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.

The key element of the Framework that is new to schools and local authorities is the requirement for locally identified stretch aims to be set out in local authority plans.

All 32 local authorities receive both SEF and CECYP, and almost all (97%) schools in all 32 local authorities receive 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 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.
  • 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 practitionerspublication.

2.1 School planning: Pupil Equity Funding

2.1.1 General principles

Schools will 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 will continue to have access to their school's full PEF allocation.

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, 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 operation 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.

Importantly, 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. 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.

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 and outline 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 amended.

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 an annual report on PEF spend at the end of each financial year.

There is provision for PEF allocations to be carried forward into the subsequent financial year (and, in exceptional circumstances into the new academic year). Schools should liaise closely with their authority to agree arrangements for this. However, with Pupil Equity Funding allocations having been confirmed until March 2026, opportunities to implement longer term interventions over this period can be realised and supported.

School leaders should have a clear and robust rationale for any accumulating underspends, as the national aim is to maximise the potential impact of PEF. School leaders should seek support from their local authority and their attainment advisor to achieve the full benefit for the children and young people it is intended to support. Further detail can be found in the specific guidance for PEF.

2.2 Local authority planning: Strategic Equity Funding

2.2.1 General principles

All 32 local authorities will, from April 2022, access SEF. This funding is provided to support local authorities in developing and implementing 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.

Planning for the use of SEF will be low in bureaucracy and, as far as possible, use existing processes, in particular, local authority education service improvement plans (or equivalents).

In planning strategic local approaches to achieving the Scottish Attainment Challenge mission, local authorities should consider the totality of Attainment Scotland Funding coming into the local authority and, working with headteachers in recognition of their decision making role in the use of PEF, 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.

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

SEF allocations through to March 2026 are available on It would be beneficial to consider outcomes to be achieved by the end of this four year cycle rather than changing longer term outcomes on an annual basis. Annual identification of stretch aims and monitoring of progress will be required to oversee progress towards these longer term aims.

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 include 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.

This is also an opportunity to identify and articulate how the pandemic has impacted the educational experiences and health and wellbeing of children most impacted by poverty and how local strategiesare being used to make progress for 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, and include the following:

Setting local stretch aims

  • Set specific local authority stretch aims for improving outcomes for all while closing the poverty-related attainment gap.
  • These stretch aims should be both ambitious and achievable within local contexts.
  • They should focus on the specific aims which local evidence and data suggest are the priority areas for improvement. In the first instance a 'core plus' model is expected.
  • At a minimum these should include (core) stretch aims for both overall progress and for reducing the poverty-related gaps in:

a) achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels (literacy combined and numeracy combined);

b) the proportion of school leavers attaining 1 or more pass at SCQF level 5 based on the "Summary Statistics for Attainment and Initial Leaver Destinations" publication;

c) the proportion of school leavers attaining 1 or more pass at SCQF level 6 based on the "Summary Statistics for Attainment and Initial Leaver Destinations" publication;

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.

  • Each identified stretch aim should clearly articulate ambitions for progress for all pupils and progress in narrowing the poverty-related attainment gap in 2022/23. Nationally, aims a), b), c) and d) will be aggregated so that a national picture for progress on 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 (see exemplar in Annex B).
  • It is acknowledged that this is a starting position which will evolve over time, as NIF measures are adapted (after consultation in Spring 2022) and any wider measures of the curriculum are introduced (recognising the OECD recommendations). However, for the 2022/23 academic year existing and widely used NIF measures have been selected for aims a), b), c) and d).
  • It is also acknowledged that the above aims do not include the NIF measures for ACEL at level 3 in S3, on the basis that this has not been collected nationally for the previous two years. This may be introduced for 2023/24.
  • 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.
  • The aims for health and wellbeing could, for instance, focus on local measures for attendance or inclusion.
  • Should particular measures for health and wellbeing be used consistently across the country, this may inform a future agreed measure for the "core" aims beyond 2022/23.
  • Recognising the importance of readiness to learn and a broad and varied curriculum, plans should 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 pupils' wider achievement;
    • aims for parental engagement in learning;
    • 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?
    • how much change?
    • who are the target groups?
    • by when?
    • how progress will be measured and tracked – indicators of progress.
  • Examples of such stretch aims are included at Annex B.

Agreeing local stretch aims

  • Setting of local stretch aims should be an iterative and collaborative process between local authorities and schools. 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. This approach can be developed through existing local authority quality improvement processes with schools and should not see stretch aims imposed on schools. Professional dialogue, support and challenge should take account of the specific local context of each school.
  • The setting and ambition of these aims should be achieved by local authorities as a result of robust evidence-informed self-evaluation, supported and challenged through professional dialogue with Education Scotland.

Plans underpinning these aims

  • 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 as noted previously.


  • In line with the agreement on multiyear funding, it would be beneficial to prepare a four year strategic plan. A year 1 plan should be established with outcomes and stretch aims identified, and the plan should be evaluated and adapted on an annual basis.
  • The planning cycle will use the academic year, aligning with existing annual Education Service Improvement Planning cycles.
  • Stretch aims should be agreed annually by the end of September, if not before.

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.

Unused funding can be carried into the subsequent financial year for use within the same academic year to continue existing plans. Funding to be carried forward should be identified and set out alongside the grant claim submitted in March each year.

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

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 Chief Education Officer (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 Chief Education Officer (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 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. Measures for individual children should also be included in the child or young person's plan.

Identified measures set out in plans should reflect the strategic decisions taken around how the funding is used and local authorities should agree the mechanisms which best illustrate impact on attainment. 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.



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