Capacity to make improvements

Some areas of education have improved in the last three years, according to the latest HMIE “state of the nation” report which was published today. The TESS summarises the main findings, sector by sector
16th January 2009, 12:00am


Capacity to make improvements

The strengths of Scottish education in 2005-08 remained as they were when HMIE issued its previous Improving Scottish Education report on 2002-05 - principally, the professionalism of teachers, improving leadership, a strong commitment to self-evaluation and generally good relationships in schools.

Graham Donaldson, the senior chief inspector, believes these factors suggest schools and colleges have the capacity to bring about the improvements which are still required.

But the same shortcomings also persist, although inspectors detect a stronger determination to tackle them. Among these are the falling off in attainment as pupils move from mid-primary to early secondary, the continuing problems in S1-2 where pupils are “not sufficiently challenged”, the relatively poor performance of boys compared with girls, the failure to reduce the number of pupils who get no qualifications in English and maths, the indifferent educational experience for children in care and the “limited success” of schools in compensating for deprivation.

The report states: “Across all sectors, there is a need to ensure progression in learning, especially across transitions, making good use of information on prior learning.

“Primary schools need to build more directly on active learning at the early stages. Similarly, attainment at the upper stages of primary schools represents insufficient progress from the earlier stages. In secondary schools, the need to raise levels of attainment is now an even greater priority.”

On the other hand, there have been “notable improvements” in the way schools and colleges have broadened opportunities for high-quality, work-related learning, for learning which takes place outside the classroom and for the use of ICT to bring learners and teachers together “virtually”.

Leadership continues to be a major focus of HMIE comment. It found little change in its effectiveness - 80 per cent of primaries showed excellent, very good or good leadership; in secondaries, around 80 per cent was very good or good.

The report sets considerable store by A Curriculum for Excellence as “the only show in town”, as the inspectorate sees it, which will raise standards by improving pupil motivation, demonstrate the relevance of learning and make intellectual demands of all pupils.

But it foresees potential for problems ahead as the new assessment and qualifications emerge, particularly at S4: “Such change poses significant challenges in ensuring progression, breadth of recognition and smooth transitions from the earlier phase of general education.”

The HMIE review also assesses the evidence of child protection inspections, where the main conclusion is one of inconsistency and a failure to sustain the support given to young people at risk.



- Children continue to progress well, particularly in early reading and writing

- Good practice in developing children’s literacy skills through meaningful play

- Physical skills are being developed through more regular, energetic activities

- An improving emphasis on the use of ICT to support learning

- Children’s natural curiosity is encouraged more frequently

- Better understanding of numbers and shapes, although broader mathematical skills are less well developed

- Curriculum programmes are better in education authority centres than in the private and voluntary sectors.


- Quality of interactions between adults and children

- Need to improve the use of assessment information gathered on children’s progress to build on earlier learning

- Level of challenge needs to be improved, particularly for more able children

- At times, too many adult-led activities limit children’s individual creativity.



- Personal achievements, and personal and social development

- Attainment in listening, talking and reading

- The achievements of the lowest-attaining children in P1-5

- Attainment in writing at the early stages

- A low proportion of pupils underachieving in maths

- Enterprise and citizenship activities are increasingly developing self-awareness and creative skills

- ICT skills showing improvement in a range of curricular areas.


- Need to build more directly on active learning at the early stages

- Attainment at the upper stages of primary schools represents insufficient progress from the earlier stages

- Staff do not consistently ensure that by P7, all children have sufficiently well-developed, independent learning skills

- Pace of learning in too many lessons is slow and activities too frequently do not provide sufficient challenge, particularly for higher-achieving children

- Attainment and application of knowledge in writing in English language and Gaelic, in problem-solving in mathematics, and in science and the technologies is not good enough

- Promoting and monitoring progression in children’s wider achievements

- Self-evaluation

- International education needs a sharper focus to help primary children form a view of Scotland’s place in the world and of what can be learnt from other countries

- Approaches to support children with English as an additional language and their families are not sufficiently joined up.



- Exam performance has remained good

- Young people are gaining a wider range of accreditation, with increases in ASDAN (Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network), youth achievement awards, Prince’s Trust, community sport and dance leadership awards, and other awards gained through school-college partnerships

- The overall quality of teaching and staff commitment

- Curriculum innovation

- Pastoral care for young people, positive ethos and staffpupil relationships

- Achievement is recognised and promoted.


- Inconsistency in the quality of teaching and learning

- Need to focus staff development on how young people learn and how they develop learning skills

- Raising achievement by building on prior learning and ensuring challenge for individual pupils - especially in S1-2, for boys and for vulnerable groups

- Self-evaluation should focus on improving outcomes for young people

- Pace and depth need to be increased, with greater focus on more challenging thinking and learning

- Performance in science remains too low, with pupils not achieving expected levels at S2

- Boys continue to perform less well than girls, particularly at Standard grade Credit and General levels

- Few schools systematically assess skills in listening and talking

- Young people’s ability to apply skills and knowledge in new situations and at higher levels of thinking need to be better developed

- Early presentation of Standard grade exams has had mixed success

- Quality of contributions of principal teachers or faculty heads in quality assurance and leading learning is “unduly variable”

- Few examples of effective partnerships between school staff and those in community learning and development.



- Pupils progress well in their personal and social skills and substantial numbers gain awards and qualifications

- In residential special schools, care staff and teachers share a better understanding of young people’s learning targets and are supporting improvements in achievement

- Day special schools and special pre-school settings undertake high-quality work with other agencies.


- Breadth of the curriculum in many residential special schools needs to be improved

- Staff do not always have sufficiently high aspirations for young people’s achievements

- In some day special schools, accommodation and facilities have important weaknesses.



- Children have a good understanding of how to keep themselves safe and can identify trusted adults with whom they would share their concerns

- Staff are generally clear about their responsibilities to safeguard children and be alert to signs that a child may need help or support.


- Considerable variation in the effectiveness of practice

- Initial support given to children to keep them safe is not always sustained

- Ineffective planning to meet children’s needs, based on a rigorous assessment of risks

- Improvements are still required in multi-agency self-evaluation to ensure this leads to improvements in practice.

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