SPICe research briefing on ‘Closing The Attainment Gap: What Can Schools Do?’

Date: 23rd August 2016

This briefing by SPICe (the Scottish Parliament Information Centre) highlights five guiding principles and six key strategies, gathered from evidence-based educational research, that have been proved effective in closing the attainment gap both nationally and internationally.

Executive summary

The link between socio-economic disadvantage, academic attainment and job prospects is a global issue (OECD, 2011, 2014). In Scotland, various measures have been taken over the years to attempt to break the seemingly inevitable intergenerational cycle of poverty and to address a lack of 'positive and sustained destinations' (Education Scotland, 2008; 2016a, 2016b). There remains a strong correlation between a pupil's socio-economic status and their educational attainment. Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds have a higher chance of not succeeding in school.

Key Points

This briefing focuses on what schools can do to close the attainment gap. It identifies five guiding principles:

  1. Putting the child at the centre;
  2. Addressing individual needs;
  3. Building respect and trust;
  4. Balancing autonomy and accountability;
  5. Enabling flexibility and creativity.

And six key areas/interventions, gathered from evidence-based educational research both nationally and internationally, that have collectively proved effective in closing the attainment gap. Providing:

  1. High quality teachers and teaching;
  2. Strong school leadership;
  3. Reflective practice and research;
  4. A network of support and collaboration;
  5. Effective assessment and evaluation;
  6. Early intervention.

However, a reminder and caution:

  1. In addition to having economic aims and advantages, education is a moral activity -- subjective, complex and difficult to measure;
  2. 'The relationship between theory and practice is often both complicated and subtle, and this is especially the case in an area like education, which necessarily involves values as well as facts' (Winch and Gingell, 2008: 212);
  3. These differences have a significant impact on classroom practice, educational debate and research, and public policy;
  4. Closing the attainment gap is therefore by implication equally complex. There is not one 'gap', nor one 'solution' for how gaps can be closed' (Florian (2016:3). The principles and strategies highlighted in this paper collectively provide a 'best bet' to help resolve 'the stubborn issues of deprivation and education's social gaps' (OECD, 2015: 14).

This briefing acknowledges that, while schools have an important role in closing the attainment gap, what they contribute is only one aspect of the multi-dimensional efforts across various organisations, policies and practices.

Download the full briefing 'Closing The Attainment Gap: What Can Schools Do?' here.