Attainment Scotland Fund evaluation - voice of children and young people: thematic evaluation report 2024

This report maps out children and young people’s engagement in decision-making across the Scottish Attainment Challenge to assess the extent that children and young people are engaged in decision-making; how this differs across schools and local authorities, and what is working well.

Case studies on engaging children and young people in decision-making

In seeking to gather evidence to address the evaluation question: to what extent were children and young people and their families and communities engaged in decision-making, what was the impact of this engagement, and was there evidence of engagement becoming embedded in the learner journey?’, the thematic exploration has sought to map out children and young people’s engagement in decision-making within the Scottish Attainment Challenge and, as part of this, to bring forward a number of examples of initiatives and approaches to engaging children and young people in decision-making in the context of the Scottish Attainment Challenge.

The case studies below all provide examples of current work being taken forward in different contexts and locations. This includes examples of work funded by the Scottish Attainment Challenge being taken forward by partner third sector organisations as part of the Scottish Attainment Challenge National Programmes[4], work being taken forward in partnership with Education Scotland Attainment Advisors, and local authority initiatives.

The case studies provided are not exhaustive but rather seek to provide insight into the range of work currently in progress. As this thematic aspect progresses, we will continue to develop and share case studies to build awareness of approaches to and benefits of children and young people’s engagement in decision-making in relation to the Scottish Attainment Challenge and support system-wide developments in relation to children and young people’s engagement.

Case study 1: Young Scot #YSEquity Panel

Young Scot, through Scottish Attainment Challenge National Programmes funding, has supported a group of young people (#YSEquity Panel[5]) from diverse backgrounds to ensure equitable space for debate and conversation between young people and decision makers, to influence the Scottish Attainment Challenge programme on key areas including factors that can contribute towards a readiness to learn, one of the thematic areas of focus for the ASF Evaluation[6]. The meetings of the #YSEquity Panel have followed Young Scot’s #YSHive processes – enabling young people to share their experiences, lead conversations, develop their own ideas, and drive change as part of decision-making. The #YSHive programme is an approach to engaging children and young people described by Young Scot as follows:

‘empowering young people to be system changers and influencers by sharing power with organisations and tackling society’s toughest challenges. Co-designed by young people, organisations partner with young people to define, design and deliver new policies and service improvements. The range of engaging, creative and ethical design models create conditions, discover insights and shape ideas to unlock culture and system change.’

Utilising co-design approaches and methods, the #YSEquity Panel began by exploring how being ready to learn feels, what is needed and what, if any, impact the pandemic and cost of living crisis has had on their readiness to learn. The Panel have also explored how their place, communities, environment, and relationships can support them to feel ready to learn. Through their work, the #YSEquity Panel have identified barriers that may stop young people feeling ready to learn as well as created a prioritised list of what young people need to be ready to learn.

One of the activities which the #YSEquity Panel has been involved in throughout 2023 is contributing to the design of a survey, developed and delivered by Young Scot, encouraging young people across Scotland to share their thoughts on what they need to learn[7].

Further information on the #YSEquity Panel is available from Young Scot

Case study 2: Children and Young People Voice Pilot – Education Scotland Attainment Advisors in collaboration with Forth Valley West Lothian Regional Improvement Collaborative

Throughout 2023, a small group of Education Scotland Attainment Advisors worked together with colleagues within the Forth Valley West Lothian Regional Improvement Collaborative (RIC) to develop and undertake a pilot ‘children and young people voice’ project. Taking a United Nations Convention of Children’s Rights (UNCRC) approach, and working in collaboration with colleagues from across Community Learning and Development (CLD) and schools across Forth Valley and West Lothian, the project developed a core set of questions to support schools in Forth Valley and West Lothian to determine the extent to which children and young people are engaged in decision-making in terms of the Scottish Attainment Challenge.

The three questions were:

  • How does your school work with you to overcome any barriers you find?
  • What has your involvement/ experience of participatory budgeting been?
  • What areas of school life has your say/voice influenced?

The pilot was on a voluntary basis for schools to engage between May and June 2023. It was anonymous and schools were given a code to ensure this was the case.

A report on the pilot project, and a resource to support schools who are interested in utilising the experience of the pilot to engage with children and young people in their own school is available.

For further information, please contact

Case study 3: Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland Cost of the School Day Voice Network and the Big Question

In 2023, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland established a new Voice Network as part of its Cost of the School Day Project with funding through the Scottish Attainment Challenge National Programmes. The Voice Network promotes the work of existing Cost of the School Day groups in schools, and supports the development of new equity groups.

There are currently over 280 schools participating in the Voice Network across 30 local authority areas. Supported by CPAG’s Cost of the School Day Participation Officer, the Network supports Cost of the School Day groups within schools with a range of activities and tools to enable children and young people from P5 to S6 to participate and develop their own school-level actions to address poverty-related issues in school.

Cost of the School Day Voice Network member schools took part in the first national Cost of the School Day Big Question in Challenge Poverty Week in October 2023. Big Questions is a way for Cost of the School Day Voice Network member schools to provide their views in order to inform and influence national policy. This is done during school facilitated sessions using the online platform Mentimeter which enables children and young people taking part to vote on their smartphones or other devices in response to a number of questions. Over 5000 children and young people across schools participated in the first Big Question in October 2023, which asked what decision-makers need to do about food and trips to ‘make sure that every child can take part, learn and be happy at school’. One aspect of the Big Question related to Voice Network members’ views on what children and young people need to be ready to learn[8]. The Cost of the School Day Project at CPAG will be using the Big Question findings in its ongoing work with policy-makers.

Future Big Questions will ask children and young people about other equity issues such as school uniform, clubs, transport, financial support, stigma and resources.

Further information from Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland Cost of the School Day

Case study 4: Social Justice Ambassadors Programme, Stirling Council

Stirling Council has established a programme of Social Justice Ambassadors across twelve primary schools and one secondary school in the local authority area.

In 2022/23 school year, Social Justice Ambassadors were supported to undertake research within their school and local community to identify how the funding available to the school could best be spent to address the poverty-related attainment gap within their school.

As a result of this approach, some schools have introduced changes to their use of funding and strengthened work being undertaken within the school to address the poverty-related attainment gap. Examples of developments introduced across schools as a result of the Social Justice Ambassadors Programme include:

  • increasing or changing the type of wider opportunities available to children in their schools;
  • interventions aimed at reducing the cost of the school day, for example through the introduction of ‘take what you need trolleys’.

A short video has been developed by a number of schools to describe the work and its impact. A celebration event, held in June 2023, gave children and young people involved the chance to share and celebrate their learning, with approximately 50 children and young people participating.

The Social Justice Ambassadors programme has been recognised in an internal audit of SAC as effective practice which could be rolled out further across educational establishments within the local authority. The Forth Valley West Lothian (FVWL) blog on Inspiration Hub has further detail: Social Justice Ambassadors programme: poverty and equity – The Inspiration Hub

Further information on the Social Justice Ambassadors approach at Stirling Council is available from Gillian Robertson

Case study 5: Youth Work and Schools Partnerships, YouthLink Scotland

As one of the Scottish Attainment Challenge National Programmes, the team at YouthLink Scotland supports partnership working between schools and youth work to better meet the educational needs of young people affected by poverty and other inequalities. The team has worked recently with local youth work organisations and the senior leadership team at one of the secondary schools in Edinburgh to gather young people’s views on their learning experiences in school and community to inform partnership planning. Youth work and school partners identified young people who were struggling to attend or engage in school but who did have established learning relationships with one or more of the youth work teams. In the context of these existing relationships, youth workers supported a series of individual conversations with young people to explore their view of themselves as learners, their experiences of education in both school and youth work settings, and their ideas for change.

YouthLink Scotland gathered the data and insights from these conversations. Some clear themes emerged: young people highlighted significant issues with anxiety, challenges with the classroom environment and reinforced the importance of relationships for learning. They also clearly articulated the differences between classroom-based learning and a youth work approach, and the value of having access to learning outside the classroom. School and youth work partners worked together to review the feedback from young people and agree on a plan of action in response.

City of Edinburgh Council is now working alongside the YouthLink Scotland team and LAYC (Lothian Association of Youth Clubs) to take this approach out to other communities in the city to inform co-design of education provision and PEF funding in a place-based curriculum.

Further information available from Gill Gracie, Youth Work and Schools, YouthLink Scotland

Case study 6: Virtual School Headteacher (VSHT) Development of ‘Care Experienced’ Children and Young People Groups, CELCIS

The Virtual School Headteacher (VSHT) in Aberdeenshire has being supporting the establishment and growth of ‘care experienced groups’ within schools in the local authority area.

The project was initiated by a Principal Teacher in one secondary school asking care experienced pupils whether they would be interested in joining a group for care experienced learners. This resulted in the establishment of a care experienced group within the school, who the VSHT started to liaise with on first coming into post. The group was able to undertake a residential trip shortly before the first COVID-19 lockdown, and continued to meet online throughout the lockdown. Since the establishment of this first group, the VSHT has supported and encouraged other schools in the local authority to grow groups based on the needs of their communities. The VSHT uses social media to communicate with young people and an online platform, ‘Your Place, Your Space’, where schools and learners share their experiences as well as providing a forum for all local care experienced young people to link them to organisations and showcases work across the local authority.

Care experienced groups of young people have met consistently and regularly, as part of the school timetable, in two schools in Aberdeenshire, providing safe spaces for children and young people who share common experiences to meet together whilst learning and participating in a range of cultural, social and voluntary activities both in and out of school. Teaching staff have developed greater understanding of this group of learners in their schools and their needs, have access to information which is helping to further reduce barriers to learning, and are able to quickly offer bespoke support as and when needs arise. There have been multiple benefits for individual learners within the groups and learners have been supported to access additional tuition, helped with transport to work experience opportunities, and have attended career-related training and courses.

This case study, which is adapted from a 2022 publication, points towards a model that creates sustainable safe spaces for learners and a mechanism for schools to get to know care experienced learners in a deep and nuanced way. Further information is available on the CELCIS webpage link on Virtual School Headteacher Case Studies.

For further information about Virtual Schools Headteachers (VSHTs) in Scotland please contact



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