Delivering Excellence and Equity in Scottish Education: A Delivery Plan for Scotland

This delivery plan clearly sets out how the Scottish Government will work with partners to deliver excellence and equity for every child in education in Scotland.


Scotland has a good education system.

We have great nurseries, schools, colleges and universities across the length and breadth of the country.

Visit a school or educational establishment in Scotland today and you will see the energy, enthusiasm and confidence of our young people and the strong commitment and professionalism of teachers and staff.

"Learners are enthusiastic and motivated, teachers are engaged and professional, and system leaders are highly committed."
Improving Schools in Scotland: An OECD Perspective, 2015

This delivery plan builds on an impressive track record of improvements and reforms which have been driven forward across education and children's services in recent years, including:

  • Our investment in high-quality Early Learning and Childcare, including the recent expansion to 600 hours of funded provision and extending the entitlement to those
    2 year olds who stand to benefit the most.
  • National implementation of the Getting it Right for Every Child approach to improving outcomes for children and young people.
  • A more coherent, flexible and child-focused curriculum which gives teachers more professional autonomy over how they teach and sets higher standards for achievement than ever before, through the development and implementation of Curriculum for Excellence.
  • New schools and improvements to existing schools through Scotland's Schools for the Future programme.
  • A new National Youth Work Strategy for Scotland through which a wide range of partners in the public and third sector are contributing to improving outcomes for young people.
  • Improving the breadth of opportunities available to children and young people to experience high-quality, work-related learning and develop their skills for work throughout, and beyond, their education, through implementation of Developing the Young Workforce - our youth employment strategy.
  • Ensuring we have a highly professional, skilled workforce, who can exploit fully the potential of the curriculum, including through the implementation of Teaching Scotland's Future and, more recently, the Early Learning and Childcare and Out of School Care Workforce Review.
  • A targeted approach to closing the attainment gap, through the Scottish Attainment Challenge.

But we also face significant challenges.

A child's circumstances - where they live, their family's circumstances - still have a disproportionate impact on their chances of success. For example, despite some progress over the last decade, a pupil from the 20 per cent least deprived areas of Scotland is almost twice as likely as one from the 20 per cent most deprived areas to leave school with a qualification at SCQF 6 or better (Higher equivalent or above).

As the OECD review highlighted, current assessment arrangements do not provide sufficiently robust information across the system to support policy and improvement. We must move from a culture of judgement to a system of judgement. And while teachers have worked very hard to introduce Curriculum for Excellence successfully, it has brought with it unnecessary - and unintended - workload demands and pressures. If we are to focus on improving outcomes for our children, it is vital these issues are dealt with. This will require strong and decisive action by Education Scotland, the Scottish Qualifications Authority, local authorities and schools.

The National Improvement Framework, published in January, sets out how we will provide the information we need to drive improvement in the system. Crucially, it sets out a clear vision for Scottish Education:

  • Excellence through raising attainment: ensuring that every child achieves the highest standards in literacy and numeracy, set out within Curriculum for Excellence levels, and the right range of skills, qualifications and achievements to allow them to succeed; and
  • Achieving equity: ensuring every child has the same opportunity to succeed, with a particular focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap.

This Government was elected to deliver a range of reforms to help us transform education in Scotland to ensure it delivers excellence and equity for all. This plan sets out our programme for delivery.

Its focus is on action around three core aims - to close the attainment gap, to ensure we have a curriculum that delivers, and to empower our teachers, schools and communities to deliver. We will make progress on these priorities by addressing the 6 drivers of the National Improvement Framework, which are so critical to delivery.

A Relentless Focus on Closing the Attainment Gap

Our ambition

We are committed to making demonstrable progress in closing the attainment gap during the lifetime of this Parliament and to substantially eliminate it in the next decade. This will involve the full efforts of all those involved in education - from early learning, through school and in our colleges, universities and beyond. However, our efforts must also extend beyond the classroom and across our communities and wider public services if we are to succeed in our ambition.

In February 2015 the First Minister announced the Scottish Attainment Challenge, with associated investment of £100 million over 4 years to provide targeted support to schools and local authorities with the highest concentrations of primary school pupils living in multiple deprivation to close the attainment gap. Reflecting on the first year of the Challenge, we have learned that:

  • Schools in all parts of Scotland now have a renewed focus on closing the gap, helping children to overcome the effects of poverty on their progress and attainment. The teaching profession in Scotland has united behind the Challenge.
  • Improving leadership, learning and teaching and engagement with families and communities will be essential to close the gap.
  • A range of strategies in literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing developed or extended through the Challenge are improving children's progress.
  • We need to intervene early - there is a vocabulary gap of up to 18 months on entry to P1 between the most and least disadvantaged children.
  • We need more data on children's progress in primary school and early secondary to 'know the gap in order to close the gap' and pinpoint where more intensive improvement is required.

A range of actions, including expanding the reach, scope and investment of the Scottish Attainment Challenge is required if we are to make the progress in closing the attainment gap we want to see. These actions, alongside our work across the Further Education and Higher Education sectors, including implementation of the Developing the Young Workforce strategy and progressing the recommendations from the Commission on Widening Access, will support our ambition to ensure fair access for school-leavers to all post-school opportunities.

What we will do to deliver

  • We will almost double the hours of early learning and childcare to 1,140 per year by 2020. We will ensure that nurseries in the most disadvantaged areas in Scotland benefit from an additional teacher or degree qualified early learning and childcare professional from August 2018.
  • We will deliver the new Universal Pathway for Health Visitors including the new Child Health Reviews to support early intervention and prevention in those crucial early years. This work is already underway. With immediate effect, and within the parameters of legislation, we will examine arrangements for information sharing to ensure that appropriate data on children's progress is shared between professionals working with children from the early years onwards.
  • We will work with schools to focus the curriculum to meet children's needs fully and close the gap in early years settings and primary schools. For example, we will share and develop ways in which the vocabulary gap can be closed through a literacy-rich curriculum in P1-3 from August 2016. We will expect all schools to have clear strategies in place across the curriculum in school session 2016-17 to reduce the gap in their context.
  • We will use new data that will become available through the National Improvement Framework from October 2016 to identify the attainment gap in P1, P4, P7 and S3 and at school and local authority level - and agree targets to reduce this. We will focus our collective efforts where they are needed most. School inspection and self-evaluation will focus more directly on closing the gap from September 2016.
  • We will extend the funding available through the Scottish Attainment Challenge to £750 million over the next 5 years. Funding for the areas with the greatest intensity of children living in poverty - our Challenge Authorities and Schools - will be doubled to £50 million per year and will include secondary schools. Renfrewshire and East Ayrshire will join the Challenge Authorities programme from August 2016.
  • From financial year 2017-18 the additional £100 million per annum that will be raised each year from our Council Tax reforms will be allocated directly to schools. The allocation will be based on the numbers of children in primary school and S1-3 in secondary school who meet the eligibility criteria for free school meals. We will launch a new framework of fully evidenced and proven educational interventions and strategies to improve attainment in December 2016. This Framework will inform the decisions schools make to spend the additional funds and monitor the impact on improving individual children's progress. This new funding will reach around 95 per cent of schools in Scotland.
  • We will extend the reach and impact of the Attainment Advisors, through regional alignment to promote collaboration and joint delivery across local authorities from October 2016. Using the data available from the Framework, the Attainment Advisor team will work directly with schools where they can make the biggest difference to accelerate efforts to close the gap. Educational leadership of the programme will be extended through a new Chief Advisor role.
  • We will work with identified communities within the Challenge authorities to develop and implement a programme of family learning by December 2017. They will be developed in partnership with parents' organisations to ensure that parents are fully involved in their children's learning.
  • We will accelerate efforts to share what is working to close the gap through the new National Improvement Hub and through a new network of empowered leaders from August 2016. We will develop a space on the hub to showcase what is working across Scotland updated regularly by the Attainment Advisors.
  • We will continue to extend the use of research to underpin the interventions and strategies used in classrooms to close the gap as part of our developing research strategy. This will include the creation of a national forum for academics and practitioners to come together to ensure that cutting-edge evidence is being implemented in practice. This will be informed by the International Council of Education Advisors. Our approach to research will also include working with all 32 local authorities to develop local action research based projects on closing the gap led by educational psychologists from August 2016.
  • We will develop a range of national programmes and further extend the reach and impact of the Scottish Attainment Challenge from August 2016. This will focus on areas such as staffing supply and capacity, professional learning and community learning and development.
  • The Read Write Count programme already operates nationally for P1-3 across Scotland. We will extend the Read Write Count programme into P4-7 in areas of high deprivation from April 2017. This will link to the First Minister's Reading Challenge and will include a strong focus on outreach and family learning programmes.
  • We are of course aware that there are wider issues which can affect children's attainment and equality of outcomes. We are intent on delivering equity for all children and we will consider the impact of issues such as looked after status, additional support needs and English as an additional language. We will continue to address wider issues such as gender to ensure that we are creating the conditions for all children and young people in Scotland to flourish and thrive.
  • In recognition of the huge effect that advances in digital technology are having on our economy and society, we will work with partners to ensure that the curriculum and infrastructure are in place and our teachers equipped to deliver the digital literacy and skills that our young people and economy need, now and in the future. Our Digital Learning and teaching Strategy will be published in September 2016.
  • We have accepted the Commission on Widening Access's proposed national and institutional targets to ensure that by 2030, students from the 20 per cent most deprived areas make up 20 per cent of Higher Education entrants.
  • We will appoint an independent Commissioner for Fair Access to act as a powerful voice for our most disadvantaged learners by September 2016. The Commissioner's role will be to drive and scrutinise progress, provide strategic leadership and challenge all parts of the system to do more and to push harder.

A Curriculum which Delivers for Children and Teachers

Our ambition

The introduction of Curriculum for Excellence ( CfE) - Scotland's approach to learning and teaching - has been a very positive development in our schools. Scotland's children and young people are now much more confident, resilient and motivated to learn. The OECD has applauded the boldness of our approach, and called on us to maintain the breadth of learning in CfE.

The ultimate goal of education is that each and every child develops a broad range of skills and attributes and gains the qualifications to have choices and be successful in life. If we are to achieve this goal, our teachers need to be clear about what is expected of them, and have the time and space to do their job. This requires us to take action on a number of fronts.

We need to make the whole CfE framework much clearer and simpler. Too many documents and too much 'guidance' have accumulated as CfE has been implemented. We need clear, simple statements that give teachers confidence about what CfE does, and does not, expect of them.

Within that, we need to be clearer and more specific about how children's progress is assessed. This is crucial to making sure children are making the right progress in their learning - not least so they are ready to meet the demands of qualifications in the 'senior phase' of school.

We need to de-clutter the curriculum. We need to make sure there is enough time in the week to allow teachers to teach the things that matter most at each stage of a child's learning.

Finally, we need to strip away anything that creates unnecessary workload for teachers and learners. The 'Tackling Bureaucracy' report of 2013 was agreed and well-evidenced, but has still to be fully implemented by all partners. Our new national qualifications have been introduced successfully, but the practical demands they place on teachers and young people have created problems, which must be addressed.

It is imperative that all partners involved take the action needed to free teachers and staff to do what they do best - provide high-quality, interesting and engaging learning, to raise attainment, close the gap, and give all our young people the best chance of success in life. The Government will act to ensure this is the case. This action will be taken whilst preserving the great strength of a broad general education.

What we will do to deliver

  • The Deputy First Minister has instructed Education Scotland to prepare and publish a clear and concise statement of the basic framework within which teachers teach. This statement will be published in time for the new school session in August 2016. This will set out very clearly the role of the various elements of CfE, and the use teachers should make of them - highlighting the significant flexibility CfE offers to teachers.
  • This statement will make clear, for example, that the 'Experiences and Outcomes' of CfE should not be used for assessment - that is the exclusive role of the 'Significant Aspects of Learning'. Rather, teachers should use the Experiences and Outcomes as a guide, to help them plan holistically for a broad range of learning experiences over the course of the year.
  • Crucially, this statement will make clear that teachers do not need to cover each and every Experience and Outcome individually, or in a 'tick-box' way. It will also make clear that primary teachers do not need to cover every curriculum area every week - another factor that can lead to the curriculum feeling 'cluttered'.
  • The statement will also set out a very clear priority for primary schools - to ensure above all else every child achieves the best possible progress in the key areas of literacy, numeracy, health and wellbeing and to maintain our commitment to PE.
  • Also by August 2016, Education Scotland will provide clear, practical advice on assessing achievement in literacy and numeracy - making clear the expected benchmarks for literacy and numeracy, for each level of CfE.
  • By the end of 2016, Education Scotland will provide similar advice on the achievement of curriculum levels in every curriculum area across the Broad General Education. This will allow teachers to make sure their learners are on track, with a firmer, clearer understanding of their next steps. It will also ensure that learners are developing the range of skills required to progress smoothly through the broad general education, and on into the senior phase.
  • Alongside this work, we will significantly streamline the current range of guidance and related material on CfE, based on feedback from teachers. By January 2017, a new, much simpler set of key resources will be available on the new National Improvement Hub.
  • From September 2016, the SQA will also consult stakeholders on how best to streamline its course documentation for the national qualifications.
  • Based on ideas contributed by teacher associations and other partners in education, we will formulate a more intense new programme of reducing workload in schools. This programme will be directly overseen by the Deputy First Minister. Prior to agreement and implementation, the programme will be tested with a new panel of class teachers to ensure it has the potential to be effective. This will seek to ensure, for example, that local processes for planning, monitoring and tracking are as streamlined and efficient as possible. It will also give examples of how workload can be reduced by using digital approaches.
  • At the request of the Deputy First Minister, HM Inspectors will carry out a focused review of the demands placed on schools by each local authority in relation to CfE. This review will report with recommendations by mid-September 2016.
  • We will ensure that the SQA, Education Scotland, schools and local authorities deliver the commitments made in the first report of the Assessment and National Qualifications Group. We will also ensure that the SQA delivers the actions to simplify and streamline qualifications set out in the 51 'subject reports' published in May 2016. The Deputy First Minister will meet the Chief Examiner for Scotland on a monthly basis to ensure that the SQA continues to take all actions it can to reduce workload.
  • We will also reconvene the Assessment and National Qualifications Group, chaired by the Deputy First Minister, to further explore what more could be done to reduce workload associated with the new qualifications, as quickly as possible.
  • We will also work with the Assessment and National Qualifications Group to consult on the design of assessment within the qualifications system -involving teachers, parents, young people, employers, national partners and other stakeholders.
  • We will take action to help young people develop the skills and knowledge they will need in the workplace in particular in the areas of STEM, digital skills and languages. Through the Developing the Young Workforce programme we will provide more opportunities for young people to experience high-quality work-related learning, and to gain vocational qualifications. We will increase the percentage of school leavers attaining vocational qualifications at SCQF level 5 and above by the end of academic year 2020-21 and take a tailored approach to young people who most need support, increasing positive destinations from school for looked after children by 4 percentage points per annum, resulting in parity by 2021.
  • Building on Curriculum for Excellence and Developing the Young Workforce, we will review the learning journey for all 16-24 year olds to ensure that education provision for young people is as effective and efficient as possible and provides more stepping stones for those needing most support. The review will consider the current offer across school, college, university and training from a learner perspective. The aim is to further improve the post 16 system to ensure that learners are supported to make well-informed choices, have equal opportunities to access the right options for them, and can move through the system and towards employment easily, with no unnecessary duplication of learning. The review will begin in September 2016.

Empowering our Teachers, Headteachers, Practitioners, Parents Communities and Children and Young People

Our ambition

We are committed to a publicly owned and run, comprehensive education system in Scotland - a mutual system, not a market system - which supports every child to achieve. High-performing education systems across the world are characterised by high levels of professional autonomy and collaboration. It is important therefore that decisions for individual children are made as close to those children as possible and we must see more decisions about the life of schools driven by the schools themselves.

We know that the quality of teaching and school leadership are the most important in-school factors in a child's outcomes which is why we will do everything we can to support our headteachers and teachers and to empower them. Our focus will be to provide them with the responsibilities and resources to make the best decisions for our children and young people. At the same time we will ensure that the overall funding for education is transparent and protected.

We also know that when parents are fully involved in their child's learning, and in the life and work of their local school, that we see better outcomes for children, parents and schools. That is why we will work to ensure that parents are supported to play an active role in their child's learning, and that parents and communities play a bigger role in the day-to-day lives of their schools. Parents and teachers in particular will become key decision makers. Research by the Children and Young People's Commissioner has also shown that the level of participation of children and young people within schools can have a significant impact on attainment, so empowerment matters for them too.

What we will do to deliver

  • We will publish the results of the Financial Review of the Early Learning and Childcare sector in September 2016. This review will explore expenditure on funded childcare and thereby enable us to better predict the cost implications of different delivery models as we move towards the forthcoming expansion.
  • We will introduce a new training and induction programme for childminders. This will be developed with the Care Inspectorate, and will support the development of skills and training for all childminders working in the Early Learning and Childcare sector by September 2017.
  • We will launch a Governance Review alongside the Programme for Government in September 2016. This review will examine the system changes required to deliver our commitments to empower schools, decentralise management and the support through the encouragement of school clusters and creation of new educational regions. The reforms are designed to ensure that parents, colleges, universities and local employers can better support efforts to raise attainment and ensure that young people progress into positive destinations. Our clear objective is to devolve decision making and funding to schools and communities. This process will run in parallel with the review of the impact of the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006 by the National Parent Forum of Scotland.
  • We know that parental engagement is crucial to attainment and achievement but further evidence is required about what works and why. The information gathered from the National Improvement Framework, the National Parent Forum of Scotland's ( NPFS) review of the 2006 Act and through the Governance Review will be used to develop a National Improvement Plan on Parental and Family Engagement. This will be developed in partnership with the National Parent Engagement Steering Group and other key stakeholder groups.
  • We will begin developing proposals for a fair and transparent national funding formula immediately and will listen to the views of teachers, parents, system leaders, local authorities and communities through the Governance Review. Building on the responses to this review we will consult on proposals for a funding formula in March 2017. This will build on the approach being adopted for the Scottish Attainment Challenge, where
    £100 million will go direct to headteachers from April 2017.
  • We are committed to simplifying and clarifying the system for teachers, parents and learners and will ensure strong national standards and a clear evaluation framework which supports and empowers schools. Where progress can be made without legislative change we will do so. We will implement any proposals arising from the Governance and Parental Involvement reviews at the earliest opportunity. In particular we will support the development and expansion of school clusters and increased regional working throughout 2017-18.
  • We will support the continuing growth of Gaelic Medium Education in schools by implementing new rights for parents and by providing more resources for teachers and learners, by February 2017.
  • Currently, legal responsibilities for delivering education and raising standards in our schools sit largely with education authorities, not with the schools and teachers that teach our children and young people every day. We will address this imbalance by extending to individual schools responsibilities that currently sit with local authorities. We will introduce a new Education Bill in the second year of this Parliament. Building on the responses to the Governance and Parental Involvement reviews, a consultation on a Bill will be held early in 2017.
  • We will work with teachers, headteachers, parents, and communities throughout to ensure that every support is provided to them to build capacity and ensure that these changes support a reduction in bureaucracy and workload.


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