The Scottish Government is clear in its continued commitment to closing the poverty- related attainment gap, clearly reiterating that in the 2023 Equality, opportunity, community: New leadership - A fresh start. This includes a clear commitment to use "our investment in the Scottish Attainment Challenge to further empower headteachers and Local Government to achieve their ambitions to improve outcomes for children and young people impacted by poverty".
The pandemic has – as set out in the Scottish Government and Education Scotland Equity Audit of January 2021 and a range of other research – had a disproportionate impact on children and young people affected by poverty. Alongside that, the challenging economic conditions present an additional challenge for children, families and public services. That is why close alignment with the Scottish Government's national mission to tackle child poverty, with all in society working together to drive change is so important. The Best Start, Bright Futures: tackling child poverty delivery plan 2022 to 2026 sets out the Government's strategy for that.
Education has a clear role to play in this and we are clear that a good education is of the most effective means we have to give every child and young person the best chance to succeed in life. Further, the right to and goals of education are enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The pandemic and the cost of living crisis have not changed that.
These issues and ambitions reinforce our moral imperative to do everything we can to support the best possible outcomes for our future generations. We can do this by focusing resources on recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and tackling the poverty-related attainment gap – with education making its contribution to mitigating the impact of poverty on the educational experiences and life chances of children and young people experiencing poverty. This is an imperative borne of our commitment to a human rights-based approach to children and young people's care, support and education.
The mission of the Challenge is therefore:
"to use education to improve outcomes for children and young people impacted by poverty, with a focus on tackling the poverty-related attainment gap"
This mission recognises the need to reflect the breadth of achievements and experiences and the importance of health and wellbeing to contribute to improved outcomes for children and young people including through improved post-school participation in positive destinations. This represents strengthened alignment with the Curriculum for Excellence and the findings of the OECD and Audit Scotland reports of 2021, which indicate the need for stronger national and local data on the wider benefits of Scottish education; and acknowledges articles 29 and 31 of the UNCRC.
With a continued focus on evidence of impact and learning to date, some key considerations have been drawn from Scottish Government and Education Scotland's analysis of the Scottish Attainment Challenge (published March 2021), Audit Scotland's report: Improving outcomes for young people through school education (also of March 2021), and the Attainment Scotland Fund evaluation: fifth interim report - year 6 (June 2022), to shape our continued work to close the poverty- related attainment gap. These include:
- Progress in tackling the poverty-related attainment gap was made before the pandemic. This provides solid foundations on which we can seek to accelerate both recovery and progress.
- The findings of the 2021 Audit Scotland report highlighted a need to make quicker progress even in relation to pre-pandemic gains, and to tackle variation in outcomes between and within local authority areas.
- There is a need for continued and accelerated progress to address the negative impact of Covid-19 on children's health and wellbeing and learning.
- Improving leadership, learning and teaching and the quality of support for families and communities and targeted support for those impacted by poverty remain the key levers to improve outcomes for children and young people.
Further, we know that good progress in recovery from the pandemic is evident in 2021/22 primary school attainment, with the biggest single year decreases in the literacy and numeracy poverty-related attainment gap since records began in 2016/17, bringing levels closer to those seen before the Covid-19 pandemic and making good progress towards 2022/23 local stretch aims. There has been good progress in the senior phase, with the gap in exam results in 2022 narrowing compared to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019. All of this underpins improved outcomes for children and young people, with record high numbers of students from deprived areas entering university and the poverty-related attainment gap for school leavers in positive destinations three months after the end of the school year at a record low.
However, there is more to do and at greater pace to ensure all children and young people have the same opportunities to succeed.
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