Embedding children's rights: position statement

The report sets out the progress made in relation to children's rights in Scotland since 2016.

8. Education, Leisure and Cultural Activities

Relevant UNCRC Articles: 28, 29, 30, and 31

This cluster group focuses on the right of all children to an education that will help them to achieve their potential, without discrimination; the right to play and leisure and to participate in cultural life and the arts.

8.1 Equal Access to Education

LOIPR request: 29(a) equal access to quality education and improving attainment.

Raising attainment and closing the attainment gap

The Scottish Government is committed to substantially eliminating the poverty related attainment gap and is investing £1 billion in the Scottish Attainment Challenge over the course of this parliamentary term towards this. This record funding, which builds on our investment of £750 million over the course of the last Parliament, enables headteachers, schools, councils and other partners to provide targeted support for the most disadvantaged pupils.

Evidence demonstrates that good progress is being made. The Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels (ACEL) data shows young people gaining fundamental educational building blocks, despite interruptions in their schooling due to COVID-19. In the two-year period between 2016-17 and 2018-19, the proportions of primary school pupils achieving the expected levels in literacy had increased by 3.1 percentage points, while in numeracy there had been an increase of 2.7 percentage points. Almost nine out of ten headteachers reported having seen an improvement in closing the gap in attainment and/or health and wellbeing thanks to Attainment Scotland Fund projects.

The Scottish Government's refreshed Scottish Attainment Challenge programme, from 2022-23, will empower schools and councils to drive education recovery and accelerate progress in tackling the attainment gap, with targeted funding through a new fairer funding model and a refreshed mission: 'to use education to improve outcomes for children and young people impacted by poverty, with a focus on tackling the poverty-related attainment gap'. From April 2022, a £200 million investment in the Scottish Attainment Challenge is supporting a range of activity, including: £130 million of Pupil Equity Funding reaching 97% of schools; over £43 million through Strategic Equity Funding; and over £10 million in Care Experienced Children and Young People funding.

Continued support and challenge is being provided to local authorities through Education Scotland and 32 Attainment Advisors to drive progress in tackling the poverty-related attainment gap. Local authorities have set ambitious stretch aims for progress in further closing the poverty-related attainment gap. We will continue to work in partnership with local authorities, schools and other partners to understand where further support and focus is required.

8.2 Access to Higher Education

The Scottish Government believes that every child growing up in Scotland, regardless of their background, should have an equal chance of attending university and participating in higher education. To support this, the Scottish Government pays tuition fees for eligible full-time Scottish domiciled students studying for their first Higher National Certificate/Diploma and/or undergraduate degree at Scottish higher education (HE) providers. This means that Scottish domiciled students do not have to take on the additional student loan debt of up to £27,750 (over 3 years) owed by their peers in other parts of the UK. Bursaries and student loans are available to ensure that Scottish domiciled HE students are able to support themselves, and a minimum income guarantee provides financial living support for the poorest households. Scottish domiciled students studying in the rest of the UK are eligible to apply for a tuition fee loan and living cost support in the form of bursaries and student loans.

In December 2016, the first Commissioner for Fair Access was appointed to lead a system-wide approach to deliver fair access to Higher Education in Scotland. The Scottish Government has accepted the ambitious agenda for change laid out by the Commission on Widening Access, including stretching national and institutional targets.

More Scots are being accepted through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service to attend university in Scotland than ever before. Scottish domiciled full-time first degree university entrants rose 29.1% between 2006-2007 and 2020-2021 from 25,790 to 33,285[34]. Latest figures also show that in 2020-2021, 16.7% of Scottish domiciled entrants to full-time first degrees were from the 20% most deprived areas in Scotland[35], the highest on record. This is 0.7 percentage points above the interim target of 16% by 2021 as set out by the Commission on Widening Access.

8.3 Additional Support for Learning

Additional support needs can arise for any reason and be of short or long term duration. Additional support may be required to overcome needs arising from the learning environment; health or disability; family circumstances or social and emotional factors, etc. This includes, for example, Gypsy/Travellers, highly able pupils, asylum seeking/refugee children and Service children (children from Armed Forces families). The rights of children and young people to be heard in decisions around their additional support needs is discussed at section 3.13.

Scottish Ministers want all children and young people to get the support they need to reach their full learning potential. Education authorities have duties under the Education (Additional Support for Learning)(Scotland) Act 2004 to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of their pupils. Education authorities also have duties under the Equality Act 2010 to actively address inequality and prevent direct disability discrimination, indirect disability discrimination and discrimination arising from disability and harassment or victimisation of pupils on the basis, or a perceived basis, of protected characteristics, including disability.

The Scottish Government, COSLA and ADES are taking forward a range of work to deliver the Additional Support for Learning Action Plan (2020). The actions in the Plan seek to address the findings of the independently chaired Review of Additional Support for Learning Implementation. A progress report, published November 2021, highlighted that 8 actions have been fully completed within the first year since the review. Completed actions include the publication in August 2021 of a Vision Statement for success for children and young people with additional support needs, which was created by young people from the Young Ambassadors for Inclusion network with the support of the ASLIG (Additional Support for Learning Implementation Group).

In 2019, in response to recommendations of the Doran Review of Learning Provision for Children and Young People with Complex Additional Support Needs, the National Strategic Commissioning Group published a Ten Year Strategy 2017-2026 for the Learning Provision for Children and Young People with Complex Additional Support Needs. The Scottish Government is working with the Strategic Commissioning Group to implement the Strategy.

We continue to provide additional support to local authorities by investing an additional £15 million every year to further enhance capacity to respond effectively to the individual needs of children and young people.

Support for Learning During COVID

The Scottish Government prioritised the needs of vulnerable pupils, including those with additional support needs, as part of our response to COVID-19. In person learning provision was made available for vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers in the spring and summer of 2020 and between January and March 2021. The guidance on support for vulnerable pupils was updated in July 2020 to include a clearer and expanded definition of children and young people whose circumstances may mean that they are vulnerable.

The Scottish Government also worked with partners to develop continuity in learning guidance, which made clear that local authorities and schools should ensure that personalised support was in place to meet the individual physical and emotional needs of children and young people. Education Scotland also developed guidance on the delivery of remote learning and resources to support children and young people with complex additional support needs during periods of remote learning.

An Equity Audit was published in January 2021 to deepen understanding of the impact of COVID-19 and school building closures on children from disadvantaged backgrounds. This provided a comprehensive overview of national and international research, supplemented with local evidence gathered from 54 schools across Scotland.

In summer 2021, the Scottish Government provided £20 million of funding to deliver a range of activities for children and young people and their families, with a focus on supporting and promoting mental health and wellbeing. The funding aimed to ensure children were provided with opportunities to socialise, play and reconnect within their local communities and environments. The Scottish Government also provided additional funding of £4 million to support schools and local authorities to offer enhanced Easter Study provisions over the Easter break 2022. Education recovery is discussed further at section 1.4.

8.4 Children and Young People with Disabilities

LOIPR request: 29(g) ensuring access to inclusive education for disabled children.

Education authorities have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils. They also have duties under the Education (Disability Strategies and Pupils' Educational Records)(Scotland) Act 2002 to develop and publish accessibility strategies to: increase pupils' access to the curriculum; access to the physical environment of schools; and improve communication with pupils with disabilities.

The Scottish Government is clear that children and young people should learn in the environment which best suits their needs, whether that is in a mainstream or special school setting. The Standards in Scotland's Schools etc. Act 2000 places a duty on education authorities to provide education in a mainstream school, unless specific exceptions apply. These exceptions enable children and young people to learn in a special school or in a specialist unit, if that best suits their needs. The Scottish Government published updated guidance for schools and education authorities on mainstreaming in 2019.

8.5 Health and Wellbeing in Schools

LOIPR request: 29(c) improving wellbeing and addressing bullying in schools.

Health and wellbeing (HWB) is one of the eight curricular areas in Curriculum for Excellence. Along with literacy and numeracy, it is one of the three core areas that are the responsibility of all staff in the school. Learning is designed to ensure children and young people develop the knowledge and understanding, skills, capabilities and attributes which they need for mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing. Education Scotland has produced Experiences and Outcomes on Health and Wellbeing to provide a set of clear and concise statements about children's learning and progression as they move throughout school. Learning outcomes include planning for choices and change, building positive relationships, and physical health including diet, rest and sleep. The experiences and outcomes are backed up by benchmarks that help provide clarity on the national standards expected within each curriculum area at each level.

In the course of 2021-22, the Scottish Government worked with education authority partners to introduce a Health and Wellbeing Census across Scotland. The Census provides participating education authorities and schools with consistent, sustainable information on the health and wellbeing of pupils across Scotland and will inform local and national policy.

8.6 Anti-Bullying

Respect for All: The National Approach to Anti-Bullying for Scotland's Children and Young People (2017) provides the overarching framework for all adults working with children and young people and includes direct reference to prejudice-based bullying, including bullying motivated by racism, sexism, homophobia, or prejudice and discrimination towards disability or faith.

Following the publication of 'Respect for All', a consistent and uniform approach to recording and monitoring incidents of bullying in schools was developed and agreed by a Recording and Monitoring Working Group. The Group published supplementary guidance in 2018 which included guidance on the responsibility to record any underlying prejudice including details of any protected characteristic(s). All local authorities in Scotland are expected to use the new approach to recording and monitoring on SEEMiS, the schools management information system. Improvements were made to SEEMiS which now allows schools to record when bullying was motivated by or included prejudice against a protected characteristic. A formal evaluation will be carried out in 2022 to assess how successfully the new approach has been introduced across Scotland.

The Scottish Government has fully funded respectme, Scotland's anti-bullying service, since its inception in 2007. The service provides support to all adults working with children and young people, to give them the practical skills and confidence to deal with all types of bullying behaviour. In 2022-23, the Scottish Government will provide over £373,480 to the organisation.

We also provided funding to LGBT Youth Scotland to work collaboratively with respectme to produce a resource to address homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, which is in line with 'Respect for All'. This was published in 2017. We also funded the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (CRER) to produce similar guidance for schools to address bullying based on race (2019) In addition, guidance to support transgender pupils in schools was published in August 2021.

8.7 Exclusions

LOIPR request: 29(b) monitoring and addressing the use of school exclusions.

The national exclusion rate in Scotland is published biannually. Cases of exclusion decreased substantially from 14,990 in 2018-19 to 8,323 in 2020-21. The rate of exclusion per 1,000 pupils saw a concurrent decrease from 21.6 to 11.9.

We want to develop peaceful, positive and inclusive learning environments where all our children and young people benefit fully from Curriculum for Excellence. There are a range of strategies and programmes which schools can use to improve relationships and behaviour and prevent the need for exclusion: these include good behaviour management and behaviour support teams; and solution-oriented, restorative and nurture approaches and programmes.

Where a child or young person with an additional support need is at risk of exclusion, the education authority must take all reasonable steps to ensure that appropriate provision can be made to meet the child or young person's additional support needs during the period of exclusion. An education authority must continue to provide additional support as required, under the terms of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004.

Restorative approaches include support to enhance student wellbeing, literacy and numeracy, targeted at students at risk of repeated exclusion. At the heart of a Nurture approach is a focus on wellbeing and relationships and a drive to support the growth and development of children and young people. The National Improvement Hub provides all of our practitioners, parents and young people themselves with specific good practice models to review.

Our national guidance on exclusions, Included, engaged and involved part 2: preventing and managing school exclusions (2017) has a renewed focus on prevention, early intervention and response to individual need, in line with the principles of Getting it right for every child. The guidance also includes information on the legislation providing children and their parents with the right to appeal an exclusion. Following decision to exclude, pupils with legal capacity and their parents have the right under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 and the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Act 2000 to make an appeal to an education authority appeal committee. There is a wide range of information and advice available for parents, carers and young people on the right to appeal and the appeal process, including for parents and carers of children and young people with additional support needs.

Children and young people in Scotland can access publicly funded legal assistance (for both advice and representation) on the same broad range of issues that an adult can, as long as they have the capacity to instruct a solicitor (see section 3.14 ).

8.8 Curriculum for Excellence

Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) Education

LOIPR request: 29(e) sexual and reproductive health education.

RSHP education is an integral part of the health and wellbeing area of the school curriculum in Scotland and is delivered in a manner appropriate to the age and stage of education of children and young people. This aspect of the curriculum is intended to enable children and young people to build positive relationships as they grow older and should present facts in an objective, balanced and sensitive manner within a framework of sound values and an awareness of the law, including the law on sexual behaviour.

Scottish Government guidance (2014) on the conduct of RSHP education in schools clearly states how important it is that RSHP education helps to address diversity and reflects issues relating to, but not limited to, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) young people or children with LGBTI parents, and hate‑crime reporting. We are committed to updating this teaching guidance by early 2023.

In addition, an online, nationally available teaching resource (2019) for RSHP education includes up-to-date content that can support teachers to deliver high quality and age and stage appropriate RSHP education across the entire 3-18 age range of the Scottish curriculum.

Personal and Social Education (PSE) is a taught subject that covers aspects of planning for choices and changes, substance misuse, relationships, sexual health and parenthood, in addition to aspects of physical activity, sport and health.

In March 2017, the Scottish Government announced the intention to undertake a national review of PSE. The Review of PSE: Preparing Scotland's Children and Young People for Learning, Work and Life (2019) outlines findings and the steps to take to strengthen PSE delivery and the wider network of pastoral guidance. Sixteen recommendations have been identified as a result of the findings of the thematic inspection and feedback received from delivery partners and stakeholders, including young people. A joint approach is being taken between the Scottish Government, COSLA, ADES, local authorities and specialist third sector partners where appropriate to deliver a shared policy aim.

Rights Education in Schools

LOIPR request: 29(f) human rights education.

There are many references to children's rights in the Curriculum for Excellence, most notably in the areas of social studies and health and wellbeing. A sub-group of education agencies and children's organisation has been set up under the auspices of Scotland's Curriculum and Assessment Board in order to review the curriculum with respect to how it addresses children's rights. The group will bring recommendations back to the Curriculum and Assessment Board. Scottish Government support for UNICEF's Rights Respecting Schools programme is discussed at section 2.9.

Learning for Sustainability (LfS) is a theme across Curriculum for Excellence and an approach to learning within it. LfS brings together sustainable development education, outdoor learning and global citizenship. Through exploration of these topics, learners can build the values, attitudes, knowledge, skills and confidence to engage in the key issues of sustainability, not only in their own communities but also globally. LfS, therefore, provides a valuable context through which learners can engage with matters of social justice and children's rights.

Scotland's school pupils performed very well in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) Global Competence Survey[36]. Scotland's average score of 534 was higher than the average of all participating countries of 474. Compared to the OECD average, students in Scotland had above average scores in their attitudes towards immigrants (0.34), respect for people from other cultures (0.25), and awareness of global issues (0.09). These are very positive findings, supported and enhanced by our cross curricular framework of LfS.

8.9 Early Learning and Childcare

LOIPR request: 24(a) and 29(d) ensuring sufficient resources for early learning and childcare.

The Scottish Government has made a significant investment in early learning and childcare (ELC) by expanding the entitlement to funded hours to all 'eligible children' from up to 600 hours a year to up to 1,140 hours a year from August 2021. If families were to purchase the funded childcare provided by the Scottish Government themselves, it would cost around £5,000 per eligible child per year. In 2022-23, we are investing more than £1 billion through local government in funded ELC.

Funded ELC is available to all 3 and 4 year olds, irrespective of parents' employment status, and around a quarter of 2 year olds, those that evidence suggest would benefit most from access to high quality ELC. Eligibility criteria target this early offer to children with experience of care or with a parent with experience of care; and those in families in receipt of no or low income benefits. The long-term benefits this investment aims to achieve are that: children's development improves and the attainment gap narrows; family wellbeing improves through enhanced nurture and support; and parents' opportunities to take up work, training or study increase.

The latest figures show that 93,902 children were in funded ELC places at the start of September 2022. Of these, 89% (83,237 children) were taking advantage of the full offer of 1,140 hours of funded ELC a year.

The Scottish Government's significant investment in early learning and childcare has allowed ELC settings to recruit the requisite additional full-time equivalent staff to the sector to support expansion. We have also provided local authorities with capital funding of £476 million to support building projects associated with the expansion programme.

To ensure that the funded ELC entitlement is delivered in high quality settings, 'Funding Follows the Child' has been introduced. This approach is 'provider neutral', with all settings wishing to deliver funded ELC having to meet the same National Standard. This will empower families to choose from a range of high-quality early learning and childcare providers in the public, private or third sector, including childminders.

Education authorities have a statutory duty to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of eligible children receiving funded ELC. The Equality Act 2010 is clear that settings must not discriminate in offering a service. This applies both to funded and privately purchased ELC. In line with the National Standard, settings must comply with the duties under the Equality Act 2010. Settings must be willing to provide appropriate support, including making any reasonable changes to the care and learning environment, to ensure that children's disabilities or additional support needs do not provide a barrier to them accessing a full range of experiences and to ensure that children's individual needs are met.

The global pandemic caused significant interruption to our expansion timetable with a delay of a year from August 2020 to August 2021 to fully implement the new statutory entitlement. Reflecting the impact of the pandemic, Funding Follows the Child is currently subject to Interim Guidance as there is a gradual move towards full implementation in August 2023. The pandemic also led to financial challenges for the wider childcare sector. In response, the Scottish Government has made up to £35 million of dedicated financial support available to childcare services since the start of the pandemic. This includes the Childcare Sector Omicron Impacts Fund, which made up to £9.8 million of support available to the sector in the 2021-22 financial year.

School Age Childcare

In the Programme for Government 2022-23, the Scottish Government committed to investing £20 million to design and test options for all-year round school-age childcare systems that meet the needs of children and families. Those on the lowest incomes will pay nothing. School-age childcare services play a vital role in enabling parents and carers to access work, addressing economic and social exclusion and offering respite. This offer will also help to reduce inequalities in access to a range of activities round about the school day and during the holidays, particularly for those children who may benefit most.

The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that the future system of school-age childcare is co-designed with those who will use and deliver it. To this end, we take an approach to designing and building the system which is person-centred and place-based. To support this approach, we have established a People Panel of parents and carers from a range of communities in Scotland who represent families from the six priority family types set out in the 2022 Child Poverty Delivery Plan (the six priority family types). Work on a co-design discovery project with the People Panel is underway, with insights available in autumn 2022.

We will publish a School-Age Childcare Delivery Framework by the end of 2022, setting out the approach and principles that we will apply to designing the future system. This will follow publication of our Strategic Childcare Plan, which will set out the strategic direction for all of our childcare commitments. We are also beginning work to draft a Children's Charter for school-age childcare, which will be co-designed with children and young people.

The Scottish Government invested £10 million in 2022 into a targeted summer holiday offer for children from low-income families. The funding was allocated to local authorities to enable them to supplement their existing locally-funded summer holiday programmes, and deliver coordinated access to holiday food, activities and childcare for eligible school-age children from 5-14 years, particularly those who fall into the six priority family types. We encouraged local authorities to work in close partnership with the third sector, out of school care sector and community and youth groups, harnessing their expertise to design and run services and activities that reflect the needs of local families. The 2022 programme aimed to fund tests of change, provide services and develop models of effective holiday childcare which will form part of our commitment to build a sustainable system of all-year round school-age childcare during term-time and the holidays.

We have also started the early phasing-in of community level systems of school age childcare, targeted to support the six priority family types. This early phasing will build on learning from our Access to Childcare Fund projects and input from our People Panel to help us test and understand how we can build a system of school age childcare to support a community. We will also consider and develop the role that organised children's activities can play in a school age childcare system alongside the regulated childcare sector to support families, provide choice and improve access to these activities for children from low income households. We will integrate childcare and food provision wherever this is needed to ensure the children have access to nutritious snacks and meals.

8.10 Support for Play

Stakeholder request – measures to support play and play-based learning.

The national early years practice guidance, Realising the Ambition: Being Me (2020), and the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) support and encourage learning through play. The early level of CfE purposely spans early learning and childcare and the early years of primary school. This helps to ensure that learning continues coherently as a child moves from ELC into a school setting. Education Scotland, ELC practitioners and teachers are continuing to embed 'Realising the Ambition' across the early level curriculum to support children's learning through play.

Play continues to be a high priority for the Scottish Government and this year (2022-23) alone, we have invested just over £3 million in this area. This includes funding of £704,000 for PlayTalkRead, £1.7 million for the Bookbug programme and £210,000 for Play Scotland.

Our vision, set out in our National Play Strategy (2013), seeks to improve the play experiences of all children and young people, including those with disabilities or from disadvantaged backgrounds. It aims to ensure that all children and young people can access play opportunities in a range of settings that offer variety, adventure and challenge. The Scottish Government commissioned Play Scotland to produce a progress report on the National Play Strategy in 2019, with an update requested in 2020 in the context of COVID-19. Play Scotland published the final Report in March 2021.

As part of the updated progress report, Play Scotland consulted with over 340 children aged 0-18, from a range of backgrounds. Children and young people asked for a "return to play, more play and better play" and to return to playing and socialising with their friends. The updated progress report identified eight broad recommendations for next steps on play in Scotland. The Scottish Government welcomes the recommendations, which will inform our ongoing focus on supporting children and families.

Outdoor Play and Learning

Outdoor play and learning is an integral, everyday part of ELC in Scotland. The

National Standard sets out quality criteria that all funded ELC providers are required to meet to deliver the funded entitlement. Criteria 3, which relates to the physical environment, requires that: "Children have daily access to outdoor play and they regularly experience outdoor play in a natural environment as part of their funded ELC offer". It is our policy vision that children in ELC will spend as much time outdoors as they do indoors and time outdoors will happen every day, in every setting. The Scottish Government has worked to promote and enhance outdoor learning, and to ensure this is fully embedded within ELC provision, including:

  • Funding Inspiring Scotland to increase outdoor play and learning activities during the ELC expansion.
  • Investing in a Virtual Nature Programme during the pandemic which supported over 2,500 practitioners and 40,000 children and family members to enjoy quality outdoor experiences.
  • Supporting six ELC settings to use Quality Improvement to increase time spent outdoors, through a Children and Young People's Improvement Collaborative programme that we hope to expand in the near future.

We are in the process of developing additional guidance to supplement the 'Out to Play' series of practitioner guidance[37] and later this year will publish a new chapter on 'Caring for our Outdoor Places'.

As set out in the Programme for Government 2021-22, the Scottish Government is investing £60 million to renew play parks in Scotland, so children have access to high-quality outdoor play in their own communities. This funding is for public, free-to-access parks and will be distributed to local authorities over the course of this parliamentary term. Local authorities have an existing responsibility to maintain play parks that serve their communities and this investment provides a boost in funding to accelerate local plans and improve play experiences for all children in Scotland. We have worked with COSLA to set out the national principles against which spending plans should be developed. These set out how local authorities should review their existing estate, prioritise renewal work, and design play parks that offer improved play opportunities for all children and families, ensuring that engagement of children and young people, inclusion and accessibility are core parts of the programme's design.


The draft fourth National Planning Framework includes new policies that support the aim of creating liveable places. This includes identifying new, enhancing existing, and improving access to good quality, accessible local opportunities for play, as well as protecting against loss of existing outdoor play provisions. The Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 introduces a new duty that requires planning authorities to assess the sufficiency of play opportunities for children as part of the Evidence Report when preparing the Local Development Plan. This is to ensure that there is adequate provision in planning authorities' areas for outdoor play locally and that consideration is given to the quality, quantity and accessibility of this provision. Draft regulations seek to require planning authorities to prepare play sufficiency assessments, including to engage children locally during the preparation of the assessment to ensure their views are properly reflected through co-production.


Email: UNCRCIncorporation@gov.scot

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