Curriculum for Excellence 2020-2021 - OECD review: initial evidence pack

Initial evidence base for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) independent review of Curriculum for Excellence, developed by the Scottish Government, to provide the OECD with contextual information and evidence on the Scottish education system, in advance of their research and engagement work.

Section 2: Key Facts About The Scottish Education System

2.1 Latest Data And Reports About The Scottish Education System 

The Scottish Education System
Image with Key Facts About The Scottish Education System

2.1.1 Descriptive Statistics On The System 

Early Learning and Childcare

Three and four year olds and eligible two year olds are entitled to 600 hours of funded early learning and childcare (ELC). An expansion to 1,140 hours is currently being phased in. As of September 2020, 2,587 centres were providing funded ELC to 90,126 children with 729 teachers. Note that these figures cover only children receiving funded ELC. There will be others who also attend ELC centres.

Primary School

Primary schools in Scotland cover 7 years of education with pupils typically starting Primary 1 aged 4 or 5 and completing Primary 7 aged 11 or 12.  As of September 2020, 2,005 publicly funded primary schools were operating in Scotland, educating 393,957 pupils and employing 25,651 teachers. The average pupil teacher ratio in primary schools was 15.4 and the average primary school class size was 23.1, ranging from 20.8 in primary 1 to 25.6 in primary 7.

Secondary School

Secondary schools provide up to 6 years of education. Pupils typically start secondary aged 11 or 12. The first 3 years (S1 - S3) continue their Broad General Education. The Senior Phase, typically the phase during which qualification and exams are sat, runs from S4 to S6 with S4 being the last compulsory year of education. As of September 2020, 357 publicly funded secondary schools were operating in Scotland, educating 300,954 pupils and employing 24,077 teachers. The average pupil teacher ratio in secondary schools was 12.5.

Education for young people with Additional Support Needs (ASN)

Most children with additional support needs are educated in mainstream schools (or in a special unit attached to a mainstream school) but some with complex or specific needs are educated in special schools. These schools cover primary and secondary education and pupils attending special schools are generally between the ages of two and 18 years old. As of September 2020, 114 publicly funded special schools were operating in Scotland, educating 7,286 pupils and employing 1,934 teachers. The average pupil teacher ratio in special schools was 3.8.

The additional support for learning legislation provides the flexibility for children to attend the most appropriate provision for them. It is for education authorities to determine the most appropriate provision for children and young people with additional support needs, taking account of their legislative responsibilities and the individual circumstances and wishes of children, young people and their families. Guidance for education authorities is provided through the statutory supporting learners' code of practice.  Authorities are further supported in these decisions by the refreshed guidance on the presumption of mainstreaming which was published in March 2019. 

Most children and young people with additional support needs in Scotland are educated in mainstream schools, but some with complex or specific needs are educated in local authority or grant-aided special schools. The 2020 Summary statistics for schools in Scotland, confirms that of a total of 702,197 pupils, 226,838 (or 32.3% of all pupils) had an additional support need (ASN) recorded. Figures for 2020 on the proportion of pupils with an additional support need who were in mainstream settings for some or all of the time are not yet available. In 2019, 95.5% of pupils with an Additional Support Need learned in mainstream settings for some or all of their time.

Urban/Rural Classification of Schools

Amongst pupils at publicly funded schools in 2019 (all stages) 31% attend a school in a large urban area and 42% attend one in another urban area. The remaining 27% attend schools split between accessible small towns (9%), remote small towns (5%), accessible rural areas (8%) and remote rural areas (4%).

Independent Schools

In addition to the publicly funded schools referred to above there are around 100 independent schools in Scotland educating in excess of 30,000 pupils.

An independent school is defined in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (known as "the 1980 Act" in this guidance) as: "a school at which full-time education is provided for pupils of school age (whether or not such education is also provided for pupils under or over that age), not being a public school or a grant-aided school". This means, effectively, an independent school is one that is not operated by a local authority and is not a grant-aided school providing education for children aged between 5 and 16 on a full-time basis. 

All registered independent schools are listed in the public register of independent schools online. The register also lists proposed schools (i.e. schools where an application has been made, but not yet approved). 

University Data

College & University data  - Scottish Funding Council (SFC

Apprenticeships - Skills Development Scotland (SDS


In Scotland, colleges have undergone a period of significant change. Regionalisation, completed in 2015, created a streamlined sector, with colleges of scale and influence, working effectively to deliver for learners.  

They promote a shared understanding of 'place', and the importance of taking a joined-up, collaborative approach to services and assets to achieve better outcomes for people and communities.

In our Regional Skills Assessments (RSAs), colleges work with agencies to hone a better understanding of local employer needs. This provides a coherent evidence base on which future investment in skills are based. These are invaluable in highlighting skills gaps regionally and nationally

For young people in the Senior Phase, colleges are focused on increasing the number of vocational opportunities available to young people and supporting them to sustain and complete these courses alongside their broader curriculum offer. We see further evidence of positive progress in this area – with a slight increase in the number of young people completing these courses during this reporting year. Figures for 2017/18 show that 66.9% of Senior Phase pupils studying vocational qualifications delivered by college successfully completed. This is an increase of 3.6 percentage points since 2016/17 and an increase of 0.9 percentage points since 2013/14, the baseline year.

2.1.2 Statistics And Information On Performance Indicators

The National Improvement Framework (NIF), developed in response to recommendations from the 2015 OECD review, along with the associated national improvement framework and improvement plan for Scottish education, is designed to help deliver the twin aims of excellence and equity in education. It sets out the vision and priorities for Scottish education that have been agreed across the system, and the national improvement activity that needs to be undertaken to help deliver those key priorities. The key priorities of the NIF are: 

  • Improvement in attainment, particularly in literacy and numeracy 
  • Closing the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged children and young people 
  • Improvement in children and young people's health and wellbeing 
  • Improvement in employability skills and sustained, positive school-leaver destinations for all young people

The primary purpose of the National Improvement Framework has been to bring together an enhanced range of information and data at all levels of the system, to drive improvement for children and young people in early learning and childcare settings, schools, and colleges across the whole of Scotland. A key part of this is the Interactive Evidence Report which brings together information on the key priorities (outlined above) and drivers in the NIF. Some of this evidence is provided below. Most of this relates to the 11 key measures that have been chosen to assess progress toward closing the attainment gap (the second key priority above). These same measures also relate to the key data on education performance overall. As a result, information associated with the second key priority is provided throughout and there is no separate entry for this.

  • Key Priority: Improvement in attainment, particularly in literacy and numeracy 

The Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels (ACELpublication provides information on whether pupils in P1, P4, P7 and S3 are achieving the expected Curriculum for Excellence Levels in the literacy and numeracy organisers (reading, writing, listening & talking and numeracy). 

Curriculum for Excellence is designed to provide 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. Curriculum for Excellence defines five levels of learning. The first four levels in the Broad General Education phase are described in the Experiences and Outcomes, with progression to qualifications described under a fifth level, the Senior Phase. P1 pupils are expected to have achieved early level, P4 pupils to have achieved first level, P7 pupils to have achieved second level and S3 pupils to have achieved Third Level or better.

The data is based on teachers professional judgements which are informed by a wide range of evidence including observing learners at work, assessing their work in class, standardised assessments and assessing children and young people's knowledge and understanding by talking to them about their learning. 

The collection of ACEL data was suspended in 2019/20 due to the impact of Covid-19 and the closure of schools.

For 2018/19 these statistics showed that 85 per cent of pupils in P1 achieved the expected CfE Level for numeracy. This compares to 77 per cent in P4 and 76 per cent in P7. For literacy, 76 per cent of pupils in P1, 70 per cent in P4 and 71 per cent in P7 achieved the expected level. Amongst S3 pupils, 90 per cent achieved the expected level or better in numeracy and 88 per cent achieved the expected level or better in literacy. [1]

Table One and Table Two show the attainment gaps in literacy and numeracy for primary and secondary pupils over time. These form 4 of the 11 key NIF measures (P1, P4 and P7 combined literacy; P1, P4 and P7 combined numeracy; S3 literacy, S3 numeracy).

Table One: Percentage of P1, P4 and P7 pupils combined achieving expected Level in Literacy and Numeracy by deprivation, 2016/17 to 2018/19
  Year All children % Most disadvantaged  Least disadvantaged Gap (pp)
Literacy 2016/17 69.2 59.8 81.6 21.8
  2017/18 71.4 61.6 83.3 21.6
  2018/19 72.3 63.1 83.7 20.7
Numeracy 2016/17 76.4 69.2 86.5 17.3
  2017/18 78.4 70.9 87.7 16.8
  2018/19 79.1 71.7 88.5 16.8
Table Two: Percentage of S3 pupils achieving Third Level or better in Literacy and Numeracy by deprivation, 2016/17 to 2018/19
  Year All children % Most disadvantaged  Least disadvantaged Gap (pp)
Literacy 2016/17 87.1 80.8 94.4 13.6
  2017/18 87.3 81.2 94.5 13.3
  2018/19 87.9 81.0 94.7 13.8
Numeracy 2016/17 88.2 80.7 95.5 14.8
  2017/18 89.0 81.6 95.7 14.0
  2018/19 90.2 82.9 96.3 13.5

School leaver attainment statistics provide information on the range and level of National Qualifications which a young person has accumulated by the time they leave school.

The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) is used as the basis for reporting attainment. The SCQF is Scotland's national qualifications framework. The SCQF has 12 levels, which, in ascending order (SCQF Level 1-12), indicate the level of difficulty of a particular qualification. With reference to a set of 'level descriptors', the SCQF allows for broad comparisons to be made between qualifications. It also allows learners, employers and the public in general, to understand the range of skills and learning that should be achieved at each level.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic led to the cancellation of 2020 National 5 (SCQF Level 5), Higher (SCQF Level 6) and Advanced Higher (SCQF Level 7) exams and the decision for SQA to not collect coursework or mark coursework that had already been collected. Grades in these qualifications in 2020 were instead based on teacher estimates. This will have affected the attainment of many 2019/20 school leavers. Interpretation of school leaver attainment figures, especially when comparing 2019/20 to other years, must take account of the different certification methods.

The school leaver attainment statistics show, for example, that 95.8% of 2019/20 school leavers had attained 1 pass or more at SCQF level 4 (e.g. National 4) or better, 85.7% had 1 pass or more at SCQF level 5 (e.g. National 5) or better and that 63.9% had attained 1 pass or more at SCQF level 6 (e.g. Higher) or better. 

Attainment levels vary based on various factors such as pupil characteristics and deprivation.  Three indicators from this data are used to measure the attainment gap for the National Improvement Framework. They show the gap between the proportion of school pupils from the most and least deprived areas of Scotland who attained 1 pass or more at SCQF levels 4 or better, 5 or better and 6 or better. Again, care should be taken when making comparisons between 2019/20 and earlier years.

  • At SCQF Level 4 or better, 98.8 per cent of pupils from the least deprived areas attained 1 pass or more in 2019/20. This compared to 91.7 per cent amongst those from the most deprived areas. The attainment gap was therefore 7.1 percentage points, up from 6.7 percentage points in 2018/19 and down from 11.3 percentage points in 2009/10 (the first year for which comparable statistics are available).
  • At SCQF Level 5 or better, 95.3 per cent of pupils from the least deprived areas attained 1 pass or more in 2019/20. This compared to 74.5 per cent amongst those from the most deprived areas. The attainment gap was therefore 20.8 percentage points, up from 20.2 percentage points in 2018/19 with attainment having increased amongst pupils from both the most deprived and least deprived areas. The attainment gap in 2009/10 was 33.3 percentage points.
  • At SCQF Level 6 or better, 82.7 per cent of pupils from the least deprived areas attained 1 pass or more in 2019/20. This compared to 46.6 per cent amongst those from the most deprived areas. The attainment gap was therefore 36.1 percentage points, up from 35.8 percentage points in 2018/19 with attainment having increased amongst pupils from both the most deprived and least deprived areas. The attainment gap in 2009/10 was 45.6 percentage points.
  • Key priority: Improvement in children and young people's health and wellbeing 

In 2018-19, 58.2 per cent of children showed no concerns across all domains at the 27-30 month review. This ranged from 45.6 per cent amongst children from the most deprived areas to 61.6 per cent amongst children in the last deprived areas – a gap of 16.0 percentage points.

In 2016-19, 16 per cent of children aged 4-12 had a borderline or abnormal total difficulties score. This ranged from 9 per cent in the least deprived areas to 25 per cent in the most deprived areas – a gap of 16 percentage points. This was up slightly from 15 percentage points for 2015-18.

In 2018, 37 per cent of children aged 13 and 15 had a borderline or abnormal total difficulties score. This ranged from 34 per cent in the least deprived areas to 42 per cent in the most deprived areas – a gap of 8 percentage points.

  • Key priority: Improvement in employability skills and sustained, positive school-leaver destinations for all young people

Information on the economic and employment activity of the wider 16-19 year old cohort, including those at school is published in the Annual Participation Measure (APM). This takes account of all statuses for individuals over the course of the year. The latest information for 2019/20 shows that 92.1% of 16-19 year olds were participating meaning they were in some form of education, employment or training and other personal development for most of the year. This ranged from 86.6 per cent of young people in the most deprived areas to 96.5 per cent in the least deprived areas. This is a gap of 9.9 percentage points. This gap has been narrowing over time as the proportion of young people from the most deprived areas who are participating has increased faster than has the proportion of young people from the least deprived areas.

Although not amongst the 11 key NIF measures, School leaver destination statistics provide information on the destination of school leavers approximately 3 months (initial destinations) and 9 months (follow-up destinations) after the end of the school year. The headline figure shows the proportion of school leavers who were in a 'positive destination' at that point in time. Positive destinations include Higher Education, Further Education, Employment, Training, Voluntary Work and Personal Skills Development (whilst other destinations include unemployed and seeking work, unemployed and not seeking work and unknown). 93.3 per cent of 2019/20 school leavers were in a positive initial destination (95.0 per cent for 2018/19). 44.2% of school leavers were in Higher Education, 28.1% were in further education and 16.2% were in employment. 

Other useful information

International Comparisons: Scotland's scores in the 2018 PISA assessments were above the OECD average in reading and similar to the OECD average in maths and science. In reading, Scotland's performance was higher in 2018 than it was in 2015. It is now similar to 2012, 2009, 2006, and 2003 but still lower than 2000. In maths, Scotland's performance was similar to 2015, 2012 and 2009 but lower than 2006 and 2003. Scores in 2000 were not comparable. In science, Scotland's performance was similar to 2015 and lower than 2012, 2009 and 2006. Scores for previous rounds (2000 and 2003) were not comparable.

Annual attainment in SQA qualifications: The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is the statutory awarding body for qualifications in Scotland. In this role they produce and publish annual information on the attainment of SQA qualifications. This covers all candidates including those studying at school, in further education and in other settings. This annual attainment does not feature directly in the NIF (although SQA attainment does feed in to the school leaver attainment measures outlined above). Nevertheless it is useful to consider the annual attainment data. 

For the majority of qualifications at SCQF level 2-6 it is complex to compare attainment rates across a larger time period (e.g. 5+ years) given the level of change in the qualifications, the different cohorts sitting them, the variable progression routes taken through pre-CfE and CfE qualifications, combined with the variable curricular models that are available within centres.  Table Three outlines an overall reduction in levels of attainment in National Courses since the first assessment of the courses to support Curriculum for Excellence. In contrast, Table Four outlines the growth in more vocationally oriented provision over this time.

Table One: National Qualification Attainment [2] (2012 – 2019)
2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
SCQF level 2                
Access 2 1,223 1,128 262 48 19 - - -
National 2 - - 896 1,488 1,849 1,547 1,655 1,596
Skills for Work and Personal Development 101 172 58 - - - - -
Total SCQF level 2 1,324 1,300 1,216 1,536 1,868 1,547 1,655 1,596
SCQF level 3                
Access 3 32,986 30,908 10,391 3,184 3 - - -
National 3 - - 14,898 15,756 16,659 15,543 16,138 16,958
Skills for Work and Personal Development 256 351 450 35 24 15 7 0
Standard Grade Foundation 34,643 30,550 - - - - - -
Total SCQF level 3 67,885 61,809 25,739 18,975 16,686 15,558 16,145 16,958
SCQF level 4                
Intermediate 1 51,784 49,220 13,666 1,170 - - - -
National 4 - - 114,173 122,071 114,635 107,631 96,613 92,845
Skills for Work and Personal Development 4,877 4,920 4,266 4,374 3,510 2,982 2,855 2,869
Standard Grade General 127,921 122,085 - - - - - -
Total SCQF level 4 184,582 176,225 132,105 127,615 118,145 110,613 99,468 95,714
SCQF level 5                
Intermediate 2 110,175 114,934 75,689 7,828 - - - -
National 5 - - 173,131 229,870 234,160 233,005 218,201 225,594
Skills for Work and Personal Development 2,179 3,139 3,603 4,406 4,673 5,311 5,702 6,633
Standard Grade Credit 153,768 152,346 - - - - - -
Total SCQF level 5 266,122 270,419 252,423 242,104 238,833 238,316 223,903 232,227
SCQF level 6                
Previous Higher 139,125 141,257 147,899 70,981 - - - -
Higher - - - 85,019 152,701 150,010 147,419 138,972
Skills for Work and Personal Development 573 616 1,088 1,165 306 357 215 160
Total SCQF level 6 139,698 141,873 148,987 157,165 153,007 150,367 147,634 139,132
SCQF level 7                
Previous Advanced Higher 17,299 18,162 18,171 18,899 - - - -
Advanced Higher - - - - 19,443 19,283 19,585 18,627
Total SCQF level 7 17,299 18,162 18,171 18,899 19,443 19,283 19,585 18,627
TOTAL 676,910 669,788 578,641 566,294 547,982 535,684 508,390 504,254
Scottish Baccalaureate (SCQF level 7) 144 164 144 98 103 138 120 109
Table Two: Awards, National Certificate and National Progression Awards Attainment (2012 – 2019)
2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
SCQF level 1                
Awards - 152 178 207 283 290 386 439
SCQF level 2                
Awards 22 130 301 493 750 1,167 664 1,004
National Progression Awards 87 121 101 64 77 88 121 69
SCQF level 3                
Awards 563 1,216 2,263 3,205 3,863 4,303 3,937 4,428
National Certificates 4 6 17 7 18 1 0 7
National Progression Awards 141 129 161 119 135 177 142 100
SCQF level 4                
Awards 2,177 4,542 7,887 9,673 11,391 10,834 9,851 10,292
National Certificates 167 130 89 273 371 345 213 223
National Progression Awards 3,788 4,153 4,111 4,336 4,958 4,803 4,759 4,371
SCQF level 5                
Awards 199 578 1,514 1,952 2,907 3,662 3,755 5,184
National Certificates 2,360 2,454 2,582 3,219 4,103 2,691 2,450 1,809
National Progression Awards 3,448 3,685 4,206 4,120 4,958 4,395 4,604 5,252
SCQF level 6                
Awards 419 588 801 1,305 2,710 3,523 4,258 5,388
National Certificates 3,025 2,664 2,729 3,989 4,920 3,585 3,538 2,834
National Progression Awards 463 554 701 969 1,611 1,619 2,848 3,344
TOTAL 16,863 21,102 27,641 33,931 43,055 41,483 41,526 44,744

Statistics and information on performance indicators e.g. Scottish student test results, well-being, equity, youth outcomes, labour market outcomes, etc.

School leaver initial destinations, 3 months after end of school year in table 1, further breakdowns available including table 2 (by deprivation), table 3 (by sex, ethnicity, urban/rural classification and Additional Support Needs)

School leaver attainment in tables 4 (highest Scottish Credit and Qualification Framework level achieved by time of leaving school), 5 and 6 (SCQF level or better, number of passes). Further breakdowns available in School leaver attainment and destination statistics 2019/20, including table 6 (by sex, ethnicity, urban/rural classification and Additional Support Needs), tables A1.1 and A1.1.b (by deprivation). Literacy and numeracy attainment in table 7.

Statistics and information on the quality of schools, leadership, teaching, e.g. inspection reports, teaching and leadership standards and framework, description of the structure and offer of initial teacher education (ITE) and continuous professional development (CPD)

2.2 Main Stakeholders' Responsibilities In The Scottish Education System

The governance of and accountability for the curriculum in Scottish schools is a shared responsibility across the Scottish Government, national bodies including Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and Education Scotland, local government and schools. 

The Scottish Government sets the national policy context and is accountable for the performance of the system. Education Scotland and SQA are responsible for supporting successful implementation and ensuring quality of the curriculum and qualifications, respectively. Local authorities have a statutory responsibility for the delivery of education and its quality at local level and are accountable to local elected members for the nature and quality of delivery and outcomes at a local level. Headteachers are responsible for ensuring a curriculum that meets the needs of children and young people in their schools.

2.2.1 Responsibilities At A National Level

So whilst the Scottish Government develops national policy and sets the overall direction of education policy, successful implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence framework depends on collaboration, co-design and partnership delivery across practitioners, schools, local authorities and a range of local and national bodies. 

Curriculum for Excellence has always been developed and delivered as a collective partnership. At a national level there are a number of key groups that have been set up to support this collaborative approach, with broad membership across the education system, ensuring that national policy is informed by local practice:

Roles and remits of current key governance groups

The Scottish Education Council (SEC), established in 2017 is the key forum for oversight of improvement in education in Scotland, as defined by the National Improvement Framework.  It brings together the main decision makers and key influencers with a strong focus on excellence and equity for all and provides leadership and advice to Ministers in developing the strategic approach and vision for improvement across Scottish education. Its role is to work collaboratively to ensure that there is a system-wide focus on improvement and to agree priorities for improvement activity and delivery.

The Council has strong links to both the Curriculum and Assessment Board and the Strategic Board for Teacher Education. The Council's work is informed by input from both the International Council of Education Advisers and the Education Leaders Forum.

The Curriculum and Assessment Board (CAB), established in 2017 is the key forum for oversight of curriculum and assessment activity in Scotland. The Board considers the actions which are needed to ensure Curriculum for Excellence fully delivers for all children and young people and supports the work of the Scottish Education Council. It is directly accountable to Scottish Ministers. The Board is chaired jointly by the Director of Learning, Scottish Government and the Chief Inspector of Education and Chief Executive of Education Scotland and membership includes teachers' professional associations, Community Learning and Development, headteachers' associations, colleges, universities, Skills Development Scotland, academics and parents.

The International Council of Education Advisers (ICEA) was established in 2016 to advise Ministers on how best to achieve excellence and equity in the Scottish education system.  Its role is to advise on the Scottish Government's priorities for education and ensure the actions set out in the Delivery Plan published in June 2016 are influenced by international best practice as well as advising on the reporting and planning cycle of the national improvement framework and improvement plan .The membership of the ICEA draws upon world-leading education and business experts with a range of knowledge and extensive experience of advising educators and governments on education leadership, school improvement and reform.

The Teacher Panel was established in 2016 with a key focus of providing views on de-cluttering, workload and bureaucracy in order to protect, and maximise the effectiveness of the interaction between pupil and teacher.

The Education Leaders Forum was established in 2018 to capture the views of a wide stakeholder group on the development of the education system. It is chaired by the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills and has input from young people, teachers' professional associations, CLD, headteachers' associations, Skills Development Scotland, academics and parents.

The Scottish Learner Panel comprised of approximately 30 children and young people from nine school settings, including nursery, primary and secondary schools from across Scotland.  The panel deliver their views on education policy to the Scottish Government and provides opportunities for children and young people to share their expertise.  The panel met on five occasions between October 2018 and March 2019 and  published a final report bringing together the recommendations of the panel based on the research they have engaged in throughout the project. Plans for a refreshed panel are being brought together to ensure learner input to the education recovery work in relation to Covid-19. 

Following the Scottish Government's year of young people 2018 we have also made concerted effort to ensure that young people are included in our decision and policy making processes and forums. As such we regularly engage young people in the work of our education governance groups to ensure learner voice is captured at the highest level. This includes learner engagement with the Scottish Education council, Curriculum and Assessment Board and Education Leaders Forum.

During the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Scottish Government has continued to take steps to gather and take account of learner perspectives. Key developments as follows: 

  • The Deputy First Minister engaged directly with small groups of young people during the course of 2020. This included online sessions in June, October and December 2020, looking at the impact of remote learning, the disruption to education during the pandemic and specific issues and challenges in the senior phase.
  • Education Scotland surveyed over 3,000 learners in January 2021, helping to inform the ongoing provision of remote learning during the Coronavirus pandemic.
  • Scottish Government and Education Scotland officials have sought to engage with young person organisations in relation to their ongoing survey work with young people, much of which has covered education and learning issues, in particular survey work by the Children's Parliament, Young Scot and Scottish Youth Parliament. 
  • In October 2020, a representative from the Scottish Youth Parliament joined as a formal member of the Scottish Government's Covid Education Recovery Group. 
  • In November 2020, a Covid Education Recovery Youth Panel was formed, with a remit to ensure that learners influence the strategic priorities for education recovery across a range of issues including the curriculum. The Panel - essentially the successor to the earlier Scottish Learner Panel - met in December 2020 and January 2021, and met directly with the Deputy First Minister for the first time on 04 February 2021. The Panel includes 25 young people aged 9-18. Young Scot will publish a series of reports on key themes, informing and guiding education recovery. 
  • The views of the panel will be brought to the Covid Education Recovery Group for consideration. 

National organisations

Education Scotland - For Scotland's learners with Scotland's educators 

Education Scotland was established on 1 July 2011 as an Executive Agency of the Scottish Government with responsibility for supporting quality and improvement in Scottish education and thereby securing the delivery of better learning experiences and outcomes for Scottish learners.  

Since then, the launch of 'Education Governance: Next Steps - Empowering Our Teachers, Parents and Communities to Delivery Excellence and Equity for Our Children' in June 2017 set out a significantly enhanced role and purpose for Education Scotland, including a move to regional working and support for the development of the six Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs) to ensure more direct capacity building with practitioners, schools, local authorities. This also resulted in the Scottish College for Educational Leadership becoming an incorporated element of the Executive Agency from April 2018. Overall, these measures give the Agency a strengthened scrutiny and inspection function and a renewed focus on professional learning and leadership, providing clarity and coherence to the regional and national landscape. 

Education Scotland's vision is to achieve excellence and equity for Scotland's learners with Scotland's educators. It works in partnership with all stakeholders involved in Scottish education to secure sustained improvement in achievement and attainment for all learners,  closing the poverty related attainment gap and securing positive and sustained destinations for all learners regardless of their age and where the learning takes place.

Strategic priorities:

A strong focus on learning, teaching and leadership
National collaborative professional learning networks
Getting It Right For Every Child
Best use of high quality evidence
Effective partnerships.

In delivering its strategic priorities, it:

puts all learners, regardless of age or where the learning takes place, at the heart of everything it does;
works in partnership with all its stakeholders to deliver the best possible outcomes for all learners;
engages with staff and stakeholders to constantly improve the support that it provides to  partners across Scottish education;
encourages innovative ways of working to ensure that continual improvement is delivered for Scotland's education system;
adapts to ensure the continued delivery of sustained improvement in learning, teaching and assessment.

Education Scotland's role means that, in addition to gathering evidence on the performance of the education system through its various functions, it also provide professional analysis and interpretation of data relating to Scottish education. In essence, it adds value to Scottish education by making sense of the system in its totality.

As the Executive Agency supporting quality and improvement in Scottish education, Education Scotland's role ultimately aims to secure the delivery of better learning experiences and outcomes for Scottish learners of all ages.  In partnership with Scottish Government, education authorities, community partners, colleges, Skills Development Scotland and a very wide range of partners it seeks to deliver innovation to the development of the curriculum. 

Education Scotland operates independently and impartially for scrutiny activities, whilst remaining directly accountable to Scottish Ministers for the standards of our work. This status safeguards the independence of inspection, review and reporting within the overall context of the National Performance Framework.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is the national accreditation and awarding body in Scotland. 

SQA is an executive Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB) established by statute to carry out administrative, commercial, executive and accreditation functions on behalf of Government.  As an NDPB, SQA is responsible for making its own operational decisions.

The Education (Scotland) Act 1996 - as amended by the Scottish Qualifications Authority Act (2002) -sets out SQA's functions and the governance arrangements to oversee SQA's distinct accreditation, regulatory and awarding functions.  SQA is sponsored by the Scottish Government's Learning Directorate. SQA is the statutory awarding body for qualifications in Scotland.  Its duties are to develop, validate, quality assure and award a national framework of qualifications for Scotland.  In addition, SQA has a statutory duty as the regulator for National Qualifications in Scotland as defined by the Equality Act (2010).

As an awarding body, SQA works with schools, colleges, universities, industry and government, to ensure that qualifications are inclusive and accessible to all, recognise the achievements of learners, and provide clear pathways to further learning or employment. SQA maintains a broad portfolio of qualifications including National Courses across a range of subject areas and a more vocationally oriented range of Awards, National Progression Awards, National Certificates and Professional Development Awards. The organisation also develops Higher National Certificates and Diplomas which are equivalent to the first and second year of Scottish university degree programmes.

In its accreditation role, SQA accredits vocational qualifications that are offered across Scotland, including Scottish Vocational Qualifications, and approves bodies that wish to award them.

The General Teaching Council for Scotland, (GTCS) is an independent professional body which promotes and regulates the teaching profession in Scotland. It is funded by an annual registration fee from teachers and other education professionals.  It aims to maintain and enhance the standards of teaching and teaching professionalism in Scotland. 

The main functions of the GTCS:

  • Sets the requirements for teacher training and advises Minsters on teacher training
  • Supports new teachers during their induction year
  • Assesses teacher qualifications and experience in order to ensure public confidence in ability of teachers to teach. It maintains a register of teachers who have current eligibility to teach 
  • It has disciplinary powers to remove teachers for the register as a result of misconduct and seeks to enhance teacher professionalism. For example, the GTCS manages professional update, which aims to foster learning and continued professionalism throughout a teacher's career.

Skills Development Scotland (SDS) support individuals to build their career management, work-based and employability skills, throughout their career journey, from school, into further learning opportunities and employment. SDS use skills intelligence to help inform the decisions of people across Scotland, at all stages of their careers, so that they are well placed to take up the opportunities arising within the economy.  SDS work with employers on a national, sectoral, regional, local and individual basis; supporting them to recognise and articulate their current and future skills needs, and to engage with the skills system to help ensure it better meets those needs in the short, medium and longer term.  At the start of each business year Scottish Ministers issue a Letter of guidance to SDS setting out key targets, objectives and priorities for the year ahead.

The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework Partnership manages the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). This sets out the level and type of qualifications that are available, integrating qualifications from a variety of sources into a single framework. In summary, the SCQF is a way of comparing the wide range of Scottish qualifications. It covers achievements such as those from school, college, university, and many work-based qualifications. It does this by giving each qualification a level and a number of credit points.  Awarding bodies, such as the SQA, use this information to develop course content and assessment working closely with the SCQF.  

There are four national youth work agencies in Scotland: YouthLink Scotland; Young Scot; Youth Scotland and the Scottish Youth Parliament. Each organisation has a specific purpose within the youth sector.

  • YouthLink Scotland is the national agency for youth work.
  • Young Scot is the national youth information and citizenship charity.
  • Youth Scotland is Scotland's network for community based youth work.
  • The Scottish Youth Parliament is the democratically elected voice of Scotland's young people. This gives young people a collective voice at the heart of the democratic process. Elections for young people to stand as a Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYP) take place every two years. It has a number of Committee's including one on Education and Skills.

Together, these organisations work to ensure young people's rights are at the centre of policy decisions; youth work services are of a high quality, and organisations across Scotland have access to support when tackling issues faced by young people.

2.2.2 Responsibilities At A Local Level 

In Scotland, 32 Local Authorities (acting as the Education Authority under the 1980 Education Act) are responsible for providing school education for every child of school age.  Under the terms of the Standard in Scotland Schools etc. Act 2000 they are also responsible for a duty of improvement as an Education Authority and on behalf of their schools.

​The provision of education in Scotland is the responsibility of local authorities who are under a statutory duty to ensure that there is adequate and efficient provision of school education in their area.

In that context, local authorities may review their school stock and how the location and condition of their schools meet with population patterns and educational needs. When local authorities are proposing a change in education provision, there is a statutory requirement on them to engage in a formal consultation process, in line with the requirements of the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010.

In Scotland, 32 Education Authorities are responsible for ensuring that statutory requirements are met and that they are diligent in taking forward nationally agreed policies and guidelines. They are also responsible for the spending and accountability for educational funding. They have responsibility for the continuous improvement of services to meet the needs of their local communities. 

Across Scotland, local authorities adopt different service structures. Increasingly, education is part of a wider department, which can also include services such as leisure, culture, sports, the arts, community learning and social work services. 

The Standards in Scotland's Schools etc. Act 2002 states the duty of an education authority in providing school education:

  • Where school education is provided to a child or young person by, or by virtue of arrangements made, or entered into, by, an education authority, it shall be done  to secure that the education is directed to the development of the personality, talents and mental and physical abilities of the child or young person to their fullest potential.
  • In carrying out their duty under this section, an education authority shall have due regard, so far as is reasonably practicable, to the views (if there is a wish to express them) of the child or young person in decisions that significantly affect that child or young person, taking account of the child or young person's age and maturity.

In 2017, to enable more collaborative working amongst local authorities, Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICS) were established. These  are 'virtual' bodies, formed with the purpose of improving education and closing the poverty-related attainment gap in the schools in their areas. The intention is that they will do this by working together to give advice and support to schools, and to share examples of good work across local authority borders.   Each Collaborative has published a Regional Improvement Plan, setting out the vision and aims of the Collaborative. Comparing all six plans, improving literacy and numeracy is a popular aim for RICs, along with closing the attainment gap, improving the health and wellbeing of children, and making sure more school leavers go on to positive destinations.   Each collaborative has formed different working groups to work on these issues. Each group includes representatives from local authority, Education Scotland, schools, and other groups such as Connect.  

There are six RICS across the 32 local authority areas. 

Forth Valley and West Lothian Collaborative 

Clackmannanshire Council, Falkirk Council, Stirling Council, West Lothian Council

Northern Alliance 

Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council, Argyll and Bute Council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), Highland Council,Moray Council, Orkney Islands Council, Shetland Islands Council

South East Improvement Collaborative 

Edinburgh City Council, East Lothian Council,Fife Council, Midlothian Council, Scottish Borders Council.

South West Collaborative 

Dumfries and Galloway Council, East Ayrshire Council, North Ayrshire Council,  South Ayrshire Council.

Tayside Regional Improvement Collaborative 

 Angus Council, Dundee City Council, Perth and Kinross Council.

West Partnership (also known as Glasgow City Region Education Improvement Collaborative

East Dunbartonshire Council, East Renfrewshire Council, Glasgow City Council, Inverclyde Council, North Lanarkshire Council, Renfrewshire Council, South Lanarkshire Council, West Dunbartonshire Council.

2.2.3 Individual School Level Responsibilities and Education Reform Agenda

The quality of learning and teaching is the most important in-school factor in determining a child's educational outcomes. Schools in Scotland have always had a level of ability to determine the curriculum offer for their learners, however this has been strengthened in recent years by the Education Reform Agenda, which lead to the publication of the Headteacher Charter and a strong agenda of empowerment.

The primary focus of Education Reform developments has been to develop a school and teacher-led education system, ensuring that the decisions that shape the education of young people are made in classrooms, schools and establishments by people working directly with young people. 

Empowerment Agenda 

The Next Steps publication set out a vision of a school and teacher-led system with decision making taking place at school level. It led to the preparation of an Education Bill, the main focus of which was to provide the legal underpinning for the shift in decision making to school level. Following intensive negotiations with Local Government, a Joint Agreement was published in June 2018, which provided a means of achieving the cultural shift to a more empowered system without introducing legislation. Together the Next Steps and the Joint Agreement have provided the basis for a substantial suite of work aimed at reforming elements of the school education system in Scotland. Next Steps recommendations focused on the following areas: career pathways; parental engagement; school improvement; regional collaboration; fair funding; school leadership; and teacher professionalism. 

The Joint Agreement committed Scottish Government and Local Government to deliver the following actions through a number of shared pieces of work overseen by the HM Chief Inspector of Education. Importantly, the Joint Agreement with Local Government supported the Scottish Government's decision to work in partnership to make progress towards the empowered system, rather than introduce legislation. The Joint Agreement proposed that collective efforts should focus on:

  • meaningful school empowerment through the establishment of a Headteachers' Charter and associated guidance;
  • the creation of a local authority self-evaluation framework to test school empowerment; and
  • the development of an overarching evaluation strategy. 

Discussions resulted in the establishment of the Joint Agreement Steering Group, to oversee the delivery, in partnership with Local Government and the education sector, of the empowerment reforms. Key work streams involving a range of partners were
also established to lead on the co-production of the Headteachers' Charter and associated guidance on school empowerment; on developing a Local Government self-evaluation framework for measuring and promoting school empowerment; and on formulating a strategy to measure the extent and impact of school empowerment across the system.

In the period since June 2018 clear progress has been made. The commitment and actions taken forward by the Joint Agreement Steering Group and its work streams are building the conditions through which genuine school empowerment will flourish. This work demonstrates collaboration at all levels of Scottish education and is an example of partners working effectively and collaboratively. 

Our shared achievements include the publication of a draft Headteachers' Charter further development of Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs) and the development of revised Devolved School Management Guidelines. Equally important, has been the completion of work on behalf of the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers, in respect of proposed new career pathways for teachers. 

The Joint Agreement has helped to provide the stability needed for meaningful partnership working. This sense of shared commitment to empowerment is further demonstrated in the recent pay deal agreed with Local Government and the teacher unions. Improving teachers' pay is an important element in enhancing the attractiveness of the profession, as part of a wider strategy to address recruitment and retention challenges. This includes the package of additional measures, agreed as part of the pay deal, which sets a shared agenda on addressing workload, additional support for learning and empowering schools. This landmark partnership agreement will provide the stability we need to drive empowerment and deliver the best possible outcomes for our young people.

The progress with the Joint Agreement and with wider measures accompanying the pay deal provide the context for meaningful collaboration, but we recognise that this does not in itself result in the improved outcomes for children and young people that everyone in the education system is committed to. As we take this agenda forward, it is therefore important we evaluate the impact of change. 

Over the past year and a half Education Scotland have published the following thematic inspections as initially outlined in the Joint Agreement: 

These inspections have identified progress in empowerment and the support which exists in the system. However, HM Inspectors of Education found that, as expected, there is still more to be done to realise our collective ambition for an empowered, collaborative system. The Chief Inspector, as independent Chair of the School Empowerment Steering Group, highlighted that there has to be a careful balance between providing the right amount of governance and accountability while at the same time allowing leaders and practitioners the flexibility and autonomy to meet their pupils' needs. 

In her role as independent Chair of the group, in June 2019 the Chief Inspector provided an update on the work of the School Empowerment Steering Group to the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Skills and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) Children and Young People Spokesperson. She outlined the significant progress that has been made and confirmed the Steering Group's continued commitment to develop further resources to support the delivery of an empowered system. The Chief Inspector also highlighted the clear commitment and collegiate approach of all partners involved and gave her recommendation for the continued delivery of these reforms through a non-legislative partnership approach.



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