Scottish Economy

Collaborating to improve attainment for school pupils

The Fraser of Allander Institute has long championed the use of data to improve policymaking. Over the last year, we have been exploring a new collaboration to see how data and software tools can facilitate progress towards tackling the poverty-related attainment gap in Scotland.

Closing the attainment gap is one of the Scottish Government’s key priorities and understanding the linkages between poverty and educational attainment is important in supporting the development of evidence-based policy solutions to improve children’s lives. These linkages and solutions could differ significantly depending on a range of factors including where in Scotland the child lives (e.g. rural vs urban) and the types of neighbourhoods and homes that they are growing up in. This collaborative project looked at how data and analysis could shed light on these issues to better evidence policy solutions, particularly at a local level.

The FAI led the data and analysis work for this collaborative project, working closely with the Northern Alliance Regional Improvement Collaborative (RIC). This grouping of eight local authorities (Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Bute, Comhairle Eilean Siar [Western Isles], Highland, Moray, Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands) represent a variety of school settings, with differing levels of poverty and deprivation. All want to be able to use evidence to further allow individual school settings, local authorities and other bodies to plan targeted interventions to reduce the attainment gap.

The work has been coordinated and funded by the Data for Children Collaborative at the Edinburgh Futures Institute, and the other partners include the India-based CivicDataLab, East Neuk Analytics and Professor John McKendrick from Glasgow Caledonian University.

We have recently completed the first phase of the work which involved an initial analysis of attainment based on existing, limited, data on deprivation as well as a scoping study of additional information and data that could be used to gain further insights into what matters most when considering how to tackle the attainment gap. For example, does the distance to school affect the ability of lower-income children to participate in extra-curricular activities, and what impact does this have on attainment?

As well as the work funded by the Data for Children Collaborative, we produced an additional report to reflect on how Covid-19 may have affected the strength of the relationship between poverty and attainment A summary and link to each report is included summarised here:

Paper 1 – Statistical Analysis of the Educational Mobility of Primary Schools Across Scotland

This paper used data from the Scottish Pupil Census in combination with curriculum for excellence teacher-based assessments to observe the percentage of pupils who perform at or above their relevant level in both literacy and numeracy. Differences between urban and rural schools, as well as differences across the local authorities based within the Northern Alliance region, were observed and data on free school meal registration, as an indicator for social-economic status, were also analysed. A notable difference in educational mobility between rural and urban schools was found, as well as evidence to suggest that students from low socio-economic backgrounds that attend rural schools have experienced poorer educational mobility than their urban counterparts.

Link to paper

Paper 2 – A scoping study on data and information that describes poverty and educational attainment

The report looks across a wide range of data, some of which are rural specific to scope out alternative evidence that could be used by school and local authorities to identify issues that may be impacting attainment. The data was viewed through the lens of four impact pathways: school attendance informed by the literature; school attendance;  learning at home; enriching extracurricular activities; learning at school and a number of indicators were identified that could relate to issues that disrupt those pathways. For example, overcrowding in households affecting learning at home, or lack of income to buy nutritious food affecting learning at school.

Link to scoping study

Paper 3 – A review of the literature on the effects of COVID-19 on the poverty related attainment gap and rural Scotland

This evidence review was produced by a final year economics undergraduate student on the Economic Futures programme. The report summarises research to date from Scotland, the UK and further afield looking at the effect of COVID-19 on the attainment gap. This report also looks at research on the impact of Covid-19 in rural areas and whether there is evidence of a differential impact on the attainment gap in rural Scotland.

Link to evidence review

Next steps

We are currently looking at how to carry on this work to it’s next stage which will bring together the evidence from the scoping study into new statistical analysis on educational mobility and attainment. This next stage  will require substantial efforts to bring data together children’s lives in an appropriate and secure format that we can then analyse to understand the extent of the relationship with attainment. However, the the impact of such analysis could transform the way that pupils are supported in the drive towards closing the poverty-related attainment gap. More information on the collaboration can be found on the Data for Children Collaboration website.





Emma is Deputy Director and Senior Knowledge Exchange Fellow at the Fraser of Allander Institute

Head of Research at the Fraser of Allander Institute

Chirsty is a Knowledge Exchange Associate at the Fraser of Allander Institute where she primarily works on projects related to employment and inequality.

Ciara is an Associate Economist at the Fraser of Allander Institute. She has a broad research experience across different areas including poverty and inequality, the voluntary sector, health, education, trade, and renewables and climate change. Ciara has an MSc in Applied Economics (Distinction) and a first-class BA Honour’s degree in Economics and Finance, both from the University of Strathclyde.

Gennaro Rossi
Gennaro Rossi