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.

1. Introduction

1.1 Background

The Scottish Attainment Challenge was launched in 2015 with the mission of closing the poverty-related attainment gap. This is a key contribution to the delivery of the shared vision for Scottish education to deliver excellence and equity for all.

Education remains one of the most effective means we have to improve the life chances of all of our young people, and the right to and goals of education are enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The pandemic has not changed that. 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. This reinforces our moral imperative to do everything we can to support the best possible outcomes for our future generations by focusing resources on recovery and tackling the poverty-related attainment gap. This is an imperative borne of our commitment to a human rights-based approach to children and young people's care, support and education.

In November 2021, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills set out plans for a refreshed Scottish Attainment Challenge from April 2022. The mission of this refreshed Challenge is:

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.

In refreshing the Scottish Attainment Challenge, there is an opportunity to further strengthen our collective focus on supporting children and young people impacted by poverty, learning from and building on the work to reduce the poverty-related attainment gap to date. We have considered a range of evidence, including the findings of both the Scottish Government and Education Scotland's analysis of the Scottish Attainment Challenge (published March 2021) and Audit Scotland's report: Improving outcomes for young people through school education
(also of March 2021).

Reflecting on that evidence, some key considerations can be drawn:

  • 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.

1.2 Purpose of the Framework for Recovery and Accelerating Progress

This Framework will underpin the ambition contained in the refreshed Scottish Attainment Challenge mission and applies to teachers, school leaders, local government, Education Scotland and Scottish Government. It is also relevant to the wider education community as they work in partnership with schools to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap.

It is being developed to:

  • provide clear direction to our collective work – as educators, leaders, advisors, policy makers and elected officials – to improve outcomes for those children and young people most impacted by poverty;
  • articulate and emphasise the targeted nature of the Scottish Attainment Challenge;
  • support acceleration of continuous improvement through ambitious, achievable and measurable objectives, identified locally and recognised nationally;
  • support a shared understanding and collective accountability for expected progress in the attainment, health and wellbeing and broader outcomes of children and young people impacted by poverty over the next four years and by the end of 10 years of the Scottish Attainment Challenge; and
  • drive a whole system focus on improvement with clear roles and responsibilities for all stakeholders in the system working together to reduce variation.

It is accompanied by a refreshed Scottish Attainment Challenge Logic Model (which can be found as a supporting document to the Framework for Recovery and Accelerating Progress), clearly articulating the theory of change.

Resources for the Scottish Attainment Challenge, through the ASF, will be provided to all 32 local authorities through Strategic Equity Funding (SEF) and Care Experienced Children and Young People funding (CECYP); and to schools through Pupil Equity Funding (PEF). The ASF is an additional, targeted investment to be used strategically alongside existing funding at and across local authority and school level, with local authorities and schools collaborating to achieve the shared, national mission of the Scottish Attainment Challenge.

Prior learning and research evidence shows us that schools and education services alone will not reduce the poverty-related attainment gap. The mission of the Scottish Attainment Challenge is one that must be supported by 'collective agency' – the range of services, third sector organisations and community partners working together with families, with a clear focus on improving the educational experiences, health and wellbeing and outcomes of children and young people. In this way educators, who are at the heart of these collaborations, will play a vital role in breaking the cycle of poverty and make a long-term contribution to Scotland's national mission to tackle child poverty.

1.3 Scope

This Framework focuses on the poverty-related "equity" element of the Scottish Government's overall aim to achieve "equity and excellence" in education. Equity and excellence must be mutually reinforcing if education is to best meet the needs and aspirations of our children and young people.

The Framework sets out expectations for planning, reporting, monitoring, roles, responsibilities and accountabilities. These should be applied consistently across the system to support education recovery and accelerate the pace of progress in achieving the mission of the Scottish Attainment Challenge.

There are particular expectations in the context of the Scottish Attainment Challenge for:

  • a prospective improvement plan and financial plan for the year ahead, within the context of an overarching longer term plan;
  • ongoing monitoring of progress; and
  • a retrospective report and financial statement for the year past.

In order to minimise additional burden on the system existing planning and reporting mechanisms are being used as far as possible.

The National Improvement Framework (NIF) is not replaced or altered by this Framework and the existing measures of the poverty-related attainment gap set out in the NIF will continue to form the key national measures of success. These measures alone however are not all that a local authority should consider in their local approaches to achieving the mission of the Scottish Attainment Challenge.



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