Inspection of progress in improving learning, raising attainment and closing the poverty-related gap


The National Improvement Framework (NIF) sets out Scotland's vision for the future: 'Excellence for all and equity for children and young people'. It works towards realising the Scottish Government's ambition for Scotland to be the best place to grow up.

To achieve the best outcomes there is a need to raise attainment and reduce educational inequity for all of Scotland's children and young people. Attainment (including achievement) is the measurable progress which children and young people make as they advance through and beyond school. However, there continues to be a gap between the progress which is made by those living in Scotland's least and most deprived areas. In rural areas, there is a need to evidence that deprivation and poverty in communities has been identified with appropriate targeting of provision.

The First Minister launched the Scottish Attainment Challenge in February 2015. Its aim is to accelerate the pace in which Scotland closes the poverty-related attainment gap in literacy, numeracy, health and wellbeing through leadership, families and communities and learning and teaching. To support the challenge and bring a greater sense of urgency and priority to the issue additional funding is available for local authorities through the Attainment Scotland Fund.

Local authorities are involved in the Scottish Attainment Challenge in different ways. Nine local authorities are part of the challenge authority programme; twelve local authorities have schools involved in the schools programme. All local authorities have access to the universal offer and almost all schools have been provided with Pupil Equity Funding to support work to close the poverty-related attainment gap.

Closing the poverty-related attainment gap is complex and poses challenges to the system regarding how to evaluate the impact of the work being undertaken and the use of the significant public funding. Nevertheless, there is a clear requirement to ensure public money is helping to improve learning, raise attainment and close the poverty-related attainment gap. The Standards in Scotland's Schools etc. Act 2000 places a duty on HM Inspectors, either at the request of Scottish Ministers or at such intervals as appear to be appropriate, to inspect an education authority in order to review the way in which the authority is exercising its functions in relation to the provision of school education (Section 9).

In September 2017, Education Scotland announced that HM Inspectors, working in partnership with Audit Scotland would implement a new programme of inspections and report on the progress made by local authorities in improving learning, raising attainment and closing the poverty-related attainment gap. These inspections will initially focus on the nine local authorities who are designated as Challenge Authorities within the Scottish Attainment Challenge. Inspection teams will include HM Inspectors of Education, Professional Associates who are senior staff in local authorities across Scotland and Audit Scotland auditors.

When will the inspection take place?

The Chief Executive of the local authority will be notified by email that HM Inspectors plan to inspect the progress made by councils in improving learning, raising attainment and closing the poverty-related attainment gap. The notification email, which will be issued at least four weeks prior to the inspection, will include:

  • when the inspection will take place
  • the name of the Managing Inspector, with overall responsibility for the inspection, and the names of all other inspection team members;
  • links to pre-inspection questionnaires
  • guidance on the documentation to be sent to us in advance of the inspection taking place.

Prior to the week of the inspection, senior managers in the education authority will be required to provide a profile which includes a self-evaluation for the inspection team. The profile will help focus the work of the team and inform decisions on the range and scope of inspection activity required. Senior managers will also be asked to provide some financial information which will support Audit Scotland's contribution to the inspection. Audit Scotland has provided a data request template for this. Online questionnaires will be issued to education authority staff, all heads of establishments, elected members, partners and Chairs of Parent Councils as part of a survey on the work of the education authority. These provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to contribute to the inspection through sharing their views in confidence. This evidence is an important aspect of the inspection.

Word file: Profile and self-evaluation form

PDF file: Guidance for issuing questionnaires

PDF file: Sample questionnaires

Excel file: Data request template

Shortly after the inspection is formally announced the Managing Inspector (MI) will contact the Chief Education Officer or equivalent senior manager to begin planning the meeting schedule. During the week prior to the inspection the MI and the Area Lead Officer for the education authority may arrange to meet with senior staff within the education authority to scope out and plan the inspection activity.

Excel file: Meeting schedule (29 KB)

Over the course of the inspection, members of the team will carry out a range of evidence gathering activities. These may include interviews with the Chief Executive, elected members with education responsibilities, senior staff, elected members, teachers and other practitioners in varying roles across the local authority, parents and children and young people. They will also attend meetings, examine documents and analyse performance information.

The inspection team will not be evaluating the work of individual establishments. Senior managers should make staff aware of the reason for any visits to establishments which are included in the meeting schedule.

The completion of the inspection week will be followed by a discussion of key findings with relevant senior officers and the subsequent publication of a report on our website.

What is the basis for the inspection evaluations?

The performance criteria are set out in framework to evaluate how well local authorities are improving learning, raising attainment and closing the poverty-related attainment gap. It provides details of the key areas which will be inspected and quality indicators. Discussions with stakeholders during the inspection will be supported through the use of challenge questions.

PDF file: challenge questions

Why is the educational psychological service (EPS) included in the inspection?

Recently, the National Scottish Steering Group for Educational Psychology negotiated with the Scottish Attainment Challenge Implementation Steering group, funding for training of educational psychologists. A requirement of the funding was to provide robust evidence of the impact made by educational psychologists and services in achieving equity and excellence for all and closing the poverty-related attainment gap. It was agreed that EPS should be integrated into the inspections of the progress made by local authorities in improving learning, raising attainment and closing the poverty-related attainment gap. It was agreed that this would be an effective use of time, reduce workload on local authorities by preventing duplication of scrutiny activity, and fulfil Scottish Government policy drivers. The approach will allow a thematic overview of the effective interventions used by educational psychologists to improve outcomes for children and young people.

PDF file: EPS briefing note

What feedback will I get?

The discussion of findings at the end of the inspection week will provide feedback on the strengths and aspects for development identified by the inspection team. These will be based on the performance criteria set out in the inspection framework. HM Inspectors will also indicate the overall evaluation of the progress made by the local authority and the next steps in relation to the inspection. These messages will be further articulated in a report published on our website. Senior managers in the education service should share the inspection findings with the Chief Executive and other stakeholders, including with children, young people and families, as soon as possible after the inspection to support ongoing improvement.

What if I have enquiries about the inspection?

In the first instance raise any enquires with the senior promoted staff in your section or establishment. If you need further information then please contact the Managing Inspector or