Scotland and the sustainable development goals: a national review to drive action

This review provides a statement of our pre-COVID-19 ambition on driving progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in Scotland. It brings together evidence, actions and stories of how we are making progress to meet the Goals.

4 Quality Education

  • Fair Work and Business
  • Education
  • Children
  • Economy

A belief in the value of lifelong learning for all can be seen in Scotland through an education infrastructure which spans early years provision through primary and secondary school, college and university, modern apprenticeships and work based learning. Complementing this provision is the community learning and development sector which caters for learners of all ages, interests and abilities in a wide variety of settings. A commitment to addressing education inequalities underpins all of what we do and is most apparent in continued support for free tuition fees at further and higher learning levels, for example.

Scotland performs well on Goal 4 in relation to the ambition of the SDG targets. Additionally, comprehensive, commensurable data is available to successfully measure progress. Extensive disaggregation of data by characteristic including gender and ethnicity further boosts our ability to account for all learners and learning experiences (target 4.5, 4a). We should not, however, be complacent and education remains a priority in Scotland.

Early years (target 4.2)

Early Learning and Childcare Entitlement

The earliest years of life are crucial to a child’s development and have a lasting impact on outcomes in health, education and employment opportunities later in life. In Scotland, we are committed to reducing these inequalities and are making an unprecedented level of investment in the early years – through universal measures including the expansion of the Early Learning and Childcare Entitlement (ELC). In line with our National Outcome for Children, we provide a range of learning and care support for families with young children, from birth up until starting school, to ensure that all children get the best possible start in life.

The Data Picture: Child social and physical development

Target 4.2 aims to ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre‑primary education so that they are ready for primary education.

The percentage of children with no concerns at their 27-30 month review has had little change since 2013-14 to 2015-16. However, in 2016-17 the number of pupils with no concern dropped by approximately 6 percentage points.

Line graph showing that the percentage of children with no concerns at their 27-30 month review has remained stable between 71% and 72% for the period of 2013-14 and 2015-16, before falling to 66% in 2016-17

Percentage of children, eligible for a review, with no concerns at their 27-30 month review

Source: Child Health 27-30 Month Review Statistics

Access to pre-primary provision is also very good, with near universal uptake of funded places in 2017 (99%) (target 4.2). From August 2020 all three and four year olds, and eligible two year olds, will be entitled to up to 1,140 hours of funded ELC per year (target 4.2), a near doubling of the current funded entitlement of up to 600 hours. This is being delivered by local authorities.

Evidence from both UK and international evaluations and studies of early learning and childcare programmes support the fact that all children, and especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, can benefit in terms of social, emotional and educational outcomes from attending ELC. However, it is also evident that, if children are to benefit, early learning and childcare must be of high quality, with poor quality provision shown to have detrimental effects on children (target 4A).

In Scotland, we have committed to ensuring that high quality ELC is at the heart of the expansion to 1140 hours. While quality in ELC settings in Scotland is already high (the latest Care Inspectorate data shows that 91.1% of funded ELC providers achieved evaluations of good or better across all four quality themes in 2017) we have produced a Quality Action Plan with focused actions to embed and further strengthen quality. The plan sets out 15 actions that the Scottish Government are taking to ensure that the expansion delivers a high quality experience for all children, including quality education. All actions are currently in progress. In addition, we have introduced a National Standard which all providers delivering the funded entitlement to 1140 hours have to meet from August 2020. At the heart of the national standard are a clear and consistent set of quality criteria. Our expansion of ELC is underpinned by four guiding principles, with quality at the heart and our primary policy goal; quality, flexibility, accessibility, and affordability (target 4.2).

We are also aware that parents and carers need support to enable them to best provide for and nurture their children. Our support for families in Scotland includes offering baby boxes filled with useful items to all babies born in Scotland, funding the Bookbug programme to provide free books and learning sessions for young children, and publishing resources for parents such as Play, Talk, Read to help them to interact with their children effectively.

The Children and Young People Improvement Collaborative has been set up to make early years, health, family services and schools more effective and responsive in tackling inequality and improving children’s outcomes. This is achieved by supporting local authorities, health boards and the third sector to use Quality Improvement (QI) in their services for children, young people and families.

Closer Look - Evaluation of Early Learning Childcare

A cross-sectional and longitudinal study has been set up to evaluate the ELC expansion. Baseline data is currently being collected from children and parents accessing 600 hours of government-funded ELC. In 2022-2023, the same data will be collected from those accessing 1140 hours. Measuring before and after the expansion allows for an assessment of the extent to which the expansion’s long‑term benefits have been achieved. Quality of ELC provision is also being examined. Indicators are focused on measuring these benefit areas and include: child social, emotional, behavioural, and cognitive development; physical and mental health and wellbeing of children and parents; and parental activity in work, training, or study. Full findings will be available in 2024.

Primary and secondary school (targets 4.1, 4.4, 4.5, 4.6, 4.7 and 4a)

Through the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), children and young people in Scotland are supported to become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors to society. Our view is that education should open the door to opportunities and improve the life chances of all our children. In line with this, the vast majority of pupils get a good education in Scotland. Performance on indicator 4.1.1 is good and we set expected levels of attainment beyond the minimum specified in this indicator.

Positive progress has been made on reducing the impact of disadvantage on achievement in Scotland. In 2009/10, the gap between the proportion of school leavers from the most and least deprived areas with one pass or more Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) level 4 or better was 11.3 percentage points. By 2017/18 this had narrowed to 6.1 percentage points. Similarly, at SCQF level 5 or better, the gap has narrowed from 33.3 percentage points to 20.3 percentage points, whilst at SCQF level 6 or better it has narrowed from 45.6 percentage points to 37.4 percentage points. Concentrated action continues to focus on further reducing this gap across all social groups. For example, girls outperform boys at every level. By the time they leave school, more than two-thirds (68.6%) of girls have a qualification at Level 6 or above (Highers equivalent or better) compared to less than three-fifths of boys (56%). That difference is slightly greater now than it was in 2009/10. The need to improve standards in education and close the attainment gap is an ongoing challenge.

At the same time, school leavers are now more likely to enter positive destinations. In particular, the proportion of pupils entering higher education has increased from 36.2% in 2009-10 to 41.1% in 2017-18. The number of Higher passes by girls in STEM subjects also increased between 2007 and 2018. Girls achieved more Higher qualifications in mathematics which rose by 7% and chemistry which rose by 13% during the same period (2007-2018).

The Data Picture: Skill profile of the population

Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. The proportion of adults aged 16-64 with low or no qualifications (Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) Level 4 or below) shows an overall reduction since 2004.

The latest figures show that the proportion of adults aged 16-64 with low or no qualifications was 11.6% in 2019. SCQF level 4 refers to qualifications at a level at or equivalent to Intermediate level 1 and General Standard Grade.

Line graph showing that the percentage of the working age population with SCQF Level 4 Qualifications or lower has stayed fairly constant, changing little from the 11.2% figure in 2015 and the 11.6% figure in 2019.

Percentage of the working age population with SCQF Level 4 Qualifications or below in Scotland

Source: Annual Population Survey

The Scottish Attainment Challenge

The £750 million Scottish Attainment Challenge was launched by the First Minister in 2015 with the aim of ensuring every child has the same opportunity to succeed. The challenge has a particular focus on further closing the poverty related attainment gap and on supporting pupils in local authorities with the highest concentrations of deprivation. The nine ‘Challenge Authorities’ are Glasgow, Dundee, Inverclyde, West Dunbartonshire, North Ayrshire, Clackmannanshire, North Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire and Renfrewshire.

The Fund initially focused on primary schools and is underpinned by the National Improvement Framework, CfE and Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC). It focuses on improvement activity on literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing in specific areas of Scotland. The Fund will also support and complement a wider range of initiatives and programmes to ensure all of Scotland’s children and young people reach their full potential. The scope of the attainment challenge is being extended to support up to 133 secondary schools. The Pupil Equity Fund (PEF) (see below) and Care Experienced Children and Young People Fund are available as part of the Attainment Scotland Fund.

We have introduced the National Improvement Framework: drivers of improvement to help deliver excellence and equity in education, to assess the effectiveness of interventions at all levels of the system, and to target effective improvement activity (target 4.5 and 4.6). This details all the evidence we will gather to monitor progress. Scottish national standardised assessments help to identify children’s progress, providing diagnostic information on school children in Primary years 1, 4 and 7 and Secondary year 3, to support teachers’ professional judgement.

Poverty related attainment and the Pupil Equity Fund

The Child Poverty Act and Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan set ambitious targets to reduce levels of child poverty in Scotland by 2030. This requires delivery plans to be published in 2018, 2022 and 2026 and annual progress to be reported from the Scottish Governments and local partners. The Fairer Scotland Action Plan further outlines a vision for a fairer and more prosperous Scotland and includes 50 concrete actions to reduce inequality over the Parliamentary term.

Such contributions are part of a broad agenda to support all children to achieve the best from their education in Scotland. Raising attainment and focusing on ending the poverty related attainment gap are particular priorities for Scotland, as expressed through work on the Scottish Attainment Challenge and attendant Pupil Equity Funding and the Care Experienced and Young People Fund. The Scottish Government has committed £750 million over the parliamentary period to tackle the poverty related attainment gap. The Pupil Equity Fund has helped in the immediate term to focus minds and interventions at the school level on further narrowing attainment. School’s own knowledge of family circumstance and ongoing dialogue can assist to some extent, however, social deprivation remains challenging to tackle in broader terms. Improvements in pre-primary provision is expected to produce benefits to assist with this in the longer term. Lifting children out of poverty will help to reduce the multiple negative impacts of poverty. The intention is for positive outcomes from education to support individuals enter higher paid sustainable employment, which in turn should reduce poverty and associated poor health outcomes, for example.

Across all these actions, genuine collaborative working between organisations and across government is difficult to achieve and translate into effective delivery of Outcomes. Significant effort is needed from all parties to ensure goals are shared and actions are brought together to maximise impact. Key actors in this endeavour include the Poverty Alliance who are core funded by the Scottish Government and are instrumental in delivering the Get Heard Scotland campaign. The purpose of this work is to drive forward meaningful change by listening to the views of individuals with lived experience of poverty. The Poverty Alliance also support the Scottish Government’s work on the Living Wage, and deliver poverty awareness training across Scotland. The Scottish Government core fund the Poverty Truth Community in order to support individuals with lived experience to meet and offer their insight into how to effectively challenge poverty. This organisation formed a key part of the campaign on the cost of the school day, leading to the increase in School Clothing Grants across Scotland (see Goal 1 for out of school care and the minimum clothing grant).

Literacy and numeracy

Literacy and numeracy are core to all aspects of learning, teaching and skills development in Scotland. The Scottish Government’s Education Governance: Next Steps document (2017) restated a commitment to creating an education system which ensures that every child achieves the highest standards in literacy and numeracy. Literacy and numeracy are two of the three ‘responsibilities for all’, alongside health and wellbeing, and there is an explicit focus on them within the Scottish Attainment Challenge, the 2018 National Improvement Framework and the related Improvement Plan. Included are stretch aims to decrease the combined Primary 1, 4 and 7 attainment gap in literacy and numeracy to 5 percentage points.

Our focus on literacy and numeracy in schools, is further supported by investment to close the poverty related attainment gap via the Attainment Scotland fund. Other support mechanisms include the literacy and numeracy benchmarks, and the National Improvement Framework (including new national standardised assessments) designed to ensure better quality data and a strong culture of improvement. The new Regional Improvement Collaboratives, supported by dedicated staff at Education Scotland which is the executive agency charged with supporting quality and improvement in Scottish education, will strengthen collaborative working on literacy and numeracy at local and regional levels in line with regional priorities.

Education Scotland’s Literacy across Learning and Numeracy resources provide practical material to support schools to plan literacy and numeracy learning across all subject areas. The agency also facilitates the National Literacy Network, the National Numeracy and Mathematics Hub Champions Network, and the Mathematics and Numeracy Principal Teachers and Faculty Heads Network which bring together practitioners to share good practice. The Scottish Government has invested £1.6 million over five years (2014 to 2019) to support numeracy and maths professional development in local authorities through Education Scotland’s National Numeracy and Mathematics Hub which is aimed at raising standards and sharing best practice in the teaching and learning of maths and numeracy.

An annual Maths Week Scotland, and associated DFM Holiday Maths Challenges, have been established to raise awareness and enjoyment of mathematics across all sectors of society. Education Scotland will carry out a national thematic inspection focusing on mathematics across a sample of early learning and childcare settings and schools in 2018/19. The Scottish Government’s STEM Education and Training Strategy, published in 2017, also commits to providing further support to schools to help them raise attainment and close equity gaps in STEM learning, including in mathematics.

As an avid reader herself, Scotland’s First Minister established her Reading Challenge to encourage reading for pleasure among children and young people. This is funded by the Scottish Government and managed by the Scottish Books Trust. A national strategy for school libraries was also published in 2018 and the Scottish Government are investing £1 million over three years through the School Library Improvement Fund. This is in recognition of the central role school libraries play in helping to drive improvement in all parts of the education system, so reducing the attainment gap.

Progressing gender equality in Scotland

The Education (Scotland) Act 2016 is a key piece of legislation in Scotland. It includes ‘provisions for strategic planning to consider socio-economic barriers to learning’. The UK Equalities Act (2010) further outlines duties for schools in this area. The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education and Training strategy published in October 2017 also lays out a number of actions aimed at tackling gender inequality in education. Included is the expansion of the Improving Gender Balance project across all schools and the introduction of new Gender Balance and Equalities Officers in Scottish education. A number of Scottish Government strategies focus on equitable education for all children, and adult literacy, for example, in Adult Literacy in Scotland (ALIS) 2020.

We want every child and young person in Scotland to develop mutually respectful, responsible and confident relationships with other children, young people and adults. Gender stereotyping is everywhere in our culture, but schools can make a real difference both by becoming more aware of potential issues themselves, and by helping young people become more aware. Research[3] shows that the best way to combat the negative effects of gender stereotyping on young people is through an embedded and sustained approach to raising gender bias awareness.

The Scottish Government embeds gender equality across policy in education and are taking a range of actions to develop mutually respectful, responsible and confident relationships amongst young people through:

  • Relationships, sexual health and parenthood (RSHP) education
  • Equally Safe strategy and delivery plan
  • Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People Strategy
  • Expert Group on Preventing sexual offending involving children and young people
  • Strengthened guidance on prejudice-based bullying, recording and monitoring
  • STEM strategy action to support whole school and cross-curricular approaches to tackle gender stereotyping and gender balance in STEM subjects

The CfE is intended to be an inclusive curriculum from 3 to 18 wherever learning is taking place. The Building the Curriculum 3 document states that gender should be given consideration from a support perspective to ensure a level playing field when accessing the curriculum. To support gender equality across curriculum delivery, Education Scotland published a number of resources on embedding equalities in every aspect of a young person’s journey through education. These can be used to inform other equity policies and programs.

These resources were developed as part of the Improving Gender Balance project in STEM. The government’s STEM education and training strategy commits us to embedding the approaches from this successful pilot in all schools in Scotland by the end of 2022. Education Scotland are now establishing a dedicated team to work with early learning providers and schools to challenge gender bias and tackle other forms of inequality in STEM, provide professional learning support for teachers and a gender champion network and gender kite-marking to grow and spread best practice. This will build on and reinforce the content delivered through Initial Teacher Education (ITE) programmes on developing and promoting equality and diversity to address potential discrimination; and the values and personal commitment to social justice included in the General Teaching Council for Scotland’s (GTCS) Professional Standards.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority, our national awarding body, places equality at the heart of its work, ensuring that our National Qualifications and wider awards are not discriminatory to any learner. Furthermore, our education system is offering all young people a range of opportunities through their Senior Phase, allowing them to develop the skills and knowledge needed to succeed beyond the classroom, whether progressing to training, work or further study.

Following recommendations from the First Minister’s National Advisory Council on Women and Girls to create a commission for gender equality in schools, the Scottish Government will establish a short-life taskforce chaired by the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills. The taskforce will bring together representatives from key parts of the education system and leaders in gender equality to explore how we can take additional, better connected and bolder action in order to embed gender equality within early years and school education. The Scottish Government will ensure that the taskforce focuses on key questions and brings forward specific actions to increase the pace with which gender equality is embedded in early years, primary and secondary education.

Closer Look - Gender inequality in education

The STEM Education and Training strategy (2017) includes a range of actions to tackle gender inequality; the expansion of the Improving Gender Balance project across all schools; the introduction of new Gender Balance and; Equalities Officers in Education Scotland. The team will deliver gender and equality training to partner organisations, and develop a gender champion network to grow and spread best practice. This work aims to address unconscious bias, and tackle gender stereotyping and inequality. While the immediate focus is on girls and STEM, it is anticipated that a whole school approach will bring broader benefits, tackling assumptions and addressing inequities more widely.

The learning environment

In Scotland, we recognise the importance of investing in school buildings in order to ensure learning environments are fit for purpose and accessible to all. The proportion of pupils educated in schools of ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory’ suitability increased from 76% in 2010 to 86% in 2018. Moreover, the proportion of pupils educated in schools of ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory’ condition increased from 61% in April 2007 to 87% in April 2018, though there remains room for improvement on the universal provision identified in this target 4a. Supporting and promoting pupils’ health and wellbeing is also an important element in creating the right conditions for learning. As is ensuring children and young people with additional support needs are supported in their learning.

Our Deputy First Minister announced the new £1 billion schools investment programme at the end of November 2018. This maintains the objective of replacing poor condition schools, along with a number of other strategic high level outcomes that we will seek to achieve across our learning estate, and will be aligned to the Scottish Government’s National Infrastructure Mission. The government’s Vision 2030+ report also sets out the aspiration that all school buildings, grounds and policies should support learning for sustainability. An Action plan has been developed to take this forward.

Learning for Sustainability

Learning for Sustainability (LfS) is an umbrella term weaving together sustainable development education, global citizenship and outdoor learning. It aims to provide learners with the skills, knowledge and values to live socially, economically and environmentally sustainable lives in a global society. In 2013, the Scottish Government made LfS an entitlement for all learners in response to the recommendations of the One Planet Schools Ministerial Working Group.

Closer Look - A corridor of Goals

I am a Biology teacher. In our department we have created an SDG stairway between the two floors of the department so the pupils see the 17 Goals each time they walk up the stairs.

Scotland’s CfE sets out that all learners are entitled to study LfS, and that all educators address LfS in their practice to conform to the GTCS Professional Standards. Additionally, the national How Good is Our School? [4th Edition] (September 2015), the official school self-evaluation and improvement guidance, contains a number of references to LfS aimed at ensuring it is an essential consideration in relation to school improvement. We see LfS as a whole school approach that provides an excellent starting point for public understanding of sustainable development and the values that drive the SDGs.

In 2016, the LfS National Implementation Group published the Learning for Sustainability National Implementation Group – Vision 2030+ (2016) report. We have committed to taking forward the 14 recommendations of the concluding report on how sustainability should be promoted within Scottish education. We have been developing an action plan to give effect to those recommendations and plan to publish this in spring 2019. This work will see actions taken forward to further promote the cross-curricular theme of LfS within CfE and ultimately support progress towards SDG 4.7. Action prompted by the Vision 2030+ report has so far seen expectations around LfS included in the professional standards for Scotland’s teachers as set by the GTC for Scotland. This places obligations on educators to include themes related to sustainability in their practice.

Closer Look - Review of professional teaching standards (2018)

Children in Scotland worked with the GTCS to ensure that children and young people were involved in the upcoming refresh of the professional standards for teaching. The findings from children and young people provide important evidence to shape these standards and point to the importance of achieving balance in nurturing and respect for boundaries, rules and freedom, equality and equity, and professionalism and creativity.

For Eco Schools please see Goal 13.

Closer Look - Learning for Sustainability Scotland

LfS Scotland is hosted by the University of Edinburgh and is designated as a sustainability centre of expertise by the UN. It is a growing network of over 600 educators, practitioners and key partners working together to embed learning for sustainability and the SDGs into all that we do. The centre engages with large numbers of teachers, schools, colleges, universities, communities, NGOs, and public sector groups across Scotland and beyond. This is achieved through task groups, local and national events, members get-togethers and by sharing best practice via social media and online. LfS Scotland believes that education underpins all the SDGs, contributing to the interconnected, holistic system of sustainability challenges.

Learning about biodiversity

The Biodiversity Route Map Project involves primary, secondary and additional support needs to schools, local authorities and environmental organisations. It supports 100 schools serving the 20% most disadvantaged areas across Scotland to take learning out into a local greenspace on a frequent basis by 2020. The project aims to benefit the wider community and local natural heritage, and encourage lasting improvements to teaching and pupils’ achievement, health and wellbeing.

The £600,000 Outdoor Learning in Nature (OLiN) Fund involving schools, local authorities and environmental organisations is intended to support young people from the most deprived areas of Scotland to have regular, frequent, structured and progressive outdoor learning experiences. The project helps them to appreciate, learn about and connect with nature, so improving mental and physical health. It will work with over 100 schools and provide professional learning to approximately 1,000 teachers.

In 2015 Young Scot and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) set up ReRoute, Scotland’s Youth Biodiversity Panel. Putting co-design into practice, volunteers from across Scotland aged 13-24 explored ways of increasing young people’s engagement with Scotland’s natural environment in urban and rural locations. The Panel made further inspiring recommendations in June 2018 which were accepted in full by SNH. ReRoute2 is putting into practice Urban Junior Ranger groups and creating new urban nature parks/reserves which are co-designed with young people.

We respect, protect and fulfil our human rights

Our commitment to supporting LfS and rights‑based approaches in schools supports our broader commitment – outlined in the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government 2018-19 – to ensuring the principles of the UNCRC are embedded into all policy and legislation in an effective and practical way. The First Minister has underlined her intention to incorporate the principles of the UNCRC into Scots law.

According to Unicef, Scotland is leading the way in embedding children’s rights in school with 1,400 schools in Scotland (over 50%) involved in Unicef’s Rights Respecting Schools Award (RRS). Notably, two schools in Aberdeen – Ferryhill Primary and Harlaw Academy – were the first schools in the UK to gain a RRS Gold award under their new Gold/Silver/Bronze criteria. An important aspect of the RRS approach is that it seeks to embed rights across the life and work of the school and to consider rights in a detailed and careful way across the curriculum. When a small group of Scottish Government policy officials visited Gracemount High in Edinburgh last year, for example, it was clear that they had examined their curriculum from a rights-based perspective and that this had a positive influence on learning and teaching as well as wider values and culture across the school. Children’s rights are embedded within our teaching standards in Scotland.

Although schools can develop their own rights based approach, RRS provides a framework to support them deliver rights based learning. In practice, the focus on international SDGs tends to evolve naturally in relation to rights based learning and awareness of rights issues around specific topics or events. Freedom to interpret and respond individually to the SDGs like this is valued by schools, although the opportunity to take part in centrally led international SDG projects would also be welcomed.

Closer Look - My Rights My Say (2018-2022)

The My Rights My Say service is a partnership between Children in Scotland, Enquire, Partners in Advocacy and Cairn Legal. The project aims to support young people aged 12-15 to access new rights to have a say in decisions about their learning under the Additional Support for Learning legislation.

Global Citizenship Education

Global Citizenship Education (GCE), or Development Education, supports involvement across all SDGs by empowering learners to take an active role locally and globally to build more peaceful, tolerant, inclusive and secure societies. This extends beyond individual actions and attitudes to include power structures and the practices of organisations. Scotland’s commitment to embedding GCE within formal education predates the SDGs. The CfE, launched in 2010, prioritised Global Citizenship as a cross-cutting theme, and national and local civil society organisations involved in developing and advocating for GCE in Scotland have worked together as the IDEAS[4] network for around 20 years.

Closer Look - Development Education Centres

Regionally based Development Education Centres (DECs) offer local, face-to-face support to educators across all local authorities and sectors and work together as key members of the national GCE network, IDEAS. Funded at Scottish, UK and European levels, DECs provide professional learning opportunities, teaching resources and innovative learning and teaching projects to address the global social justice issues at the heart of the SDGs. They use the participative, values based approaches of Global Citizenship Education. The DECs have engaged with teachers in over 60% of schools in Scotland since 2013. IDEAS’s membership also includes civil society organisations which deliver GCE content and opportunities relating to the SDGs.

Since 2010, IDEAS has worked in partnership with statutory stakeholders, such as the Scottish Government, Education Scotland and the GTCS, to embed GCE in practice, from early years through to university-based teacher education programmes. This has included working with academics to support evidence-based policy making in the field.

The Scottish Government is also currently working with IDEAS under its new commitment to Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development (PCSD).[5] This work aligns with and supports a cross-government approach to the SDGs. GCE has been taken as a key PCSD focus area. We are not aware of any other examples globally of GCE being highlighted within PCSD in this way.

IDEAS has also sustained Scottish engagement with European GCE processes through Concord[6] and participation in the European Commission’s Development Education and Awareness Raising (DEAR) stream[7]. There are Scottish partners in four projects funded under the 2016 DEAR funding call. One of these, Bridge 47, has a specific focus on the achievement of target 4.7. The other projects support educator and youth engagement with one or more of the SDGs through the vehicle of GCE.

Closer Look - Bridge 47 - Building Global Citizenship

IDEAS is a leading partner in Bridge 47: Building Global Citizenship (2017-2020), a European Commission DEAR-funded project co-created and implemented by 15 European and global civil society organisations. It focuses on advocating for and building GCE capacity, innovation and partnerships at national, European and global levels to ensure SDG 4.7 is delivered. The project builds on the UN’s recognition that education is a means to achieving all the Goals. In the case of Goal 4.7, this means using GCE to build a common frame of SDG focused understanding and action that extends beyond educators to policy makers and civil society organisations, for example by highlighting the links between GCE and social inclusion policy.

Closer Look - Antonine Eco Group

Antonine Primary School in Falkirk has worked hard to incorporate the targets and aims of SDG 15, for example by exploring how to produce their own food and in creating areas to grow vegetables and fruit in the school grounds. This has led to a series of Food Technology lessons, with pupils considering how their produce can be turned into food. The school has a team of grandparents who are part of their Eco group, and come into school every Thursday to share their expertise with pupils. During sessions they have grown a variety of fruit and vegetables, which have then been used during school taster sessions. Each class cares for a tree in the orchard, and this year the infant department have introduced Woodland Wednesdays, during which pupils develop their literacy and numeracy skills in the outdoor space.

Loved, safe and respected (targets 4.5, 4.7 and 4a)

In our review of the National Outcomes for Scotland, children told us they wanted to grow up in a country where they felt loved, safe and respected. In order to thrive and achieve their full potential, children and young people need learning environments which are safe, nurturing, respectful and free from fear, abuse and discrimination.

In the seven years since the first National Approach to Anti-Bullying for Scotland’s Children and Young People was published, Scotland has seen huge legislative and policy change. This includes the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 and the Education (Scotland) Act 2016, as well as equality legislation put in place by the UK Government including the Equality Act 2010, that have put greater focus on our children and young people’s health and wellbeing.

Positive relationships are also an important aspect of children and young people’s wellbeing. This is reflected in the percentage of S2 and S4 pupils who have three or more close friends. In 2015, the majority of pupils (81%) had three or more close friends, with 2% reporting that they had no close friends.

Respect for all

Our vision is to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up. A place where rights are respected and where children can access all the opportunities and support they need when they need it. Our focus on challenging inequity in order that every child can succeed and gain the skills for life is recognised through the Attainment Challenge and the National Improvement Framework for Education. Health and wellbeing is at the centre of this approach.

In November 2017, we updated our anti-bullying guidance Respect for All: The National Approach to Anti-bullying for Scotland’s Children and Young People which provides a holistic approach to anti-bullying. It makes clear that bullying of all types, including prejudice based bullying, is completely unacceptable and must be addressed quickly whenever it arises. Following the publication of ‘Respect for All’, a working group was established to develop a consistent and uniform approach to recording and monitoring incidents of bullying in schools. An Operational Support Group, which will be fully implemented by August 2019, is now supporting local authorities to implement the new process on a phased approach. The Scottish Government continues to fully fund respectme, Scotland’s anti-bullying service which provides direct support to local authorities, youth groups and those working with children and young people.

Additional support for learning

Additional support needs can arise in the short or long term from the learning environment, family circumstances, health needs or a disability, and social and emotional factors. The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 (as amended 2009) places duties on education authorities to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of all their pupils. A statutory Code of Practice accompanies the Act. We know that looked after children and young people are at a much increased risk of poor learning outcomes and therefore can benefit most from additional support for their learning. In Scotland, education authorities have duties to assess whether looked after children and young people have additional support needs and whether they require a co-ordinated support plan to ensure this support is provided if needed.

The Act also provides for refugee or asylum seeker children to get the wider support they may need when settling in a new area. This inclusive approach affords all children and young people the opportunity to be part of a community, boosting their emotional wellbeing and aiding the development of social skills. It allows all children and young people to develop an understanding of the challenges which children with additional support needs might experience on a daily basis, contributing to the development of an increasingly inclusive, empathetic and more just society. Scotland’s inclusive approach celebrates diversity which aligns with and supports the Equality Act provisions to prevent discrimination and make reasonable adjustments. This work is supported through continued partnership between COSLA, the Scottish Government, the Association of Directors of Education and Education Scotland as well as a wide range of health and wellbeing, equalities and inclusion based organisations which have an education focus.

Protecting children from discrimination

We want all children and young people to learn in schools free from discrimination and get the support they need to reach their full learning potential. By working with a range of partners, including children and young people themselves, we want to celebrate differences and promote understanding, inclusion and respect in our schools.

All children and young people in Scotland have rights to education under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Human Rights Act (HRA) and the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). These rights have been incorporated in Scots Law under section 1 of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000 which sets out the right of every child of school age, regardless of whether they are nationals of the UK, to be provided with school education by, or through arrangements made by, an education authority. In carrying out their duty to provide that education, education authorities must ensure 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.

The Equality Act 2010 places duties on responsible bodies, local authorities, managers of independent and grant aided schools, to actively deal with inequality. Young people should not be unlawfully discriminated against. Discrimination includes harassment or victimisation of pupils on the basis, or a perceived basis, of their religion or belief, race, sex (gender), disability, sexual orientation, pregnancy or maternity. The provisions includes prospective pupils, pupils at the school and, in some limited circumstances, former pupils.

To support and focus this work, the Scottish Government sets itself equality outcomes, including one on education. Progress towards these are reported on and a further Equality Outcomes and Mainstreaming Report will be published in April 2019. Education Scotland’s self-evaluation tool How Good is Our School 4 (HGIOS) includes specific quality indicators on ensuring wellbeing, equality and inclusion. HGIOS supports schools to evaluate and improve their own practice. The Scottish Government’s strategic approaches to equality, such as the Race Equality Action Plan, Gender Pay Gap Action Plan, Action Plan on Children’s Rights and the Child Poverty Delivery Plan, capture actions that we are taking in education to eradicate discrimination.


Young Gypsy/Travellers’ educational outcomes are among the worst in Scottish education.[8] We know that school attendance rates are the lowest of any ethnic group and exclusion rates are the highest, and that many Gypsy/Traveller children do not make the transition from primary to secondary school. Given this, we are working to overcome the barriers to learning that they face and to achieve equality of opportunity and improved educational outcomes for all of Scotland’s Gypsy/Travellers. We are committed to working in partnership with the Scottish Traveller Education Programme (STEP), which supports the development of inclusive educational approaches for Gypsy/Travellers and other Travelling families, the Scottish Government and COSLA.

In December 2018 the Scottish Government published the Improving educational outcomes for children and young people from travelling cultures: guidance (target 4.5) on how schools, local authorities and other stakeholders can support engagement in education and adapt to their needs. Education is one of the topics been considered by the Ministerial Working Group on Gypsy/Travellers, and since the group was established in early 2018, we have announced an additional £775,000 to support Gypsy/Traveller education.

Children and young people with a disability

Under the Equality Act 2010 children and young people with disabilities should receive the support that they need to overcome any barriers to learning, including auxiliary aids and services. Where necessary, schools should make reasonable adjustments to facilitate pupils with disabilities in accessing learning opportunities.

Our education system must support everyone to reach their full potential and it is vital that the curriculum is as diverse as the young people who learn in our schools. To ensure this happens the Scottish Government published (2014) the revised guidance Planning improvements for disabled pupils’ access to education. The guidance, developed following consultation with stakeholders, supports responsible bodies to fulfil their statutory duty to develop and publish accessibility strategies. The aim is to ensure all education authorities support disabled children to be as fully engaged in their learning as they can be, and included in the life of their school.

Health and wellbeing

The Health Promotion and Nutrition Act Scotland requires education authorities and schools to be health promoting. We take a range of actions to support the learning of pupils about their health and wellbeing, including physical health and mental health. Health and wellbeing is one of the eight curricular areas in CfE. Its substantial importance is reflected in its position at the centre of the curriculum and at the heart of children’s learning – as well as a central focus of the Scottish Attainment Challenge and the National Improvement Framework for Education. Along with literacy and numeracy it is one of the three core areas that are the responsibility of all staff in schools.

In Scotland, health and wellbeing learning is designed to cut across subject areas to ensure that children and young people develop the knowledge and understanding, skills, capabilities and attributes which they need for mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing. Organised into six areas, it covers mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing; planning for choices and changes; physical education, physical activity and sport; food and health; substance misuse; and relationships, sexual health and parenthood.

Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood Education (RSHP)

RSHP education is integral to the health and wellbeing aspect of the school curriculum. Learning on this progresses from primary to secondary 4 to 6 levels assisted by Education Scotland’s Experiences and Outcomes on RSHP. These are a set of clear and concise statements about children’s learning and progression in each curriculum area. Backed up with Benchmarks these are used by teachers to provide clarity on the national standards expected within each curriculum area at each learning level.

Guidance on the Conduct of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood Education (RSHP) in schools was published in 2014. It is clear that RSHP education should convey to children essential knowledge and skills which help them develop, maintain and enjoy positive, respectful and loving relationships and to keep themselves and others safe. It must do so consistently and progressively to high standards on the basis of equality. It must speak to all children and young people, and be inclusive of their identities and characteristics and the diverse family circumstances in which they grow up. Importantly RSHP education should address diversity and reflect issues relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people or children with LGBT parents, such as same sex marriage and hate-crime reporting. The Scottish Government is committed to reviewing and updating this statutory teaching guidance and to strengthening LGBT inclusion across Scottish schools, taking forward the recommendations of the LGBTI Inclusive Education working group.

Community learning and development (targets 4.2, 4.5, 4.6, 4.7)

Youth work

YouthLink Scotland is the national agency for youth work representing over 100 regional and national youth organisations from both voluntary and statutory sectors. The organisation champions the role and value of youth work and represents the interests and aspirations of the sector. Youth work is part of the wider grouping of informal and non-formal learning which is known as community learning and development (CLD) in Scotland. Scotland’s youth work sector is as rich and diverse as the nation itself, with a workforce in excess of 75,000 – including over 70,000 adult volunteers. It reaches in excess of 380,000 young people in youth work opportunities each week.

Youth work has three essential features based around young people making their own choices, building from where they are and recognising they are partners in a learning process. Youth work outcomes have been developed by the sector in Scotland, facilitated by YouthLink Scotland. These can be achieved in a range of youth work contexts and practices. Each outcome has a set of indicators that help youth workers and young people understand the difference youth work is making and how well young people are progressing towards the outcome. The outcome indicators are designed to support reflective practice, self-evaluation and the improvement of youth work services.

The Nature and Purpose of Youth Work statement recognises that the seven outcomes for individual young people result from a negotiated process between the young person and youth workers as partners in a learning process. In meeting the youth work outcomes the sector is working towards the SDGs and targets 4.4, 4.5, 4.6, and 4.7 in particular. For example, Scotland’s National Youth Work Strategy 2014-2019 shows how youth organisations are key partners in taking forward LfS which encompasses outdoor learning, sustainable development education and global citizenship. This helps build the values, attitudes, knowledge, skills and confidence needed to develop practices and take decisions which are compatible with a sustainable and equitable society.

Closer Look - National youth work programmes

YouthLink Scotland is working to improve youth work practice in Scotland ensuring that every young person has access to quality youth work opportunities. Engagements with a range of national programmes and resource development with members, stakeholders and partners include:

  • All In – A strategic partnership project funded by Erasmus+ with partners from Austria, Spain, Italy, Bulgaria, Belgium and Slovenia to develop and test training for youth work practitioners, leaders and coordinators
  • #iwill – A UK-wide campaign to encourage and empower young people to make a difference to their community and to causes they care about through volunteering, fundraising, campaigning and mentoring
  • Scotswummin – YouthLink Scotland worked with five youth projects and the National Library of Scotland to highlight the incredible Scottish women who helped win the war (We are Youngwummin)
  • Action on Prejudice – Supported by the Scottish Government, this is the first online hub with information and resources on tackling discrimination, prejudice and hate crime
  • No Knives Better Lives (NKBL) – Since 2009 the NKBL National Delivery Team (based at YouthLink Scotland) and the Scottish Government have supported partners in 11 selected local authority areas to implement NKBL locally. This support is now available to all local authorities
  • Closing the Attainment Gap – A Youth Work and Schools Partnership programme, funded under the Scottish Attainment Challenge, to promote and expand the role of youth work in closing the poverty related attainment gap

Scottish Attainment Challenge - Youth Work and Schools Partnerships Programme

YouthLink Scotland, the Scottish Government and Education Scotland have worked together on this programme to strengthen the partnership between youth work and schools to close the poverty related attainment gap. The programme is part of a collective effort the Scottish Government is taking to close the attainment gap as part of the wider Scottish Attainment Challenge. The programme will be delivered by YouthLink Scotland, with up to £324,000 Scottish Government funding over three years.

Youth work plays an important role in a young person’s learner journey and in addressing the impact of poverty on attainment. Undertaken in both school and the wider community, it contributes to delivery of the CfE, supporting young people to develop the skills for learning, life and work. Youth workers are particularly skilled in working with the most vulnerable young people, including those affected by Adverse Childhood Experiences and poverty. In particular, youth work supports young people to:

  • Increase attainment – by recognising wider achievement and different learning pathways
  • Improve health and wellbeing, confidence and resilience
  • Develop employability skills
  • Engage in extra-curricular activities, volunteering, peer mentoring, outdoor learning, etc.

English for speakers of other languages

In 2015 Scottish Government and Education Scotland produced Welcoming Our Learners: Scotland’s ESOL Strategy 2015 - 2020 which is a vision to provide high quality tuition in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) to enable participation and integration in Scottish life through work, study, family and local community. It is aligned with national objectives for adult learning in Scotland, with a focus on the learner. It was created in consultation with all key stakeholders who deliver ESOL including local authorities, colleges, school, community groups and charities. ESOL learners in Scotland include refugees and asylum seekers, learners from settled communities and those coming to Scotland to work. Work is currently ongoing with all stakeholders to ensure that funding for ESOL in Scotland best meets the needs of all learners.

Global Citizen Education

In informal education there is a clear opportunity for GCE to support awareness of and action on the SDGs. Education which takes place within youth work, lifelong learning, CLD and learning opportunities provided by civil society organisations is typically aligned with the values of the SDGs. However, unlike in formal education, there is not a broad awareness of the SDGs amongst CLD practitioners and related agencies. There is, therefore, a significant opportunity for practitioners, funders and agencies to see their work in the context of the SDGs, particularly on supporting the development of active citizens and mobilising people to action within their communities.

Closer Look - Taking part everywhere

“East Haven is a small village of only 80 residents but we have aligned our village sustainability strategy to the 2020 challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity, Sustainable Scotland Themes, Scottish Government Objectives and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We want everybody in our village to understand how every action we take links to something on a global level, for example, 80% of street litter in Scotland becomes marine litter so tackling street litter directly improves the health of our seas. In Angus, we persuaded our local authority to establish an Adopt – A - Street scheme to try and prevent street litter reaching the sea”.

Colleges and university (targets 4.3, 4.4, 4.5, 4.7)


Scotland’s colleges are vital to our social outlook and economic growth and success. They equip students with skills to help them into jobs and create the highly‑trained workforce employers need. The college sector is also a major employer in its own right. The Scottish Government provides overall strategic direction to Scotland’s colleges which are classed as public bodies and grouped into 13 regions. Ministerial priorities are set out in an annual letter of guidance for colleges. This includes placing greater emphasis on college courses that lead to employment. Funding is distributed by the Scottish Funding Council and each college region must produce an outcome agreement setting out what it plans to deliver in return for this.

The Data Picture: Young People's Participation

Target 4.3: By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university. Gender: the participation rate for 16-19 year old females was 92.2% in 2019, in comparison to 90.9% for males.

Line graph showing the proportion of 16 to 19 year olds participating in education, training or employment has remained consistently high at around 90% between 2016 and 2019 for both males and females, with a slight rising trend for both over to 2018, followed by a slight decrease in 2019. There is a small but consistent gap with a slightly higher proportion of females than males being in education, training or employment in each year.

Percentage of 16-19 year olds participating in education, training or employment

Source: Skills Development Scotland

In Scotland we are committed to delivering 116,000 full-time equivalent college places in Scotland (target 4.4). In 2016-17 the college sector delivered 117,502 full time equivalent places. We provide financial support to students, particularly those who need it most, and the Scottish Government is reviewing the support system to ensure it is fair and effective (target 4.5). A further initiative is the Gender Based Violence Support Cards Sub-Group that is part of the Equally Safe in Colleges and Universities Working Group. This ad hoc sub-group is tasked with the creation and distribution of cards to help college and university staff support individuals who are experiencing gender based violence (target 4.5, 4a).


Scotland’s universities are amongst the best in the world, four of which are in the top 200 of the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2019. Scotland has 19 autonomous higher education institutions which are represented by Universities Scotland. These are funded through the Scottish Funding Council.

Ensuring an excellent education is available to all is a driving principle across our entire education system. Following a commitment in the 2015-16 Programme for Government we set up the Commission on Widening Access to advise us on the steps necessary to ensure every child, irrespective of background, should have an equal chance of entering and succeeding in higher education (targets 4.5 and 4a). A Blueprint for Fairness: Final Report of the Commission on Widening Access (2016) made 34 recommendations covering the whole education system which were accepted in full. This lead to publication of Implementing ‘A Blueprint for Fairness’: Progress Report in 2017. Our aim is that by 2030, 20% of students entering university will be from Scotland’s 20% most deprived background. The focus of our work is on helping more people from disadvantaged backgrounds enter higher education. We:

  • Have kept free tuition fees for Scottish and EU students
  • Are providing financial support to students, particularly those who need it most
  • Have appointed an independent commissioner for fair access to help drive change across the system
  • Are supporting a range of initiatives to widening access and setting targets for individual universities
  • Are helping more students from deprived backgrounds gain a place to study medicine
  • Have set up an Access Delivery Group to help ensure the whole education system works together and monitors progress on the 34 recommendations
  • Are working with partners through the Equally Safe in Further and Higher Education Working Group to ensure universities are safe places to study

Closer Look - Strathclyde University Vertically Integrated Projects

Strathclyde University runs a programme of classes called Vertically Integrated Projects (VIPs) which encourage students to apply what they have learned in the classroom to original research and development projects. In so doing they take part in multi-disciplinary teams on cutting edge research and development projects working with undergraduate and postgraduate students from all years and staff from across the University. This exposes students to new knowledge and skills while also enabling them to help progress the SDGs. This year’s projects include:

  • Goals 1 and 8 - Enterprise VIP
  • Goals 2, 6 and 7 - Water and Sanitation
  • Goal 3 - Drug discovery
  • Goal 4 - Text Lab STEM Education and Public
  • Goal 5 - Text Lab
  • Goal 7 - Sustainable Energy for Development
  • Goal 9 - Rover
  • Goal 9 - Strathclyde Analytical Institute of Law

Scottish higher education has a worldwide reputation for excellent teaching and research. Our International Framework and International Policy Statement set out how we want to help universities to continue building educational links and research collaborations around the world (targets 4.7, 4b). Initiatives include; the Saltire Scholarships which offer study opportunities in the areas of science, technology, creative industries, healthcare and medical sciences, and renewable and clean energy; support for students to move between educational opportunities via the Erasmus+ initiative and a pilot scheme by the Student Award Agency for Scotland (SAAS) to fund Scottish domiciled students studying at five universities across the EU; the Scottish Bologna Stakeholders Group to increase student mobility across Europe and establish a common framework for higher education systems; and Connected Scotland which is helping higher education institutions to position themselves as world leaders in teaching, research and knowledge exchange. We also contribute funding to a number of organisations and programmes for international education.

SDG Accord

The SDG Accord was founded by the Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education (EAUC) which is a UK and Ireland-based sustainability charity. While it specialises in supporting tertiary education, there is a growing list of 86 support organisations and networks of various sizes globally which are listed as partners. The SDG Accord is a pledge for universities and colleges, who commit to embedding the SDGs (as many as possible) into their education, research, leadership, operations, administration and engagement activities. They also commit to:

  • Aligning all major efforts with the SDGs
  • Involving members from all key stakeholder groups including students, academics, staff, local communities and external stakeholders
  • Collaborating across cities, regions, countries and continents with signatory institutions as part of a collective international response
  • Sharing their learning and being held accountable by both local and global communities on their progress toward the SDGs
  • Annually reporting on their efforts

Scotland’s universities and colleges have responded well to this initiative, with nine signed up at the Principal level in February 2019. The ‘badge’ of having signed the SDG Accord is important to these institutions and opens up conversations developing whole-institution-approaches to sustainability extending it beyond the usual departmental silos. Support organisations upholding the SDG Accord as a concept and championing it in their engagement with universities and colleges include Zero Waste Scotland, Advanced Procurement for Universities and Colleges and Learning for Sustainability Scotland. In July 2018, the EAUC took a report based on information institutional signatories had provided to the UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF). This report highlights UK institutional progress on the SDGs and includes UK case studies. Another report is currently being prepared for the 2019 HLPF.

Closer Look - The Royal Town Planning Institute

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) is the UK’s leading planning body for spatial, sustainable and inclusive planning and is the largest planning institute in Europe with over 25,000 members. With their international planning and other built environment partners and memberships, the institute promotes the role that good planning and skilled planners can play in helping to deliver on the UN global commitments and implement sustainable development. The RTPI champions the role of spatial planning that gives people a real say in shaping the places where they live and work and ensures that sustainability is at the heart of everything they do. Their work in relation to the SDGs is based within the context of policy debates, establishing new approaches and influencing national planning policy.

RTPI Scotland has focused on inclusive and equitable quality education and life‑long learning opportunities by highlighting its commitment to skilling up of its members through Continuous Professional Development examinations and annual reviews of accredited planning schools across the country. The RTPI also currently accredits courses at four schools across Scotland: University of Glasgow, Dundee, Strathclyde and Heriot Watt. It is developing a workforce strategy and, supported by the Scottish Government, it launched a planning bursary scheme to assure an adequate supply of qualified planners to meet the ambitions of the country and to have a resilient workforce. The international recognition of good quality standard services has led to the planning profession being regarded as one of Scotland’s important skills export.

Green Gown Awards

Additional work in the sector includes the Green Gown Awards which reward outstanding sustainability projects in universities and colleges, and which are now aligned to SDGs.

Closer Look - Glasgow Caledonian University

GCU has signed the SDG Accord (launched by the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges 2017), which is the university and college sector’s collective response to inspire, celebrate and advance the role of education in delivering the SDGs. In signing the accord, GCU is committing to deliver the Goals, to report annually on its progress, and to share learning with other signatories around the world. The university’s research strategy is now aligned with the SDGs:

  • Goal 1 - Scottish Poverty and Inequality Research Unit
  • Goal 3 - Centre for Living and Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health
  • Goal 5 and 10 - Women in the Scottish Economy Research Centre
  • Goal 11 - Built Environment Asset Management Centre
  • Goal 12 - Fair Fashion Centre
  • Goal 13 - Climate Justice Centre

Further, the university is a Living Wage Employer (Goal 8) and is a designated a UN Principles for Responsible Management Education Champion Institution.

Closer Look - St Andrew’s University

The university works with a range of partners at all scales, including large international and small local organisations in all sectors. It has adopted a broad approach to adopting the SDGs, focusing on both curricular and non-curricular elements of university life.

The Eden Campus Energy Centre has led to the creation of a district heat network based on a 6.5 MW biomass boiler with a 3MW thermal stores to reduce the University’s carbon footprint and help achieve carbon neutral status. SMART Campus involves implementation of SMART energy saving technologies to reduce the University’s carbon footprint by 2000 tonnes of CO2 per annum.

The Sustainability in the Curriculum Committee at the University is chaired by the Associate Dean of Arts and Science and attended by academics, support staff, and student representatives. The Committee supports targets 13.3 and 4.7 by working towards incorporating sustainability in the wider curriculum. Additionally, the Sustainable Development Undergraduate Programme allows for innovation, excellence and impact in LfS at St Andrews.

Transition University St Andrews is a community led initiative that drives several projects and leads on sustainability partnerships with other NGOs and small scale community groups - contributing to SDG 16 and 17 through developing new collaborations and institutional models. Edible Campus is another community based initiative which includes a network of 16 community gardens and orchards and is one of the largest campus-based food growing schemes in the country. Finally, the StAndRe-use project collects and redistributes pre-owned items within the student community each year. This year it collected and gave away 5,200 kg of student household goods valued at over £50,000.

Research (targets 4.7)

Scotland’s universities have an international reputation for excellent research which delivers economic and social benefits both at home and abroad. Funding for the wider research and innovation sector in Scotland – universities, research institutes, research-led intensive companies, innovative companies, innovation centres, Interface, third sector, NHS Scotland and other public services - supports advancement across all the SDGs.

Our excellence in research is underpinned by extensive collaborations worldwide. Scotland can point to significant successes in working across European boundaries with international research centres that are increasingly attracted to Scotland by the quality of our research base. These include the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Photonics, the £100 million Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) European Lead Factory Programme, which will speed up the development of new drugs, and the Scottish Universities Life Science Alliance (SULSA) with the support of Dutch and English partners. Our university research also works across international boundaries, for example through the Gravitational Waves collaboration that involved scientists from 17 countries in the research and discovery of gravitational waves. Glasgow is the UK’s leading university for gravitational research. Although well established, such practice could always benefit from increased international partnership in research and innovation activities that support SDG delivery.

Funding for science centres and science festivals in Scotland also supports a number of Goals by offering accessible science-related activities and events, some of which are targeted at women and girls. Others involve working with communities to explore issues of concern and to empower people to make informed choices, for example around health, transport and energy. The science engagement sector in Scotland – science centres and science festivals – help to make science accessible to a wide public audience including underserved audiences.

Developing the Young Workforce (targets 4.3, 4.4 and 4.5)

Young people are our future and it is vital, therefore, that we do as much as we can to prepare them socially, emotionally and for the world of work. In Scotland a high proportion of 16-19 year olds are in education or training and this is rising. In relation to key workforce sectors, digital competence, for example, is higher than for the wider UK (81% of adults) and enrolment on computing science courses has increased by 10%, in line with the significant increase required by target 4.4. The main digital policy for ICT skills and infrastructure in Scotland is Realising Scotland’s Full Potential in a Digital World. Parity between social groupings is a key target under Goal 4, however, and in Scotland only 19% of Higher computing students in 2015 were female. Significant challenges therefore lie with this Goal in relation to gender, as well as the impact of social deprivation and the apparent correlation of ethnicity in relation to achievement.

On a broader level, while we have already met the commitment set out in our youth employment strategy, Developing the Young Workforce, to reduce youth unemployment by 40%, we will continue to support young people by:

  • Providing more apprenticeships and expanding vocational courses in schools
  • Building greater links between schools, colleges and businesses
  • Funding national skills body Skills Development Scotland to deliver an all age careers service
  • Providing Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMAs) to help young people from low income families stay on in post-16 education
  • Funding Inspiring Scotland’s new Our Future Now Fund and Discovering Your Potential, which provides flexible and intensive support for young care leavers
  • Delivering a two years NHS internship programme for disabled graduates
  • Supporting the Employability Fund and Community Jobs Scotland, while making preparations for these and other existing sources of support form part of the new employability system
  • Funding individual Local Authorities directly, as part of No One Left Behind - review of employability services, to deliver employability programmes

The Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) Programme is also contributing to the transformation of the education system through achieving a step change in how we work. This is evident in the wide range of local examples of good practice led by councils, who play such a pivotal role in taking the DYW Programme forward across a wide range of services. For example, South Lanarkshire Council have more than doubled the college work‑based learning offer in schools and the number of pupils taking part in Foundation Apprenticeships has increased by over 400%.

Fife Council, working in collaboration with Fife College, have seen a notable increase in the uptake of Foundation Apprenticeships, with school-based DYW coordinators appointed to further enhance the links between schools and local businesses. This work is not just limited to Secondary schools, it can be seen in new ways of thinking about employment and new approaches introduced in classrooms of local primary schools across Scotland. Councils have also contributed to the DYW effort in their roles as employers. Aberdeenshire Council have created a WorkPlus programme for young care experienced people, providing them with an 8-week paid work placement in the local authority’s services alongside employability and job searching support. As a result, all of the initial participants have progressed into either employment or further training.

Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) in Scotland involves employers, schools, local authorities, colleges and Skills Development Scotland, in part to improve employer engagement with education. The programme relates to targets 4.3, 4.4 and 4.5 as well as poverty reduction, gender equality, decent work and economic growth. Challenges in implementing the programme have included finding ways of counterbalancing residual views of what education is for and the narrow pursuit of academic excellence. A further challenge around securing the necessary culture change in order to move beyond an assumption that higher education in itself is sufficient to tackle productivity and prosperity issues.

Closer Look - Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh (RBGE)

The RBGE runs professional certificate courses with the Royal Horticultural Society in disciplines ranging from horticulture to herbology. They also take part in degree, diploma and PhD courses with the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and Scotland’s Rural College. Over 100 professionals, many from around the world have trained in a complete range of internationally recognised botanical and horticultural courses. The RBGE also provides distance, blended and online learning opportunities (PropaGate) in botanical and horticultural subjects, and free education in sustainability topics such as pollinator security and plant defence, to international professionals with the same delivery partners. The Horticultural Internship Programme provides practical, certificated training for UK and EU nationals in botanic gardens and conservation horticulture.

Their ERASMUS+ ‘Learn to Engage’ work with the European Commission, Nottingham Trent University, Botanic Gardens Conservation International and other institutions in Italy and Portugal, provides training and professional development for botanic garden staff and museum educators in the UK, Italy and Portugal. This enhances audience engagement at botanic gardens and museums and furthers public knowledge about the natural world and sustainability issues. To the same end, RBGE is also working on new education and building facilities, in part to upgrade their services (target 4a) to provide a child-friendly, accessible, gender sensitive, safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environment.

We make a positive contribution internationally (targets 4.7 and 4b)

Education underpins all of the 17 SDGs, and through LfS people can be informed and inspired to engage with sustainability action. The key advantage of LfS is as an overarching approach to addressing the SDGs. Scotland is a recognised leader in this area, having achieved significant progress over the recent UN Decade of Expertise in Education for Sustainable Development. The establishment of a UN Regional Centre for Expertise in Education for Sustainable Development (Learning for Sustainability Scotland) has helped to consolidate this work. Such initiatives can assist with deepening learning about the SDGs and opening out democratic participation across the learning fields and internationally. Additionally, Scottish Universities offer provision overseas and collaborations to bring quality education into developing countries (see Goal 17). This enriches the learning experience through an internationalisation agenda, but also allows us to work towards the Goals in other countries, utilising our strength in Higher Education.

Challenges and next steps

Scotland has a deep and historical belief in the power of education to transform individuals and society. This commitment is manifest in our teaching and learning infrastructure which invites participation from all throughout their lives. Ensuring everyone can engage and achieve their best is fundamental to this. To enable this we have outstanding universities and research institutions and a comprehensive infrastructure which spans across early years, pre-school and school, community learning and development, and higher education provision (targets 4 and 1-3). In addition, Scotland has a multitude of museums, galleries, festivals, sports and science institutes, built, natural and heritage facilities which provide an impressive array of learning opportunities across the country. As such, the depth, range and quality of our educational infrastructure is to be celebrated. As is evident above, however, more could be done to further upgrade and adapt our education facilities, especially in schools (target 4a).

The networks, relationships and collaborations between those working in Scottish education both at home and abroad are enormously important, helping to inspire others, create synergies and bring new projects to life. In turn this lifts our horizons as a nation, challenging what we think is possible and moving us into new areas of discovery which are perhaps more necessary for humanity now than ever before. Important then, is how we facilitate and support the meeting of minds but also how we frame the challenges we face in line with the SDGs and our National Outcomes (targets 4.7 and 4b).

Whatever the outcome of Brexit, in Scotland we are committed to maintaining and growing collaborative working links with European and global processes aimed at progressing the SDGs and the vital agenda contained in them. Both statutory stakeholders and civil society have a role to play in this. Ensuring this agenda is passed on to the next generation is critical. The inclusion of the ability to ‘contribute to society’ in the revised NPF Education Outcome is welcome in this regard.

Continued promotion of LfS, including integration of LfS into all curricular areas in Scottish schools is one way to support the development of responsible citizens with the awareness and skills to act on the SDGs. The Scottish Government’s new Learning for Sustainability Action Plan provides a mechanism to achieve this. While Scotland is notable for its longstanding commitment to GCE and the Scottish Government has consistently funded Development Education Centres (DECs), existing and prospective funding reductions from other sources present significant challenges to continued progress on target 4.7. Maintaining and strengthening learning about the different SDGs can also be achieved through more concentrated effort around the CfE, outdoor learning, global citizenship, education for sustainable development and so on.

More widely, we know that across Scotland there are very many activities and projects, new and established, that can progress the SDGs. However, there is still a significant SDG awareness gap, even within sectors that share their values and ambitions. This leaves untapped potential for collaboration and coordination, within and across civil society, business and national and local government. With GCE embedded in the design and delivery of informal education, including in community learning and development/lifelong learning plans at the national and local level, a clear link between these forms of education and progress on the SDGs could be achieved. This would help to motivate partnership between local authorities, civil society organisations and the Scottish Government to ensure that informal education plays a role in SDG implementation. Crucially, these forms of education also reach communities and parts of Scottish society which are most likely to be left behind by other forms of SDG implementation, including adult learners and communities.

Scotland also has strong teacher training provision domestically. Our national improvement framework and Scottish national standardised assessments are dedicated to driving up standards and achievement across the school population. Despite continued improvements in achievement between pupils from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds, ensuring that everyone, regardless of background, gender or ethnicity has the same chance to succeed remains a considerable challenge (targets 4.5 and 4.6). As does equal participation and outcomes in particular subject areas such as ICT, STEM, and literacy and numeracy. On balance, however, while there are clear opportunities and some pressing concerns which we need to focus on, educational provision in Scotland is rich, diverse, and comprehensive and as such we have much to be proud of under Goal 4.

Commitments in the Scottish Government’s 2019-20 Programme for Government that relate to this Goal

The Scottish Government will continue funding for the Scottish Attainment Challenge at current levels for a further year into 2021-22, to allow schools and local authorities to make plans and to continue efforts to close the educational attainment gap

On Learning for Sustainability – a cross-curricular approach to learning that aims to help develop a love of the natural world and sense of environmental stewardship – Education Scotland will continue to develop advice, guidance and practice examples to ensure that educators are confident in covering this area of education and the Scottish Government will continue to fund the Eco-Schools Scotland Programme

The age cap of 26 for the care experienced student bursary will be removed in time for the start of the 2020-21 academic year to ensure people with experience of care are supported into either further or higher education when they are ready, regardless of their age

The Scottish Government will establish a Teacher Innovation fund, that teachers can apply to in order to help them access professional development, enhancing the attractiveness of the profession



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