Coronavirus (COVID-19) education recovery: key actions and next steps

Outlines our ongoing response to the impacts of the pandemic on education in Scotland, and sets out some key next steps we will take to address them.

4. Supporting Learning And Attainment

Keeping schools low-risk, open and welcoming environments

All the evidence tells us that children and young people benefit from learning within schools, and alongside their peers. The UK Chief Medical Officers have been clear that school attendance is very important for children and young people, and is critical to reduce inequality, improve life chances and enhance physical and mental health. That is why our primary aim has been to ensure schools have remained low-risk, open and welcoming to staff, children and young people during the pandemic. Working alongside partners on CERG, we continue to develop and regularly update guidance for schools that facilitates this and provides the required clarity regarding proportional mitigations.

As part of over £450m allocated to education recovery to date, we have provided local authorities with £90m to fund the implementation of those mitigations, including enhanced hygiene measures, ventilation solutions, and necessary changes to logistics such as transportation. This was supplemented with a further £10m for ventilation in August 2021, in support of a strengthened commitment to ensure all schools and early learning and childcare settings have access to CO2 monitoring, whether through fixed or mobile monitors.

As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, and as soon as the data and evidence support it as being safe, we will aim to ease restrictions in schools further so that school communities, including parents and carers, can begin to interact more freely than has been possible since early 2020.

Building a pandemic-proof system

In their second formal report, the ICEA state that:

"It is time to look to the future to redesign Scottish education as a universally designed system for all contingencies and disruptions. This system can and should develop self-directed learners; provide access to digitally-based learning as a human right; transform assessment to be continuous, inclusive and responsive; and ensure that all students and teachers are equipped with online and outdoor capabilities that will be pandemic-proof in the future and significantly better than in the present. All of this can and should occur within a universally designed system that becomes increasingly inclusive, responsive, agile and collaborative, with changes in government resource allocations that reflect this shift."

This advice provides us with a clear sense of direction, and we are investing heavily to make this aspiration become a reality. This includes our funding for additional education staff to support recovery and promote excellence and equity and our work to build on the digital learning and teaching initiatives that evolved during the pandemic. These initiatives will provide greater resilience as well as a wider range of opportunities for children and young people to engage in education (see "Digital" below).


Scotland's curriculum empowers schools to respond to the diverse needs of individual learners and to respond to the unique circumstances and challenges of the school community and, indeed, the wider community. This flexibility, as well as the curriculum's emphasis on health and wellbeing, will be vital in supporting the aims of this recovery strategy.

In 2020, we commissioned the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to undertake a review of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), to help us better understand how the curriculum is being designed and implemented in schools, and to identify areas for improvement. The OECD published its findings in June 2021.

The OECD report is clear that CfE is the right approach for Scotland. However, 10 years on from CfE being introduced, and with the more recent disruption from COVID-19 changing how we look at education, now is the right time to look at how it is being implemented. We have, therefore, confirmed we will implement in full all 12 of the OECD review's recommendations, including those on curriculum, assessment and qualifications which will see the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) replaced and Education Scotland substantially reformed. In doing so, we will look to pandemic proof the system for the future.

Teaching and support for learning

Children and young people may not have had access to a full curriculum over the last 18 months, with some re-prioritisation of focus both inevitable and appropriate. As we move forward, schools will work to support their learning in the broadest sense – including developing skills, knowledge and understanding – to help them continue to learn and achieve.

We agree that schools, and the professionals who work in them, are best placed to identify any impacts of the pandemic on individual children and young people, and to make decisions on what additional support may be required to help individuals learn and develop. This is what schools do best – assessing the educational needs of children and young people and deciding what approach would benefit each individual most.

High-quality teaching is therefore essential to providing learners with the support they need to recover from the impacts of the pandemic.

For that reason, we have already committed £240m to support local authorities to recruit additional teachers and staff to deploy more support to their schools, children and families. This investment has supported the appointment of an additional 2,200 teachers and more than 500 support staff in schools across Scotland. These additional staff are allowing schools to intensify support for individuals or groups of pupils who may have had their progress disrupted as a result of lockdown.

Case study – additional education staff supporting recovery work

One local authority reported that, using additional funding from the Scottish Government, it had recruited further staff for a range of purposes including resilience to cope with staff absences, management of COVID-19 health and safety measures, and recovery work with targeted groups of pupils.

Feedback received from schools was that, where additional staff had been allocated to a school, these teachers and pupil support assistants mainly carried out targeted work with small groups or individual pupils. This work addressed the emotional wellbeing of pupils, e.g. to support re-engagement with school for those who were most anxious about doing so. Another focus was reinforcing and revisiting key learning in literacy and numeracy with identified pupils. Work was carried out with targeted groups and with whole classes. Additional staff either worked directly with identified groups or released permanent school staff to provide this targeted support.

Figures published on 15 December show that:

  • There are now more teachers than at any time since 2008.
  • The ratio of pupils to teachers is at its lowest since 2010.
  • Primary schools have the lowest Pupil Teacher Ratio since records began.

We will continue to support local authorities with additional funding to further increase teacher numbers as part of our commitment to the recruitment of 3,500 additional teachers and 500 classroom assistants over the course of this parliamentary cycle. £50m was allocated to councils for the recruitment of 1,000 additional teachers and 500 additional pupil support assistants in the 2021-22 school year. In addition, a further £145.5m is being added permanently to the local government settlement from April 2022. This additional funding will allow local authorities to plan their future permanent workforce requirements, which will be vital in ensuring that learners get the support they need to recover from the impacts of the pandemic.

Over the course of this parliamentary term, expert staff in local authorities and schools will be able to make use of a range of funding and resources to tackle the poverty related attainment gap and support recovery through equitable support to improve educational outcomes for those most impacted by poverty and whom we know have been most impacted by COVID-19. They will implement the strategies and approaches they judge to be most helpful to individual children and young people, learning from a range of evidence and building upon the examples of multi-service collaboration evident in local responses to COVID-19.

They will be doing so as part of a wider education system that will offer professional support, scrutiny and challenge. For example, Education Scotland will maintain a strong focus on supporting learning and teaching, including by taking the following actions in partnership with others:

  • continue to publish advice on approaches and resources that can be implemented by schools to address the impacts of the pandemic on children and young people;
  • collaborating with partners to identify, develop and promote strategies for high quality learning, teaching and assessment that are aspirational and forward looking (including development of skills);
  • supporting schools and local authorities to deliver on their responsibilities for a range of national improvement priorities including literacy, numeracy & mathematics, Gaelic, STEM, creativity, improving gender balance, and developing the young workforce.
  • collaborating with a range of partners to ensure the benefits and opportunities provided by COP26 are used to accelerate progress in embedding Learning for Sustainability.
  • providing support to local authorities, schools and partners to meet their responsibilities in relation to the new UNCRC requirements, including support for development of Children's Rights and Well-being Impact Assessments.
  • working with RIC Lead Officers, Scottish Government and other partners to consider next steps for maximising the potential of regional collaboratives to support excellence and equity.
  • continuing to offer a significant suite of professional learning and leadership programmes at national level, building capacity across the system and taking account of recommendations in the recent OECD report.
  • collaborating with partners to provide resources and professional learning to ensure that children and young people are present, participating, supported, and achieving, and to ensure equality of opportunity for those with protected characteristics and the inclusion of marginalised and vulnerable groups.

Case study – Recovery and Improvement Professional Learning Pilot

A 'Numeracy and Mathematics Recovery and Improvement Professional Learning Pilot' was launched by Education Scotland in March 2021, to support improvement and efficiency in teaching, learning and assessment and swiftly address any learning loss that occurred in session 2020-2021 as a result of COVID-19.

This pilot, which is being delivered in partnership with over 30 primary schools from Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire and Aberdeenshire, is being co-designed and delivered by a specialist team of officers from Education Scotland, local authority leads and Headteachers. The pilot capitalises on research from Wright et al to develop an experimental framework of pedagogical tools for intervention and draws upon external international expertise and advice from the Maths Recovery Council. Throughout session 2020-21 over 150 practitioners have engaged with the pilot programme, which is predicted to reach and track the progress of over 4000 children during the implementation support phase in 2021-22.

Feedback from the initial launch and the subsequent training sessions has been overwhelmingly positive. Local leads and headteachers have reported that the pilot links effectively to learning needs to support COVID-19 recovery and mitigate potential learning loss. Sampling of participants is already providing interesting insights. Using appropriate benchmarking, at the initial stage of the pilot, individual teacher confidence levels in relation to the effective delivery of numeracy and mathematics has increased, as has the understanding of mathematical pedagogy to ensure coherent progression for learners. Teachers have reported that they have enhanced their skillset in identifying gaps in learning through the use of rich assessment interviews and are already providing targeted and personal learning routes as a result.

This pilot, whilst aimed at mitigating potential learning loss as a result of the pandemic, provides a new landscape to inform national policy direction in relation to improvements in numeracy and mathematics. The nature of this pilot connects and delivers improvement directly to children and young people through a joint delivery approach with school leaders, local authority improvement teams and specialist leads from Education Scotland. An initial evaluation of the pilot is expected in late 2021, and it is planned to commence phase 2 in spring 2022. Subsequent phases of implementation will take place thereafter, informed by the ongoing evaluation of impact.

Acknowledging the benefits of outdoor learning, we have provided £2m of dedicated support to residential outdoor education centres and a further £500,000 in funding for recovery activities which utilise outdoor learning over the course of the pandemic. This has safeguarded the sector for the future, as well as ensuring that high quality outdoor educational expertise is available to support young people as they recover from the pandemic. As we move through this parliamentary term, we will also remove further barriers to accessing outdoor education by ensuring young people are not excluded from taking part in such trips due to their financial circumstances.

Parental and learner engagement

Over the course of the past 18 months, pupils and parents have experienced two lengthy periods of remote learning, with further large numbers of pupils having to self-isolate and learn from home throughout that time.

Parental organisations such as the National Parent Forum of Scotland and Connect have told us that the experience over the past 18 months has brought significant challenges for families. Families' experiences of this disruption will have varied based on their circumstances and other factors. In some instances, the links between parents and their children's learning will have strengthened during this recent period. For example, for some parents, the remote learning experience, providing regular daily exposure to the learning experiences of their children, will have improved their awareness of and connection with their children's learning at school in new ways. Parent Councils, which remain a bedrock of our approach to involving parents in the life and work of schools, have often adapted well to the circumstances, developing new ways of engaging remotely.

In other respects – for instance, in relation to the necessary restrictions on parents entering school buildings – some of the established links between home and school, which had been essential to the culture of school communities right across Scotland, have been considerably affected. Online parent consultations, developed across a number of areas, have been welcomed by many, whilst others will welcome a return to in-school consultations and meetings, once these can be reintroduced safely.

2021 is the final year of our "Learning Together" plan – the national plan on parental involvement and engagement. As we work with partners in parental organisations, local authorities and third sector organisations to refresh our policy framework on parental engagement, we will take a strengths-based approach, building on the resilience and adaptability shown by families and school practitioners. We will consult closely with national parent organisations, including the National Parent Forum of Scotland and Connect, ensuring that parents' needs and concerns help to influence the implementation of the next steps set out in this document. Our recovery plan for parental involvement and engagement, which we will develop in the first half of the academic year, will be a vital aspect of our route map out of restrictions. The plan will aim to step up our approach to parental engagement; to "pandemic proof" our practice and approach to parental engagement; to retain the new approaches that we have learned during the pandemic, and; to re-engage with the relationship-based approach that was so important to parental engagement in Scotland prior Covid. The themes of communication and digital, equality and equity, broader family support are likely to feature prominently in this work.

Learner voice and participation

The new Children and Young People's Education Council, and the inclusion of young people as members of the Scottish Education Council, will help to ensure that children and young people's voice influences the implementation of the next steps set out in this document. The participation and voice of children and young people will be equally important within each and every school and early learning setting. We will continue to provide the advice and support that schools need in order to take a rights-based approach, and to adapt and improve their own recovery plans in response to children and young people's priorities.

It is important, however, that we integrate this approach beyond the main strategic policy groups. We want to make it the norm for children and young people to be involved in decision-making across Scotland, so that they are at the heart of decisions that affect them at local and national levels in line with Article 12 (right to be heard) of the UNCRC. In relation to school education, this means that we will seek to gather and take account of children and young people's voice right across our education portfolio, including our work on the Scottish Attainment Challenge, race equality education, senior phase and qualifications, additional support for learning, the learning estate strategy and school consultations. As we implement this approach, we need to improve the skills and awareness of policy makers and decision-makers. We will therefore seek and take account of expert advice and guidance of children's rights organisations, children and young people organisations and children and young people themselves, monitoring how we are doing, and adjusting and improving our approach.


For some time now, schools across Scotland have successfully used digital technology in classrooms to help motivate and engage children and young people in their learning – and during periods of lockdown, we relied heavily upon digital technology to maintain learning and crucial contact between teachers and learners.

To support continued learning during the pandemic, we provided funding of £25m for around 70,000 devices and 14,000 connectivity packages which were distributed to learners across Scotland – and we are committed to providing a device to every child in Scotland during this parliamentary term. A number of local authorities have already distributed devices to pupils on a 1-to-1 basis and others have committed to doing so in the near future. Ensuring every school-aged pupil in Scotland has a device and an internet connection will help remove technology related barriers to learning across the whole country.

We have seen numerous innovative ways in which councils have used these devices to support remote learning, including lockdown journals, online dance instruction and art lessons, maths-based scavenger hunts and digital assemblies, as well as the use of digital hubs to help parents and carers support remote learning.

Over the course of 2020 and 2021, we also developed the National e-Learning Offer (NeLO) into a full scale programme which includes the following:

  • Live, interactive lessons through e-Sgoil;
  • Expansion of the online and remote learning options available to schools in both the Broad General Education and Senior Phase;
  • Study support webinars and resources have been developed;
  • Local partnership solutions were also developed, facilitated by Regional Improvement Collaboratives;
  • Recorded content for learners to use as directed by their teacher (from the West Partnership); and
  • Support, training materials and events for teachers to deliver remote learning (from Education Scotland)

Significant innovation and growth took place over the pandemic, building on the solid foundations of the Glow platform and the trailblazing work of e-Sgoil. By the time of the January lockdown, we saw schools, teachers and young people making much more extensive use of the resources available through the NeLO – in part enabled by the roll out of devices which reduced the number of young people who could not access remote learning because they lacked a device or internet access.

While enforced remote learning was clearly second best to in-person learning, the experience has given us evidence and understanding of how digital and remote learning platforms can enhance young people's experience of education and provide more tools for teachers and schools to engage their pupils in learning. We are already building on this learning and working to understand how this offer should be evolved into the future, including through the delivery of a National Digital Academy which will form a key part of an evolving pandemic proof education system.

At present, we are maintaining this offer so that schools can use it to support those pupils who may need to access additional resources to consolidate learning in a particular area of knowledge. Equally, it remains a valuable resource for any pupil who is required to self-isolate. The roll out of devices to all children and young people will continue to support increased use of digital resources, as teachers and schools become more certain that these are accessible to all learners.

The Learning Estate Investment Programme

We have continued to progress work on the £2 billion Learning Estate Investment Programme (LEIP) during the course of the pandemic. This programme will replace some of Scotland's worst condition schools and/or deliver new schools to address housing growth with modern, state of the art, learning environments, thus playing an important role in supporting good quality learning and teaching.

The LEIP prioritises schools identified by local authorities as being in need of updating, to ensure rapid progress where most required and will benefit around 50,000 pupils across Scotland. Phase 1 and 2 of the LEIP will deliver 36 new schools or campuses benefitting approximately 33,500 children and young people across Scotland. We expect to make an announcement on the timescale for Phase 3 later this year.

Next Steps

In addition to the work set out above, we will take the following key next steps to support learning and attainment and recover from the impacts of COVID-19:

(1) We will support the recruitment of at least 3,500 additional teachers and 500 classroom assistants over and above the 1,400 teachers recruited during the pandemic. This will mean that by the end of the parliament there will be almost 5,000 more teachers in our schools than before the pandemic.

(2) Continue discussions, through the SNCT, on reducing teachers' class contact time by an hour and a half per week, with the aim of giving teachers the time they need to reflect on, plan and collaborate in the interests of good quality learning and teaching.

(3) Continue to develop the National e-Learning Offer, including its support for teachers, establishing how it can support learning during the recovery period and into the future, including the development of a National Digital Academy.

(4) Provide every child in Scotland with a device to get online, including a free internet connection where required and the support to use it during the life of this parliament.

(5) Invest £19.4m to support a six year mentoring programme to help young people fulfil their potential. The Hunter Foundation has added a further £7m to the programme, which will be delivered in partnership with local authorities that wish to participate and will be part of the Scottish Government's Young Person's Guarantee, to provide long term support where it is needed most.

(7) Publish an implementation plan which sets out how we will work with all those involved in education in Scotland to take forward a whole system response to the OECD recommendations and the Stobart paper. The plan will be published in October 2021.

(8) Actively consider what changes may be required to our qualifications and assessment system. This work will be informed by the OECD's comparative analysis of assessment and qualifications approaches, lessons learned during COVID and in dialogue with young people, parents, teachers and the wider education system.

(9) Local authorities and schools will continue to prioritise personalised support to meet the individual needs of all children and young people. This is in line with the guidance on Curriculum for Excellence in the recovery phase, first published in June 2020.



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