Publication - Progress report

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

Published: 22 Mar 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.

110 page PDF

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110 page PDF

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Contents
Closing the poverty-related attainment gap: progress report 2016 to 2021
5. Progress across short- and medium-term outcomes

110 page PDF

4.0 MB

5. Progress across short- and medium-term outcomes

In order to meet the strategic aim of closing the poverty-related attainment gap between children and young people from the least and most disadvantaged communities, a series of short- and medium-term outcomes have been identified that will lead to progress towards meeting the strategic aim.

This chapter analyses evidence towards the following short and medium term outcomes:

  • Awareness of range of approaches to achieve equity within their particular context and setting (5.1)
  • A culture and ethos that promotes high aspirations for all and improves equity is embedded across the whole school community (5.2)
  • Increased engagement in professional learning with a focus on reducing poverty related attainment gap (5.3)
  • Increased focus on Health and Wellbeing, Literacy and Numeracy to improve outcomes for children and young people living in poverty (5.4)
  • A focus on increasing the engagement of parents, carers and families living in areas of deprivation with their child’s and their own learning (5.5)
  • Increased evidence of collaboration across the education system (5.6)
  • Increased use of research evidence and data (5.7)

Summary

  • The ASF Headteacher Survey indicated that a great majority of headteachers (96%) felt that they had a good awareness of the range of approaches that can help close the poverty-related attainment gap, while 93% felt confident about selecting the approach most effective for their school.
  • 45% of headteachers indicated that there was a strong emphasis on culture and ethos in their approach to closing the attainment gap.
  • A large majority of headteachers indicated that the approach to achieving equity in education is embedded within their school community in 2020; 84% agreed that this was the case to a ‘great’ or ‘moderate’ extent, while no headteachers said ‘not at all’
  • A strong focus across schools and local authorities has been placed on professional learning to bring about high quality teaching and learning.
  • Nearly 2 in 3 headteachers have seen an increase in collaborative working in their school as a result of ASFsupport, including one quarter who have seen a large increase.
  • 84% of headteachers felt that they are ‘very good’ or ‘good’ in using data and evidence to inform development of their approach

5.1 Awareness of range of approaches to achieve equity

96% of headteachers felt that they had a good awareness of the range of approaches that can help close the poverty-related attainment gap, while 93% felt confident about selecting the approach most effective for their school.

The ASF Headteacher Survey has been undertaken on five consecutive years to gather the views and experiences of headteachers and schools on the implementation and impact of the ASF. Findings illustrate a growing confidence in the successful implementation of approaches:

  • A great majority of headteachers (98%) felt they understood the challenges and barriers faced by pupils affected by poverty in the 2020 survey; including 78% who felt they understood this 'to a great extent'. This finding was consistent across most respondent groups, although those in rural areas were less likely to feel that they understood these challenges.
  • A great majority of headteachers (96%) felt they had a good awareness of the range of approaches that can help to close the poverty-related attainment gap in 2019; including 60% who felt they were 'very aware' of the range of approaches. Survey findings indicated variation in views across urban and rural areas, with headteachers of schools in rural areas less likely to feel that they were aware of the range of potential approaches.
  • A great majority of headteachers (93%) felt confident in selecting approaches to close the poverty-related attainment gap that would be most effective in their school in 2019; with around half of these feeling confident 'to a great extent'.
  • A large majority of headteachers indicated that the approach to achieving equity in education is embedded within their school community in 2020; 84% agreed that this was the case to a ‘great’ or ‘moderate’ extent, while no headteachers said ‘not at all’.

There was some variation in views across key respondent groups. In particular, headteachers of schools who only receive the PEF element of ASF and those with lower PEF allocations were less likely to feel that the approach to achieving equity is embedded.

“As secondary headteachers, we are actively encouraged and involved in strategic decision making. Our opinions are listened to. We are constantly reminded our role is to improve outcomes for young people and families, raise attainment and be mindful that we are striving to close the poverty attainment gap. This is then emphasised to all staff at every opportunity along with the inclusion agenda.” Secondary headteacher, Challenge Authority

5.2 A culture and ethos that promotes high aspirations for all and improves equity is embedded across the whole school community

45% of headteachers indicated that there was a strong emphasis on culture and ethos in their approach to closing the attainment gap

The 2019 ASF Headteacher Survey found that 45% of headteachers indicated that there was a strong emphasis on culture and ethos in their approach to closing the attainment gap, and a further 36% said they placed some emphasis on culture and ethos. Analysis of the survey indicates that the headteachers most likely to have reported seeing progress in closing the gap were those who had seen a change in culture or ethos (more collaborative working and/or embedding the approach to equity) or have improved their understanding of barriers faced by pupils and families.

84% of headteachers in the survey indicated that the approach to achieving equity in education is embedded within their school community, while 2% disagreed.

ASF Evaluation qualitative case study feedback suggested that some schools had seen a wider change of culture or ethos as a result of ASF support. This included schools where targeted interventions had required a change of approach and development of data skills for staff, a more nuanced understanding of what ‘equity’ means for teaching practice, and a more inclusive ethos (for example a stronger role for pupils and families in planning and delivery of approaches). Culture change was also evident in some schools’ use of the ASF as an opportunity to develop whole-school approaches, for example embedding nurture across the curriculum and whole-school approaches to numeracy and literacy.

The Education Scotland Inspection of Challenge Authorities summary report published in 2019 found that Challenge Authorities with a shared and embedded vision and values, leading to a culture of relentless drive for improvement, were among those making the greatest progress in closing the attainment gap.

5.3 Increased engagement in professional learning with a focus on reducing the poverty-related attainment gap

A strong focus across schools and local authorities has been placed on professional learning to bring about high quality teaching and learning

Across the Challenge Authorities, well-considered, strategically planned professional learning, informed by high-quality data, has been a very significant factor in bringing about improved outcomes. In the majority of Challenge Authorities, key partnerships with attainment advisors, academia, and others, have delivered professional learning at classroom level in literacy, numeracy, and health and wellbeing. In addition, they have up-skilled staff on how to make best use of data, improvement methodologies and action research. Challenge Authority inspections found professional learning has enabled practitioners to make informed judgments about appropriate interventions and evaluate their impact.

There are examples of sector-leading professional learning which have universally driven change in classrooms across an authority leading to improved attainment. These approaches have been co-constructed between academia, authorities and establishments. The learning has been shared and built upon, reducing duplication and increasing the pace of improvement. As a result, there is greater collaboration within and between establishments by confident, well-informed staff.

One authority’s officers have worked with a private education company to develop training to improve learning and teaching. This has been organised in such a way as to ensure that the training programme is sustainable. To date, the programme has involved over 3,000 participants. Almost all staff in focus groups held the view that the professional learning they were undertaking was the best and most impactful of their career. Staff demonstrated clarity of thought and depth of understanding about their own learning and education research. This was clearly impacting on, and improving, learning and teaching in classrooms across the local authority. [Challenge Authority Inspection]

To enhance a culture of collaborative professional learning, all Challenge Authorities have put in place professional learning for leadership at all levels. In the best examples, this is providing sustainability through universal opportunities and succession planning. This also applies to young people who are offered high-quality opportunities to lead and motivate others within their schools and across the Challenge Authority.

A local authority has appointed Development Officers in assessment and moderation, literacy, numeracy, health and wellbeing, and curricular transitions. This team works extremely effectively to offer high-quality career long professional learning to staff on an individual, establishment and authority-wide basis. This is an innovative use of Attainment Scotland funding which has improved pedagogy across the authority as well as the consistency of assessment and moderation. [Challenge Authority Inspection]

5.4 Increased focus on health and wellbeing, literacy and numeracy to improve outcomes for children and young people living in poverty

During the first two years of the ASF, literacy and health and wellbeing interventions were prioritised, while progress around numeracy was less evident. There was considerable progress made in the primary programme, with strong foundations being built around leadership, resources and training of the workforce. Reflecting the later expansion of the ASF into secondary schools, evidence of progress in the secondary programme was more limited.

Year 3 of the ASFEvaluation found that interventions were implemented around literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing. The 2018 Headteacher Survey found that, unlike in years 1 and 2 of the ASF, numeracy interventions (mentioned by 88% of respondents) appear to be as prominent as literacy (95%) and health and wellbeing interventions (90%). Interventions on literacy and numeracy were prominent in the primary programme, while there was some evidence that secondary school interventions tended to focus more health and wellbeing. From the Challenge Authority progress reports, there was some evidence that progress was still balanced in favour of the primary schools.

In Year 4 of the ASF, evidence sources pointed to a wide variety of approaches implemented around literacy, numeracy, and health and wellbeing. Strategic approaches had been developed by Challenge Authorities tailored to fit local needs and circumstances. There was evidence of an increased focus on the development of local authority-wide approaches, such as whole school nurture approaches related to health and wellbeing. Other authority-wide approaches were also evident, such as the Cost of the School Day project which has developed in several Challenge Authorities.

Local Authority Survey responses indicated evidence of a shifting focus and streamlining of approaches towards those approaches where there was evidence of effectiveness and impact. Challenge Authority progress reports similarly suggested evidence of change and continuity in approaches, highlighting the maturation of existing approaches in some instances and innovation in others.

Literacy

Interventions around literacy appear to be the earliest to have been implemented and to have shown impact, particularly amongst the youngest age groups.

Evidence sources show that literacy interventions were the first to be implemented and to have an impact, particularly in the initial stages when the programme was focused on primary schools. In qualitative research exploring the roll out of the ASF, most teachers were very positive about the focus on literacy, believing that the ASF had helped the school to embed consistent approaches to literacy, and spend more time on literacy within the curriculum.

Teachers commenting on outcomes in qualitative interviews reported that they had seen an improvement in literacy attainment through evidence from standardised assessments and reading scores, as well as observations of increasing Literacy skills.

In one school, baseline testing for P3, P4 and P5 showed an improvement of 25% in literacy. The school had delivered interventions to target groups and had ‘control groups’ in order to better measure the impact of the intervention. It also benchmarked itself against other schools.

One school has used the ‘Read to Self’ approach with P5 pupils. They began to see tremendous increases in reading age over a very short space of time. It was rolled out to the whole school, and as the approach has become more established, some pupils have made 36 months progress over 12 months.

Most of the early evidence around impact related to younger age groups. Some teachers said that they had seen an increase in phonological and phonemic awareness for pupils in P1, and evidence of this improvement as P1 classes moved up the school. A few also highlighted progress in other year groups, in relation to reading and writing levels.

In one Challenge Authority inspection, it was assessed that there is a range of emerging evidence that improvements in learning and teaching in literacy are leading to increased progress for children at the early level. For example, the nursery narrative initiative is showing evidence of eight months gain following an average of ten weeks intensive experience for children. Similarly, there is evidence of positive impact on improving progress of children in SIMD 1 and 2.

Numeracy

9 out of 10 schools reported numeracy interventions as part of their school’s approach to closing the attainment gap.

Numeracy interventions weren’t as common as those in literacy and health and wellbeing in the first two years of the ASF , with some local authorities and schools saying that numeracy interventions had generally started later. By Year 3, however, almost 9 out of 10 headteachers described numeracy interventions as part of their school’s approach to closing the attainment gap.

In one local authority, 64 teachers have completed a Mathematical Growth Mindset course. One study with a P2 class showed the shift in mindset was significant

  • 83% of children believed that even if they worked hard they would never become very good at any subject. This dropped to 0% at the end of the project.
  • 94% of children initially believed that making mistakes in maths meant they weren’t good at it. Only 6% still believed this after the project.
  • Before learning about growth mindset, 100% of the class thought speed was very important when answering maths questions. Just 12% agreed with this by the end.
  • Teacher observations also noted positive changes in confidence, attitude and resilience towards maths.

A survey of participating teachers found a growth mindset culture was developing, with a positive shift in attitudes towards children who were not attaining. The vast majority noted an improvement or significant improvement in the children’s understanding of; speed related learning, seeing mistakes as learning opportunities, importance of effort and persistence; and an understanding of learning anxiety. [Challenge Authority Progress Report]

Schools reported using a range of sources to both target their interventions and to measure their effectiveness:

One secondary school has seen an improvement in reading age and confidence, in a short space of time. It has also seen a big increase in young people reaching appropriate numeracy levels at S3 and S4, and teachers can see that young people are now more able to answer more challenging maths questions. Teachers are also more aware of the types of questions that pupils struggle with, and there is a numeracy team to provide lesson starter resources to review these questions. Attainment data shows that the approaches are making a difference.

Health and Wellbeing

Teachers taking part in qualitative research felt that good health and wellbeing was critical in providing the foundation for learning and improved attainment.

Many teachers taking part in qualitative research felt that good health and wellbeing was critical in that that it provided the foundation for learning and improved attainment. This included addressing social and emotional needs, to ensure that children were able to attend school, enjoy school and be ready to learn.

Teachers indicated that progress on health and wellbeing could be challenging to track, but some were seeing positive indications. Signs of progress included:

  • fewer exclusions from school;
  • better punctuality;
  • improvements in behaviour at school – for example through decreased referrals from class teachers around behaviour issues;
  • healthy family eating;
  • increased pupil motivation and engagement;
  • increased resilience among pupils;
  • improvements in relation to SHANARRI indicators.

ASF Evaluation qualitative case study evidence suggests that schools typically observed improvements around emotional wellbeing and pupil engagement more quickly than, for example, attainment. In addition to quantitative measures of pupil attendance, these included more qualitative changes such as improved pupil confidence and engagement, which schools noted can be more difficult to measure.

Perceived improvements in emotional wellbeing and engagement were also consistent with a focus on these as underlying issues affecting attainment. For example, several schools noted that work to embed nurture approaches across the curriculum had been informed by a perceived need to improve emotional wellbeing and develop a more positive school ethos. Case studies suggested that schools’ experience of implementing these approaches has reinforced the importance of these factors for improved attainment.

In the majority of local authorities, ASF funding had been used to support targeted health and wellbeing interventions, training and resources to address the needs of learners and their families. Almost all local authorities were able to evidence improvements in children and young people’s health and wellbeing resulting from PEF interventions. Positive impacts were also noted as a consequence of the investment in professional learning through the SAC. In most local authorities, there was evidence of various improvements including improvements to the culture within settings, increased practitioner knowledge and skills, increased staff confidence to identify and effectively address learners’ needs and improvements in the capacity of teams to sustain interventions.

A local authority reports a partnership approach with Barnado’s which has achieved positive emotional and mental health outcomes for parents, children and young people. 211 children and young people have or are presently participating in 1 to 1 interventions with Family Support Workers who address mental health and wellbeing. 93% of families engaging or who have engaged in a bespoke package of support this year are showing improved mental health and well-being. 95% of families across the year have benefited from brief financial interventions such as vouchers for family activities, cinema, food share, food bank, funding grants, clothing vouchers etc. [Challenge Authority Progress Report]

Factors reported to have been integral to the delivery and success of health and wellbeing approaches have included: strong strategic emphasis on nurture; effective programmes and training; accreditation opportunities; provision of specific staff successful collaboration with a range of partners including key stakeholders such as parents and learners.

5.5 A focus on increasing the engagement of parents, carers and families living in areas of deprivation with their child’s and their own learning

90% of headteachers reported an increase in collaborative working with families and communities as a result of the work on closing the attainment gap.

A focus on parental and family engagement has formed a key part of the approach developed in many schools. This has included, for example, approaches aimed at supporting pupil attendance and engagement, and improving children and young people’s aspirations. Headteacher Survey 2019 findings suggest the need for a clear commitment to parental engagement, and recognition of the time required to build relationships with families.

There were a number of specific approaches to achieving and maintaining parental engagement highlighted in headteacher comments, including use of extra-curricular and physical/sports activities, and ensuring free access to activities. The importance of enabling parents to engage with schools in ways parents felt comfortable with was also highlighted. However, there was also the perception raised by some headteachers of the need for greater clarity in terms of how parents can positively support learning without it being overly burdensome.

In the 2019 headteacher survey, 27% of respondents indicated that there was a strong emphasis on parental or community engagement in their approach, and a further 52% stated that there was some focus in their approach. A great majority (90%) of headteachers in the 2020 survey reported an increase in collaborative working with families and communities as a result of the work on closing the attainment gap.

Staff are using a very wide range of universal and targeted family learning opportunities to successfully support the most vulnerable learners. For example, Families First holiday clubs provided lunch and engaging activities to over 200 children and their extended families daily. Targeted Family Learning programmes in partnership with community learning and development, including Pizza Reading and Pizza Maths, have supported the families in greatest need to engage much more effectively with school. Over 300 parent/carers have engaged with Pizza Family Learning and report that they feel much more confident in school and are better able to support their children in reading and numeracy. [Challenge Authority Inspection]

Family workers, funded through ASF and/or PEF, have been key in developing increased engagement of parents and carers with children and young people's learning in over half of the local authorities, with a focus of supporting those in most need. They effectively support families with a range of issues and seek to mitigate the impact of poverty on family life and learning. Collaborative working, including that of the Family Link workers, has led to improved outcomes for children, young people and their families by addressing very practical poverty-related barriers. There is evidence across the majority of local authorities of holiday activity and food programmes, with local authorities seeing improved access to food, clothing and benefits as a result of collaborative policies and plans. As a result of family learning programmes, some findings identified strengthened relationships between schools and families.

A local authority reports positive outcomes for a project that provides support in linking home and school, which has provided sustainable solutions for young people who are poor attenders or dealing with mental health issues affecting school participation. Feedback from schools:

“Link between home and school, regular updates and communications are fantastic, positive outcomes for young people, positive relationships built between all.”

“Dedicated workers who liaise with families and engage with pupils in a way no other service can, they supplement the role of Social Work in most cases and have a very good working relationship with the school. They offer support and advice and updates to the pupil, families and school.” [Challenge Authority Progress Report]

Working alongside parents and helping to build their confidence and capacity is an important element for family learning. Evidence collecting by Attainment Advisors in 2020 suggests that in at least a quarter of local authorities, there was evidence showing an emphasis on increasing provision of opportunities for parents. These include opportunities to gain valuable skills and qualifications, which have led to employment, further study and/or volunteering opportunities. An increasing number of these are able to report increases in parental employment, sometimes for the first time and a focus on improving parents’ communication and literacy skills.

There is a wide range of very well-planned and targeted interventions to engage parents and then to develop how families learn and become active members of the community. Many of the interventions result in accreditation for parents and an increasing number are leading to employment, sometimes for the first time. This is building confidence in individuals and supporting families to have a better future…there is strong evidence that parents are becoming increasingly engaged in supporting their children’s learning, in learning themselves and in becoming more active in the community. [Challenge Authority Inspection]

Community learning and development-led learning sessions are delivered to families in primary schools and direct support is currently being provided for over 150 young people in secondary schools. A range of courses, including those focused on personal development have supported a number of parents to successfully move onto college, university and employment. Parents and carers who met with the inspection team spoke very passionately about the impact of the learning opportunities, on their lives and those of their children, with a few describing the powerful life changing impact of the experiences on themselves and their families. [Challenge Authority Inspection]

A question was included in the Local Authority Survey in 2020 in order to capture local authority perspectives of the development of approaches to engaging families and communities. Three respondents indicated their local authority approach to engaging families and communities had developed significantly over the previous year, with nine indicating the development of approach to engaging families and communities to some extent. Two further respondents perceived only limited development of their local authority’s approach to engaging families and communities over the previous year.

As detailed in the 2019 Education Scotland summary inspection report of Challenge Authorities, work with families and communities has been strong across the nine Challenge Authorities. There were positive examples of families reporting greater confidence in supporting their children in reading and numeracy at home. In a majority of Challenge Authorities, there were also examples of structured family learning programmes, which made use of effective partnerships and lead to accredited and meaningful outcomes for parents. There was still scope to bring about greater coherence between work with families and communities and wider attainment challenge activity to support deeper self-evaluation and a clearer understanding of the impact of work with families on the attainment and achievement of children and young people.

In a Challenge Authority, community learning and development was a highly-effective partner for schools, working to improve the life chances of children and young people and their families. Community learning and development-led learning sessions were delivered to families in primary schools and direct support was provided for over 150 young people in secondary schools at the time the Education Scotland inspection report was written in 2019. A range of courses, including those focused on personal development, had supported a number of parents to successfully move onto college, university and employment. [Challenge Authority Inspection]

5.6 Care Experienced Children and Young People

The Care Experienced Children and Young People Funding (CECYP) was introduced in 2018/19 with funding allocated to all local authorities based on the number of looked after children they have in their care or schools aged between 5-15, but with the funding available to be invested to support all care experienced children and young people aged between 0-26.

Data from the 2019 Local Authority survey shows that twenty of twenty-four local authority respondents were of the view that the CECYP Fund supported strategic decision-making to improve attainment or outcomes for care experienced children and young people either to a great extent (9) or to some extent (11). A further four viewed the CECYP Fund to have supported strategic decision-making to a limited extent.

There was recognition in 2019 that it will take time to consult, plan, develop understanding and buy-in, and therefore it is too early to give more than initial indications of progress towards planning and implementation of the CECYP Fund. However, respondents’ viewpoints were broadly positive and reflected, for example, the increased focus on care experienced children and young people and links to existing local authority priorities (e.g. Children’s Services Plans).

There was also evidence of progress in terms of developing structures, processes and approaches. Models (eg Virtual Headteacher) and initiatives (eg MCR Pathways) were highlighted, as well as appointment of specific posts, such as CECYP support workers. There was also emerging evidence of decision-making informed by analysis of research and data, and of collaboration and sharing of good practice (eg CELCIS). As one local authority response described, the CECYP Fund represented ‘…[a] creative new approach to supporting Care Experienced Young People’ at the local authority level.

According to data from the 2020 Local Authority survey, the CECYP Fund was viewed positively as having supported strategic decision-making for outcomes for care experienced children and young people with all local authority respondents indicating this (six to a great extent, nine to some extent).

5.7 Increased evidence of collaboration across the education system

Nearly 2 in 3 headteachers reported seeing an increase in collaborative working in their school as a result of ASF support in 2020, including one quarter who have seen a large increase.

‘Collaboration within and across all sectors has increased extensively enabling a relentless focus on enhancing teaching and learning, while sharing and planning experiences across the [broad general education] BGE and beyond. This has been both as a direct result of planned programmes and often as an unforeseen gain.’ (Challenge Authority respondent – ASF Year 5 Report)

Collaboration and partnership working have been hallmarks of the ASF since its inception. In the 2020 Headteacher Survey, the majority of headteachers had seen an increase in collaborative working in their school up to March 2020 as a result of ASF support:

  • Nearly 2 in 3 (65%) indicated that they had seen an increase in collaborative working, including more than a third (36%) who had seen a large increase in collaborative working as a result of the fund.
  • A substantial proportion of headteachers indicated that they had seen a further increase in collaborative working during school building closures between March and June 2020; 46% indicated this. Although this is fewer than had seen an increase in collaboration up to March 2020, it should be noted that school building closures covered a shorter time period.

Evidence from the 2019 Education Scotland summary inspection report of Challenge Authorities suggest that the most successful authorities had put in place very effective partnership working, enhancing the capacity of education staff to meet the needs of learners by improving learning and teaching. In particular, strong partnerships with universities were helping to improve pedagogy as well as the use and analysis of data to measure the impact of initiatives and interventions. Working in partnership around family engagement initiatives was leading to improvements in parenting skills, parental ambition and employability.

One authority continues to build upon and further strengthen the impact of partnership working to enhance staff capacity in improving literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing. Vibrant Communities is an important partner for many schools, working to improve the life chances of children, young people and their families. Other partners, including Centrestage, are making a positive difference to a few targeted young people and their families. Where successful, these are building young people’s confidence, improving their sense of belonging and re-engaging them in their learning. [Challenge Authority Inspection]

Types of collaboration

Increased collaborative working included collaboration around specific interventions or priorities (such as between teaching and support staff to develop a tailored curriculum for targeted pupils), and wider collaboration as part of a stronger focus on inquiry and improving practice. This collaboration was primarily within schools, but some had also used collaboration and pooling of resources with cluster schools to maximise the value of funding, and felt that in particular the autonomy provided by PEF had enabled this kind of collaboration around shared priorities.

In terms of organisations that schools are collaborating with as part of the ASF, schools were most likely to have seen an increase in collaboration with families and communities (90%), and other schools in their local authority (73%).

Headteachers also reported increased collaborative working with professionals in health, social work, and educational psychology (55%) and third sector organisations (43%) . Headteachers also reported collaborations with schools outwith the local authority (31%) and with universities and colleges (15%).

Figure 5.1: Proportion of headteachers reporting collaboration with the following groups (2020 Headteacher Survey)
Chart showing that collaboration was most likely with families and schools in the local authority

The extent of partnerships, particularly with other professionals (e.g. Speech and Language Therapists) and with third sector organisations was evident in Schools Programme progress reports. Partnerships with third sector organisations tended to be related to the contracting and delivery of specific interventions or projects, and were seen across a whole range of areas with many different partner organisations. Partnerships appeared particularly prevalent in relation to health and wellbeing-related activities and interventions.

Third sector organisations are working to engage parents through confidence building programmes, leading to them eventually taking up volunteering opportunities. The approach is designed to raise the expectations of parents who should then be more aspirational for their children. [Challenge Authority Inspection Report]

Collaboration featured strongly as a theme within Challenge Authority progress reports and provided some further detail on mechanisms to facilitate collaboration. For example, there was evidence of established networks within local authorities (such as networks linking headteachers to colleagues working at authority-wide SAC programme level), as well as specific collaborations (such as networks linking those with responsibilities for data and evidence).

Partnerships with universities were commonly reported within Challenge Authority progress reports. A number of Challenge Authorities have entered into collaborations with universities which have led to a number of benefits, such as schools implementing research-based initiatives and local authorities commissioning evaluations of approaches and progress.

An authority has initiated and developed university partnerships, including the University of Strathclyde and University of Stirling. This work is informed by identified areas of need across the council. As a result, university staff are working with several schools to implement research-based initiatives. Initial work on reading has involved helping school staff to understand reading as a social activity. This is beginning to lead to a culture shift in the schools involved. Children report that they are finding reading more enjoyable and have been learning techniques which help them in other curricular areas such as interdisciplinary learning. [Challenge Authority Inspection]

Collaborations beyond the local authority level were also highlighted in progress reports, such as schools collaborating at the Regional Improvement Collaborative (RIC) level (e.g. good practice sharing at RIC level regarding Family Link Worker interventions).

Impact of collaboration

Stakeholders involved in the ASF qualitative research in 2018 felt that the ASF had a positive impact on collaboration within schools and that increased collaborative working had resulted in:

  • increased professional dialogue and thinking together about new approaches
  • making teachers more willing to seek out new approaches
  • enabled joint planning and a more formal approach to collaboration
  • encouraged peer observation, team teaching and collegiate working
  • encouraged teachers to undertake joint training and joint learning
  • energised teachers and built a culture of sharing
  • building the confidence of teachers in relation to peer observation and self-evaluation

Factors promoting and hindering collaboration

Respondents in the Headteacher survey (2017) were asked to comment on why they felt there had been an increase in collaboration as a result of the ASF. Their responses revealed that the following factors helped to foster collaboration:

  • A shared motivation or commitment of teachers to achieve the aims of the ASF and work collaboratively to make an impact
  • Additional resources made available as a result of the ASF, including additional staff and more time
  • Increased enthusiasm, motivation and confidence of staff
  • Professional learning opportunities

This was supported by qualitative research which found that training and professional development was a key catalyst for greater collaboration; it provided the opportunity for teachers to share their learning.

Teachers reported through qualitative research that within schools collaboration worked well because teachers were excited and eager to learn. Feeling empowered and confident and having the time to reflect on their practice also supported collaboration.

Strategic stakeholders taking part in the qualitative research felt that national events and the AAs role provided more opportunities for networking between local authorities. Local authorities and schools reported that positive aspects of the AAs role involved their ability to link in with national and local networks, fostering collaboration and information sharing.

In instances where headteachers did not identify improved collaboration as a result of the ASF, this was commonly due to perceptions of an existing well-established culture of collaboration. There was also some evidence of headteachers believing that the ASF had not had sufficient impact on staff time or opportunities within schools for collaborative working.

In some examples, RICs have helped to extend and facilitate collaboration by providing opportunities for staff to collaborate across local authorities. Partnerships with academic institutions have helped to support research and the upskilling of staff. In most local authorities effective collaborations between education staff and others including community learning and development staff, health professionals, businesses and third sector partners were noted. This has led to an improved understanding of barriers facing those living in poverty. Links with employers through Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) have had a positive impact upon children and young people affected by poverty, for example, by increasing work experience opportunities for vulnerable young people.

5.8 Increased use of data and evidence

Local authorities have put in place support for using data/evidence to target and evaluate approaches, while 84% of headteachers felt that they are ‘very good’ or ‘good’ in using data and evidence to inform development of their approach.

Evidence from the 2019 Education Scotland summary inspection report of Challenge Authorities indicate that the authorities making the greatest progress with improving learning, raising attainment and closing the poverty-related attainment gap have high levels of expertise in data analysis and use this to drive outcome-focused self-evaluation.

Almost all schools have developed approaches and procedures for tracking and monitoring children’s progress in literacy and numeracy. This has been increasingly supported by local authority tracking systems. In most schools, regular meetings between staff with senior leaders to discuss children’s and young people’s progress are a key feature of effective practice. This works well when all staff are involved in collaborative discussions.

Staff in almost all schools continue to increase their confidence in the use and analysis of data to plan improvements. The use of the Insight senior phase benchmarking tool in secondary schools allows staff to identify the attainment of different groups of learners, including those residing in Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) 1 and 2, those in receipt of FSM, and young people requiring additional support. This is supporting the planning of interventions to close any gaps between groups and raise their attainment.

Schools’ use of data

Findings from a range of data sources show that schools are increasingly confident in using data, and are seeing the benefit from doing so. Using evidence has been key in choosing the correct approaches, and schools are now collecting more data than before.

The Headteacher Survey 2020 explored the extent to which headteachers felt confident using data. Findings included:

  • A large majority of headteachers felt that they are ‘very good’ or ‘good’ in using data and evidence to inform development of their approach; 84% indicated this. This represents a nine-point decrease from 2019, and is similar to the 2017 survey. Although the data do not explain why this measure has decreased, qualitative evidence have suggested that the increasing number of sources of data that are available to schools may be a factor.
  • Headteachers were positive about their skills in measuring the impact of their approaches; 82% were positive about their ability to identify appropriate measures, and 76% were positive about their use of evidence to measure impact. However, the latter result represents a 14-point decrease from the 2018 and 2019 surveys (where 90% felt they used evidence to effectively measure impact). It is also notable that schools who only receive PEF and those with lower PEF allocations were less positive than others on this indicator.
  • The majority of headteachers feel that ASF support has helped to develop staff skills and knowledge in using data and evaluation; 63% indicated that ASF had helped to develop these skills to a ‘great’ or ‘moderate’ extent. Survey findings indicate some significant variation in views across key respondent groups. In particular, schools who only receive PEF, those in rural areas and those with lower PEF allocations were less positive on this measure.
  • Evaluation plans were in place to measure the impact of ASF supported approaches in the great majority of schools, with 95% of Headteacher Survey respondents indicating the presence of a plan. There were a number of reasons for the absence of an evaluation plan provided by the remaining 5%, including referenced changes to schools' approach or indicators requiring the production of a new plan, changes in leadership or staffing constraints delaying production, or difficulty identifying success measures for approaches being implemented.

Local authority approaches

Use of data and evidence relevant to the local context to support decision-making featured strongly for most local authority respondents of the 2020 ASF Local Authority Survey, with ten out of fourteen indicating data and evidence had featured to a great extent in decision-making over the previous year. Two respondents indicated it had featured to some extent, and a further two felt it had featured to some extent.

Progress reports provide evidence of local authority level use of data and evidence within Challenge Authorities. The continued and expanding use of data to support targeting, monitoring and evaluation of work-streams, initiatives and approaches was evident across Challenge Authority progress reports, pointing to the increased focus on data and evaluation to support decision-making and focus on improvement.

A local authority was assessed in an inspection as having an outstanding approach to the use of data to inform improvement in all aspects of its work related to the Scottish Attainment Challenge. The central team of authority officers is strongly focused on improvement and rigorously discusses data regularly with schools, including a focus on the local evidence for impact of Scottish Attainment Challenge and Pupil Equity Funding. The data analysis team supports this work by providing highly effective professional learning for individual staff, groups, schools and officers. Trained data mentors in each primary school and principal teachers in each secondary school are helping to build staff expertise in data analysis. This is enabling them to identify and implement appropriate, impactful interventions for individual children and young people. [Challenge Authority Inspection]

Evidence from the 2019 Education Scotland summary inspection report of Challenge Authorities shows that, in the majority of Challenge Authorities, continuous progress in closing the gap was underpinned by highly-effective self-evaluation. All Challenge Authorities had improved or were developing further their use of data to raise attainment. In all nine Challenge Authorities, professional learning in leadership, pedagogy and engaging with research and research methodology was evident.

Types of data used

Increasingly rich data environments were suggested by evidence sources, with a range of mechanisms for using data including combining of data from different sources and different levels within the system. An increasing focus on, and availability of local data was also apparent. Feedback gathered from headteachers as part of the Year 4 survey indicated use of a range of data tools including BGE toolkit and Insight, alongside evidence relating to participation rates, attendance, and progress through specific ASF programmes and interventions.

A wide variety of data sources were cited by Challenge Authorities in their progress reports. These included:

  • Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels (ACEL)
  • Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSA)
  • BGE Benchmarking Toolkit
  • Insight
  • New Group Reading Test (NGRT)
  • Positive destinations
  • Attendance
  • Exclusions

Most Challenge Authorities complemented this data with other evidence sources, including: local surveys (including pre- and post-implementation); qualitative focus groups; feedback forms; pupil assessments and attendance tracking.

A local authority described the programme they had built to ensure effective analysis and use of data. Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels (ACEL) data is interrogated with all schools who are individually supported and challenged through authority-led attainment visits. A range of data collated through authority learning visits, standards and quality reports, establishment improvement plans, literacy and numeracy baseline assessments (pre and post) and practitioner voice through Collaborative Action Research informs where direct interventions within the authority are made to maximise impact on learning and teaching.

In addition, in April 2018, a mapping study revealed that 6 out of the 9 Challenge Authorities had commissioned an external evaluation to help measure progress and impact of the funding received. These evaluations were undertaken by universities and typically focussed on one of their planned work-streams.

Furthermore, there was some evidence amongst Challenge Authorities of the creation of bespoke tools for direct use by schools. For example, one Challenge Authority had created a monitoring and tracking database for schools to use to track progress on interventions. In another, a specific tool to support schools to measure the impact of interventions was being piloted across the local authority. This raises the potential for authorities to learn from each other about these approaches as they develop, and to share emerging practice so that these can support other authorities in their own developments.

Benefits of using evidence and data in decision making

According to ASF Evaluation qualitative case study data, local authorities and teachers felt that the use of data had improved considerably through the ASF. It had:

  • enabled the development of systems which track each pupil, and allow easy comparison of outcomes within schools, and across some local authorities;
  • embedded the use of improvement science methods within some schools;
  • built teacher skills around data, evidence, monitoring and evaluation;
  • encouraged teachers and schools to take ownership of monitoring and evaluation; and
  • enabled teachers to interpret SIMD data, and other data, more carefully and more meaningfully, understanding changes over time.

Factors supporting increasing data literacy and use

Most local authorities have invested in professional learning activities to develop data literacy in education staff, particularly school leaders. This has included training in the use of specific tools such as SNSA, BGE Toolkit and Insight, as well as coaching sessions focused on data.

AAs have been influential in supporting the development of data literacy by working directly with headteachers and/or providing professional development sessions with a focus on helping them to identify poverty-related attainment gaps. Almost all AA reports highlighted this as an aspect of their work with headteachers. CYPIC advisers have also provided important support in this area.

Other local authority staff have been identified as having a specific role in improving the use of data. These included data analysts, data coaches and data champions. Most local authorities have created data tools and/or packs to support effective data use at school level including data packs which are provided by local authorities to support schools as well as online analytical tools which could be used at school level.


Contact

Email: ScottishAttainmentChallenge@gov.scot