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Some progress - but schools could do better

Progress has been made over the past three years in embedding new, improved approaches to everyday teaching, according to a State of the Nation-style report published this week in tandem with statistics on school and pre-school performance.

But "despite national expectations being raised as a result of the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence", inspectors' judgements on the quality of curriculum, learning and teaching have "remained broadly consistent" over the past three years, says Education Scotland.

Among the findings are that pre-school children are more engaged in their learning and teachers in all sectors are making more use of relevant contexts for learning, particularly in literacy and numeracy.

But more work remains to be done to close the gap in achievement between children from different backgrounds, according to the report Quality and improvement in Scottish education: trends in inspection findings 2008-11, which builds on Improving Scottish Education 2005-08.

Strengths in leadership are noted across all sectors, although improvements are still needed in leading and managing change.

The pre-school sector has become better at the early identification of children requiring additional support and supporting vulnerable children and their families. Forest kindergartens are praised particularly for giving children access to outdoor learning opportunities.

Key strengths of primary schools include active learning, more positive partnerships with parents, and links with outside businesses.

Greg Dempster, general secretary of the primary heads' union AHDS, pointed out that the period covered dated back to more than three years ago and suggested the sector would now get a much more positive write-up. Sampling was likely to be uneven as inspections of primary schools were halved last year at the same time that secondary inspections were suspended to allow schools to receive more CfE support.

In the secondary sector, a culture of professional dialogue is being developed but self-evaluation for improvement "remains an area of relative weakness", says the report.

Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, said that secondary schools' achievements should be celebrated - even where they were only "standing still" - in a context of significant reductions and inequalities in resources and staffing.

John Stodter, ADES general secretary, summed up the report as "positive on the whole". "But the challenge remains to ensure that good practice is universal and commonplace whilst the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers is reducing," he said. "When these two trends are secure, we can use the word `excellence' in its true sense."

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