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«CLOSING THE ATTAINMENT GAP IN SCOTTISH EDUCATION Edward Sosu and Sue Ellis This report outlines what teachers, schools, local and national government ...»

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Edward Sosu and Sue Ellis

This report outlines what teachers, schools, local and

national government and other education providers

can do to close the education attainment gap

associated with poverty in Scotland.

It looks at attempts that have been made to tackle the issue and

considers the evidence for which ones have proved successful. It makes recommendations for educators and policy-makers about what is likely to work. It is the first systematic review of how education policies, frameworks and interventions can be used to make education outcomes in Scotland fairer. It is a timely contribution to helping Scotland achieve the goals of The Child Poverty Strategy for Scotland (2014).

The report:

• explores the nature of the educational attainment gap between children from higher and lower-income households in Scotland, and its consequences;

• examines the impact of recent policy and practical interventions that have been made in Scotland;

• summarises evidence about what educators can do to close the educational attainment gap associated with poverty;

• explains why better research, evaluation and attainment evidence is needed;

• lists who needs to do what, at every level of policy and practice, to help children who live in poverty do well at school.



Executive summary 03 1 Nature and persistence of the attainment gap and its impact on later outcomes 07 2 Policy and intervention responses to the poverty attainment gap in Scotland 15 3 Effective strategies for closing the achievement gap:

synthesis of existing evidence 23 4 The importance of using evidence to inform action to close the attainment gap 39 5 What Scotland can do: levers and agents for change 43 Notes 54 References 55 Appendix: Methodology 61 Acknowledgements 64 About the authors 65 List of figures 1 Attainment gap in numeracy based on getting 50% or more of task successfully completed 09 2 Attainment gap in reading based on getting 50% or more of task successfully completed 09 3 Attainment gap in writing based on getting 50% or more of task successfully completed 10 4 Average tariff scores of school leavers by SIMD (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation), 2007/8 to 2011/12 10 5 Strength of relationship between performance in reading and parental e

–  –  –


There is clear evidence of a persistent gap in attainment between pupils from the richest and poorest households in Scotland. This gap starts in preschool years and continues throughout primary and secondary school. In most cases, it widens as pupils progress through the school years. Most importantly, the poverty attainment gap has a direct impact on school-leaver destinations and thus the potential to determine income levels in adulthood.

Current legislation and policies in Scotland promote integrated services, joint working and flexibility, all of which are helpful to pupils from economically deprived homes. Education policies and frameworks give considerable freedom for professionals to make localised decisions, and therefore have the potential to address the achievement gap associated with poverty. However, the policy and implementation advice for education professionals needs to focus attention explicitly on this attainment gap and direct professionals to research-informed knowledge about how it can be narrowed. For some policies (for example, the current policies on formative assessment), there is little research evidence of its impact on the attainment of pupils from economically disadvantaged households, and educators need to be alerted to this.

Projects and interventions that have been implemented in Scotland to raise attainment or to address low achievement associated with poverty need stronger, more focused, and data-driven evaluations to identify those that have been effective so that they may be scaled up and to learn from those that have not been effective. It is hard to find robust evidence about recent and existing projects.

The following interventions have a positive impact on reducing the attainment gap associated with pupils from economically disadvantaged


• effective parental involvement programmes that focus on helping parents to use appropriate strategies to support their children’s learning at home rather than simply seeking to raise aspirations for their children’s education;

• carefully implemented nurture groups and programmes to increase social, emotional and behavioural competencies;

• high-quality, full-day preschool education for children from disadvantaged backgrounds;

• collaborative work in small groups if effective collaboration is thoroughly taught across the school and facilitated by teachers;

• peer-tutoring, metacognitive training and one-to-one tutoring using qualified teachers, trained teaching assistants, or trained volunteers;

• literacy instruction that has a responsive learning mix of decoding, fluency, comprehension, engagement and digital literacy research skills;

• whole-school reforms, particularly those that are informed by research evidence and focus on improving attainment by using effective pedagogies, have a shared strategic plan that encompasses academic, social and emotional learning, are supported by significant staff development and are data-driven, multi-faceted and consistently monitor impact on attainment;

• high-quality, evidence-informed, context-specific, intensive and longterm professional development;

• mentoring schemes that adhere to particular characteristics associated with efficacy;

• academically focused after-school activities such as study support;

• targeted funding that avoids situations where budget increases in one area are undermined by reduced budgets elsewhere.

Evidence can help education professionals understand and address the multiple aspects of disadvantage that affect children’s lives. It can help identify the causes of negative effects and sustainable initiatives likely to work, and it can help to direct core resources appropriately. However, in Scotland the quality and quantity of attainment data available for primary and early secondary pupils is highly variable. This limits the ability of professionals to design, monitor and evaluate the curriculum and contributes to a lack of reliable knowledge. Active measures to promote the role of data in directing professional decisions would be required to prevent the high-stakes testing regimes emerging from the use of such data.

National and local projects do not routinely focus on pupils from economically disadvantaged households in project conception, design and evaluation. Nationally the educators of Scotland need to develop policies to

better create, collect and share knowledge of:

• interventions that improve the performance of economically disadvantaged groups;

• ways to make curriculum design and planning (at school, class and individual level) more nuanced and effective for economically disadvantaged groups;

• ways to deploy staff and resources to raise achievement in economically disadvantaged groups;

Closing the attainment gap in Scottish education

• methods to monitor and evaluate pedagogies, resources and initiatives for impact on economically disadvantaged groups as well as general average attainment.

To be more equitable, Scottish education needs to ensure that key actors (national government; Education Scotland; local authorities and schools; the Scottish Qualifications Agency (SQA); non-government stakeholders such as charities and unions; and universities) share and shape how knowledge about poverty and attainment is used. Poverty and attainment need to become more visible in advice about developing the curriculum, improving schools and raising educational outcomes for all pupils.

Professionals at all levels need to understand how poverty influences attainment, and draw on an evidence base of ‘what works, for whom, in which contexts, and why’ to enable them to implement change in the most effective way. Focused staff development and a national ‘knowledge bank’ and mobilisation project would help this.

Key recommendations

National government should:

• make robust attainment data available to all teachers, including those in the primary and lower secondary sectors, so that it can be used by schools for internal curriculum design, intervention and monitoring. This is not an endorsement of high-stakes testing regimes;

• establish a national knowledge bank and mobilisation strategy, underpinned by clear principles of what constitutes robust knowledge to sufficiently inform national, local authority and school-level interventions.

This knowledge bank should enable education professionals to attend to different kinds of evidence, consider issues of fidelity and to understand the core characteristics that make a particular intervention successful. It should draw on academic and professional expertise.

Education Scotland should:

• analyse and discuss attainment profiles by deprivation deciles in all school and local authority inspections rather than focusing on general attainment levels. Educators should show inspectors how they draw on this data and on knowledge of what works to inform decisions;

• exemplify how national frameworks and strategies (including Curriculum for Excellence/Building the Curriculum; Journey to Excellence/How Good is Our School; and Getting it Right for Every Child) must be used with robust, research-informed knowledge to reduce the poverty-related attainment gap;

• commission national projects and identify local projects that focus on closing the poverty gap in attainment and that make good use of data in identifying, scoping, designing/planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating impact.

Executive summaryLocal authorities should:

• ensure that improving the educational outcomes for pupils from economically disadvantaged homes is a priority in the local authority and school development plans;

• focus ‘support and challenge’ discussions on the poverty attainment gap and on nuanced application of robust research-informed knowledge of what might work in a particular school context;

• promote high-quality professional development programmes, conferences, networks, projects and implementation advice for teachers.

These should be evidence-driven, promote school-to-school links and be focused on raising attainment to close the poverty gap

School staff should:

• raise their individual and collective awareness and understanding of the achievement gap associated with poverty and knowledge of how it might be addressed;

• monitor and analyse the poverty and attainment links in the school/ classroom and consider the implications for curriculum design, planning and teaching (for the school, classes and individual pupils);

• implement research-informed interventions to raise achievement among economically disadvantaged groups in a way that will have a positive impact on individual pupils, the class and the school.

Universities should:

• promote evidence-based knowledge about poverty and what works for pupils from economically disadvantaged homes in their pre-service, award-bearing and non-award-bearing career-long professional learning programmes;

• develop empirical research and evaluation studies that generate knowledge and understanding about how poverty-linked educational inequality operates and can be addressed in Scottish education.

Other stakeholders should:

• raise awareness and understanding of how poverty and educational attainment are linked through political, public and professional engagement;

• consider how the educational outcomes for pupils living in poverty and existing research might inform and shape the projects they fund.

Closing the attainment gap in Scottish education 1 NATURE AND





This chapter examines the attainment gap between children from the most and least deprived households and its impact on later outcomes.


• There is evidence of an attainment gap in the early years and this gap persists and expands across the years of formal schooling.

• Literacy and numeracy measures continue to show deprivation-related patterns throughout primary school.

• Children from deprived households finish compulsory schooling with significantly lower levels of attainment than their counterparts from more affluent areas.

• The observed gap in attainment is linked to the subsequent destinations of children and young people after school, and has repercussions for future job market success.

In Scotland today, over one in five children lives in poverty. It affects their health, their education, their connection to wider society and their future prospects for work. Although Scottish education does well for many of its children, it does not serve these most vulnerable children well and the gap in educational attainment between pupils from the richest and poorest background is wider than in many similar countries. A report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) into the

quality and equity of schooling notes that:

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