Scottish Attainment Challenge: framework for recovery and accelerating progress

A Framework to support schools, local authorities and others across the education system to support educational recovery and increase progress in improving outcomes for children and young people impacted by poverty.

2. Planning

This section focuses on planning arrangements related to the Scottish Attainment Challenge for schools and local authorities. It is designed to include minimal bureaucracy; to ensure transparency and shared levels of ambition for progress; and, taking into account key learning from the Scottish Attainment Challenge to date, to support swift and lasting education recovery, increase the pace of progress and reduce variation in progress.

A key element of the Framework is the requirement for locally identified stretch aims to be set out in local authority education service improvement plans.

All 32 local authorities receive both Strategic Equity Funding (SEF) and Care Experienced Children and Young People (CECYP) funding, and almost all (97%) schools in all 32 local authorities receive Pupil Equity Funding (PEF). Detailed planning and reporting requirements for each of these funding streams is set out in the respective guidance documents for each. However, there are some overarching requirements related to all three funding streams set out below.

  • Attainment Scotland Funding (whether SEF, PEF or CECYP) should not be the only resource directed to approaches to achieving the mission of the Scottish Attainment Challenge or the locally identified stretch aims for doing so. This is additional resource to enhance or up-scale existing, or support new or additional, targeted approaches to tackling the poverty-related attainment gap and improving outcomes for children and young people impacted by poverty.
  • Headteachers are empowered to identify and implement approaches to using PEF in their local settings.
  • Headteachers should expect dialogue with the local authority on how plans for the use of Attainment Scotland Funding at school and local authority level can be strategically aligned to shared strategic aims – collaboration at the planning stage is vital.
  • Local authorities remain accountable for the use of Attainment Scotland Funding, including PEF. Therefore, local authorities should support headteachers and have processes in place to ensure plans are targeted and evidence based to support full and effective local spend.
  • Local authorities and headteachers should work together closely to consider how to maximise the utility or reach of PEF to undertake shared approaches – with the explicit agreement of headteachers – to achieve shared aims. There are many examples of this working well. Such examples can be found in the Education Scotland Pupil Equity Funding: Looking inwards, outwards, forwards – sharing effective practice to maximise support for learner and practitioners publication.
  • Additional support for learning legislation advises that one of the factors which gives rise to additional support needs is family circumstances. Poverty is part of this. Research shows the interconnections between poverty and additional support needs. If a child is affected by poverty, they are more likely to be identified as requiring additional support. ASF funding should be inclusive of all children who are impacted by poverty, including those identified with additional support needs.

2.1 School planning: Pupil Equity Funding

2.1.1 General principles

Schools must continue to use their school improvement plans and processes to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap and to use PEF to provide additional activities or resources to contribute to those plans.

Headteachers must have access to their school's full PEF allocation. This funding must provide targeted support for children and young people (and their families if appropriate) affected by poverty to help support them achieve their full potential.

Headteachers should endeavour to work in partnership with their local community partners, such as youth work and community learning and development, to develop approaches to utilising the funding to best effect. Schools must take account of the statutory responsibilities of the local authority to deliver educational improvement, secure best value, and fulfil the authority's role as employer. Collaboration with local authorities, other schools or school clusters, or community partners, may provide opportunities to increase the reach and impact of PEF, including through agreeing opportunities to pool resources. Local guidance will set out more detail on how this will operate in local settings.

The use of Pupil Equity Funding should align with the strategic local authority plans and stretch aims for tackling the poverty-related attainment gap – essentially freedom within a framework. Equally, school plans should inform local authority strategic plans as part of a two-way collaborative planning process between local authorities and schools.

Parents and carers, children and young people and other key stakeholders should be meaningfully involved throughout the process of planning, evaluation and any future developments. This should be inclusive of all children affected by poverty, including those where alternative communication approaches need to be considered and children and young people in any ASN provisions in schools. The PEF guidance includes further advice on potential approaches to doing this and signposts evidence of effective approaches to utilising PEF.

Further, specific guidance on the use of Pupil Equity Funding is available here Pupil Equity Funding Guidance.

2.1.2 Practicalities

Schools must have plans, grounded in evidence of what is known to be effective at raising attainment for children affected by poverty, in place before the beginning of each academic year. These plans should be developed with teachers and school communities. They should include clear outcomes to be achieved and how progress towards these, and the impact on closing the poverty-related attainment gap, will be measured. If, as a result of ongoing local monitoring, the plans are not achieving the impact intended, these plans should be adjusted.

Scottish Government and Education Scotland will sample these plans annually, with a focus on PEF, to continue to inform our understanding of the approaches to tackling the poverty-related attainment gap undertaken in specific settings and potentially inform the annual evaluation of the Attainment Scotland Fund.

Local authorities will provide to Scottish Government two reports on school level PEF spend:

  • The first report, to be completed by the end of May, will capture PEF spend as of 31 March 2023, along with committed PEF spend up to 30 September 2023. This will help provide a more accurate reflection of PEF spend, given significant amounts of PEF supports staffing costs, which typically cover the academic year.
  • The second report, to be completed at the end of October, will indicate how much of the committed spend up until 30 September 2023 has been invested.

Whilst there is provision for PEF allocations to be carried forward into the subsequent financial year (and, in specific exceptional circumstances into the new academic year), schools should liaise closely with their authority to agree the arrangements for this. Schools should also be able to access ongoing advice and guidance from the Attainment Advisor team in order to maximise improved outcomes for children and young people as a result of a full and effective investment of their Pupil Equity Funding.

Further detail can be found in the specific PEF National Operational guidance for PEF.

2.2 Local authority planning: Strategic Equity Funding

2.2.1 General principles

All 32 local authorities are in receipt of SEF. This funding is provided to support local authorities to develop and implement strategic approaches to achieving the mission of the Scottish Attainment Challenge, working with schools, wider local authority services and national and community partners, such as youth work.

In planning strategic local approaches to achieving the mission of the Scottish Attainment Challenge, local authorities should consider the totality of Attainment Scotland Fundingcoming into the local authority. This can include working with headteachers, recognising their decision-making role in the use of PEF, to consider how this is best utilised to enhance local plans to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap. Local authorities should co-create plans with stakeholders, including those with lived experience of poverty.

All local authorities are required to use their strategic plans to set out local stretch aims for progress.

SEF allocations through to March 2026 are available on In line with that funding commitment, local authorities are required to consider outcomes to be achieved by the end of this parliamentary term – and funding cycle rather than setting shorter term, annual aims. Stretch aims are therefore required to set out ambitious aims for progress by the end of the three-year period of 2023/24 – 2025/26, accompanied by an outline trajectory for progress (see template in Annex A).

The mission to use education to improve outcomes for children and young people impacted by poverty, with a focus on tackling the poverty-related attainment gap should feature in all local authority education service improvement plans. These plans should indicate how Scottish Attainment Challenge funding will be used to address this mission as well as how these plans align to other local authority plans, such as Community Learning and Development plans, Children's Services plans and Child Poverty Action Plans, which have related aims.

These overarching plans, supported by SEF, are also an opportunity to identify and articulate how the pandemic and the cost of living crisis has impacted the educational experiences and health and wellbeing of children most impacted by poverty and how local strategies are being used to support and improve outcomes for those children and young people.

2.2.2 Stretch aims

Local authority plans and stretch aims for the Scottish Attainment Challenge should be embedded within existing local authority education service improvement plans (or equivalents), which are shared annually with Scottish Government as part of statutory plans and reports. Stretch aims are, of course, just one part of the range of responsibilities local authorities have for education services.

Setting local stretch aims

  • Set specific local authority stretch aims for improving outcomes for all while closing the poverty-related attainment gap between SIMD quintile 1 and SIMD quintile 5[1] for 2025/26.
  • These stretch aims should be ambitious within local contexts and take into account previous years' attainment data and local authorities' 2022/23 stretch aims (see Annex A for key considerations for setting aims).
  • Stretch aims for 2025/26, accompanied by an outline trajectory for progress, should be submitted to the Scottish Government by the end of September 2023. Local authorities should evaluate their plans and progress towards their stretch aims annually and report on progress through their NIF reports/Standards and Quality Reports in September each year.
  • They should focus on the specific aims which local evidence and data suggest are the priority areas for improvement in line with the 'core plus' model set out below.
  • At a minimum these must include core stretch aims for both overall progress and for reducing the poverty-related gaps in:

a) Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels (literacy at primary 1, 4 and 7 combined; and numeracy at primary 1, 4 and 7 combined);

b) the proportion of school leavers attaining 1 or more award at SCQF level 5 based on Insight (All SCQF Awards) information;

c) the proportion of school leavers attaining 1 or more award at SCQF level 6 based on Insight (All SCQF Awards) information;

d) the proportion of 16-19 olds participating in education, employment or training based on the Annual Participation Measure produced by Skills Development Scotland; and

e) a locally identified aim for health and wellbeing, to be measured using local datasets. NB: whilst a national dataset for health and wellbeing gathered consistently across all local authorities does not yet exist, amongst the core aims – with absolute parity of esteem – must be an ambitious locally identified and measured aim for improvement and closing of the poverty-related gap in progress in health and wellbeing.

There are plans for the data for the health and wellbeing survey to be included in the National Improvement Framework, when there should be a greater degree of confidence and consistency in the data.

In summary:

  • Each stretch aim should clearly articulate ambitions for progress for all pupils and progress in narrowing the poverty-related attainment gap by 2025/26, with a clearly articulated trajectory for progress over the course of 2023/24 and 2024/25. Nationally, aims a), b), c) and d) will be aggregated so that a national picture for progress by 2025/26 for all pupils and for the poverty-related attainment gap can be identified. Consistency in the articulation of the NIF key measures identified above will be vital to developing that national picture. Therefore, the template included at Annex A must be used by local authorities in their returns to Scottish Government by the end of September 2023.
  • The core aims set out above have been updated in response to feedback from local authorities and to align with the work underway to update the NIF measures for the 2024 NIF publication.

The plus stretch aims: Recognising the importance of readiness to learn and a broad and varied curriculum, plans are required to also include additional (plus) stretch aims which are specific to the local authority's own context and datasets. These aims are of equal importance to those that form the "core" and could include, for example:

  • aims for 1 or more award at A – C for level 5 and level 6 national qualifications, based on Insight (SQA National) information;
  • aims for literacy and numeracy in S3 and/or the senior phase;
  • aims for attendance;
  • aims for initial leaver destinations;
  • aims specifically for care experienced children and young people;
  • aims specifically for children and young people impacted by poverty and identified with additional support needs;
  • aims for attainment in Gaelic Medium Education (in particular that which is not picked up through ACEL collections for English Medium Education);
  • aims for parental engagement in learning;
  • aims for pupils' broader curricular achievements (for example, Duke of Edinburgh or John Muir awards; or Heartstart etc);
  • aims regarding readiness to learn; or
  • regarding the cost of the school day.

Articulation of the suite of core plus additional stretch aims should detail:

  • what change do you want to see for learners over the next three years?
  • how much change over the next three years? who are the target groups?
  • how will progress be measured and tracked – indicators of progress?
  • a clear trajectory of progress.

Considerations for setting stretch aims and the required templates for completion and presentation in plans are included at Annex A.

Agreeing local stretch aims

  • In line with the agreement on multiyear funding and building on the year 1 plans established for 2022/23, local authorities are required to prepare a three-year strategic plan with accompanying stretch aims for 2025/26. Within that plan and underpinning the 2025/26 stretch aims should be an outline trajectory for progress.
  • Setting of local stretch aims should be an iterative and collaborative process between local authorities and schools, including special schools and ASN provisions. There should be a two-way process which sees school plans inform the local authority stretch aims and local authority aims and strategic plans reflected in school plans.
  • The setting and ambition of these aims should be achieved by local authorities as a result of robust evidence-informed self-evaluation.
  • Local authorities should work closely with Education Scotland as they develop their stretch aims.

Plans underpinning these aims

  • Stretch aims will form part of local authorities overall education service plans and specific SAC related plans – these plans are what will be key to making progress towards the stretch aims and improving outcomes for children and young people.
  • Stretch aims should be ambitious, setting aims to make better progress than in the previous years of the SAC (though taking into account the impact of Covid-19 and the current cost-of-living crisis) and provide a tool that acts as a catalyst for local consideration of what can be done differently to maximise progress towards them.
  • The SAC logic model should inform approaches to closing the poverty- related attainment gap and planning should be shaped around the Scottish Attainment Challenge organisers of: learning and teaching; leadership; and families and communities.
  • Both qualitative and quantitative measures should be identified to demonstrate the progress and impact of supports and interventions.
  • There should be a clear articulation of how Scottish Attainment Challenge funding will contribute to the aims of the plans – whether directly, by augmenting/enhancing existing approaches, or by leveraging input from other services/partners.
  • The contributions of wider services supporting children and young people and their families are vital to supporting readiness to learn. Plans should read across to related local authority service improvement plans and tackling child poverty plans.


  • The planning cycle will use the academic year, aligning with existing annual Education Service Improvement Planning cycles.
  • Stretch aims for 2025/26 and anticipated broad trajectories for progress towards them over the course of 2023/24 and 2024/25 should be agreed and submitted to Scottish Government by the end of September 2023 as part of the local authority's Education Service Improvement Plan.
  • Submission of 2025/26 stretch aims in September 2023 should also be accompanied by local authorities' NIF reports/Standards and Quality reports which should provide an update on progress towards 2022/23 stretch aims.

There is a requirement for a high-level financial planning template for SEF to be submitted which sets out how funding will be invested. This will provide Scottish Government with an audit trail of funding use in each local authority.

There will be two draw-down points for funding, one at the mid-point of the financial year and one at the end of the financial year. Draw down of funds should be based on actual spend aligned to the planning template.

Recognising the plans may change in-year, a notification of change process will be in place.

Further guidance and specific practical arrangements for the use of SEF can be found in the SEF guidance.

2.3 Local authority planning – Care Experienced Children and Young People

2.3.1 General Principles

Current planning (and reporting) arrangements for CECYP funding will continue and are set out fully in the refreshed CECYP funding guidance. This will continue to require the Chief Social Work Officer and Director of Education (or equivalent) to work together to ensure there are strategic plans in place with processes for reporting on impact. This should take place in collaboration with Attainment Advisors and, where appropriate, virtual school headteachers.

This funding is issued to local authorities, as corporate parents. The Chief Social Work Officer and the Director of Education (or equivalent), assisted by Education Scotland, working in collaboration with planning partners, and other professionals, carers and children and young people, will assess how the funding can be utilised to have the most impact on attainment and achievement.

Plans to utilise the funding should have a clear focus on delivering equity and improving educational outcomes and supporting the health and wellbeing of children and young people who are care experienced, for those aged between 0-26. These plans should be reflected in local authority improvement plans for education and any other relevant existing planning processes for children. Examples of this include Child Poverty Action Plans, additional support plans, Child's Plans, Looked After Children reviews, or children's services partnership plans.

2.3.2 Practicalities

CECYP funding is issued over the academic year and will continue to be drawn down at two points in the financial year.

Outcomes, measures of success and evaluation of impact should be built into any programme or initiative at the outset and clearly set out in the relevant plans.

Identified measures set out in plans should reflect the strategic decisions taken around the approaches taken and local authorities should agree the mechanisms which best illustrate the impact on attainment/wellbeing. These can be quantitative or qualitative measures, for example capturing the experiences and feedback from care experienced children and young people, or through the Chief Social Work Officer Reports.

Further guidance on the use of CECYP funding can be found here CECYP guidance.



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