Evaluating quality and improvement in Scottish education

​​​​​​​​​​The National Improvement Framework (NIF) and Improvement Plan sets out what needs to be done to improve Scottish education so that every child can achieve their full potential. The NIF is designed to help deliver the twin aims of excellence and equity in education – ensuring children and young people develop a broad range of skills and capacities, whilst supporting them to thrive, regardless of their social circumstances or additional needs. The vision, priorities and drivers of improvement set out in the NIF underpin education reform and the improvement agenda.

The NIF identifies four key priorities:

  • improvement in attainment, particularly in literacy and numeracy
  • closing the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged children
  • improvement in children and young people’s health and wellbeing
  • improvement in employability skills and sustained, positive school leaver destinations for all young people.

The annual NIF evidence report gives an overview of what th​e Scottish Government knows about Scottish education and the context in which our children and young people learn. It brings together available current evidence on achievement, attainment, health and wellbeing, and the wider education system, with a specific focus on differences between children living in the most deprived and least deprived areas. It aims to present an objective picture of Scottish education, based on a wide range of sources, including evidence from inspection.

At national level, the NIF Improvement Plan summarises the key evidence and identifies both ongoing and new improvement activity that the Scottish Government will be taking forward or supporting at national level. It sets out the improvement activity the Scottish Government and partners will be taking forward in the year ahead.

Evaluation of the quality of education provision takes place at different levels within the Scottish education system. While, overall responsibility for the quality of education and securing continuous improvement sits with education providers; to achieve our ambition of excellence and equity for children and young people everyone involved in education will need to work as a collective to create a learning system which drives continuous and sustained improvement.

In Scotland we pioneer an approach to quality assurance and improvement, which is now respected globally. What has become known as the ‘Scottish approach’ to improvement is based on the premise that establishments and services take responsibility for the quality of education they provide and take action to secure continuous improvement. This is complemented by external evaluation carried out by Education Scotland via inspection and review activity.

The centrepiece of Scotland’s shared approach to evaluating quality is a set of national quality indicators (QIs). These are designed to enable providers to undertake self-evaluation leading to improvement. The QIs also form the framework used by HM Inspectors to evaluate the quality of education provision as part of inspection and review.

This strong focus on developing self-evaluation complemented by proportionate arrangements for external inspection and review has been a defining characteristic of quality and improvement in Scottish education.

Where self-evaluation works best, staff at all levels – learners, stakeholders and partners – are involved in evaluating the quality of education provision to help to identify strengths and priorities for improvement and these findings are verified through inspection and review. Inspections and reviews also help providers to identify highly effective and innovative practice, and share this practice more widely so that others can learn from it.

There are times when inspections and reviews also identify areas for improvement which have not been identified through an organisation’s self-evaluation. Such cases highlight the importance of external inspection and review to help ensure learners experience consistently high quality​ learning and achieve the best possible outcomes.

Where an inspection or review shows that the organisation is not providing a sufficient quality of education or provision inspectors will continue to engage with the establishment or service in order to secure improvements for children and young people. Inspectors may revisit to review progress and, where appropriate, carry out further inspection activity and report to key stakeholders about progress.

Related links

Implementing the National Improvement Framework​