Relationship Between Inclusion, Achievement and Attainment in Scottish Education

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18th May 2020 Education Reference this

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Critically analyse the relationship between inclusion, achievement and attainment in Scottish education

This paper intends to demonstrate the importance of inclusion, achievement and attainment in the modern Scottish Education system. Furthermore, it will be argued that the three factors are interlinked and only development of all three will translate to the higher educational standards, which is the intended goal of the Scottish Government. The relationships will be explored by considering the legislation provided to schools by the Scottish Government and also in academic research. The paper will identify the positive aspects of each of these factors but will also discuss the negatives and issues of debate within each.

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Inclusion is a concept that has increasingly been used in Government policy, particularly the development of young people. The Scottish Government states that ‘an inclusive approach which recognises diversity and holds the ambition that all children and young people are enabled to achieve to their fullest potential is the cornerstone to achieve equity and excellence in education for all of our children and young people’  (Scottish Government, 2019, p3). However, there is no undisputed definition of inclusion and how it is achieved in the educational setting (Polat, 2011, p51). Booth states that ‘inclusion is about increasing participation in, and reducing exclusion from, the curricula, cultures and communities of local education settings.  It is about developing education settings so that they are responsive to diversity in a way that values all students and staff equally’ (Booth, 2005, page 152). Polat concurs with Booth’s view of value of all, – ‘Inclusion is inclusion of all regardless of race, ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation, language, socio-economic status, and any other aspect of an individual’s identity that might be perceived as different’ (Polat, 2011, p51).

There has been a distinct shift in the understanding of inclusion, as Booth explains, it is not simply about getting pupils with ‘special needs’ to be included, but rather efforts aimed at allowing each and every child to achieve to the best of their potential (Booth, 2005, p153). The main issues regarding inclusive practice lie in the delivery and implementation of the practice. On a global scale, inclusion has been a priority in legislation and guidance. For example, Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations stated that inclusion within education is a human right (United Nations, 1948, Article 26). At a national level inclusion has been a reinforced focus of Scottish legislation (Riddell, 2009, p289). In order to accomplish this, there has been effort to redistribute certain measures in order to mitigate negative impacts of social background on educational success (Ibid). There has been recurrent policy effort that directly and indirectly concerns inclusivity in education.

Despite the significant effort to introduce inclusion policy and guidance documents from the Scottish Government, there is still a great deal of confusion regarding inclusive practice. Florian and Black-Hawkins state that ‘inclusive practice also varies widely: from the very specific… to a very broad notion of responding to diversity among learners without recourse to categorisation’ (2011, p314). The whole concept is very flexible, and thus is difficult to know if a professional is achieving good inclusive practice. Although the Scottish Education Secretary John Swinney states that ‘our legislative and policy commitments are amongst the most extensive in the world’ (John Swinney, Scottish Government, 2018, p3). Booth states that real development regarding inclusion is actually ‘severely impeded by government policy. Despite the large number of policies related to inclusion and equality issues, they are fragmented and contradictory’ (Booth, 2005, p154).

The definition of achievement has changed over time reflecting attitudes of society (Cole, 1990, p2).  Previous understanding of achievement had more to do with examination attainment and the comparison of children against their peers. There has been a more recent shift towards understanding individual achievements. Conceptions of achievement need to be improved to have a positive impact on research and practice’ (Ibid). Winstanley states that ‘the concept of ‘achievement’ is less straightforward than it might first appear. Of course, we can measure it through examination and test results, but… these results do not give us the whole picture of a child’s development and learning. It is vital to note that achievement and ability can be easily confused’ (Winstanley., 2019, p360). Present conceptions of educational achievement as basic skills and facts tend to focus attention on the short-term goals (Cole, 1990, page 6). This short-term intake of information and further qualifications gain is of course important as a means to measure academic achievement in school. However, this does not provide the long-term goals which will create rounded adults (Ibid).

Furthermore, it is important to acknowledge that consideration of achievement needs to take account of promoting an environment which best supports students in being able to achieve. ‘A supportive school culture promotes teachers and school leaders with high aspirations for all pupils and facilitates significant levels of engagement. This in turn helps to maximise achievement for all’ (Winstanley, 2019, p358). For Winstanley, this positive ethos must extend beyond the walls of the school. The parents/carers of the young people must also be heavily involved in the education of the young person in order for them to achieve their potential (Ibid).

There is also a great emphasis now on the importance of achievements which are not only academic. These extra-curricular achievements are viewed as being fundamental for the development of young people. Curriculum for Excellence remarks that ‘personal achievement provides children and young people with a sense of satisfaction and helps to build motivation, resilience and confidence (Scottish Government, 2008).

This improvement in academic attainment through external achievement can be demonstrated very clearly in the participation in extra-curricular activities. By allowing those who may not usually be able to participate in after school clubs, voluntary organisations or other positive areas academic performance improves. Morris’ research reveals that increased time in organised activities positively affects academic achievement’ (2012, p287). Furthermore, this positive effect is much greater in disadvantaged young people, ‘pointing to the power of participation to help close the social class achievement gap’ (Ibid).

As has been touched on previously in this paper, the more traditional view of achievement is changing. There is a much richer emphasis now on the want for all children to achieve and be prepared for the world of work. As Bill Maxwell states, ‘these are key aspects of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) and they are strong threads running throughout the new quality indicator framework’ (2015). CfE, undoubtably has made significant strides in creating a more child focused ethos. Further efforts such as the How Good is Our School 4 (Scottish Government, 2015) supports that success is measured in attainment across all areas of the curriculum and through the school’s ability to demonstrate learners’ achievements in relation to skills and attributes – (Scottish Government, 2015, p50). These policy documents strengthen the links between achievement and attainment; not only in academic success.

Similarly, attainment also is difficult to clearly define. There are many elements of attainment which can arguably overlap with achievement. One of the clearer definitions actually comes from a school website. The School states that attainment refers to ‘whether a pupil is working ‘at the expected level’ or ‘working at greater depth’ (Primary School, 2019). Attainment, as the school has defined it, relates to pupils working at the ‘expected level.’ There are set guides for the progress of children, especially now that the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is fully rolled out across Scotland (Scottish Government, 2008). Each age group has specific levels within the curriculum that children should be working. There are various reasons which can contribute to why young people are not working to intended levels, resulting in differing attainment levels. For example, ‘there is clear evidence of a persistent gap in attainment between pupils from the richest and poorest households in Scotland… the poverty attainment gap has a direct impact on school-leaver destinations (Sosu and Ellis, 2014, p3). This of course is a major issue, especially considering the fact that Scotland’s policy has tended to have strong recognition of the need to improve outcomes for those most disadvantaged (McCluskey, 2017, p26). This has resulted in the Scottish Government creating policy and resources which aim to attempt to close the attainment gap.

Legislation for attainment in Scotland promotes ‘joint services, joint working and flexibility, all of which are helpful to pupils from economically deprived homes’ (Sosu and Ellis, 2014, p3). There are a number of initiatives that help address this issue. For example, the creation of the ‘National Improvement Framework’ (NIF) (Scottish Government 2016) which alongside the CfE, (Scottish Government, 2008) aims to raise attainment, thus closing the poverty attainment gap. In addition, there has also been the introduction of the Scottish Attainment Challenge (Scottish Government, 2015). The Challenge ‘focuses on improvement activity in literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing.’ (Scottish Government, 2015) by providing funding which targets specific areas of Scotland with the highest levels of deprivation. Part of this allocated money is Pupil Equity Funding (PEF), which is allocated to individual schools, allowing them to make individual decisions about actions which will help their individual school close their poverty related attainment gap. (Scottish Government, 2015). These ‘Education policies and frameworks give considerable freedom for professionals to make localised decisions, and therefore have the potential to address the achievement gap associated with poverty’ (Sosu and Ellis, 2014, p3).

Although these initiatives are aimed at closing the gap, there remains substantial issues in implementation which are not easily tackled. There is a lack of understanding or consensus as to what are successful interventions and strategies for raising attainment among children from more deprived backgrounds. McCluskey theorises that although school intervention is important ‘the challenges are great and it is clear that education alone cannot ameliorate the impact of poverty (McCluskey, 2017, p27). Furthermore, McCluskey states that many parents of children have the ability to purchase a higher level of attainment or ‘purchase power’, this can come in the form of tutors, extra-curricular activities, resources, technologies etc. Accordingly, no matter how much help comes from the school, the balance will always be against children from deprived backgrounds (Ibid).

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 There are many implications that have evolved directly because of the changing understanding of inclusion, achievement and attainment. As has been stated previously, there has been a wealth of policy and documentation which has been adopted across the country. These changes have had their own positives and negatives. There is great emphasis on creating a safe and child centred space in schools because of the creation of the CfE (Scottish Government, 2008), the Get It Right For Every Child Framework (Scottish Government, 2008) and there is also a framework to help schools work towards their goals in a national and local context that can be found in How Good is Our School 4 (Scottish Government, 2015) and NIF (Scottish Government, 2019).

However, there are many stumbling blocks which stem from these changes. More accountability is being thrust onto individual schools in order to adapt measures to their own environment (Black-Hawkins, 2010, p37). Although, arguably this can be seen as a good way to tailor measures to different environments, it can also cause great stress to teachers, especially as there is continuing concern regarding a lack of training. Additionally, although there are policies in place such as PEF, which do provide funding to schools, this is constrained was diluted by wider budgetary and resourcing concerns. The funding which is available will only be able to produce a few of the measures necessary in the most deprived areas.

Furthermore, although there has been a shift in the perception of only high qualification results being considered as success, this perception has not changed enough and is furthered by the government still providing tables of schools achieving the best grades and through national statistics. This can result in teachers resisting inclusive practices ‘on the grounds that doing so has a negative effect on the academic achievement of other students and will lower overall standards (Black-Hawkins, 2010, p21).

Overall, there has been huge steps in the educational setting to create an ideal which although is still very far away is one which is becoming more common place. These changes to legislation, efforts in research and evolution of teaching practice is significantly challenging the way we view inclusion, achievement and attainment. However, there is still a very long way to go in order to make schools in Scotland completely inclusive spaces where all achievement is valued, and attainment is relevant to each child. It is also important to note that no matter what funding and effort is provided in schools these issues cannot be fully resolved without a significant change out width the educational setting.




Policy documents


  • SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT., (2015). How Good Is Our School? 4th Edition. Livingston: Education Scotland.  
  • SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT., (2019). National Improvement Framework (NIF). Livingston: Edinburgh.
  • SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT., (2008). Curriculum for Excellence. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.
  • SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT., (2008). A Guide to Getting It Right for Every Child. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.
  • SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT., (2015) Scottish Attainment challenge. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.
  • SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT., (2019) Pupil Equity Funding (PEF). Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

         UNITED NATIONS., (1948) Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Paris: United Nations.

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