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A young child puts soil in small plant pots wit their hands, helped an adult, who sits in the background. They both wear checked shirts.

Keep Scotland Beautiful launches Pocket Garden Design Competition for nursery and school pupils

Posted 16.01.24 by Alice Hinds

Children across Scotland are being encouraged to take inspiration from “nature’s engineers” as Keep Scotland Beautiful launches the annual Pocket Garden Design Competition.

Held in partnership with the Garden for Life Forum (click here for more), the charity is inviting nursery and school pupils aged three to 18 to design a miniature pocket-sized garden, which includes food for people, something reusable, and items that are good for protecting wildlife.

With the competition aiming to help children better understand the link between sustainability and natural engineering, from bee hives to bird nests, the environmental charity says the new theme of “nature’s engineers” will shine a light on the incredible homes that animals build, reinforcing their role in creating whole ecosystems, and highlighting how modern green technology can be inspired by the natural world.

Open for submissions until Friday 23 February 2024, designers of the best entries will be invited to build and grow their garden at school, with the finished project then filmed or photographed for use in an online interactive garden, which will be launched in June. Members of the public will then be able to vote for their favourite garden.

White text on a blue background saying Pocket Garden Design Competition above an image of garden items including a shovel, watering can and a pair of wellies

Eve Keepax, Education and Learning Officer at Keep Scotland Beautiful, said: “We’re pleased to announce our ninth Pocket Garden Design Competition with its new theme. Nature’s engineers are amazing and we’re excited to see how this theme inspires pupils’ imaginations.

“Schools tell us that their pupils love taking part in this competition and it’s a great way to bring learning for sustainability alive. It’s also a great way for pupils to learn about how they can be part of making Scotland a nature positive place whether they’re interested in bees, beavers, birds or buildings.”

Last year, Keep Scotland Beautiful (click here for more) received almost 200 entries to the competition, and 42 finalists saw their designs included in the digital showcase.

Educators considering taking part in this year’s competition are invited to come along to a Meet the Mentors twilight session on 17 January to find out more. Click here to register

For more information and inspiration from past competition entries, click here to visit the Keep Scotland Beautiful website:

Two children sitting at a desk. They each wear a white polo shirt and the child in the foreground is writing with a blue pen.

Innovative high school project praised for exploring new ways to cut the cost of the school day

Posted 05.10.23 by Alice Hinds

Pupils and staff at Braes High School, Falkirk, have been praised by the Scottish Government for finding innovative ways to help cut the cost of the school day for families struggling to make ends meet

Highlighted as part of Challenge Poverty Week (2-8 October 2023), the Cost of the School Day Pupil Group has been working alongside the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) (click here for more) to develop new cost-saving initiatives, including creating ‘Take What You Need’ trolleys filled with essential school items, toiletries and snacks, clothing pop-up shops, a uniform exchange, and a school starter kit backpack for all S1 pupils.

Although state education is free in Scotland, the cost of uniforms, trips, lunches, gym kit and stationery can be a financial burden for many families, particularly those on low incomes, who may struggle to find extra money in the household budget. According to recent research from CPAG, parents across the UK typically need to find at least £39 per week for a child’s secondary school education, and £19 for a primary-aged child – a total of more than £18,345 for children throughout their schooling.

On a visit to Braes High School, the Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth said: “It was hugely encouraging to visit Braes High School during Challenge Poverty Week and to witness the innovative approaches pupils and staff have adopted to deal with the challenges that, sadly, too many of our young people and their families are facing.”

Joining together a network of children and young people, CPAG has been working hard to break down the financial barriers to education, encouraging people to speak more openly about the costs associated with schooling, while also introducing a free to access toolkit, which includes a variety of resources, information and practical ideas for both pupils and parent.

Sara Spencer, Cost of the School Day Project Manager at CPAG in Scotland: “We have been delighted to work with Braes High School and their Cost of the School Day Pupil Group and see all of the meaningful ways young people have involved their school community and designed supports that help to make sure everyone can take part and feel included.

“Cost of the School Day at Braes is an inspiring example of what can happen when young people take the lead on equity in their own schools and a reminder of the impact that a poverty aware school culture and a clear focus on reducing the cost of the school day can have.”

Schools in Falkirk Council have received more than £26 million from the Scottish Government between 2015-16 and 2022-23 to close the poverty related attainment gap, with Braes High School receiving more than £369,000 from the Scottish Government Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) to support its work.

Braes head teacher Iain Livingstone said: “Our young people, staff, parents/carers and the wider community work well together to challenge poverty and support all learners. Pupil Equity Funding has helped us take forward a number of projects and support to help our young people get the most out of their education.

“We enjoyed being able to speak with the Cabinet Secretary, and seeing our young people discuss the many developments and ideas they lead.”

For more information on CPAG and its work on The Cost of the School Day, click here to visit the website:

Four people sitting at a table covered with mobiles and paperwork. They are each using a laptop

Record number of young Scots set on positive career paths as more teenagers enter education, training or employment

Posted 08.09.23 by Alice Hinds

The number of young Scots in education, training or employment has reached record levels, according to new figures, with more than 90% of 16 to 19-year-olds already following on a positive career path

From April 1 2022 to March 31 2023, the Annual Participation Measure (APM) showed the highest rate of participation since 2016, including a rise in young adult employment figures from 17.5% last year to 21.4%.

In the executive summary for the report, which was released by Skills Development Scotland, the increase in the proportion of 16 to 19-year-olds in employment, and a decrease in the number of school pupils, was partly attributed to increased employer demand for workers, as well as the use of HMRC data for the first time.

Of the 215,479 young people represented in the APM, 71.3% were found to be in education and 1.6% in training and development, with participation at highest levels amongst 16 year olds (99.2%) and lowest amongst 19 year olds (88.9%).

Using data from local authorities, colleges, HMRC, the Student Awards Agency Scotland, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Scottish Funding Council, the APM also found the difference between those going into education, employment or training from the 20% most deprived areas and the 20% least deprived areas was down to 8.3%, a one percentage point drop from the previous year.

Just 3.6% of the data set were either unemployed and seeking work, or not in employment and not seeking, representing a 0.4 percentage point decrease.

Commenting on the figures, Graeme Dey MSP, Minister for Higher and Further Education, said: “The Annual Participation Measure demonstrates that young people are making the most of the range of employment and learning opportunities open to them, with a record number now in positive destinations.

“The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have been tough on young people, however they have responded positively to the challenges and have demonstrated great flexibility, ingenuity and resilience. We will continue to work with partners, including the Third Sector to ensure that every young person can access a positive post school destination.”

Sharon McIntyre, Skills Development Scotland’s Head of Career Information, Advice and Guidance Operations, added: “These statistics are very encouraging and recognise all efforts with partners to ensure young people have the support they need to drive forward their future plans at this key stage in their career.”

A small child dressed in school uniform is pictured holding a red backpack. They are wearing a grey pleated skirt, grey socks and black shoes, with only their legs and hands shown in the frame.

New resources launched for teachers, parents and carers to help support attendance as schools return

Posted 17.08.23 by Alice Hinds

Teachers, families, parents and carers can now access a range of free resources to support children and young people to “be inspired, be involved and be in school” as they return to lessons after the summer holidays.

Created by the Forth Valley & West Lothian Regional Improvement Collaborative (RIC), as part of a new back to school campaign, the Interactive Attendance Guide provides research, information and advice on truancy, bullying, avoidance and anxiety, as well as many more common issues relating to school attendance, which experts say has been in decline since the pandemic.

With more than 100,000 Scottish schoolchildren missing at least one day of lessons every fortnight, according to recent figures from the Commission on School Reform (click here for more), it is hoped the new guide will remove barriers and help to improve both attendance and attainment.

The organisation (click here for more), which aims to improve opportunities and outcomes for children living in the Clackmannanshire, Falkirk, Stirling and West Lothian council areas, say the resources aren’t just about books and tests, but ensuring young Scots develop social skills, learn routines and build friendships for life, too.

As part of their mission to improve attendance, the organisation also recently held a “soundbites” competition, which saw eight school children record voiceover adverts at the Forth One radio studios, while a further poster contest for pupils will be launched soon.

For more information and to access the resources, click here to visit the Interactive Attendance Guide landing page:

A person with long blonde hair stands in front of dressmaking mannequins. In front of her on a table, a sign reads National Opportunity Day
Fashion designer Siobhan McKenzie

Glasgow Kelvin College launches new awareness day to celebrate further education opportunities

Posted 03.08.23 by Alice Hinds

With results day approaching, Glasgow Kelvin College has registered an official awareness day to help school leavers discover what’s possible during the clearing process.

Taking place on Wednesday, 9 August, the inaugural National Opportunity Day will see the college open its doors to people of all ages and stages, allowing potential students to explore what courses and qualifications could be open to them after receiving their exam results.

Students across Scotland will receive exam and assessment grades on Tuesday, 8 August, with the clearing process (click here for more) beginning the same day – and Gary Sharp, Student Support Services Manager at Glasgow Kelvin College, says school leavers and career changers alike should keep an open mind and look at all the options available.

“Speaking to prospective students and making them aware of all the opportunities available to them is always the best part of my job, as very few people really understand what’s possible,” he explained. “Results day is clearly an important day for many, but it’s not the end of the road.

“Regardless of whether you’ve just received your exam results, or if you’re 10 years into your career, there are a wide variety of different trades, industries, and professions available.”

National Opportunity Day is backed by award-winning fashion designer Siobhan Mackenzie (click here for more), who studied fashion design and production at the college, and has since designed kilts for the likes of Justin Bieber and Team Scotland for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

A young woman holds up a glass beaker filled with red liquid. In her other hand, she holds a sign that reads National Opportunity Day.

Noma Dube, who studied Applied Science at Glasgow Kelvin College, helps to promote National Opportunity Day

“My skill set learnt in college has crucially prepared me for industry and has given me the knowledge needed to forge a career in my field,” said Mackenzie. “It was hard work but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. I’m very proud to have gone to Glasgow Kelvin College and I hope this will open people’s eyes to the possibilities available at the college.”

Glasgow Kelvin College will hold its annual Open Day as part of National Opportunity Day, with advice and guidance teams on hand to help guide visitors through the wide range of subjects available, including HND, HNC and degree qualifications, access courses and City & Guilds programmes.

Sharp added: “College creates the workforce of the future, embedding practical skills that will stand the test of time. Whatever your passions, skills or interests, there’s a place for you at Kelvin, and an opportunity waiting to be seized.

“We are passionate about supporting students to make ‘non traditional’ choices, such as the excellent career opportunities for women in STEM, and men entering childcare, caring and nursing professions.”

For more information, click here to visit the Glasgow Kelvin College’s website:

School children raise their hands in the classroom with teacher in the background

Families paying hundreds per year on essential education, new research finds

Posted 11.05.23 by Alice Hinds

Parents and caregivers are spending hundreds of pounds every year to send their children to state primary and secondary school, according to new research from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

Families in the UK need to find at least £39.01 per week, per state secondary school child, and £18.69 per primary-age child, totalling more than £1,750 and £860 every year, respectively, on costs including uniforms, learning materials, school trips, packed lunches and transport.

Over 14 years of education – excluding the costs of before and after-school childcare and items like laptops and printers – essential education bills can total up to £18,345.85 per child, which the charity believes shows more support is needed to ensure all children can learn equally.

The research, which was informed by interviews and focus groups, also found school costs vary dramatically depending on location, with low-income families in Scotland paying the least of any other country in the UK.

With the Best Start Grant, universal free school meals for children in P1 to P5, means-tested school clothing grants available nationally, and universal free bus travel for young people under 22 years old, the lowest earning parents in Scotland pay £16.46 for their children’s primary education per week, compared to £30.85 for parents in England, £22.53 for those in Wales, and £20.88 in Northern Ireland.

For some parents of secondary school children, the outlay in Scotland is around a quarter less than for families in all other nations.

However, in the report, CPAG also highlighted that 16% of children in poverty living in Scotland are not eligible for free school meals through national schemes. The Scottish government planned to introduce free school meals for all primary pupils by 2022, but the rollout for P6 and P7 has been delayed until 2024.

Kate Anstey, head of CPAG’s Cost of the School Day programme, which aims to reduce financial barriers that prevent pupils from fully participating in the school, said: “Parents are guilt-stricken when their kids are left out at school but when you can’t cover the electricity bill, how is a new PE kit affordable?

“Our research shows there’s a hefty and often hidden price tag for just the basic essentials needed for school. For struggling families, it can feel more like pay-as-you-go than universal education. It’s on each national government to intervene and ensure that every child has at the very least the essentials required to take part in school and learn. Without that intervention, the very idea of universal education and equal life chances for children is undermined.”

A photo of young people sitting in chairs facing away from the camera and towards a speaker at a whiteboard.

News: Number of school leavers in positive destinations reaches record high

Posted on 1 March, 2023 by Nina Joynson

Latest figures published by Scottish Government show a record number of 2022 school leavers are in work, training or further education, with the proportion in unemployment at its lowest.

Scotland's Chief Statistician has released new statistics on the destinations of 2021-22 school leavers from publicly funded schools.

The statistics on Attainment and Initial Leaver Destinations show that 95.7% of young people who finished school in the last academic year have progressed in their studies or careers within three months of the academic year end.

Positive destinations include Higher and Further Education, employment, training, personal skills development and voluntary work.

The figure is up from 95.5% in the 2020-2021 school year.

School leavers in employment increased to 25.1%, from 22.6%. Those in Higher Education decreased to 41.2%, from 45.1%. This is in line with figures prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The new statistics also show that unemployment amongst school leavers is at its lowest since 2009-10 with 3.9% unemployed three months after leaving school, down from 4.2% in 2020-21.

The gap between school leavers in positive destinations from the most and least deprived areas has also narrowed to 4.4 percentage points – a gap that has reduced by two-thirds since 2009-10.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, said:

“This highlights the achievements of Scotland’s learners – making the transition from school can be a daunting time, so it’s great to see a record number of young people progressing in their studies or careers after leaving school.

“Closing the deprivation gap remains a top priority for us and these statistics show we are continuing to make progress, with the gap between school leavers from the most and least deprived areas in work, training or further study down to a record low.”

A photo of classroom desks and chairs lined up in rows, in an exam hall.

News: Research shows failures of Curriculum for Excellence, especially for pupils in high deprivation areas

Posted 21 February, 2023 by Nina Joynson

New research from the University of Stirling has found that current outcomes for pupils are contrary to the aims of Curriculum for Excellence

Researchers state that Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) has led to a "culture of perfomativity", due to continuous pressure on teachers to raise attainment levels. 

The study found that pupils now face a narrowed choice of subjects at assessment level, while performance and outcomes for higher education also highlight weaknesses in the curriculum.

Dr Marina Shapira, Associate Professor in Sociology and the project’s Principal Investigator, said: 

“The research reveals the pressure on teachers to raise attainment, which can lead to decision-making that is contrary to the purposes and principles of CfE.

This narrow focus on what is assessed for National Qualifications can be argued to be counter-educational, limiting young people’s opportunities to develop the knowledge, skills and attributes that are essential for successful transitions beyond school and for adult life.”

Studying the curriculum 

The research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, took place over three years and has been labelled as the most comprehensive study on Scottish secondary school curricular provision to date.

Researchers analysed data from the Scottish Government, and generated new data from surveys, interviews and focus groups involving school leaders, local authorities, teachers, young people and parents.


One of the original purposes of CfE was to broaden the secondary school curriculum.

This new evidence reveals that S4 students are studying fewer subjects now than before it was introduced, and enrolment in non-compulsory subjects such as Modern Languages and Expressive Arts continues to decline. 

Studying fewer National 5 subjects was associated with a lower pass rate on those qualifications, contrary to expectations that concentrating on fewer subjects would lead to higher achievement.

While curriculum narrowing was evidenced across all socio-demographic factors, students studying in areas of high deprivation were most adversely affected. 

The results suggest that pupils at schools with a more limited curriculum may have poorer choices of positive destinations, such as Higher Education after school.

Students in high deprivation areas were also more likely to postpone National 5 qualifications until S5, and Highers until S6 (rather than S4 and S5, respectively).

Click here to read the full report from the University of Stirling

A close-up of Holyrood's exterior windows, with grey bricks and wooden decoration and protruding stone features

News: Sturgeon centres children and families in resignation speech

Posted 15 February, 2023 by Nina Joynson

Nicola Sturgeon shared government's past and future focus on children, young people and families in speech as she resigns as Scotland's leader.

After more than eight years as First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon resigned this morning in a press conference at Bute House.

The SNP party leader announced her resignation before taking questions from journalists in attendance. 

Children, young people and families were notably central to her speech, both in highlighting the progress made during her tenure and as priorities moving forward.

Stating that she did not plan to leave politics, the First Minister said that “there are many issues I care deeply about and hope to champion in future”, going on to describe two: The Promise, and Scottish independence. 

Sturgeon said:

“One of these is The Promise – the national mission, so close to my heart, to improve the life chances of care experienced young people and ensure that they grow up nurtured and loved.

“My commitment to these young people will be lifelong.”

She also acknowledged changes that the Scottish Government has made since she became First Minister in 2014. Most of the achievements she outlined related to policies for children, young people and families, including:

  • Greater access to university for young people from deprived backgrounds
  • Investments in early learning and childcare
  • Introduction of Scotland's Baby Box
  • Launch of the Scottish Child Payment.

"As the Institute for Fiscal Studies confirmed last week, the poorest families with children in Scotland are now £2000 better off as a result of our policies.”

Journalists in attendance also centred many of their questions on policies linked to young people.

One asked the First Minister whether she had regrets over areas that had may be considered unsuccessful, including the education attainment gap.

Sturgeon responded by noting investment expansion for early years childcare and education and the attainment gap:

“If you're a young person from a deprived background or a background like the one I come from you’ve got a better chance than you’ve ever had before of going to university.”

In the final question, one journalist asked what issues the First Minister would campaign for upon returning to the backbench. Sturgeon replied with two priorities, one being the rights of care experienced young people: 

“I certainly will continue to champion that cause. It’s one that got under my skin and into my heart in a way that few other issues did over my time as First Minister. Beyond that, we’ll see.”

Qualifications and assessments 'must prioritise flexibility, individual choice and continuous progress'

There is too much focus on exams and not enough flexibility when it comes to assessments of learning, say the Inclusion Ambassadors.

With secondary school pupils across the country back after the festive break, the Inclusion Ambassadors have identified pressure and a rigid approach to formal assessment as particular problems.

The Inclusion Ambassadors are a group of secondary school-aged pupils who have a range of additional support needs and attend a variety of school provision. The group was established to ensure the views of young people with additional support needs are heard in discussions about education policy.

Their comments come as a response to Professor Louise Hayward’s current Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessments and in the run-up to many secondary school pupils finding out the results of prelim exams sat before Christmas.

Whilst understanding the importance of having a means to track learning and progress, the Inclusion Ambassadors felt the current approach adds stress and detracts from other important aspects of learning.

Referring to their own experiences, they highlight that an ongoing focus on exams can dominate the school experience, particularly in the senior phase.

They also identify exams as being anxiety-inducing and frustrating, with the level of homework and revision required contributing to stress and 'burnout’.

The group also highlighted the need to recognise success outside the exam system. This was the basis of the Success Looks Different Awards, launched last year, which recognised schools who celebrate success and achievements outwith academia.

Acknowledging and supporting this is particularly important to those pupils who do not sit exams or formal assessments.

Chris Ross, Senior Policy, Projects and Participation Officer, who leads the Inclusion Ambassador work, said:

“The Inclusion Ambassadors are clear that the high-pressure environment of formal exams can have a detrimental effect on their health and wellbeing, as well as overall experience of school in their final years.

“We believe the review needs to find a way to not only reform the structure of the system but also change the narrative and perception of what is valued.”

Based on the consultation and feedback from the Inclusion Ambassadors, Children in Scotland has made four recommendations to the review:

  • The future of Scottish exams and assessment must prioritise flexibility and individual choice for learners
  • Ongoing assessment needs to be prioritised over high stakes exams. This should include opportunities to complete shorter courses that reflect different needs
  • Recognition of wider success and achievements needs to be given parity with formal exams
  • Schools need to find ways to make the exam process less pressured and reduce the negative impact on children and young people’s wellbeing and health.

Children in Scotland has also submitted a response to the Review. It is informed by work with young people across our projects as well as previous evidence about the effectiveness and appropriateness of the current exam and assessment framework.

Professor Louise Hayward’s Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment is currently open for public consultation, with a closing date for responses of 13 January, 2023.

Click here to read the Inclusion Ambassador’s response to the Review

Click here to read Children in Scotland's response to the Review

Consultation response

The Inclusion Ambassador's contribute to Professor Hayward's review

Click here to read

Exam revision

The Independent Review is due to report to the Scottish Government in May.

Click here to read more

About the Inclusion Ambassadors

Find out more about the group, their recent activity and ongoing work

Click here to visit their site

Education Briefing

Presenting evidence and outlining our calls for change

Click here to read

Children in Scotland Manifesto 2021-26

Read our calls for change across 10 themes

Click here to find out more

Education system 'needs cultural reform'

News: Children in Scotland contributes to the National Discussion on Education

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