Closing The Attainment Gap
The Scottish Government has been clear about its commitment to closing the poverty- related attainment gap between children and young people from the least and most disadvantaged communities. Ministers are committed to making demonstrable progress in closing the gap during the lifetime of this Parliament, and to substantially eliminate it in the next decade and are currently consulting on the indicators to be used to measure progress  .
We know that the socio-economic gap in cognitive development opens up well before children start primary school. Narrowing this gap in the years before school must be part of the strategy to promote equity. Our aim is therefore to see ELC fully integrated with wider policy on improving attainment and closing the gap.
Quality is at the heart of the expansion in ELC entitlement but our vision is for equity as well as excellence. The expansion of ELC will support the vision of an education system that delivers both excellence and equity in equal measure for all children in Scotland, with regard to the development of physical, cognitive and social skills. ELC should therefore ensure a high quality experience for all children, which complements other early years and educational activity to close the attainment gap.
Several studies have shown that good quality ELC can have a positive effect on the educational, cognitive, behavioural and social outcomes for children in both the short and long term, including those who are most deprived in terms of household income. Indeed some research has found that the benefits of ELC are even greater for children from more disadvantaged families.
While we aim to do the best for every child, this does not mean doing the same for all children. Children experience ELC as good quality when it is responsive to their individual and varying circumstances. Not all children and families are in need of the same kind of professional support.
Our ELC strategy for achieving greater equity in child outcomes is to ensure that the children who need it the most benefit from an enhanced ELC offer – so far, an earlier offer for eligible 2 year old children and, from August 2018, access to support from an additional graduate- level practitioner for children attending nurseries serving the most disadvantaged areas.
It has been disappointing then that the uptake levels for 2 year olds is currently lower than expected – at an estimated 35% of the eligible population across Scotland. One of the commitments in the 2017-18 Blueprint Action Plan is to provide dedicated support to local authorities to help improve uptake amongst eligible two year olds. As already explained in the section on professional collaboration, this will include access to an improvement pack, with guidance and suggestions, which is flexible enough for local authorities to adapt to their local circumstances. This is being developed in collaboration with local authorities and Scottish Government improvement advisers. Promoting alternative models of provision, such as Stay and Play, should also make the ELC offer more attractive to parents who do not want to use traditional nursery sessions.
The Scottish Attainment Challenge is used to support improvements in literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing and it is possible for schools to use this funding to support children transitioning from ELC to primary school. We are already aware of some examples and have committed to sharing these and others to help inspire more ELC settings to explore the opportunities that the funds offer. Increasing support for family learning will also enhancing the ELC offer for children experiencing socio-economic disadvantage.
Making sure that ELC practitioners know that they have an important role to play in the Scottish Attainment Challenge should help enhance the contribution that ELC can make to closing the attainment gap.
The National Improvement Hub was launched in February 2016 to support the Scottish Attainment Challenge by providing information and support which enables teachers and ELC practitioners to improve their practice quickly and increase the quality of learners’ experiences and outcomes. The Hub provides access to: self-evaluation and improvement tools, knowledge/research, teaching and assessment resources, exemplars of practice and support for online collaboration and networks. The National Improvement Hub is designed to reflect the continuous 3-18 curriculum, with no distinctions between ELC, primary and secondary. While there are some ELC resources already available via the Hub, these have to be accessed using search terms rather than via a dedicated ELC platform.
Action 14: We will strengthen the ELC content on the National Improvement Hub and introduce a dedicated landing page that directs the profession to relevant material on improving the quality of children’s experiences and outcomes.
The new landing page will be ready for May 2018, with content to be built up gradually thereafter.
Glow is Scotland’s nationally available digital environment for learning. A Glow account provides access to a number of web services and procured resources that allow users to create, collaborate and innovate. There are a number of professional learning communities on Glow (such as The Scottish Attainment Challenge community, the National Outdoor Learning Community and the National Numeracy Hub) which provide content (including presentations) and a forum for online collaborative exchange and professional learning. There is already an ELC section within Glow but additional resources are required to stimulate interactions, generate and facilitate conversations and ensure material is kept up- to-date about how ELC can improve cognitive outcomes for children. This could be achieved by introducing a dedicated facilitator.
Action 15: We will fund a facilitator to help the early learning and childcare profession share learning and experience in improving children’s learning and development, either on Glow or another online platform.
We also need to ensure that all ELC practitioners are able to gain access to Glow. Access to Glow for the ELC practitioners working in partner provider settings is provided via their local authority. The Scottish Government has an action in the National Digital Learning and Teaching strategy to increase take up of the offer to ELC practitioners. We would also want to ensure that other relevant professionals were given access to promote cross-professional working. Access to Glow can be provided to these professionals, if individuals meet certain criteria, including that they hold a recently checked PVG certificate. If these access barriers cannot be addressed, we will develop a separate interactive platform for the ELC sector.
Assuming the access barriers can be addressed, a dedicated facilitator could be in place by May 2018. If a new platform is required, this action will take longer to deliver.