New education agency should be 'responsible for closing attainment gap'

The committee noted concern at the evidence of variation in education performance across local authorities.

Education Scotland replacement should be ‘responsible for closing attainment gap’ say MSPs Izusek via iStock

Reformation of Scotland’s top education agency is an opportunity for it to “take ownership for closing the poverty-related attainment gap” MSPs have said.

One week before the release of Scotland’s exam results, Holyrood’s Education, Children and Young People Committee has recommended that Education Scotland’s replacement is held accountable for assessing the success of key government attainment pledges.

Alongside the new education agency, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) will be replaced, with both set to be fully established by 2024.

In its report into the Scottish Attainment Challenge, the committee noted concern at the evidence of variation in education performance across local authorities in Scotland. 

It urged the education agency to urgently investigate the variations and set out the actions it is taking to ensure consistency across the country.

The report also considered the latest Audit Scotland report from 2021 which noted the attainment gap was “wide with limited progress” and had been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The committee’s convener, Sue Webber MSP said: “During this inquiry the committee heard positive stories about the work being done by schools to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap.

“However, in our report, we have noted Audit Scotland’s conclusion that there has been limited progress on closing the poverty-related attainment gap and that inequalities have been worsened by Covid-19.

“It is essential that the reforms to the government’s education agency ensure the new schools inspectorate is able to monitor the effectiveness of the implementation of plans to close the poverty-related attainment gap.”

Another recommendation called for by the committee was around ensuring that the voices of classroom teachers, parents, carers and children and young people are at the centre of plans for attainment challenge spending. 

Extra funding that was initially allocated to nine “challenge authorities” where attainment funding was most needed is now being tapered in favour of a strategy which spreads funding across Scotland.

The committee added that it recognises that poverty exists throughout Scotland but asked the Scottish Government to monitor the impact of the tapering of funds from the challenge authorities and to report its findings.

MSPs have also asked the Scottish Government to set out how it will establish a national baseline for measuring progress in closing the attainment gap following the pandemic.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government welcomes this report on the Scottish Attainment Challenge from the Education, Children and Young People’s Committee and is grateful for the attention it has given to this vital mission for Scottish education.

“The Scottish Government is committed to tackling the poverty related attainment gap and improving outcomes for children and young people impacted by poverty and is investing a record £1 billion to support the Scottish Attainment Challenge over the course of this parliamentary term.

“We welcome the Committee’s recognition of the excellent work that is taking place in many schools across the country and the steps taken by the Scottish Government to accelerate progress in closing the gap.

“There is of course more to be done, in particular as we look to recover from the impact of the pandemic on the education of children and young people impacted by poverty, and we will consider the findings of this report carefully in the coming weeks.”

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