The Scottish Attainment Challenge within overall school improvement

By Graeme Logan, Strategic Director, Education Scotland

We have a once in a career opportunity to make a significant breakthrough for children living in poverty in Scotland through the Scottish Attainment Challenge (SAC). The areas for improvement highlighted in our recent report ‘Quality and improvement in Scottish education 2012-2016’ (QuISE) are all very relevant to our national mission to close the poverty-related attainment gap and to strive for excellence and equity for every child in Scotland.

SAC, including the Pupil Equity Fund (PEF), gives us the additional resources to transform children’s progress and attainment. I know that many headteachers I speak to are excited about the possibilities. They are also keen to make sure we make the best use of these resources.

At Education Scotland we aim to provide you with the best possible advice on what works. In addition to the inspection evidence in QuISE, our advice includes access to a Scottish version of the Education Endowment Foundation’s Learning and Teaching Toolkit, and also our own Interventions for Equity, which shares a range of interesting examples and approaches from Scottish schools which have been involved with the SAC programmes.

Other significant changes we have introduced this year will also help. These include clarity on the model of assessment for the broad general education, which is teacher judgement of children’s achievement of Curriculum for Excellence levels, informed by a range of evidence and high quality moderation.  This demonstrates the value and trust placed in our teachers to make overall judgements about children’s progress. In doing this, teachers helped us to create the new Benchmarks for literacy and numeracy, which clarify the national standard for the achievement of each level.

We are taking a broad definition of the attainment gap and are not just considering statistics on overall attainment in isolation. If we are to achieve the vision of Curriculum for Excellence we need to think about achievement in a range of areas too. Earlier this year I spoke to around 2,000 headteachers from every part of the country in a series of events. We encouraged them to think about the attainment gap in the context of five key areas:

  • Attendance
  • Attainment
  • Exclusion
  • Engagement
  • Participation

The first three may seem more obvious and in some respects easier to measure. However, engagement and participation are equally as important for children’s progress and development. Some schools have started to track all five areas, for example, observing the extent of children’s active engagement in learning through use of tools such as the Leuven Scale of Engagement.  They have also started to track the extent to which children participate in the school’s wider curriculum and wider offer.

Schools will not be able to make the breakthrough we want to see for children living in poverty on their own. Many third sector and partner organisations are making a major contribution to improving children’s progress and engagement, and there are examples on the National Improvement Hub; type ‘Scottish Attainment Challenge’ into the search box to see all our resources.

One of the most important partnerships is that with families and communities. In the first year of the Challenge this was the area in which we saw least activity, and we’re actively looking at how we can change that. Our Review of Family Learning provides a good evidence base and recommendations for ways in which family learning can be developed within communities.

With inspection looking at attainment (QI 3.2) from August, including how schools are using PEF to close the gap, now is a good time to self-evaluate your approach to attainment. We will be particularly interested in the rationale and initial decision making for the use of PEF, as we believe that this will be key to ensuring that the most effective interventions are selected for each individual school and community context.

Online collaboration is also a key feature of the Scottish Attainment Challenge. Our Yammer group on Glow for headteachers has over 1,000 members! The largest ever online collaboration between Scottish headteachers. My keynote presentation from the pupil equity conferences is available on the Yammer group. Further key materials will be shared through the Yammer group too. I am currently preparing a keynote presentation for our September Curriculum for Excellence conferences for headteachers. During this presentation I will discuss ways in which curriculum flexibility and curriculum design can be used to close the gap. I will also share the most effective approaches attainment advisors have shared and also draw on the key strengths from schools where HM Inspectors have evaluated the new QI on raising attainment and achievement.

Closing the poverty-related attainment gap is a national endeavour and something which many teachers feel passionate about. For many the main reason they entered the profession was to make the biggest difference to children’s chances in life, particularly those who live in poverty. Reflecting on QuISE’s five priorities for improvement, as well as the specific focuses of SAC, will help ensure the success of our drive to remove the pattern between lower attainment and living in poverty.

QuISE’s five improvement priorities are an excellent place to start.

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