Looked after children: education outcomes 2018-2019

Information on attainment and destinations of school leavers, school attendance and absence, and achievement of curriculum for excellence levels for looked after children in Scotland.

This document is part of a collection

Background notes

1. Sources and coverage

1.1 This document summarises the education outcomes of Scotland's looked after children. It links information from:

  • the Looked After Children statistics 2018/19
  • Pupil Census records, 2019
  • School Leaver Initial and Follow-up Destination data, October 2019 and March 2020
  • Attainment data throughout school education
  • School attendance and absence statistics, 2018/19
  • School exclusion statistics, 2018/19
  • Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) Levels, 2018/19

Attainment and initial destinations figures for all children in Scotland are available here: https://www.gov.scot/publications/summary-statistics-attainment-initial-leaver-destinations-no-2-2020-edition/

Follow-up destinations figures for all children are available here:


Attendance and absence data for all children in Scotland are available here:


Exclusion data for all children in Scotland are available here:


Achievement of CfE Levels for all children in Scotland are available here:


1.2 The looked after children data held by the Children and Families team is linked to the educational outcomes data using a child's Scottish Candidate Number (SCN). However, a SCN is not supplied for every looked after child. For example, if a child is under five they are unlikely to have a SCN. Children also might not have a SCN if they have been educated at home, in an independent school, outside Scotland or have already left school. It may also not be possible for a SCN to be provided for a child if they have left school.

We estimate that the Scottish Candidate Numbers (SCNs) provided by local authorities represented 89% of the possible matched records for school-age children. By imputing data from previous years from some local authorities we estimate that 90% of looked after school-age children had matchable SCNs. There was variation between local authorities in the percentage of SCNs provided, ranging from 61% to 100%.

Table 6.1: Percentage of children aged 5 to 15 with Scottish Candidate Number ( SCN) present, by local authority, 2018/19 (1)
Local Authority  SCN provided in 2018/19 Total SCNs after processing
Aberdeen City 97.8 97.8
Aberdeenshire 97.0 97.0
Angus 91.9 91.9
Argyll and Bute 96.3 96.3
City of Edinburgh 90.0 90.0
Clackmannanshire 96.9 96.9
Dumfries and Galloway 95.6 95.6
Dundee City 74.6 90.3
East Ayrshire 87.1 87.1
East Dunbartonshire 96.7 96.7
East Lothian 97.9 97.9
East Renfrewshire 92.2 93.3
Falkirk 95.0 95.0
Fife 97.2 97.2
Glasgow City 60.9 61.0
Highland 96.3 96.3
Inverclyde 95.1 95.1
Midlothian 99.1 99.1
Moray 95.7 95.7
Na h-Eileanan Siar 97.1 97.1
North Ayrshire 94.6 94.8
North Lanarkshire 97.0 97.0
Orkney Islands 100.0 100.0
Perth and Kinross 99.2 99.2
Renfrewshire 99.8 99.8
Scottish Borders 98.7 98.7
Shetland Islands 100.0 100.0
South Ayrshire 96.8 96.8
South Lanarkshire 95.4 95.4
Stirling 88.7 88.7
West Dunbartonshire 98.4 98.4
West Lothian 99.2 99.2
Scotland 89.3 89.8

1.3 The looked after children statistics were collected by Children and Families statistics team in the Scottish Government from local authorities. Demographic information on all children looked after (including the most recent data covering children who were looked after between 1 August 2018 and 31 July 2019) is available here: 


The survey forms, data specifications and guidance notes for the data presented in this publication (and previous years' publications) can be seen at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/scottish-exchange-of-data-looked-after-children/

1.4 The qualifications data were provided by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). The grade boundaries and publication schedules of this information is available here: http://www.sqa.org.uk/sqa/63002.html.

1.5 The leaver destinations data were collected by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) on each young person identified as being a school leaver in September 2019 (initial destination, approximately three months after leaving school) and March 2020 (follow-up destination, approximately nine months after leaving school). The time of year that a young person leaves school can affect their destinations in these surveys, as a young person leaving school in May who starts a course in the following January could be counted as being in another destination in the initial survey, but a positive destination in the follow-up survey.

1.6 Leaver destinations Summary Statistics for Attainment and Initial Leaver Destinations, No. 2: 2020 Edition: https://www.gov.scot/publications/summary-statistics-attainment-initial-leaver-destinations-no-2-2020-edition/

and Follow-up leaver destinations no. 2: summary statistics – 2020: https://www.gov.scot/publications/summary-statistics-follow-up-leaver-destinations-no-2-2020-edition/

1.7 Achievement of CfE Levels data were gathered by the Scottish Government, and relates to achievement in the Broad General Education (BGE) based on teacher professional judgements regarding pupil's achievement in literacy and numeracy against CfE levels. A very small proportion of children have long term significant and complex additional support needs that mean that it is unlikely that they will progress through the CfE levels during their time in education. These children are recorded as 'child following individual milestones' and are included in the data. However, children for whom the teacher has been unable to make a professional judgement are not included.

1.8 Further information with regards the Achievement of CfE Levels data collection can be found here:


2. Methodology

Matching looked after children data to school outcomes

2.1 As reported in Children's Social Work Statistics 2018-19[2], there were 14,262 children looked after on 31 July 2019. The population used in this publication was established through the following process:

Illustration 3: Looked after children included in this publication, 2018/19
Pupils looked after within the last year

2.3 The looked after children data provided to Scottish Government annually includes the Scottish Candidate Number (SCN) for each child, where available. This is used to link information on looked after children to various information from schools held by Scottish Government. This includes data on attendance and absence, which is collected biennially , attainment and post-school destinations data and Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels data which are collected annually. Data are based only on pupils where there was a match on SCN and the age of the child in the looked after children dataset was appropriate for the stage associated with the SCN in the matched dataset. For example, if there was a record in the looked after children dataset for a ten year-old that matched a record in schools data for a pupil in S4, this record would be excluded from the analysis.

2.4 There are many more children looked after within the last year than those matched in this publication. Children are assigned a Scottish Candidate Number when they start primary school. If a child is under five they are unlikely to have a Scottish Candidate Number. Children also might not have a Scottish Candidate Number if they have been educated at home, in an independent school, outside Scotland or have already left school. Of looked after children aged 5 to 15 years old, 90% had a valid Scottish Candidate Number present (Table 6.1).

3. Definitions and notation

Children Looked After

3.1 Local Authorities have a responsibility to provide support to certain vulnerable young people, known as looked after children. A young person may become looked after for a number of reasons, including neglect, mental, physical or emotional abuse, parental substance misuse or poor parenting skills, complex disabilities which require specialist care, or involvement in the youth justice system. The definition of a 'looked after child' is set out in section 17(6) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 ("the 1995 Act"), as amended by the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 ("the 2007 Act") and Children's Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 ("the 2011 Act").

3.2 Supervision RequirementA children's hearing is a lay tribunal which considers and makes decisions on the welfare of the child or young person before them, taking into account all the circumstances including any offending behaviour. The hearing has to decide on the measures of supervision which are in the best interests of the child or young person. If the hearing concludes compulsory measures of supervision are necessary, it will make a Supervision Requirement which will determine the type of placement for the child. In most cases the child will continue to live at home but will be under the supervision of a social worker. In some cases the hearing will decide that the child should live away from home with relatives or other carers.

3.3 Types of placement

Community placements

  • At home with parent(s): at home with parent(s) or 'relevant person(s)' as defined in Section 93(2)(b) of the Children's (Scotland) Act 1995
  • With friends/relatives: placed with friends or relatives who are not approved foster carers. Also referred to as 'kinship care'.
  • With foster carers provided by the local authority
  • With foster carers purchased by the local authority
  • With prospective adopters
  • Other community: such as supported accommodation, hospital (e.g. at birth)

Residential placements

  • Local authority home: in local authority children's home/hostel, local authority home/hostel for children with learning disabilities, local authority home/hostel for physically disabled children
  • Voluntary home: in voluntary children's home/hostel, in voluntary home/hostel for children with learning disabilities, in voluntary home/hostel for physically disabled children
  • Residential school: in local authority residential school (home/hostel), in voluntary residential school (home/hostel), in private school, in independent school
  • Secure accommodation
  • Crisis care: for example: in women's refuge, in local authority hostel for offenders, in voluntary hostel for offenders, in local authority hostel for drug/alcohol abusers, in voluntary hostel for drug/alcohol abusers
  • Other residential: a known residential setting but does not fit with one of the above

3.4 There is information on the process by which children come to be looked after and legislation governing this on the Scottish Government website: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/People/Young-People/protecting/lac

School information

3.5 Scottish Candidate Number – A unique number created by the Scottish Qualifications Authority and assigned to each child by their school when then enter the Scottish School Education System (usually in Primary 1).

School leaver destinations

3.6 School leaver – A young person of school leaving age who left a publicly funded secondary school during or at the end of the school year. Age of school leavers was calculated as at 30 June 2018. Young people of school leaving age who left a publicly funded special school are not counted in this publication.

3.7 Post-school destinations – Destinations data collected by Skills Development Scotland using a combination of administrative data sharing by partners, contact centre follow up and the traditional follow up by operational staff. More information is available from the latest publication: https://www.gov.scot/publications/summary-statistics-attainment-initial-leaver-destinations-no-2-2020-edition/

The broad categories for leaver destinations are:

  • Higher Education – includes leavers following HND (Higher National Diploma) or HNC (Higher National Certificate) courses, degree courses, courses for the education and training of teachers and higher level courses for professional qualifications. It includes programmes at a level higher than the standard of the National Qualifications, i.e. above SCQF Level 7. Leavers with a deferred, unconditional place in higher education have also been included in this category..
  • Further Education – includes leavers undertaking full-time education which is not higher education and who are no longer on a school roll. This may include National Qualifications.
  • Training – includes leavers who are on a training course and in receipt of an allowance or grant, such as the Employability Fund national training programme. It also includes leavers who are on local authority or third sector funded training programmes that are in receipt of a training allowance or those participating in Community Jobs Scotland. From 2018/19 this category includes school leavers receiving support that would previously have been recorded as 'Activity Agreements'. This means that the proportion of 2018/19 school leavers with a destination category of Training cannot be directly compared to the proportion recorded for previous years. Further information can be found in the Activity Agreements definition below.
  • Employment – employed and in receipt of payment from their employers.
  • Voluntary Workincludes those undertaking voluntary work/volunteering which will involve a young person giving of their time and energy through a third party with or without financial allowance.
  • Activity Agreement – Activity Agreements were 'agreements between a young person and an advisor that the young person will take part in a programme of learning and activity which helps them to become ready for formal learning or employment'. From 2018/19, Activity Agreements are no longer recorded as a post-school destination. Instead, school leavers receiving this support who left during or at the end of the 2018/19 academic year are recorded in the Training category.
  • Personal Skills Development - The way in which school leavers undertaking Personal Skills Development activity are counted in these statistics has changed. In previous publications, young people participating in Personal Skills Development (PSD) were individually mapped to destination categories; this mapping was carried out by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) and Scottish Government analysts based on details of the PSD activity recorded on the SDS Customer Support System (CSS). Depending on the evidence, a leaver could be mapped to a positive destination or an unemployed seeking or unemployed not seeking destination. This meant that school leavers from special units within mainstream schools, specifically those with severe and complex needs, participating in PSD were not always being classified as in a "positive destination". In light of user feedback, we undertook to consider the categorisation of school leavers in PSD. Historic data back to 2009/10 have been revised to allow comparison over time on a consistent basis.
  • Unemployed seeking – includes those known by Skills Development Scotland or their partners to be seeking employment or training. This includes those receiving support from SDS, Department of Working and Pensions and other partners. It is based on regular contact between the supporting organisation and the individual. This does not refer to the definition of 'unemployed' used by the Department of Work and Pensions to calculate published unemployment rates.
  • Unemployed not seeking – includes all those individuals who are not yet ready or are unavailable to enter the labour market for a range of reasons. The reasons may involve ill health/sickness, prison, pregnancy, caring for children or other dependents or taking time out.
  • Unknown – destination is not known either to Skills Development Scotland or to the school attended.

3.8 Positive destinations – includes higher education, further education, training, employment, voluntary work, Personal Skills Development and (between 2010/11 and 2017/18) Activity Agreements.

3.9 Curriculum for Excellence is designed to achieve a transformation in education in Scotland by providing a coherent, more flexible and enriched curriculum for children and young people aged from 3 to 18.  The curriculum includes the totality of experiences which are planned for children and young people through their education, wherever they are being educated.

CfE Level Stage
Early The final two years of early learning and childcare before a child goes to school and P1, or later for some.
First To the end of P4, but earlier or later for some.
Second To the end of P7, but earlier or later for some.
Third and Fourth S1 to S3, but earlier or later for some. The Fourth Level broadly equates to Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework level 4. The Fourth Level experiences and outcomes are intended to provide possibilities for choice and young people's programmes will not include all of the Fourth Level outcomes.
Senior Phase S4 to S6, and college or other means of study.

Further information on Curriculum for Excellence can be found here:


Curriculum for Excellence defines five levels of learning.  The first four levels are described in the Experiences and Outcomes, with progression to qualifications described under a fifth level, the senior phase.

While children and young people should feel that the transition from one stage of learning to another is smooth, they should still be able to look forward to the excitement of starting nursery, primary school and secondary school, and finally to moving on to positive and sustained destinations.

4. Data Quality

4.1 This is an Official Statistics Publication. Official Statistics are produced to high professional standards set out in the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.  These statistics undergo regular quality assurance reviews to ensure that they meet customer needs. They are produced free from any political interference. The results contained in this publication are deemed fit for purpose, but may be revised in future years where updates are made to the data. This publication has not yet been assessed by the UK Statistics Authority.

4.2 There is more information on the data quality of the administrative sources underlying this publication here: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Children/sourcesandsuitability/StatementAdminSources

Cross-UK comparisons

4.3 Differences in the education systems of Scotland and the rest of the UK make cross-UK comparisons invalid. The most similar figures from across the UK are published here:

England - https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/statistics-looked-after-children#outcomes-for-looked-after-children

Wales - https://statswales.gov.wales/Catalogue/Health-and-Social-Care/Social-Services/Childrens-Services/Children-Looked-After/Educational-Qualifications-of-Care-Leavers

Northern Ireland - https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/topics/dhssps-statistics-and-research/childrens-services-statistics

4.4 Information on the differences between each administration's looked after children statistics is available on the Scottish Government children's statistics web site at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Children/socialservicestats

5. Enquiries

The information in this publication is available at:


Email any requests for further analysis to children.statistics@gov.scot.

If you would like to receive notification of forthcoming statistical publications, please register your interest on the Scottish Government ScotStat website at:  www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Statistics/scotstat.

Children and Families Statistics
1 September 2020


Email: children.statistics@gov.scot

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