The Government has today published data from the school census, statistical information on the achievement of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) levels by children and young people at school, local authority and national level and the 2016 National Improvement Framework Evidence Report.
Taking the school census first, the statistics for 2016, tell us that:
there were 253 more full-time equivalent teachers than last year. Of those, 160 were directly funded by the Scottish Government's Attainment Scotland Fund;
class sizes in P1 to P3 are the same as last year and broadly static across primary school;
the pupil to teacher ratio remains unchanged for the third successive year at 13.7, in line with the Scottish Government's agreement with local authorities;
most children are achieving the expected Curriculum for Excellence level for their stage, based on teacher professional judgement. All young people are expected to have achieved at least third level by the end of S3;
a record 666 schools buildings in the top condition category of 'good' and 84% of school buildings in 'good' or 'satisfactory' condition.
I very much welcome the rise in teacher numbers compared to last year, the fact that class sizes are broadly stable and that the pupil teacher ratio has been maintained. This is all good news, particularly when Parliament considers the teacher recruitment challenges being faced in some areas.
Secondly, the statistical information on the achievement of Curriculum for Excellence levels by children and young people at school, local authority and national level, is published today for the very first time.
This data is in direct response to the Organisation for Economic Co – operation and Development (OECD) recommendation last year, that we develop 'a more robust evidence base available right across the system, especially about learning outcomes and progress'.
This illuminates where excellence already exists and where there is more to do, both to target resources where they are needed most and to ensure that children are getting the right support at the right time.
As this is the first time we have gathered this data, it is being published under the official label of experimental statistics. And as with many new data collections, it will need further development before its accuracy and quality can be fully guaranteed.
It is also clear, for example, that some issues remain around the consistency of teachers' professional judgements across different local authorities. Most notably, it is clear from the S3 data that there are differing approaches to the assessment of third and fourth level. Education Scotland and local authorities have a vital role to play in providing the support needed to deliver greater consistency in this area. A national programme of moderation activity is underway to build a shared understanding.
Even taking these inconsistencies into account, the data shows that significant improvements are required in some local authorities and real challenges exist in delivering the progress in literacy and numeracy we seek. I would encourage parents to consider the school level information that is now available and discuss it with their child's school.
The data provides a basis upon which to build our knowledge about how children are progressing at school. The variation in some of the data does, however, highlight the value that standardised assessment will bring, providing teachers with nationally consistent data to help inform their professional judgement.
This data reinforces the messages we took from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results and is consistent with what we already know from the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN). Most children and young people are progressing well through the school system. But for some, overall performance drops and the poverty related attainment gap widens.
There is much to be proud of in Scottish education, but we need to remain focused on, and committed to, Curriculum for Excellence and we need to continue to implement the reforms we are putting in place. That is the course we established after the SSLN data and that is the course we intend to continue to take.
It follows therefore that the 2017 National Improvement Framework and Improvement Plan, the third document that I am publishing today, reinforces that approach.
The vision, the key priorities and the drivers for improvement we identified in January this year have stakeholder support, and remain as true and as important now as they did then.
The Improvement Plan sets out what we need to do – at all levels in the system – to deliver better outcomes for our children and young people. It brings together in one place all of the improvement activity from the Delivery Plan that I published last summer and the Curriculum for Excellence Implementation Plan published in the autumn. It takes into account the information published today in the Evidence Report and sets out our plans for improvement. It will serve as the single definitive plan for securing educational improvement; providing absolute clarity of purpose for all who are involved in education.
To drive improvement for children and young people we need a shared understanding across all parts of the education system, of our key strengths and the key challenges we face, and of the actions we are taking forward to deliver improvement. I encourage everyone involved in school education to make the priorities of the National Improvement Framework a reality in their school.
Teachers have a key role in closing the attainment gap, and are central to achieving our vision of excellence and equity in Scottish education. I am committed to ensuring we have the right number of teachers, with the right skills, in the right places to educate our young people.
We know that the quality of teaching is a key factor in improving children's learning and the outcomes they achieve. I want teachers to have the time to teach, to plan their working lives and to reflect on their own professional learning needs. I want teachers to enjoy their jobs. And I want teaching to be seen as an attractive and rewarding career choice.
I have already moved decisively to free teachers to teach by removing unnecessary bureaucracy and workload. We have set out clearly and concisely what teachers should and shouldn't focus on. But I will continue to take all possible measures to lessen workloads, tackle bureaucracy, and enable more time for learning and teaching, for the benefit of all.
As part of that work, next week, Education Scotland will release their new websites which radically streamline the level of guidance, resources and materials available to teachers and other practitioners to support improvement. This equates to a reduction of 90% in terms of volume, and all materials have been reviewed and updated to meet current needs – enabling teachers to have ready access to the support, information and guidance they need.
I do recognise that some councils still face challenges in teacher recruitment, as do universities in recruiting teaching students. I am focused on addressing any barriers to the recruitment of teachers, and will work with our partners to address issues of staffing supply and capacity at a national level, while maintaining Scottish teaching as a graduate profession.
On 30 November, I announced a package of innovative new routes into teaching, and these will be ready for an intake of students in 2017. This includes accelerated routes, more distance learning opportunities and an increase in joint degrees combining primary teaching with specialism like chemistry.
We will build on last year's successful recruitment campaign to encourage more people into teaching, with a particular focus on hard to fill subjects and areas that have difficulty recruiting.
We are also continuing to support teachers' professional learning through further investment of £1 million in 2016 and 2017 in Masters level learning.
In considering any new routes into teaching I can assure Parliament that I will work with the General Teaching Council for Scotland to ensure quality is assured and that the next generation of teachers will be qualified, skilled, motivated and ready to teach.
I have visited many schools and spoken to hundreds of teachers and children since I took up this post and I know that in Scottish education today we have hundreds of thousands of good pupils being taught by tens of thousands of good teachers in thousands of good schools. I want us to build on this, and I invite everyone in this chamber to join us in that effort.
There is, for all of us, a moral imperative to deliver excellence and equity. And we have the policy framework in place to deliver.
The principles of Curriculum for Excellence are the right ones. Throughout its development there has been unanimous agreement within the Parliament and across the education sector that it is the right approach.
In its review of Curriculum for Excellence in 2015, the OECD recognized the strong, powerful and enduring characteristics of our curriculum; commended the bold reform we are driving forward; and urged us to continue on our reform journey. Our International Council of Education Advisers have further endorsed our approach to education in Scotland, and have provided advice about where we need to improve. We are on course to deliver these improvements through our current actions.
The collaboration in our education system is one of its great strengths and it is essential we all work together to deliver the improvements required to make Scotland's education world class.
There is much to be proud of in Scottish education. But more must be done – with pace and with urgency, with every single one of our teachers around the country, with our professional associations, with our parent organisations, with government agencies and with our local authority partners – to ensure that we close the attainment gap that has so long blighted our country.