22/01/2016 10:14 GMT | Updated 22/01/2017 05:12 GMT

Improving Education for All

We can be rightly proud of the success the Scottish education system delivers for most of our children. Last summer, young people in Scotland gained a record number of passes at Higher and Advanced Higher, with more also receiving qualifications relating to wider skills for life and work. Now we have the highest ever numbers going on to positive destinations in education, training and work when they leave school. And all of that is because of the outstanding work of teachers, headteachers, children and parents across the country.

But there is still a small minority not in a positive destination. Those young people are most likely to have fewest qualifications and come from our most deprived communities. School leavers from the most deprived 20% of areas in Scotland currently do half as well as school leavers from the most affluent areas in achieving Highers. That's not acceptable. Nobody can be comfortable living in a country where different levels of wealth create such a significant gap in the attainment levels - and therefore the life chances - of so many of our children. This Government certainly isn't.

While we know what the end outcome is, we don't know enough, early enough in children's education to pinpoint issues and address them with the right support at the right time. In short, we need better information about children's progress in their learning throughout school, so that individual children can be supported more effectively; parents know more about how their children are doing; teachers, local authorities and community planning partnerships will be able to identify and plan for improvement; and the Scottish Government will have clear information to guide national policy.

That is why earlier this month, the Scottish Government launched its National Improvement Framework, following extensive engagement all across Scotland with thousands of parents, teachers, children and young people, and others in the education community.

The Framework sets out how we will gather new and better information about children's progress throughout primary and early secondary school. It will include activity to determine how our children are doing in key basic skills of literacy and numeracy, as well as how their health and well-being is improving. In every local authority area, information will be gathered in a consistent way, using new national standardised assessments in P1, P4, P7 and S3. This means that children will be assessed in the same way in Stranraer as they are in Stornoway and in Stirling.

The assessments will be piloted in 2016 and available for use in 2017. Crucially, parents will get access the results of the assessments alongside other information about their child's progress.

The focus will be on assessing how well our children are meeting the levels in Curriculum for Excellence appropriate for their age and stage - teachers' judgement will still play the key and primary role in this.

The National Improvement Framework will allow us to build on local pockets of good practice, an approach recognised by the OECD. Its 2015 review of Scottish education declared Scotland has the opportunity to "lead the world in developing an innovative national assessment, evaluation and improvement framework."

Knowing how our children are progressing at school is only part of the Framework's purpose - we must also use that information to embed excellence and equity throughout our education system. For all children.

So the information gathered will enable everyone - especially teachers - to know what, how and where improvements might be needed. The Framework will link to and help us to evaluate the effectiveness of activity to improve attainment and close the gap - some of which is already underway.

That includes the £100 million Attainment Challenge fund, now supporting over 300 schools all over Scotland; our ongoing investment to maintain teacher numbers so we have the right numbers in the right place; and recent moves to prevent the school week being shortened, so that children get the right amount of time in class to benefit fully from their learning experience.

The National Improvement Framework forms a fundamental part of activity we are taking to create a world class education system.

A system which delivers not just for nine out of ten children, but for the remaining one in ten currently left behind. Which closes the attainment gap between children from our most and least deprived communities. And in so doing, not only transforms their lives, but all our lives - creating a fairer society, a more prosperous economy, and a country we can all feel comfortable living in.