Closing the poverty-related attainment gap: progress report 2016 to 2021 - summary report

Closing the poverty-related attainment gap – a report on progress 2016-2021 assesses the progress that has been made through the Scottish Attainment Challenge towards closing the attainment gap. This summary report provides an overview of what that evidence tells us about the progress made.

2. Scotland's foundations for achieving equity in education

Over the last five years, the Scottish Government has put in place a comprehensive range of measures to tackle the attainment gap, through an investment in the Scottish Attainment Challenge and in wider education policies, relentlessly focusing efforts on driving up improvements in education and reducing the impacts of deprivation on educational outcomes.

Scotland's policy framework for education supports the drive to achieve both excellence and equity. The vision and priorities for Scottish education have been agreed across the system, and are presented in the National Improvement Framework (NIF). This framework complements the ongoing implementation of the Scottish Attainment Challenge, Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), Getting It Right for Every Child (GIRFEC), and Developing the Young Workforce (DYW). Combined, these are the supporting pillars of the Scottish education system.

There is system-wide commitment to achieving excellence and equity, a collective ownership of this vision and a joint endeavour to achieve these long-term goals.

The Scottish Attainment Challenge

The SAC has played a central role in delivering equity in Scotland's schools since 2015, helping to close the poverty-related attainment between Scotland's least and most deprived pupils by driving up improvements in literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing through targeted approaches and interventions. The approaches, developed by local authorities and schools, have been organised around 3 key drivers:

  • Leadership
  • Learning and Teaching
  • Families and Communities

Each of the 32 local authorities also has direct access to a named Attainment Advisor (AA). The principal role of Attainment Advisors, who are based within Education Scotland, is to ensure a relentless focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap. They do this by providing advice and guidance, leading improvement, building capacity and contributing to robust evaluation of impact.

Attainment Scotland Fund

Scottish Attainment Challenge and £750 million Attainment Scotland 2016-2021
Chart showing how ASF is distributed across funding streams

Since 2015/16 over £750 million has been invested in the SAC through the Attainment Scotland Fund (ASF). The programme, and the funding model, has been developed and extended since its launch to include more children, schools and local authorities. Initially focused on improvement activity in primary schools, the reach of the Challenge is now far wider with targeted activity being delivered across both primary and secondary sectors and beyond. ASF funding now reaches 97% of schools across every local authority area in Scotland as part of a systemic strategy to promote educational equity.

Local delivery of national priorities: what has been delivered

Scotland's CfE lies at the heart of delivering excellence and equity, providing children and young people with a broad range of learning experiences, opportunities and pathways. Schools are encouraged to be adaptable and to tailor their curriculum to meet the needs of every single young person regardless of their background, ensuring they can achieve the aspirations of CfE.

The SAC complements the aims and purpose of CfE, supporting schools and local authorities to provide additional targeted and bespoke support to improve outcomes for children and young people adversely affected by socio-economic disadvantage. Through the Pupil Equity Funding (PEF), headteachers have been empowered to think creatively about the way they use their funding and to tailor approaches to the specific needs of their learners.

Local authorities and schools have been key partners in the delivery of the SAC.

The variety of approaches implemented by schools and Challenge Authorities reflects the diverse contexts and circumstances on which they have based their decisions.

A significant proportion of ASF funding has been invested in the recruitment of additional staff. This has not only included additional teachers but also other professionals with specific expertise and skills such as speech and language therapists, counsellors, educational psychologists and family link workers.

Literacy interventions and approaches were the earliest to be implemented through the ASF, particularly in primary schools.

Literacy interventions have included:

  • literacy leaders and champions;
  • one to one and group support - particularly around early literacy;
  • approaches such as reciprocal reading and paired reading;
  • new programmes or approaches such as POLAAR (Primary One Literacy Assessment and Action Resource) and a range of commercial resources to support reading, writing, listening and talking; and
  • accelerated reader (in secondary schools), active literacy, phonics based programmes, metacognitive work and creative vocabulary development.

Numeracy interventions and approaches were implemented more slowly by some schools and local authorities with some focusing on this priority later in the programme. However, almost 9 out of 10 headteachers now describe numeracy interventions as part of their school's approach to closing the attainment gap.

Numeracy interventions have included:

  • numeracy leaders and champions;
  • new tools or approaches, including a range of commercial resources to support numeracy;
  • learning approaches including cooperative learning strategies, problem solving and linking numeracy to wider STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) activities; and
  • one to one numeracy support, small group support, extra maths periods (in secondary schools).

For the majority of schools and local authorities, health and wellbeing approaches were an increasingly important part of their approach to closing the attainment gap.

Targeted health and wellbeing strategies were developed to support children and young people's readiness to engage in learning. This has become even more important as schools work to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, especially for those who are living with disadvantage, and focus on the recovery phase of education.

Health and wellbeing interventions have included:

  • developing a nurture approach (many learning from the model used in Glasgow);
  • providing support at key transition stages;
  • delivering breakfast and afterschool clubs, homework clubs and supported study;
  • providing targeted support for young people including looked after children, children with English as an additional language and refugees;
  • counsellors and health and wellbeing assistants integrated within the school;
  • outdoor learning, Green Gyms and community gardens;
  • approaches using music, dance, sport, physical activity, massage, relaxation, mindfulness and other techniques to provide positive experiences for pupils;
  • use of models such as Neurosequential Model in Education, the ICE Pack training resource, growth mindset; and
  • in secondary schools, support moving into positive destinations.



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