Section 5 - Conclusions and next steps
Closing the poverty-related attainment gap remains a key focus of the Scottish Government. Education remains, by far, the most effective means we have to improve the life chances of all of our young people. That has not changed. If anything, the disproportionate impact that closing our schools had on the most socio-economically disadvantaged in our society has demonstrated even more clearly the vital role that they play.
In response to the extraordinary situation caused by the pandemic, the education system in Scotland – like so many world-wide – responded quickly by moving to online and remote learning so that children and young people could continue their education. The immediate priority became the need to ensure support was provided urgently to the most socio-economically disadvantaged children and families, many of whom relied on schools to provide a safe, nurturing, and supportive environment
Several months on, and with children and young people now, in the main, engaged through remote learning again, the outputs from this Equity Audit will help to improve our understanding of the impacts of school building closures, as well as some of the key factors behind those impacts.
In so doing, it also shines a light on the targeted and specific action that has been taken to date, and areas where ongoing attention is most needed. The key themes that have emerged from both the evidence and lived-experience stress the need for a focus on the following as part of intensified support for learning:
I. Health and wellbeing support
II. Digital infrastructure and connectivity
III. Support to parents and families
IV. Teaching provision and the quality of learning
V. Support for teachers and the wider workforce
Within each of these themes, it is clear that the Scottish education system has responded collectively to mitigate many of the worst impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our children and young people.
The commitment of school leaders in ensuring schools have remained safe, open and welcoming since August, and to focus on the health, wellbeing and learning of their children should not be underestimated. School staff have worked tirelessly throughout to continue to provide a high quality and rewarding learning environment and experience.
Further, the range of measures put in place by schools, local authorities and other partners during this crisis – many of which are highlighted in Section 4 – is extensive. Crucially, schools understood the needs of their pupils and their families well, and worked effectively with families and the wider community to safeguard their wellbeing and support remote learning.
Overall, evidence tells us that actions these have been very well received by pupils and parents, who generally felt they had been supported well by the approaches schools had put in place.
However, the evidence also highlights the potential depth of some of these impacts, some of which may not become fully visible for some time. There will possibly be longer-term impacts on the economy and the labour market – exacerbated by EU Exit - which risk deepening existing inequalities and the financial strain on families.
This reiterates the importance of an ongoing, long-term and system-wide focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap, including through addressing the impact the pandemic may have had on some of the most socio-economically disadvantaged children and families.
The Scottish Government will continue its pursuit of achieving excellence and equity for all. In doing that we will draw on a range of evidence, including that presented by this Equity Audit, the recently published 2021 National Improvement Framework and Improvement Plan, the report from the International Council of Education Advisors, and the forthcoming five-year impact report regarding the Scottish Attainment Challenge.
We will also use this evidence to inform engagement with partners as we continue to consider together the best approach to intensifying and deepening support for learning and reducing inequity. This process will be critical to as we consider models for the future evolution of the Scottish Attainment Challenge.
Finally and most importantly, it is essential to acknowledge the vital role of the children and young people. The energy and resilience they have shown to overcome the challenges of school building closures, and their ability to adapt to ongoing challenges in their learning, is impressive and remarkable.
The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring the rights and needs of young people are at the heart of the next steps in education recovery. The Education Recovery Youth Panel, consists of young people from across Scotland, aged between 9 and 18 years old. The panel will have regular opportunities to meet and provide feedback to the Deputy First Minister.