We know that we have many excellent teachers and schools in Scotland providing a high quality education to our children and young people, many of whom are thriving. The latest achievement of a CfE level data shows that around 80% of children in P1 are achieving the expected level and that around 75% of those in P4 and P7 are too. The latest exam results included more than 150,000 Higher passes and over 50,000 achievement awards.
But we also know that more needs to be done to improve outcomes for all our children and young people. A gap in attainment between the most and least disadvantaged persists and that will continue to be our focus in the year ahead.
The national Improvement Plan will not deliver this improvement alone. A systemic, coherent approach to improvement activity across the six drivers of improvement and at all levels of the system is needed to deliver these outcomes.
At national level, this Improvement Plan summarises the key evidence and identifies both ongoing and new improvement activity that the Scottish Government will be taking forward or supporting at national level. The improvement activity in this Plan also draws on the 32 local authority 2017/18 improvement plans which identified a number of common themes, including the need for:
- greater professional development and collaboration, both in terms of supporting school leaders to lead the raising attainment agenda and in the development of shared approaches to assessment and moderation;
- the poverty proofing of improvement activities to ensure engagement and participation of all children and young people;
- improving data literacy to support more effective planning to achieve improvements in learner outcomes and ensuring the substantive resources being made available through the Scottish Attainment Challenge ( SAC) and the Pupil Equity Fund ( PEF) are used effectively to close the attainment gap;
- providing access to mental health and wellbeing support and advice in schools for those at risk and who most need it;
- expanding outreach services to increase support for children and young people with additional support needs at the point of need;
- focusing on delivery of Developing the Young Workforce as a key element of the curriculum to increase the number of young people reaching a positive and sustained destination
These local authority plans will also inform the development of the regional improvement plans, which are being drawn up by the new regional improvement collaboratives ( RICs). The establishment of these collaboratives forms a key element of Ministers' education reform agenda and plans to deliver improvement. These reforms are focused on creating an education system which ensures that every child achieves the highest standards in literacy and numeracy, with the best range of skills, qualifications and achievements to enable them to succeed. The Next Steps document published in June 2017 sets out the Scottish Government's vision of a school and teacher led education system and describes the role of headteachers, RICs, the Scottish Government and local government in delivering our vision of excellence and equity for every child in Scotland.
These proposals recognise that such an empowered school led system will need excellent and responsive improvement support which is aligned to the National Improvement Framework and informed by robust evidence and professional judgement. It is clear that whilst such improvement support is available in some parts of the country, this is not consistently the case. Six RICs have been established, each bringing together a range of local authority and Education Scotland staff, to ensure a relentless focus on supporting teachers and other staff to improve children and young people's learning and to address inconsistencies in the level of support that schools across Scotland can access. Each RIC will ensure that schools across the region have access to sector and subject specialist support and other expertise to reflect local priorities. They will provide carefully targeted and well-judged advice and support in order to help schools across their region to drive improvement.
RICs will develop regional improvement plans which identify the improvement priorities within their respective regions in order to inform the design and delivery of a collective and cohesive support package shaped by local needs. These plans will draw on school improvement plans, local authority improvement plans and this national improvement plan to ensure that there is a system wide approach to meeting those needs.
The Scottish Government, local government and Education Scotland have agreed that regional improvement plans should reflect the functions set out in their joint Steering Group report. An iterative process may be necessary before every collaborative reaches a position where their full range of functions is reflected in their plan. Over time, plans should:
- reflect the full range of functions agreed by the Local Government/Scottish Government Steering Group;
- be based on a detailed analysis of all available evidence on educational performance within the region;
- draw on data and information from other key sources such as health, justice and local community planning information;
- make clear how schools will access the support for improvement they require;
- make clear to headteachers what is being provided by the RIC, what is being provided by their individual local authority, and where to go for specialist advice;
- support continuous improvement in curriculum design and development, including literacy and numeracy and other national priorities, such as STEM, 1 + 2 languages, Developing the Young Workforce and the Learner Journey;
- be underpinned by a clearly understood approach to improvement/theory of change/change model;
- include clear information about how the RIC will go about measuring progress/the impact of the plan;
- be designed in a 'bottom-up' manner, based on the needs and improvement priorities of schools;
- outline clearly how key partners such as parents, communities, third sector and young people have contributed to the development of the plan;
- include how priorities will be delivered and outline the professional learning offer from the collaborative;
- include subject specific support and advice across all eight curriculum areas, for example through networks of teachers.
As a first step, initial regional improvement plans are due to be developed by 30 January 2018. There should also be a clear indication of how the RIC will take forward work to develop their plan further through additional analysis and consultation.
The national Improvement Plan will be reviewed in light of findings from this process and a further iteration of regional improvement plans is expected in the autumn of 2018.
Education Scotland published advice on School Improvement Planning in December 2016 to support schools in considering the NIF priorities and drivers of improvement when developing their school improvement plan. This guidance sets out what an effective improvement plan should include and confirmed that an annual standards and quality report should be shared by schools with all stakeholders to support a clearer understanding of the key factors giving rise to inequalities, what is working and what needs to improve. Education Scotland plan to update this guidance in early January 2018.
In developing improvement activity we recognise the need to maintain a sharp focus on reducing bureaucracy in schools. We have acted to clarify and simplify the curriculum framework and reduce teacher workload, ensuring teachers can focus on learning, teaching and assessment. Ministers are also committed to reducing the volume of reforms and changes in the system which impact on teacher workload. The reform agenda for education is now set and the priority is to maintain our focus on those reforms, not to introduce additional changes.
As the quality and quantity of available data increases, it is essential that intelligent use is made of that data and wider performance information. The Insight senior phase benchmarking tool is now well established and well used by secondary schools and local authorities to secure improvements in learner outcomes by helping to inform the direction of future teaching, learning and improvement activity. The broad general education ( BGE) Improvement Tool, which will be launched early in 2018, will have a similar function in respect of the broad general education. It will allow local authorities and regional improvement collaboratives to analyse the achievement of CfE level data in a consistent way, using a number of pupil characteristics considered to have an influence on attainment. Historically, the use of this kind of data for improvement purposes, particularly in the primary sector, has not been widespread. The Scottish Government will therefore work with regional improvement collaboratives to support the growth and development of data literacy for staff in all schools.
The quality of the teaching profession is, of course, a key factor in improving children and young people's learning and the outcomes they achieve. There is a clear link between teachers' professional skills and competencies and the quality of children and young people's learning experience, particularly those from the most deprived communities. Having the right number of high quality teachers, with the right skills, in the right places is therefore key to achieving excellence and equity for all. It is clear, however, that local authorities are now finding teacher recruitment increasingly challenging in many parts of Scotland, particularly in remote, rural areas and in the north east of Scotland, and in some secondary subjects, particularly STEM, English and Home Economics. The teacher education universities similarly face significant challenges in recruiting sufficient student teachers in certain secondary subjects.
We recognise that teachers are the most important in-school factor in a child's educational attainment, and that the educational workforce in its broadest sense is key to delivering the improved outcomes we are seeking. While student teacher and teacher numbers are on an increasing trajectory, we will continue to build on this work to ensure we have the right number of high quality teachers, with the right skills, in the right places to educate our young people.