Education (Scotland) Bill: fairer Scotland duty summary

Fairer Scotland Duty Assessment (FSDA) for the Education (Reform) Bill.

Education (Scotland) Bill : Fairer Scotland Duty Summary

Title of policy, strategy or programme: Education (Scotland) Bill

Summary of aims and expected outcomes of strategy, proposal, programme or policy

The Education (Scotland) Bill is in two parts. Part 1 establishes a new qualifications body, to be known as Qualifications Scotland, to replace the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). Part 2 establishes the office of His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education in Scotland, removing these functions from Education Scotland.

Qualifications Scotland will be set up as a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB), including appropriate governance arrangements and statutory functions. As an operationally independent organisation, the provisions set out the basis for how Qualifications Scotland is governed and how it will be able to operate. The operational detail is being developed in parallel as part of the design of the new body, and once established, operational decisions will be the responsibility of Qualifications Scotland.

His Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Education in Scotland will be responsible for the statutory functions of inspection. The HM Chief Inspector will lead a new independent education inspectorate, to take forward the education provision inspection functions that currently sit within Education Scotland. The Bill sets out the governance arrangements and statutory functions necessary in relation to the full range of educational establishments and services currently inspected, from early learning and childcare to adult learning. The operational detail is being developed in parallel as part of the design of the new body, and once established, operational decisions will be the responsibility of the HM Chief Inspector.

Summary of Evidence

There is a strong correlation between education attainment and deprivation. Lower attainment concentrated in the most deprived areas is sustained and persistent over time, regardless of the measure of deprivation or at which age educational attainment is measured. The Scottish Attainment Challenge was launched in February 2015 with the strategic aim of 'closing the poverty-related attainment gap between children and young people from the least and most disadvantaged communities.

Evidence shows there is a gap between the most and least deprived primary school pupils (P1, P4 and P7 combined) across age groups for expected Curriculum for Excellence levels of literacy (20.5%) and numeracy (17%). There is also a gap for pupils at S3 in these levels, at 13.7% for literacy and 13.6% in numeracy.

Evidence also shows there is a a gap between the most and least deprived of those attaining qualifications across National 5s (15.6%), Highers (16%) and Advanced Highers (11.5%) with regards to education national qualifications.

Learners from less advantaged social backgrounds tend to be over-represented in vocational programmes, according to research in OECD countries where the share of students with at least one tertiary-educated parent is considerably higher in upper secondary general programmes than in vocational ones. We can therefore assume by looking at the uptake of non-national qualifications, that is Professional Awards and Diplomas, Apprenticeships and Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQ), that these qualifications are more popular among people from more deprived areas as these young people are more often in employment or unemployment, and less likely to be studying non-national qualifactions, than those from least deprived areas if we look at the Annual Participation Measure (APM).

The APM reports on the education and employment activity of 16–19-year-olds in Scotland. In 2023, those who live in more deprived areas are 8.3% less likely to be reported as participating compared to those from less deprived areas.

22.7% of 16–19-year-olds from more deprived areas were in employment compared to 15.1% from less deprived areas who mainly remain in education, 82.1% against 64.3% from the most deprived areas.

Evidence also shows inequality on skills and qualifications: the proportion of people aged 16-64 with low or no qualifications is highest in the most deprived Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) quintile at 18.3 percent, while in the least deprived areas this percentage is only 2.9.


Qualifications Scotland

Qualifications Scotland will be taking on the current statutory functions of the SQA. These functions will enable Qualifications Scotland to design, develop and provide a wide range of different qualifications and awards that can continue to meet the ever-evolving needs of Scotland’s learners. As highlighted in the evidence section above, it will be the expectation that Qualifications Scotland provides and supports access to a range of qualifications and awards that can have a positive effect on both entries and attainment levels of individuals and groups from less advantaged backgrounds. For example, ensuring all education and training establishments regardless of location have access to National Qualifications; and providing a range of different types of qualifications and awards, such as Scottish Vocational Qualifications and work-based awards, to support the obtaining of qualifications and development of skills across all age groups, backgrounds and regions, to support progression in education, training and employment.

Qualifications Scotland will also take on the SQA’s accreditation function. Effective accreditation and regulation of the qualifications on offer in Scotland is essential for a thriving and world-leading education and skills system. Ensuring the quality of qualifications is crucial to protecting young people and adult learners and encouraging a wide range of qualifications and awards for learners, education establishments, employers and industry sectors. This is particularly important in supporting access to qualifications and awards for those from less advantaged backgrounds, as more, higher-quality choices can encourage participation and progression through education, training and the workplace.

Establishing Qualifications Scotland with both these sets of functions will ensure the positive impacts of the SQA’s qualifications offer continues as part of the new organisation. Qualifications Scotland will be expected to continue developing services, products and policies to support access to qualifications and therefore progression in learning and work for those from less advantaged backgrounds.

The legislation itself will not prescribe how Qualifications Scotland will do this. The Bill gives Qualifications Scotland a legislative foundation to deliver qualifications. Qualifications Scotland will make its own operational decisions in relation to these functions, and with these it will be their duty and responsibility to identify and support how issues relating to different equality impacts can be addressed as a result of these decisions. As such, we expect these aspects of the legislation to have a neutral impact on inequality of outcome given the services that seek to address these are either already in the system, or will be for Qualifications Scotland to determine as part of their own decision and policy making, ensuring these align with national objectives to reduce social, economic and regional inequality.

The legislation will, however, provide Qualifications Scotland with a new governance and accountability model. This new model will ensure learners, teachers and wider stakeholders involved in education, skills and the employment system are better involved in the body’s decision-making, and better able to hold the organisation to account for their decisions.

In this new governance model, it will be particularly important that individuals and groups from marginalised parts of society and those from less socio-economically advantaged communities have equity of involvement alongside less marginalised and socially and economically deprived stakeholders. For example, the new model will require there to be a Learner Interest Committee that can provide views in relation to the decisions that Qualifications Scotland will make. Membership of this Committee must include a range of different learners or learner groups who have experience of qualifications. While the legislation will not prescribe the exact membership of this Committee to ensure flexibility and adaptability, it is the expectation that learners from less advantaged communities or regions will have opportunities to sit on this Committee, as well as for wider engagement with these groups to influence its work and advice.

Furthermore, the addition of a new Learner Charter will serve as a strengthened tool for holding the organisation to account. The Charter will set out what learners can expect of Qualifications Scotland when delivering their qualifications. The legislation will prescribe the need to involve the broad range of learners in Scotland in the creation of this Charter to ensure it can factor in the different needs and considerations of Scotland’s diverse learner sectors – it will be essential that this includes input from learners from deprived communities across Scotland.

It is expected that through improved governance, stronger roles for learners, teachers and other stakeholders, and greater accountability to learners, the body will make better, more informed, and more equitable decisions. More involvement from those from less advantaged social, economic and/or regional backgrounds is an essential aspect of this. As such, we expect there to be a positive impact of the legislation on these various communities and groups, with the extent of these positive impacts realised through the implementation that follows the legislation.


Given the focus on independence for the new inspectorate, the HM Chief Inspector has a power to set the frequency and focus for inspections, as opposed to this remaining under the control of the Scottish Ministers. The legislation requires the inspectorate body to set out these aspects of its operations. It is expected that this will include the quality and improvement standards to evaluate and report on (applied to different sectors and services), different models for how inspections should be carried out, the circumstances and number of inspections, and how frequently.

The establishment of the office of HM Chief Inspector presents an important opportunity to ensure more learner and service user engagement and representation. However, there is also an opportunity to strengthen learner and parent/carer voices in the governance arrangements, alongside other important perspectives, such as those of teachers and other education professionals. This aligns with the opportunities set out by Professor Muir in his report to Scottish Ministers to “align inspection with the vision of putting learners at the centre and incorporating the implications of the UNCRC Article 27”.

Summary of assessment findings

There are no changes being made to the proposal as a result of this assessment. This is because the Bill itself is only responsible for creating the legislative foundations for the creation of two new public bodies. The Bill sets out the governance and accountability model, and the statutory functions for Qualifications Scotland and HM Chief Inspector of Education in Scotland. The bodies once established will be responsible for operational decisions and therefore they will be responsible for assessing the specific impacts on those from less advantaged socio-economic or regional backgrounds as a consequence of specific service or policy decisions.

The services both bodies will provide are framed by the statutory functions set out in legislation. As part of this assessment, it was considered whether the statutory functions both bodies will have create any barriers to the organisations’ ability to reduce inequality.

Qualifications Scotland will have the principal functions of designing and delivering qualifications. These functions place no restrictions on what qualifications they can design (apart from university degrees), where they can deliver them, or who they can deliver them too. It gives Qualifications Scotland the power to make these decisions itself. The evidence set out in this assessment, ranging across school education, further education, skills and employment, and regional inequality, provides no rationale for changing the flexible, adaptable, broad and open remit Qualifications Scotland will have to deliver its qualifications functions. It is this flexible approach that will better support the reduction of socio-economic and regional inequalities through supporting attainment, skills development, employment and personal or work-place progression via their qualifications and assessment offers.

His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education will have the principal function of inspecting and reporting on provision of education in Scotland in the full range of establishments and services as is currently inspected. This function places no restriction on how inspections are carried out and the specifics that will be inspected, nor any regional differences in where inspection is carried out. They will have the power to inspect in any geographic location in Scotland and in any service as set out in the legislation.

The Bill gives HM Chief Inspector the power to make decisions on how it inspects, what it inspects and when it inspects. The evidence set out in this assessment, ranging across school education, further education, skills and employment, and different regions, provides no rationale for restricting the scope and remit of the Chief Inspector to make their own informed decisions on inspection. It is this remit of the Chief Inspector that will enable more independent decision making and assessment of education in Scotland, and better support the Government and Local Authorities to address socio-economic and regional inequality in education.

While the assessment of this evidence has not changed any of the key policies or provisions in the Bill, it is crucial in understanding and shaping how the new bodies will be implemented. In addition to the legislation, there is design and delivery work to reform and improve how services will be delivered within the system. It is a priority that the impact of both current, changed or new services have on those from less advantaged socio-economic or regional backgrounds are understood, and that the opportunity to address equality of access or outcome through revising services is seized.

Sign off

Name: Lisa Bird

Job title: Deputy Director Education and Reform Division

Date: May 2024



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