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06/01/16 14:10

International Congress on School Effectiveness and Improvement

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
6 January 2016

One of the things we're determined to do in Scotland is to learn from evidence and analysis from around the world. So we are delighted to host this year's international congress on school effectiveness and improvement - and to welcome delegates from around 50 countries. I hope you all have a very enjoyable and productive time while you're here.

One reason that we are so pleased to host this year's conference, is that it's key theme - connecting schools, teachers and systems - is at the heart of what we're looking to achieve here in Scotland. We’re doing a lot of work – which I’ll go on to talk about - to ensure that our systems for improving education help individual pupils, teachers and schools to succeed.

As many of you will know, Scotland has a long and very proud tradition of excellence in education. During the 17th and 18th centuries we pioneered the idea of universal school education. Ever since then, a commitment to education has been part of our national story, part of our very sense of ourselves. And that is as it should be - an excellent education is a right that we owe to every young person.

So what we are seeking to do now is ensure that excellence in education is a continuing and fundamental part of our national life – we want to make sure that excellent education is as central to our nation’s success in the future, as it was in our past.

Today marks an important milestone in that ongoing process of improvement. We are publishing a new national improvement framework for education which, among other things, will provide clear and consistent information, for parents, teachers, local and national government, about performance in education - both the progress of individual young people and the performance of the system as a whole.

What I want to do this afternoon is place this new development in context.

I'll set out the key recent achievements of Scottish education. And I'll explain why this new improvement framework is central to our twin aims of excellence and equity – why I believe it will help us to raise attainment for everyone, and also contribute to closing the attainment gap between children in the most affluent parts of Scotland, and those in our most deprived areas.

Just under a month ago, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development published a study of Scotland's education system. It found that academic achievement in Scottish schools is above the international average; that attainment is improving; that Scotland’s schools are inclusive; and that our children have positive attitudes towards school.

Those findings weren’t a surprise. In recent years, standards have consistently improved. Last summer, young people in Scotland gained a record number of passes at Higher and Advanced Higher.

And the successes haven’t just been about Highers. More people received Scottish Qualification Awards, National Certificates and National Progression Awards - qualifications relating to wider skills for life and work, for example in childcare and construction, leadership and personal finance. We’re providing a more flexible school environment, with more qualifications providing a wider variety of routes into work for young people.

Partly as a result of that, school leaver destinations are now the best on record. Of the students who left school in 2014, more than 9 out of 10 were in employment, education or training nine months later.

All of that is because of the outstanding work of teachers, headteachers, children and parents across the country.

And this has happened during a time of significant change. In recent years we have introduced a new curriculum - Curriculum for Excellence. It gives teachers more flexibility, provides a broader education for young people, and sets higher standards for achievement than ever before. The OECD made clear that these changes have delivered improvements – but that more needs to be done to maximise their impact.

Now, based on the OECD's recommendations, we are working to improve Curriculum for Excellence further.

We will take forward a new phase of work on Curriculum for Excellence to make our framework simpler for teachers, and for parents and carers.

The OECD report also confirmed two interrelated areas where we have the potential to do much better. It pointed out the importance of closing the attainment gap in Scotland's schools; and the need for more consistent information for parents, teachers, local authorities and government.

I want to speak in some detail about those today. In doing so, I'm well aware that the basic issues Scotland is dealing with are ones which are familiar to education systems around the world.

In particular, most countries face the issue of an attainment gap – the likelihood that children from affluent areas will do better than children from more deprived areas.

Now, much of what we need to do to address that gap goes beyond the school education system – that’s one reason why in Scotland, our work to relieve poverty, to mitigate UK Government welfare cuts and to improve early years education and childcare are so important. We need to improve the collaboration between all services which support children.

But school education – and how that relates to people’s home and family circumstances- is still hugely important.

We know that last year, almost 4 in 10 students from the most deprived areas of Scotland left school with at least one Higher or equivalent. That’s almost twice as many as in 2008. In other words, progress is being made.

However, for students from the most affluent areas, the figure was not 4 out of 10 - it was 8 out of 10. In other words, when it comes to Highers or equivalent qualifications, school leavers from the most deprived 20% of areas in Scotland, notwithstanding the improvement we have seen, still do half as well as school leavers from the most affluent areas.

That's not acceptable. Nobody can be comfortable living in a country where different levels of wealth create such a significant gap in the attainment levels – and therefore the life chances – of so many children. It’s bad for the children most directly affected, but, in my view, it also impoverishes us as a society. It means that too many people are unable to realise their potential, and to fully contribute their talents, ideas and energies to society.

That's why I see closing the attainment gap as a defining challenge over the next few years for the government I lead, and for our society as a whole.

We have already said all children born in Scotland last year should have an equal chance of attending university– or indeed of pursuing any other training, education or career of their choice.

Closing the attainment gap earlier in the education system is an essential part of this - of ensuring that people’s life chances are driven by their aptitudes and hard work, rather than by their circumstances or background.

That’s why the Scottish Government is taking concerted action now. Our overall aim is to raise standards everywhere, but to raise them most quickly, in the areas that most need it.

We have established a £100 million Attainment Scotland Fund, which provides targeted support to schools and local authorities in the most deprived areas.

Most of the extra funding is being used to recruit more staff – teachers, classroom assistants, learning support specialists and family link workers. As a result, schools will be able to provide even better support for children and parents. And let's be in no doubt - it is what happens in schools across our country that will have the biggest impact on the standards of education. That is why, over the next few months, we will set out our thinking on how to even further empower schools and teachers to drive improvement.

We have also recruited attainment advisors to work with schools across the country. Those initiatives run alongside our raising attainment for all programme – an initiative which has encouraged more than 200 schools across the country to try out ideas for raising attainment, and to share their experience of what has worked.

That goes alongside a systematic effort to invest in the teaching profession. Our teachers are an enduring strength of Scotland’s education system. That’s why the OECD highlighted the point that “Scotland has an historic high regard for learning, education and teachers, and the trust it invests in teachers’ professional judgement is an admirable counterbalance to the trends in many systems”.

In fact, a faith in the expertise and judgement of teachers lies at the heart of the curriculum for excellence, and our new improvement framework. And so we are determined to support them as effectively as possible.

We have already established a Scottish College for Educational Leadership, and encouraged more classroom teachers to take masters qualifications. We have also recently started a new qualification for headship. It will be mandatory for new head teachers from the summer of 2019 onwards. We are investing in teachers and head teachers because we know that their expertise is at the heart of what we want to achieve.

And all of this action to close the attainment gap leads on to another issue – that of assessment and evidence. After all, we can only drive rapid and significant improvement, if we know in detail what the extent of the gap is and then understand whether what we are doing is working to close it.

At the moment, nearly all of the 32 local authority areas in Scotland, conduct some form of standardised assessment to monitor children’s progress. However those assessments aren’t conducted on a consistent basis – so they don’t provide a good basis for seeing the national picture, or for making accurate comparisons. And we don't publish information about children's progress in primary or early secondary school.

Instead, for the purposes of national information, we only assess progress on literacy and numeracy through an annual sample based survey conducted at the ages of 8, 11 and 13.

That survey provides some data on national performance - but it does not provide diagnostic information for teachers to use in the classroom, nor does the sample size provide sufficient evidence for detailed evaluation.

As a result, as Audit Scotland reported last year, there is currently a lack of information about overall performance at both a national and local level. That's particularly true for children in primary school and the first three years of secondary school. Indeed, as the OECD found, we don't currently have sufficient evidence to identify areas of strength, or issues or local areas where intervention might be desirable.

That’s why today, after three months of extensive consultation, we are launching a National Improvement Framework for Scottish education. It is based on four key priorities for education - raising attainment, closing the attainment gap, improving health and wellbeing, and improving employability. It sets out measures for school improvement, school leadership, supporting teachers and engaging parents.

Teacher judgment lies at the heart of the system. Teachers will continue to assess the progress of children using a range of approaches. There will be no narrowing of the curriculum or 'teaching to the test'.

However, from 2017 - following pilots later this year - teacher judgement will be informed by a system of new national standardised assessment at primaries 1, 4 & 7 and at S3, which will help teachers – and indeed parents - make better, more objective and more consistent judgments about children's progress towards the different curriculum levels.

Information on the percentage of children achieving curriculum levels in literacy and numeracy at P1, P4, P7 and S3 will, for the first time be collected and published nationally each year - and broken down to local authority and school level - to give us a clear and consistent picture of how children and young people are progressing in their learning. It will also give us a clear picture of the attainment gap and allow us to measure our progress in closing it.

In doing this, we are creating a system which strikes the right balance between supporting the development of individual children; and providing information and accountability about national and local performance.

For individual children, it means they can be supported more effectively; for parents, this will mean clear, meaningful information on their child’s progress, consistently presented no matter where they are in the country; for teachers, local authorities and community planning partnerships, it means better data for identifying areas for improvement; and for the Scottish Government, it means we will have clear information to guide national policy.

The OECD in its report highlighted that “Scotland has the opportunity to lead the world in developing an innovative national assessment evaluation and improvement framework”. That is exactly what we will attempt to do. We want to lead the way in delivering a Framework based on a balanced range of measures – one which gives a full picture of performance without causing perverse incentives. We know that by succeeding in that, we are much more likely to succeed in our twin aims of raising standards for everyone, and closing the attainment gap.

The information that we will gather will allow us over the next few years to set clear, precise and meaningful milestones on the road to closing the attainment gap.

But I want to be clear, today, that my personal determination is that we are able to see and demonstrate progress on both excellence and equity by the end of the next parliament.

And, as a country, I believe that we should all aspire to achieving substantial progress towards the complete elimination of the attainment gap within the next decade.

I want Scotland to have a truly excellent education system for all of our young people.

And I want us to lead the world in doing so.

In achieving that, we know that we need to learn from good practice from around the world.

That’s why we invited the OECD to carry out their review. It’s why in the last 12 months I've visited successful schools in New York and London.

And it’s why we see this conference - and the opportunity it provides to share experiences and learning - as a wonderful opportunity for us in Scotland.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to host you all. I hope that you have a fantastic time here in Scotland; that you have a productive few days of discussions; that we build enduring relationships that allow us to share and learn from each other on an ongoing basis; and that the insights and ideas generated will bring benefits to children here in Scotland, and right around the world.