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National Priorities in Education

DescriptionCurrent developments on the Closing the opportunity policy agenda
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateMay 12, 2006

CtOG Target F:

Increase the average tariff score of the lowest attaining 20 per cent of S4 pupils by 5% by 2008

Last Update: 27/06/06 Next Update: 30/04/07

Why Is This Target Important?

International studies demonstrate that the highest performing pupils in Scotland are doing as well as their peers around the world - only three OECD countries significantly outperform Scotland in each of the key measures of maths, science and literacy. However, the performance of the lowest attaining 20% of pupils has not improved over recent years and turning this around is the single biggest challenge facing our education system. The overall aim of this target is to focus attention of schools and local authorities on this group of pupils, encouraging schools and authorities to analyse the pattern of attainment and develop appropriate strategies to tackle underperformance. The target is also included in the National Priorities in Education planning and reporting framework.

How will you define success?

This target will be met if on 30/04/08, compared with the baseline data on 30/9/04, the national tariff score for the lowest performing 20% of pupils has increased by 5 % (i.e. from 53 to 55 points).

A calculation of the average tariff score of the lowest attaining 20% is made in April/May each year after SQA examination post-appeal data is published. This is based upon the achievements of the pupils beginning S4 in the September of two years previously. Therefore, when the target was first published in September 2004, it was based on the achievements of pupils in S4 in the 2002/03 academic year and the evaluation of the target in 2008 will be based on attainment of pupils in S4 in the 2006/07 academic year.

What are the latest trends and data?

There has been no positive trend in this measure in recent years with a decline in the latest performance data (see Table F below). However, there is increasing evidence suggesting that while tariff score approach is a helpful proxy for identifying the characteristics of low attaining pupils, it is not an accurate measure of the opportunity gap in attainment.

The current tariff score scale does not recognise achievements in individual National Qualifications units that are not part of full courses and it does not take account of other award bearing courses and wider achievements of pupils. There is also concern that the achievement of many pupils with additional support needs pertaining to this group is not fully recognised. These issues will be addressed in the ongoing work on reviewing curriculum, qualifications and assessment and developing approaches to recognise wider achievement, which form part of our Ambitious Excellent Schools policy agenda.

How will this target be achieved?

Schools and local authorities are working in partnership to deliver this target. We provide funding to support and develop the National Priorities in Education website which provides local authorities with data analysis of the lowest attaining 20% of S4 pupils in their authority, allowing them to develop distinctive solutions to tackle low attainment reflecting the circumstances of the children in question.

We continue highlighting this area of improvement with authorities through annual bi-lateral meetings and bi-annual Directors meetings, using national and authority data analysis to ask questions about how the issues are being addressed. We are working with local authorities and HMIE to develop an understanding of the scale and nature of the problem and to identify good practice in order to support more effective targeting of resources both at national and local level.

At a national level, our policy agenda Ambitious, Excellent Schools sets out wide range of action to build and sustain performance and ambition in our education system, instil belief and high aspirations in all our children and young people and extend opportunities to transform their life chances. This agenda is delivering major planks of reform in the education system, reviewing curriculum to increase flexibility and developing personalised learning, improving support for pupils through our Additional Support for Learning legislation and strengthening framework for multi-agency support through Integrated Children's Services planning.

What resources are being committed?

Improvement in Scotland's schools is supported by the School Improvement Framework incorporating the National Priorities in Education. Specific resource is provided to authorities through the National Priorities Action Fund to help deliver Ministerial priorities including the raising of standards in schools and promoting social inclusion. Education Authorities are able to target funding locally as they see fit, within a broad framework. Over £210 million has thus far been allocated to authorities under the fund in 2006/07.

Additional resources are committed to improve educational outcomes of looked after children (details under Target G)

What Additional Supporting Activities and Targets May Contribute?

We know that the highest proportion of the lowest attaining pupils live in the most deprived areas of Scotland and there is a higher proportion of looked after children in this group. Given the complex issues facing many young people in this group the multi-agency working across services is key. We also believe that by focusing on the lowest attaining pupils we will contribute to reducing the proportion of young people not in education, training or employment. We believe that the following CTOG targets and activities that support these will complement and contribute to meeting our target:

Target B - Reduce the proportion of 16-19 year olds who are not in education training or employment by 2008.

Target E - By 2008, ensure that children and young people who need it have an integrated package of appropriate health, care and education support.

Target G - By 2007 ensure that at least 50% of all "looked after" young people leaving care have entered education, employment or training.

Target J - To promote community regeneration of the most deprived neighbourhoods, through improvements by 2008 in employability, education, health, access to local services, and quality of the local environment.

What Detailed Data Do You Have To Demonstrate Progress?

We now have a very rich source of information about this group of young people based on the existing data streams. Data on attainment in National Courses is obtained annually from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). These courses are allocated a score based on the level of the qualification and award gained, using a points score scale, which is an extended version of the UCAS Scottish Tariff points system.

The school census also provides additional information on pupil characteristics, which enables a more detailed analysis of the cohort. Lowest attaining 20% group includes a wide range of pupils not all of whom are under-performing. We know that there is a higher proportion of males in this category than in the population as a whole and there is over twice the proportion of pupils registered to take free meals in this group than in the population as a whole. We also know that the highest proportion of the lowest attaining pupils live in the most deprived areas of Scotland and there is a higher proportion of looked after children in this group.

Table F1: Educational attainment of S4 pupils (excluding pupils in special schools)

Lowest attaining 20%

Remaining 80%

All S4 pupils

Difference between lowest attaining 20% compared to remaining 80%

Difference between lowest attaining 20% compared to all S4 pupils











































Source - derived from SQA and School Census data

What does this target mean?

Client group - S4 pupils are defined as those pupils who are in stage S4 at September of the school year (as reported by schools in their school census return).

Lowest attaining 20% - identified by calculating the attainment of these pupils in the following May/June using information from the Scottish Qualifications Authority. This attainment is transformed into a total points tariff, using a points score scale.

Tariff Score - this scale is an extended version of the UCAS Scottish tariff points system. The pupils are then ranked in order of points gained. The average tariff is calculated from the individual tariff scores of those pupils who fall into the lowest 20%.

Who can I contact for more information?

Maria Gray

Improvement Team

New Educational Developments Division

Scottish Executive

Victoria Quay


Tel: 0131 244 0078

Fax: 0131 244 0834

Where can I find related information?

National Priorities website

National Priorities in Education Performance Report 2003

Ambitious, Excellent Schools: Our Agenda for Action 2004

Ambitious, Excellent Schools Progress Report 2006