Scotland’s chief inspector of education has described the progress being made by one Scottish council in closing the attainment gap as “an absolute delight”.
In an inspection report published today, Renfrewshire Council has become the first local authority in Scotland to be rated “excellent” for its progress in narrowing the attainment gap between pupils from deprived areas and their more affluent peers.
Education Scotland found significant year-on-year improvements in listening, talking, reading, writing and numeracy in Renfrewshire schools, with the attainment gap found to be closing across all measures.
According to chief inspector Gayle Gorman, the council’s focus “on developing high-quality learning and teaching and leadership…has led to improvements in children’s and young people’s learning and progress”.
She added “These reports are vital to learn from and share how well local authorities are doing, and it is an absolute delight to see Renfrewshire Council’s report. Everyone should be delighted to see the impact of their work on children and young people."
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Renfrewshire is one of nine challenge authorities to be targeted in the Scottish government-funded Scottish Attainment Challenge, as a result of the area's high levels of deprivation.
The council has received £10.4 million in Scottish Attainment Challenge funding since June 2016 and, between 2015 and 2018, has achieved an 10 percentage-point increase in expected levels of literacy, as well as a 5 percentage-point increase in expected levels of numeracy. Over the same period, the poverty-related attainment gap has reduced by 5 percentage points in literacy and 4 percentage points in numeracy.
However, the statistics being used to evidence progress are the new teacher judgements on whether pupils are hitting the expected level for their age and stage. These official statistics are branded "data under development" and there are warnings attached to the figures that "caution should be applied" particularly when it comes to making comparisons to the results from previous years.
Inspectors praised the “very successful” evidence-based, universal approach taken by the authority that sees interventions extended across all 62 primary, secondary and additional-support-needs schools in Renfrewshire.
The Education Scotland report refers to the authority’s “outstanding approach” to professional learning, leadership development and use of data to inform improvement. It found that all 58 headteachers who responded to a pre-inspection questionnaire either agreed or strongly agreed that the education authority was “well led”.
“The council’s strategies to enhance learning and teaching, ensure high-quality data analysis, improve leadership at all levels, and engage with families and communities to raise attainment have been highly effective," it states.
"As a result, class teachers are empowered to develop the skills they need to help them improve pedagogy and outcomes for children and young people."
The report praises the “very wide range” of family learning activities on offer, including the provision of free pizza to encourage families to engage with school and learn with their children about maths and reading.
It also highlights some of the new roles created by the council to support pupils and teachers, such as "inclusion-support assistants" who support pupils and their families when there are issues with attendance, exclusion or difficult home circumstances and transition teachers who work “successfully across primary and secondary schools to support curricular transitions for targeted children and young people”.
It adds that "data mentors in every primary and principal teachers for raising attainment in every secondary" are “helping to build staff expertise in data analysis”.
The report also highlights the effective partnerships between Renfrewshire Council and the universities of Strathclyde, the West of Scotland and Glasgow.
Renfrewshire Council depute leader Jim Paterson, convener of Renfrewshire’s Education and Children’s Services Policy Board, said: “Our success is down to a collective approach. Children and young people have gained belief in themselves, and I want to thank them and their parents and carers for their effort and commitment to learning.
"Our children’s services team has, through outstanding governance and leadership, also provided the right support, and created the space to allow schools to deliver high-quality learning and teaching.”