The primary purpose of the National Improvement Framework since January 2016 has been to bring together an enhanced range of information and data at all levels of the system, to drive improvement for children and young people in early learning and childcare settings, schools, and colleges across the whole of Scotland. The Scottish Attainment Challenge has also become a rich source of information about good practice in schools, and how high-quality teaching and learning delivers improvements in outcomes.
As with the 2021 NIF, the disruption to schools caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the collection of some of the data that informs the NIF. The collection of achievement of CfE level (ACEL) data for 2020/21 went ahead as normal for primary schools, but the decision was made that the data collection for S3 should not go ahead, given the pressure on secondary schools during the summer term with the implementation of the alternative certification model.
In addition, almost all of the inspection programme was suspended in March 2020 to enable schools and establishments to focus on recovery. During this time, Education Scotland has offered bespoke support to local authorities and individual establishments. This has included providing support for establishments previously identified through inspection activity as requiring further support.
To further support and improve the delivery of high quality and effective remote learning from January 2021, HM Inspectors of Education provided a national overview of practice in order to:
- learn what is working well and share this widely to celebrate success and support consistency in the quality and effectiveness of delivery of remote learning;
- surface the challenges and/or issues so that these can be addressed either locally or nationally, as appropriate; and
- identify what further assistance is required to continue to improve the delivery of remote learning so that relevant support can be provided at local and/or national level.
The national overview of practice to support the quality and effectiveness of the delivery of remote learning focused on the appropriateness of arrangements within settings and schools to safeguard the physical wellbeing of children, young people and staff in the light of the pandemic; and the approaches and challenges of delivering remote learning as well the quality of educational provision.
To align with national health guidance, and to reduce any additional burden on the education system, HM Inspectors of Education gathered information through telephone conversations and online meetings. They did not observe remote learning activities. Discussions did not extend to face-to-face contact or visits to establishments. The national overview of practice sought the views of stakeholders through online questionnaires and online focus groups of parents, children and young people at a point in time.
The information gathered was published in a series of national overview reports, supported with case studies and examples of effective practice to support system wide improvement.
Local improvement planning
At national level, the NIF and Improvement Plan summarises the key evidence and identifies new improvement activity that the Scottish Government and Education Scotland will be taking forward or supporting. While it is a national plan, the activity it contains has been informed by local and school level priorities drawn from the regional improvement plans produced by the Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs) as well as the local authority 2021/22 improvement plans.
Prior to the disruption caused by COVID-19, the Scottish Government had initiated a review of the role and functions of the RICs. This was paused as a result of the pandemic, and resumed in summer 2021. A final report on the review is expected to be published shortly.
The latest RIC regional improvement plans continue to take account of the ongoing challenges resulting from COVID-19 and have a strong focus on equity and on improving attainment in numeracy and maths, STEM subjects, literacy and English, and on the digital skills that came into their own while school buildings were closed.
Local authority and school improvement plans should inform and reflect the NIF priorities and ensure the clear line of sight between local and national expectations, with further improvement priorities at school level based on local needs and self-evaluation.
The current variation in the level of improvement identified by Audit Scotland demonstrates that we need to do more to understand what works to drive improvement across all parts of the education system.
The regional and local authority plans, informed by the school improvement plans, identified a number of common themes, which are picked up below under the relevant drivers of improvement. The targeting and implementation of local improvement activity is key to the delivery of the NIF vision and priorities.
Summary of local improvement plans
School and ELC Leadership
Local authorities will continue to promote a culture of leadership at all levels and in a range of contexts, where educators are empowered to lead across the wide range of educational settings. The range of support provided by local authorities to schools covered a range of areas, such as providing support and challenge, developing data literacy, establishing and enhancing collaborative working, developing subject networks, and implementing a range of quality assurance processes.
The majority of local authorities made specific reference to plans to continue to develop their mechanisms to further prioritise, monitor, and enhance staff wellbeing.
Local authorities shared detail on planning to ensure the entitlement of early learning and childcare (ELC) of 1,140 hours a year is available to all three and four year olds and eligible two year olds. Early Learning and Childcare has been identified as an area of focus for all local authorities including developing leadership of learning at all levels.
All local authorities specifically mentioned how they develop leadership opportunities for children and young people when planning for improvement. There will be an increased focus on ensuring that practitioners at all levels are aware of their responsibilities in relation to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
Teacher and practitioner professionalism
In Early Learning and Childcare settings, developing staff at all levels was identified as an area of focus for all local authorities. This included the development of professional learning programmes around leadership and self-evaluation processes.
Almost all local authorities indicated that they are developing a broad range of professional learning programmes to strengthen practitioner approaches to reducing the poverty related attainment gap. These include working with partners to provide opportunities for identified learners, and care experienced children and young people, to achieve and attain their full potential. This involves plans around learning, teaching, assessment, and moderation to ensure moderated evidence is used when tracking and monitoring the progress of learners.
Local authorities highlighted the range of high-quality professional learning opportunities and resources they are developing to support settings to improve health and wellbeing, with a particular focus on the mental and emotional wellbeing of children and young people.
Parent/carer involvement and engagement
The majority of local authorities have outlined a range of ways in which they engage with parents and carers, and many have reviewed their parental engagement strategies in light of what worked well during the period of school building closure e.g. the use of digital approaches which increased engagement and accessibility.
Local authorities outlined the range of innovative ways in which they will develop opportunities for family learning in order to support improvements in a number of areas including literacy and numeracy.
Curriculum and assessment
All local authorities have planned to support improvements in attainment, particularly in relation to literacy and numeracy. Local authorities described approaches for working with practitioners to develop actions further within this priority, including supporting the implementation of targeted interventions or enactment of policies. Local authorities explicitly referenced actions to be undertaken to implement strategic approaches related to improvement, either specifically related to literacy and numeracy strategies, or more general raising attainment strategies.
Tracking and monitoring approaches were highlighted by local authorities as being a priority as an approach to improving attainment in literacy and numeracy, with particular reference being made to the range of systems in place to review learner progress.
Local authority plans provided details of actions focused on improving learning, teaching and assessment, and pedagogical approaches as a vehicle for improving attainment in literacy and numeracy. The majority of local authorities outlined plans to further develop and embed digital learning and teaching approaches across schools and settings to support improvement within this priority. The roll out of digital devices as part of the Scottish Government’s ‘Connecting Scotland’ programme will support these actions.
To further improve the validity and reliability of teacher professional judgement within the broad general education (BGE) local authorities highlighted their plans for building on moderation practices, including the support from their existing and newly trained Quality Assurance and Moderation Support Officers (QAMSO).
School and ELC Improvement
Local authorities will support schools to implement recovery planning, building on existing quality assurance processes that are in place as well as more bespoke support.
To ensure that learners have access to an extended range of learning pathways through which they are developing skills for learning, work and life, and securing sustainable positive destinations, almost all local authorities indicated that they would continue to develop their strategy for growing existing partnerships, and for establishing new partnerships. Making links with Skills Development Scotland, business, and further education providers as well as an increased focus on skills and vocational based learning were included in local authority improvement plans. The majority of local authorities also included reference to developing digital learning and teaching strategies to increase the number and range of opportunities available to young people.
Early Learning and Childcare has been identified as an area of focus for all local authorities, with the development of professional learning programmes in areas such as outdoor play based learning and supporting early literacy and numeracy.
Almost all local authorities highlighted the ways in which they will enhance the capacity of staff in using tracking and monitoring tools such as Insight, SEEMiS, the BGE Benchmarking Tool and the Early Years Tracking Tool and analyse data to inform a strategic overview of attainment for disadvantaged groups across schools and the local authority which will allow for targeted interventions to be planned to address the poverty related attainment gap. Some local authorities indicated that they would promote the use of and development research to increase the use of evidence-based practice to improve learning and teaching, and outcomes.
Understanding and tackling variation in performance across the system
The recent report by Audit Scotland found a large variation in trends in outcomes across a range of indicators across local authority areas, with evidence of worsening performance on some indicators in some local authorities.
We recognise that there needs to be a more consistent and coherent approach to tackling variation in performance. There are a number of factors which drive attainment. Addressing some of those is within the gift of the education system, but many factors begin outside the school gates.
During the lifetime of this Parliament the Scottish Government has committed to acting concertedly across government and beyond to tackle child poverty, supporting more parents into work, expanding free early learning and childcare to 1 and 2-year-olds, and building a system of wraparound school-age childcare.
On 23 November, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills set out changes to the Scottish Attainment Challenge (SAC) re-affirming the importance to the Scottish Government of tackling the poverty related attainment gap. The focus on tackling the poverty related attainment gap will remain paramount in the SAC going forward. However, this work must link better with the Government’s mission to tackle child poverty and encourage more collaborative work across the many services that will contribute to the narrowing of the gap.
With the support of £1 billion over this parliamentary term, the refreshed SAC programme, from 2022-23, will see:
- a broader recognition of children and young people’s achievements and attainment,
- continued empowerment of school leaders through Pupil Equity Funding,
- a clearer and funded strategic role for all local authorities,
- funding for Pupil Equity Funding and local authorities confirmed over 4 years to enable long term planning,
- continued support for care experienced children and young people, and
- a clear framework to support recovery and accelerate progress, led by Education Scotland but with clear responsibilities for all parts of the education system which will enable a clearer line of sight right through the system on the impact of local approaches. This will include stretch aims identified at local level so that at all levels of the system we can be clearer on how much progress is expected to be made, and by when. This can also direct where additional targeted improvement activity is needed.
This will enable authorities and schools to support education recovery, reduce variation and accelerate progress in tackling the poverty related attainment gap. Education Scotland will also increase their support and challenge activities where the evidence suggests there is the greatest need, including through intensive and targeted support for literacy and numeracy to address the widening gaps in these aspects, and through the ADES/Education Scotland programme of collaborative improvement which will support local authority improvement in approaches to ensuring equity and excellence.
Education remains, by far, the most effective means we have to improve the life chances of all children and young people. In its latest report, the ICEA said that “teachers play a vital role in society’s civility, success and prosperity. They influence the life chances and choices of young people and help them develop higher expectations for learning and attainment.” To help practitioners adapt and develop in the context of COVID-19 and secure the best possible outcomes for all children and young people, Education Scotland’s Professional Learning and Leadership Programmes (PLL) have been expanded. For example, alongside the existing suite of professional learning and leadership programmes:
- the development of a package to support the wellbeing of the profession (in collaboration with stakeholders and partners across the system);
- the introduction of Excellence in Headship (EIH) Stretch, a new collaborative enquiry programme for experienced school leaders;
- a series of seminars designed for school and system leaders to learn from practice internationally and to support development of learning and leadership approaches during the pandemic; and
- in partnership with Scottish Government and COSLA, running sessions designed to support practitioners with public health guidance and policies.
In summary, the improvement model set out in the National Improvement Framework, is producing results, but requires an intensified focus over the next 5 years – at all levels of the system – in order to ensure that all young people in Scotland receive a first class education in their local school and the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
A curriculum for a rapidly changing world
The ICEA said that:
“Scotland was one of a small number of countries that introduced a radically different approach to curriculum development in the early years of this century. A lot of the innovative thinking that led to CfE is now reflected in curriculum approaches internationally and has echoes in the OECD’s 2030 Project. However, in the fast-changing environment of the 2020s, and especially as we look to a post-pandemic era, it is now time for CfE to be re-evaluated. In the new era ahead of us, Scotland should consider introducing an agreed cycle of curriculum reform that creates necessary flexibility, balances national imperatives with local needs and circumstances, and encourages the kind of broad engagement in thinking that characterised the original national debate that led to CfE.”
The Scottish Government commissioned the OECD to provide a rigorous 'health check' of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) and published the remit for the review in February 2020. 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." The OECD also identified areas for review and improvement, and said that Scotland should adopt a structured and long-term approach to implementation.
Implementing the OECD’s recommendations will allow us to build on our current approach and ensure that our curriculum continues to inspire learners now and in the future. The Scottish Government’s ambitions for an empowered education system remain central, and as part of that, it will be crucial that stakeholders across the Scottish education system work together to ensure that we can develop a mandate for change which has wide support. Working with children, young people and those who teach them will be critical to the success of this process. We are mindful of the impact of the pandemic and will seek to implement an approach to reform that addresses the short, medium and long term and seeks as far as possible to build consensus.
Inclusion, wellbeing, and equality
Scotland’s ‘needs led’ and rights based educational system is designed to be an inclusive one for all children and young people in Scottish schools. Children’s rights and entitlements are fundamental to Scotland’s approach to inclusive education supported by the legislative framework and key policy drivers. These include, Curriculum for Excellence, the Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) approach, the Additional Support for Learning legislation and framework, and the Professional Standards for Scotland's Teachers. These are underpinned by a set of values aligned to social justice and commitment to inclusive education.
Scotland is set to become the first country in the UK to directly incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into domestic law. We already use the UNCRC as a framework to ensure that we consider children's rights whenever we take decisions, and to help provide every child with a good start in life and a safe, healthy and happy childhood.