Attainment Work – Frequently Asked Questions

These frequently asked questions relate to the joint attainment work the Scottish Government is currently involved in. For more information on that visit:

Where did the March 2012 Attainment Advice come from?

In late 2011, two pieces of intensive work were undertaken by the Attainment Group and by a sub-group of the Association of Directors of Education (ADES), to look at how we could raise attainment and improve outcomes for all young people in Scotland, within the context of Curriculum for Excellence.

Both pieces of work identified a number of common themes central to improving attainment and the advice provides a summary of these issues, as well as a number of reflective questions to help teachers think about how they could be developed in their classrooms.

Aren’t we already doing this?

This is not a new initiative but a renewed focus.  Raising attainment is already at the core of what our teachers do.  Scottish schools are providing our young people with a good education that international comparisons show is consistently above the global average. But we can build on this to make sure our system continues to improve.

Why do we need to focus on attainment?

We know that generally Scotland’s performance is improving. The latest PISA survey confirms that we have stopped the relative decline in the standing of Scottish education against international comparators. SQA’s Attainment and School Leaver Qualifications data show that in 2009-10, over half Scotland’s pupils left school with at least one qualification at Higher or above. Fewer young people than at any point in the past left school with no qualifications.

However, Scotland’s education system is still not delivering for all young people. Evidence shows that there is still a significant variation in attainment depending on social context in Scotland, with a clear link between relative deprivation and lower attainment (although a number of schools have shown that this link is not inevitable). We also know that Looked After Children in particular are significantly behind their peers in terms of attainment; with poorer attendance rates and greater risk of exclusion; and leaving school earlier and with fewer qualifications.

What is attainment and why does it matter?

Improving attainment means improving the ability of all our young people to learn and progress to their maximum potential, whatever their starting level.

People’s life chances are often determined by their attainments and achievements in their early years and at school. Improving attainment means improving life chances. For the individual, educational attainment is the passport to social, cultural and economic prosperity. For Scotland as a country, raising attainment means improving our international competitiveness for the benefit of all.

The world in which young people live and work is increasingly competitive. However, with the right skills, capacities and ambition it will be full of great opportunities for all young people. Through the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence we will improve attainment and enable our young people to progress and develop the skills, ambition and know-how to take advantage of these opportunities.

I suppose historically and what a lot of people would understand by attainment is exam results, test results and that very sort of narrow definition of attainment.  Whilst that’s really, really important and we need to make sure that our children are well prepared for the examinations that they will need to sit in the senior phase of High School, it’s important to build their confidence, to get them to realise that intelligence [and] ability is not just about the sort of high tariff subject areas, it’s about their various strengths, whether that’s in expressive arts, whether they’re really sporty, we need to support them, we need to challenge them, but you know attainment to me, and rich attainment, is about attainment in exams and in its wider sense”

Arlene Black, Headteacher

How does this work on improving attainment link to other education priorities/ “initiatives”?

This Government is committed to improving the life chances of all Scotland’s children and young people through improving attainment, and raising and realising ambition for all.  This commitment underpins all the work that we do from early years, through school and beyond, and all our policies on education and young people clearly contribute to this.  The work on raising attainment is not a new initiative. It is a renewed focus.

Raising standards and attainment levels through excellence in learning and teaching” is central to Curriculum for Excellence.  With the greater balance of knowledge and skills under Curriculum for Excellence and new, more flexible qualifications, we can improve attainment and ensure that our young people leave school with the skills, capacities and ambition to fulfil their potential.

Through ‘Getting it right for every child’ –  GIRFEC – we are better able to tailor services around the needs of the child, including the most vulnerable children. GIRFEC will support and strengthen the delivery of the Curriculum for Excellence by changing culture and practice to put the child at the centre and encourage a holistic view of the child’s attainment and wider achievements.

We know that the early years – pre-school and, in some cases, pre-birth – are a critical period as children grow, develop and prepare for learning in school. This is why we are building on expanded pre-school provision; working to support parents who play the most important role in young children’s lives; and developing the skills of the early years workforce.

We are also helping young people to stay in learning post-16 since this is the best way to improve their long-term employability. We are driving long-term, systemic improvement through Curriculum for Excellence.  16+ Learning Choices, the transition planning model for the senior phase of CfE – will  ensure all our young people have the necessary personal, financial, career advice, guidance and support to access and sustain an appropriate place in post-16 learning.

The McCormac and Donaldson reviews have highlighted that the quality of teaching is central to improved attainment. Developing a reflective teaching workforce ready to innovate and share successful practice is a key component of this. It is fundamental to the continuous improvement that must be our ongoing aim and drive.

What is being done specifically for Looked After Children and other vulnerable groups of young people?


The Scottish Government’s Looked After Children Strategic Implementation Group (Learning Hub) is overseeing a variety of activities to improve outcomes for looked after children and young people in Scotland. This includes gathering and sharing good practice, national support events and the provision of materials for practitioners.

Where can I get more information/ support/ ideas of practice?
As part of this wider package of support on attainment, we want to generate discussion and give everyone with an interest in raising attainment the opportunity to feed into this work and share their experiences of what works.

How will the Scottish Government be supporting the implementation of this work?

This advice will be part of a wider programme of work intended to support teachers, schools and other parts of the system in raising attainment. This includes the range of on-line support on the Education Scotland website, opportunities for discussion on Engage for Education and events for practitioners later in the year. We will be working in partnership with Education Scotland, ADES and others in taking this forward.


These frequently asked questions relate to the joint attainment work the Scottish Government is currently involved in. For more information on that visit:

Got a question on Attainment? Submit it below.

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