The inspection reports on the “excellent” progress being made closing the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils in Renfrewshire and Glasgow have been published recently with great fanfare.
However, Tes Scotland has learned that another report – this time for East Ayrshire Council, which in 2018-19 received £3.76 million to help it close the gap – was quietly published last week, with the authority rated just “satisfactory” when it came to its progress improving learning, raising attainment and narrowing the poverty-related attainment gap
Education Scotland rates performance at one of six levels: unsatisfactory, weak, satisfactory, good, very good or excellent.
In 2017, Education Scotland started to inspect the nine education authorities that are the focus of the Scottish Attainment Challenge which will have £750 million invested in it from 2015-16 to 2020-21.
As of the publication of Glasgow’s report yesterday, all nine attainment challenge authorities have now been inspected by Education Scotland. Two were rated “satisfactory” (Clackmannanshire and East Ayrshire); two were rated “good” (Dundee and North Lanarkshire); three were rated “very good” (Inverclyde, North Ayrshire and West Dunbartonshire); and two were rated “excellent” (Renfrewshire and Glasgow).
When it came to East Ayrshire the inspectors said that the approach taken by the council, which became a "Challenge authority" in 2016 had been “too broad and not sufficiently well targeted”.
The report said that, while East Ayrshire headteachers were confident talking about what makes for good learning and teaching, generally “too few were able to show a clear understanding of the poverty-related attainment gap in their establishment’s context”.
It called on the authority “to improve staff skills in evaluating the impact of initiatives”, to build on the projects showing greatest impact and “to increase the pace of change and ensure a wider reach across more establishments”.
The report continued: “Whilst much positive work has been done to take forward new initiatives in the authority over the past year, its impact is not yet evident. The authority should ensure that it has clear intended outcomes linked to each initiative, plus baseline data, so that it can evidence impact over time for each approach.”
Inspectors also called on the council to “to improve school attendance and reduce exclusions in primary and secondary schools”.
The impact of school exclusions on pupils’ life chances is a hot topic south of the border after six police and crime commissioners, backed by London mayor Sadiq Khan, wrote to prime minister Theresa May warning that a “broken” school exclusion system was linked to a surge in knife crime.
The latest national figures for Scotland, which come out every two years and were last published in 2018, show that permanent exclusion has been all but wiped out. However, temporary exclusion is still used and whilst the national average in 2016-17 was 26.8 exclusions per 1,000 pupils in East Ayrshire that figure was 43.4 exclusions per 1000 pupils.
The report said: “The level of exclusions was significantly reduced in the last year. However, there is more work to be done to address the level of variability in both the levels of attendance and exclusions that exists between secondary schools.”
Some positives were also highlighted. The report said that leadership of the authority had recently improved since the appointment of a new head of education in 2018.
It also praised the authority for investing in the training of its classroom assistants and highlighted a new suite of professional development courses with the potential to “address the identified need for increased leadership capacity and facilitate greater progress in raising attainment and in closing the poverty-related attainment gap”.
East Ayrshire Council's head of education, Linda McAulay-Griffiths, said the inspection had been helpful because it had allowed the council to assess the effectiveness of what it had been doing and to ensure its focus was appropriate.
She added: "It is pleasing to note the report highlights the progress in our senior phase attainment; significant reduction in exclusions; improving attendance and positive destination figures, but there is still much to do and we remain fully focused on our ambition of improving outcomes for all young people in East Ayrshire, regardless of background."