Attainment Scotland Fund evaluation: National Improvement Framework - attainment and health and wellbeing measures

Summarises evidence around improvement in attainment and health and wellbeing, and the gap between pupils from the most and least deprived areas. It is an initial key output from the new Attainment Scotland Fund (ASF) evaluation strategy and forms part of the overall body of evidence for the evaluation.

Section 3

Conclusion and Discussion

The Attainment Scotland Fund (ASF) Evaluation aims to provide learning about the overall implementation of the ASF and the extent to which the aims of ASF are being met in terms of closing the poverty-related attainment gap. Specifically the analysis of quantitative measures for attainment and health and wellbeing seeks to assess to what extent the fund contributed to a closing of the attainment gap between the most and least socio-economically disadvantaged children and young people.

It is important to note that there are a wealth of data available to use to measure progress and consideration of the quantitative measures alone is not an approriate way in itself to draw definitive conclusions. This is why a broad basket of core NIF attainment and health and wellbeing measures is utilised and analysis of these measures will be triangulated with other key Evaluation evidence in summary reporting in Year 3 (2024/25).

The analysis presented in this report, as in previous annual ASF annual evaluation reports, continues to indicate at a national level that on several measures there is positive progress in closing the attainment gap, however, this is varied depending on the measure under consideration and the time period comparison point. The negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the attainment gap cannot be underestimated and the current cost of living crisis has deepened inequity, however at the national level there are indications of recovery with the 2021/22 ACEL data showing the biggest single year decrease in the attainment gap in primary literacy and numeracy since the data collection began in 2016/17.

The measures around initial destinations and participation also show clear and consistent progress at the national level, with the poverty-related gap narrowing and young people from the most deprived areas more likely to be in a positive destination than in the past. In 2021/22 the poverty related attainment gap for positive initial destinations shows the smallest gap since consistent records began. These figures were affected by the impact of the pandemic, but have recovered and moved beyond pre-pandemic levels.

Attainment at SCQF levels show a positive trend nationally, with school leavers from the most deprived areas more likely to have at least one pass at SCQF levels 4-6 than in 2015/16, with a narrowing of the gap with those from the least deprived areas. Whilst the trends indicate progress, care must be taken in the interpretation of the data, particularly given the alternative approaches taken to determining grades in 2020 and 2021.

Progress around ACEL and attendance appear more mixed. In terms of ACEL, while, compared to 2016/17, the proportion of pupils achieving their expected level has increased at a national level for all pupils and for pupils from the most deprived areas (aside from secondary literacy), the attainment gap is wider (apart from in primary literacy). However, it should be noted that the pandemic appears to have had an impact of these figures. In both literacy and numeracy, ACEL levels amongst primary school pupils increased, and the gap reduced, between 2020/21 and 2021/22, indicating a degree of recovery following the pandemic.

Attendance in both primary and secondary schools has decreased since 2014/15, alongside a widening of the gap in attendance between school pupils from the most deprived and least deprived areas. There was a trend in reducing attendance prior to 2020 which appears to have been exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic.

Whilst this analysis does not seek to draw comparisons between local authorities themselves, the supplementary tables show that there is variation in progress to close the attainment gap amongst local authorities themselves. It is worth noting that the Scottish Attainment Challenge Programme was refreshed to help address this variation and increase the pace of progress.[19] In addition it is important to highlight that these local authorities are all starting from different points as a result of their own unique demographics, local contexts and the impact of COVID-19. Where data on attainment measures has been presented at the local authority level in this report, there is evidence of a narrowing of the poverty-related attainment gap on a number of measures at local authority level. This includes some attainment measures, initial destinations and participation measures. The picture is more mixed related to attendance, although local authority variation remains.

As previously stated, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and young people's learning and on attainment data is significant and must be borne in mind when considering trends in the data over the years of the Fund. In addition to the pandemic the current cost of living crisis has deepened inequity and is likely to impact on the poverty-related attainment gap in future years. This further necessitates the need for a relentless focus on closing the poverty related attainment gap.

While the measures summarised above are key indicators of progress, analysis of quantitative data will be supplemented with other evaluation evidence to provide an understanding of the progress being made and why, the views of stakeholders, and what works for whom and in what circumstance. This includes consideration of activities at the school, local, regional and national level to support children and young people. The Evaluation will continue to gather evidence as the Scottish Government and Education Scotland remain focused on closing the poverty related attainment gap - using the significant investment in the Scottish Attainment Challenge to further empower Local Government partners and headteachers to achieve their ambitions to improve outcomes for children and young people impacted by poverty.[20]

This report is an initial key output from the new ASF Evaluation Strategy and will form part of the overall body of evidence developed over the course of 2022/23 and into future years of the Scottish Attainment Challenge. Summary reporting is scheduled for Year 3 (2024/25), which will triangulate evidence from a planned survey and development work on assessing impact as well as the thematic areas work strands.



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