaboration with clear roles and responsibilities.
  • The importance of digital infrastructure and connectivity.
  • The health and wellbeing of staff and learners (including mental wellbeing).
  • Putting children and young people at the centre of everything we do.

The next steps and actions in response to the findings and recommendations of these reports have been prepared according to these key themes.

The OECD review also had more specific themes related to the curriculum and, in setting out the framework for implementation, the next steps and actions have been grouped according to the key themes arising from the report namely:

  • Re-assess the vision of CfE
  • Agree measurement and evaluation approach
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities
  • Align assessment and qualifications
  • Increase curriculum development capacity

Some of the work to implement the recommendations from the various reports is already underway as part of the ongoing response by the whole of the Scottish education system to deal with the impacts of the pandemic on children and young people, some of which is summarised later on in this document. Other recommendations, such those focused on the need to put children and young people at the centre of everything we do, form part of the changes to the NIF vision, priorities which are set out below. All of the new improvement actions arising from these reports, are set out under the relevant driver of improvement later on in the NIF.

Statutory review

Scottish Ministers have a statutory duty, introduced by the Education (Scotland) Act 2016, to review the NIF and publish a plan on an annual basis. As part of the review, we provide education authorities, teachers, young people, and parents with the opportunity to express their views, and these have been taken into account in the drafting of this year’s NIF and Improvement Plan.

Following the review process in Autumn 2021, there was universal support for renaming some of the drivers of improvement to include Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) in order to reflect the continuous nature of the Scottish education system from 3-18.

Respondents also considered the possible impact of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on the NIF. The UNCRC covers all aspects of a child’s life and sets out the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights to which all children everywhere are entitled. In March 2021 the Scottish Parliament passed a bill to incorporate the UNCRC into law which will make it unlawful for public bodies to act in a way which is incompatible with the UNCRC requirements. Incorporating the UNCRC is critical to ensuring children’s rights are at the centre of all decision-making in Scotland. The UNCRC is central to Scotland’s national approach to improving outcomes for children and young people, Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) and our commitment to #KeepThePromise by 2030.

In the light of this, respondents agreed that learner voice should permeate the whole NIF, and that the centrality and rights of children and young people should be more clearly articulated in the NIF vision, priorities, and throughout the document.

The review also considered whether the NIF should include a specific driver on curricular improvement, in order to encompass the themes set out in the OECD review. However, the majority view was that it would risk the OECD response becoming siloed under that driver, rather than making links across the work that is being planned in response to all the various reports in order to deliver improvement.

We have, therefore, renamed the driver on assessment of children’s progress, so that it becomes curriculum and assessment and can more clearly encompass the actions in response to the OECD recommendations.

As a result of the review, we have made changes to the NIF vision, priorities, and drivers of improvement, retaining six drivers of improvement but increasing the number of priorities to five with the inclusion of the rights and needs of children and young people.

The revised vision, priorities and drivers of improvement are set out on the next page.

Our vision for education in Scotland

  • Excellence through raising attainment and improving outcomes: ensuring that every child and young person 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 and young person has the same opportunity to succeed, no matter their background or shared protected characteristics, 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. We will respect, protect, and fulfil the rights of every child and young person in order to ensure they are incorporated fully across the Scottish education system.

In order to achieve this, we are working with our partners to develop an empowered and collaborative system, where young people have an equal voice and 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

  • Placing the human rights and needs of every child and young person at the centre of education
  • Improvement in children and young people’s health and wellbeing
  • Closing the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged children and young people
  • Improvement in skills and sustained, positive school-leaver destinations for all young people
  • Improvement in attainment, particularly in literacy and numeracy.

The drivers of improvement in the outcomes achieved by children and young people through education are:

  • School and ELC leadership
  • Teacher and practitioner professionalism
  • Parent/carer involvement and engagement
  • Curriculum and assessment
  • School and ELC improvement
  • Performance information



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