Last Updated: Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Scottish Attainment Challenge

What is this?

​​Tackling inequity is at the heart of the Scottish Government’s agenda, in order that every child can succeed in school and gain the skills for life.​

The Scottish Attainment Challenge aims to raise the attainment of children and young people living in deprived areas, in order to close the equity gap.

It will drive forward improvements in educational outcomes to ensure that everyone is encouraged to be the best they can be.

Who is this for?

​Practitioners, headteachers, local authority staff, development and policy staff, and parents.

​About the Scottish Attainment Challenge

The Scottish Attainment Challenge is about achieving equity in educational outcomes, with a particular focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap. Equity can be achieved by ensuring every child has the same opportunity to succeed. The First Minister launched the Scottish Attainment Challenge in February 2015 to bring a greater sense of urgency and priority to this issue. It is underpinned by The National Improvement Framework, Curriculum for Excellence and Getting it Right for Every Child.

The Scottish Attainment Challenge will focus and accelerate targeted improvement activity in literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing in specific areas of Scotland. It will also support and complement the broader range of initiatives and programmes to ensure that all of Scotland’s children and young people reach their full potential.

What is attainment?

The Scottish Government’s ambition is for Scotland to be the best place to grow up. To achieve that we need to raise attainment and reduce educational inequity for all of Scotland’s children and young people.

Attainment is the measurable progress which children and young people make as they advance through and beyond school, and the development of the range of skills, knowledge and attributes needed to succeed in learning, life and work.

The attainment gap

The Scottish education system works well for most children and young people, who make good progress in their learning. However, there is still a gap between the progress which is made between those living in Scotland’s least and most deprived areas.

Many children and young people living in our most deprived communities do significantly worse at all levels of the education system than those from our least deprived communities. This is often referred to as the 'attainment gap'.

The attainment gap in Scotland is unacceptable. Tackling the attainment gap requires challenging everyone involved in Scottish education to relentlessly focus efforts on reducing the impacts of deprivation on educational outcomes.

Attainment Scotland Fund

The Attainment Scotland Fund is a targeted initiative focused on closing the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged children.

The Challenge Authorities are currently Glasgow, Dundee, Inverclyde, West Dunbartonshire, North Ayrshire, Clackmannanshire, North Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire and Renfrewshire. The Fund was initially focused on primary schools and targeted improvements in literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing.

The Schools Programme supports primary schools outwith the Challenge Authorities. These schools have been identified on the basis of supporting a significant proportion of pupils and families from communities which are facing some of the greatest challenges across Scotland. The scope of these Programmes has now been extended to support a number of secondary schools across Scotland.

The Innovation Fund was introduced to identify and fund projects to improve literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing for children adversely impacted by deprivation.  It was open to primary, special and secondary schools who were not already benefitting from Attainment Scotland Funding, opening up opportunities for all authorities to receive support.

Pupil Equity Funding is additional funding to be allocated directly to schools. Publicly funded primary, secondary and special schools will receive a monetary allocation for each child in Primary 1 to S3, or equivalent based on particular eligible criteria being agreed. National Operational Guidance has been published on the Scottish Government website.

An Interventions for Equity framework has been developed to support the introduction of Pupil Equity Funding. This framework has been designed to support schools in making decisions about how to select interventions and approaches which can help to close the attainment gap between our most and least disadvantaged children. This resource will continue to be developed, over time, to reflect the most recent and relevant practice and research in this area.

Universal support

We have a firm foundation in our key policies: National Improvement Framework, Curriculum for Excellence; GIRFEC; Early Years; Teaching Scotland’s Future and Developing the Young Workforce. These clearly set out what needs to be done to support every child/young person's successful learning journey from early years, through school and post-16 learning - including university and college - and on into positive destinations. The package of universal support available to all schools in Scotland are:

  • Innovation Fund – a source of funding for schools and local authorities to identify, fund and evaluate creative and innovative projects that will raise attainment in literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing.
  • Attainment Advisors – all local Authorities have direct access to a named Attainment Advisor who works collaboratively alongside local authority staff on agreed priorities which support the Scottish Attainment Challenge.
  • National Improvement Hub - a virtual centre of educational expertise that will support the Scottish Attainment Challenge. The hub will play a key role in moving knowledge to action around the education system. It incorporates a range of features to build collaborative learning and engage leaders and practitioners to support a self-improving education system.
  • Support for inter-authority improvement partnerships - ADES are developing inter-authority partnerships as outlined in its 2020 vision. Education Scotland is supporting their development.

How the National Improvement Hub supports the Scottish Attainment Challenge?

The work of the Scottish Attainment Challenge will feature prominently as part of the National Improvement Hub. As well as providing up to date information about the Scottish Attainment Challenge, it will draw on information and learning from Attainment Advisors to enable practitioners to share exemplars of practice and evidence of what works. The combination of self-evaluation toolkits, research and advice will support them in taking forward priorities to reduce the poverty-related attainment gap.

Learning and assessment

The resources listed below are all proven to help raise attainment and can be used to target children requiring support who are living in areas of deprivation.

Numeracy - professional learning resources
A suite of five professional learning papers, together with an accompanying guidance document and glossary, designed to support improved learning and teaching of numeracy in the Broad General Education.

Primary One Literacy Assessment and Action Resource
Identify and assess children in P1 who are most at risk of developing later difficulties with reading and writing.

Practice exemplars

ASPIRE – Dundee
This community engagement programme involved eleven primary school communities using performing arts across the curriculum to challenge inequalities.

Self-evaluation approaches

Approaches to closing the equity gap
Explore a wide range of approaches to support practitioners in closing the equity gap.


There is a variety of education research articles which evidence successful approaches to closing the poverty related attainment gap. A curated selection of these are available here, on the National Improvement Hub.

Practitioners may find this a useful starting point in getting to grips with the evidence base about how poverty affects educational attainment, and what schools and others can do to tackle this.

One resource which may be particularly helpful is the Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning and Early Years Toolkits. These toolkit local is an accessible summary of educational research designed to inform discussions on the most effective approaches to improving pupil attainment.

Research briefings

Education Scotland has produced research briefings which summarise research on topics relevant to the Scottish Attainment Challenge. The briefings are designed to promote professional dialogue. Teachers, local authority staff and others may find the briefing a useful starting point in becoming familiar with some of the research in this area, although it does not claim to be a comprehensive overview of the research base.

  • Briefing 1: Differentiated learning in numeracy and mathematics
    This briefing summarises research on differentiated learning and considers how it could be used to improve learner outcomes in numeracy and mathematics.It is not a comprehensive overview of published research in a particular area. Nor is it a definitive statement of policy or a recommendation to adopt a particular approach.
    PDF file: Briefing 1: Differentiated learning in numeracy and mathematics (215 KB)

Useful research websites

Education Scotland has collated the following list of useful websites which contain research-based information on the poverty-related attainment gap. It is not intended to be a comprehensive list of websites however it may be a useful starting point in finding research-based information to inform your own work in tackling the attainment gap.

If you are aware of any useful websites which you think could be added to this section, please email

The BES Programme aims to synthesise trustworthy evidence about what works and what makes a bigger difference in education, with a particular focus on strategies that make a difference for all learners – including those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The site contains the original research reports as well as research-based exemplars in areas such as reciprocal teaching and communities of mathematical enquiry.

The Education Endowment Foundation carries out primarily experimental research which aims to work out which strategies are most effective in breaking the link between family income and educational attainment. The research evidence contributes to the Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit, which aims to support schools in using their resources to improve pupil attainment.

Provides an overview of the EPPSE study in England, a longitudinal study which has been tracking the progress and development of more than 3,000 children from pre-school to post-compulsory education. There are a number of useful findings on the poverty-related attainment gap, for instance why some children from disadvantaged backgrounds succeed ‘against the odds’.

Growing up in Scotland is a longitudinal study which has been tracking the lives of thousands of children and their families in Scotland from birth through to the teenage years and beyond. There are important research findings relating to the impact of poverty on educational and other outcomes, for instance how the impact of disadvantage can be mitigated by children experiencing a wide range of activities in the early years.

The Institute for Effective Education undertakes research into effective educational programmes, with a particular focus on improving educational outcomes for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. There are a range of publications on the site, including Best Evidence in Brief, a free fortnightly e-newsletter of education research news.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation undertakes a large programme of research and development into social issues in the UK. One research programme focuses on education and poverty, and the website currently contains a number of pieces of relevant research exploring how social, educational and economic factors affect learning.

Collaboration / Networking

Scottish Attainment Challenge and Partnerships with the Third Sector identifies resources and provides exemplification of how schools can work collaboratively to create and identify purposeful partnerships with appropriate third sector organisations.