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

This report presents the evidence of progress towards achieving this defining mission over the period of the parliament 2016-2021. In doing so it also acknowledges the disruptive and detrimental impact of COVID-19.

1. Introduction

A vision for closing the poverty-related attainment gap

The shared vision for Scottish education is to deliver excellence and equity for all, with the defining mission of closing the poverty-related attainment gap, ensuring every child has the same opportunity to succeed.

This is a long-term commitment and has been supported by a system wide, collaborative endeavour between all partners within Scottish education to make Scotland the best place to grow and learn.

In 2016, we set out that:

“Ensuring educational excellence for all and closing the gap in attainment between young people from our most and least deprived communities will be the defining mission of the SNP in the next parliament.”

This report now presents the evidence of progress towards achieving this defining mission over the period 2016-2021. In doing so, it also acknowledges the undisputed disruptive and detrimental impact of COVID-19 on progress, and also highlights key areas that will need to feature in the next steps of education recovery.

Report structure

Section 2 sets out the policy context and background related to the attainment gap. It provides an outline of the range of policy initiatives that contribute to closing the gap and, in particular, the central role of the Scottish Attainment Challenge ( SAC ) and the associated Attainment Scotland Fund ( ASF ). It demonstrates how the SAC has evolved over the duration of the programme to date.

Section 3 outlines the type of interventions that have been designed to reduce the gap within schools and local authorities. It includes an emphasis on the development of interventions that that have been tailored to local needs and circumstances, as opposed to prescribing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. It highlights a range of activities, spanning key areas such as literacy, numeracy, health and wellbeing, and family support.

Section 4 highlights how evidence, analysis and data has increasingly been at the heart of activities funded by the ASF. It makes reference to schools and local authorities drawing on a wide range of evidence and intelligence as part of selecting interventions, targeting approaches and in evaluation. Combined, it highlights how this commitment to data and evidence has helped to ensure they understand the effectiveness and impact of interventions.

Section 5 covers the progress made to date against a wide range of short- and medium-term outcomes. It covers indicators such as: awareness of approaches to achieving equity; culture and ethos; professional learning; collaboration; and data and evidence.

Section 6 shows the extent to which this progress on short- and medium-term outcomes currently translates to equivalent long-term outcomes. It draws on headteacher perspectives, attainment data and a range of wider data. It recognises that progress in closing the attainment gap has been made on a number of measures, although the level of progress across the measures is varied.

Section 7 then reflects on the impact of COVID-19 on priorities and ambitions. Specifically, it draws on key findings from the recent Equity Audit, as well as those derived from the ASF Year 5 evaluation. It provides some international context, local evidence, and cites a range of mitigations that have been implemented to date.

Finally, section 8 provides some concluding remarks. It summarises the key findings from earlier sections, and highlights a small number of reflections that may prove valuable as the commitment to closing the gap continues.

Additional information

The appendices include summaries of the progress made in the nine Challenge Authorities.

The supplementary tables also include a range of attainment and other data referred to throughout the report.



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