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Scotland’s education system “needs structural and cultural reform”

As part of our contribution to the National Discussion on Education, we’ve called for a stronger focus on wellbeing and rights-based approaches, improvements in additional support for learning, and expressed strong support for governance reform.

In a briefing submitted in response to the Scottish Government’s National Discussion on Education, we acknowledge the amount of work currently taking place to reform education in Scotland, including creating new education bodies and a formal review of qualification and assessments.

The briefing outlines key areas we believe require progress, encompassing governance reform, meaningful participation of children and young people, wellbeing and learning, additional support for learning, exams and assessments and anti-racist education.

Based on extensive consultation work with our members and the wider children’s sector, as well as knowledge developed through years of engagement work with children and young people, the briefing recommends action and change for the benefit of current and future learners in Scotland.

Amongst its recommendations, it calls for:

  • New agencies to have a governance structure with an explicit role for parents, teachers, children, young people, school leaders and the third sector
  • Recruitment to leadership roles in national agencies to seek to appoint people from diverse backgrounds and experiences
  • More support to embed participative approaches to engagement in school settings and ensure a focus on relationship-based approaches in education through initial teacher education and continuing professional learning
  • A return to 2010 levels of specialist provision for additional support needs
  • Increased focus on ASL in initial teacher education and through continuous training
  • New / renewed national policy to support training in racial literacy
  • Removal of standardised tests in favour of a more holistic approach to achievement.

Children in Scotland's Chief Executive Jude Turbyne said:

“Scottish education needs a significant structural and cultural change to ensure all learners’ needs are met.

“We know from our extensive engagement work that currently the education system isn’t delivering for learners or teachers.

“We are consistently told about issues around support for learning, and the impact on mental health and wellbeing that the current exam system can result in. Calls for or more open, inclusive and representative governance are also well overdue.

“We have an opportunity, through the National Discussion and other reviews, to fundamentally change the school and learner experience for children and young people in Scotland.

“We are calling for a united effort to recognise these problems and deliver a rights-based, inclusive education system which truly responds to what young people are telling us.”

The briefing builds upon the Learning theme of Children in Scotland’s 2021-26 Manifesto, launched in November 2020.

Alongside feedback from the Inclusion Ambassadors, it was submitted to Scottish Government in response to their consultation Let’s Talk Education: Our National Discussion.

The National Discussion on Education closed for responses on 5 December.

Click here to read the Children in Scotland Education Briefing in full

Click here to read the Inclusion Ambassador’s submission to the National Discussion


Education Briefing

Presenting evidence and outlining our calls for change

Click here to read the Briefing

Let's Talk Education

The Inclusion Ambassadors respond to the National Discussion

Click here to read their submission

Children in Scotland Manifesto 2021-26

Read our calls for change across 10 themes

Click here to find out more

Inclusion Ambassadors

Find out more about the work of the group

Click here to visit their website


The Scottish advice service for additional support for Learning

Click here to find out more

My Rights, My Say

Helping children aged 12-15 with support needs to exercise their rights in school

Click here to find out more

In the run-up to 5 May’s vote, be part of our campaign to ensure there’s investment in children at local level

6 April 2022

We’ve adapted our 2021-26 Manifesto for next month’s council elections and will be campaigning on 13 key calls ahead of polling day, writes Amy Woodhouse

We published Children in Scotland’s Manifesto for 2021-2026 ahead of the Holyrood elections in 2021.

It was produced on the back of considerable engagement – with our staff, board, our children and young people's advisory group, Changing our World, and members. It built on learning and recommendations from across our projects and services and the wider evidence base.

The Manifesto contains actions we believe the Scottish Government should take to improve the lives of children, young people and families across Scotland.

It’s impossible to entirely separate national from local action however, and in thinking forward to the Local Council Elections in May, we were heartened to see how many of the calls could equally relate to actions necessary at local government level.

So instead of producing a brand new local council elections Manifesto this year, we releasing a Children in Scotland Manifesto 2021-2026 – the local council edit!

It contains 13 calls from the original Manifesto, adapted slightly for a local government audience.

The calls range across all 10 themes of our original manifesto, focusing on rights, poverty, early years, learning, health and wellbeing, places and spaces, child protection, the environment, equalities and planning and resources.

They are released at a time of significant uncertainty across Scotland and internationally, with deep concerns about the impact of cost of living increases on families, the ongoing effects of the pandemic on our lives and global concerns about the climate emergency and war.

It is the role of local government to provide stability within local communities at this time, ensuring that the places we live, study, work and play are safe and well run and that services provide for our needs in respectful and inclusive ways, particularly when we require additional help. The size of this task in the current climate is considerable.

Working with communities, including their youngest residents, to make decisions will be essential to ensure that precious budgets are spent well and effectively. Our Manifesto calls highlight those areas Children in Scotland strongly believes would be worthy of that investment of time, focus and money.

Our 13 calls for change at local level

We've adapted calls from our 2021-26 Manifesto for the upcoming council elections

Click here for more

2021-26 Manifesto

Our Manifesto was shaped by engagement with young people, our members and partners across the sector

Click here for more

About the author

Amy Woodhouse is Head of Policy, Projects and Participation

Click here for more

Launch of Young People’s Manifesto helps make political ideas more accessible for all

4 March 2021

Ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections in May, we’ve launched a Children and Young People’s Version of our Manifesto for 2021-26.

Click here to download a copy of the Manifesto

We are committed to upholding child rights and making sure that young people’s views are listened to on issues that affect them.

With young people in Scotland aged 16 and over now eligible to vote, it is more important than ever than political issues and debate are accessible to all.

Launching the new Manifesto, Parisa Shirazi, Children in Scotland’s Policy, Projects and Participation Officer said:

“Children in Scotland’s Manifesto for 2021-26 was developed over 18 months with input from our members, our children and young people’s advisory group, our staff and board.

“As the calls we came up with are intended to make a positive difference to the lives of children and young people, it is hugely important that children and young people themselves are able to read them, understand them and form their views about the different issues raised.

“We are excited to publish this accessible version of our manifesto, which contains exciting calls such as the introduction of a ‘hobby premium’, embedding climate change into the school curriculum and including the voices of those under the age of 16 into Citizens’ Assemblies.”

Anna, a member of Children in Scotland’s Changing our World children and young people’s advisory group said:

"It is really important to have a children and young people-accessible version of the manifesto because children and young people need to be at the forefront of decisions that affect them.

“It is difficult for young people to have an input if there is not access to information that we can understand. Luckily Children in Scotland has added this version which will be really helpful to young people in Scotland."

Children in Scotland launched its Manifesto for the 2021-26 Scottish Parliament in November.

Endorsed by organisations including Play Scotland, Save the Children, Children 1st, YouthLink Scotland and Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights), the Manifesto contains 33 calls, across 10 themes, and outlines key changes in policy and legislation the charity believes the next Scottish Government must make to improve outcomes for children and young people living in Scotland, and their families.

Click here to download our 2021-26 Manifesto

Click here to find out more about Changing our World

For more information, contact Chris Small, Communications Manager, or Parisa Shirazi, Policy, Projects and Participation Officer,



2021-26 Manifesto

Young People's Version

Click to download

2021-26 Manifesto: PDF version

Download a PDF booklet of the Manifesto to read our themes and calls

Click to download

Changing our World

Find out more about the Changing our World children and young people's advisory group

Click here for more

Participation & Engagement Guidelines

We developed guidelines for achieving meaningful participation with young people

Click to download the guidelines

Our project work

We run a wide range of projects, including the Children and Young People's Panel on Europe

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Offering hope in hard times

Children in Scotland’s recently launched manifesto demands action from Scotland’s political parties and calls for a fairer society, with equity at its heart. Amy Woodhouse explains more

In November, Children in Scotland published our manifesto for 2021-26. It sets out our policy priorities for the next five years, identifying cultural, practical and legislative changes we think are necessary to improve the lives of children, young people and families living in Scotland. It also establishes the direction for our own work and reflects our vision that all children in Scotland have an equal chance to flourish. 

In producing each of the 33 calls, we have endeavoured to be aspirational but realistic. Our asks of Scotland’s political parties span a wide range of areas that affect the lives of children, young people and families, and are designed to cover both shorter-term goals and longer-term ambitions. We hope you find here principles, evidence and calls to action you can champion.

We also hope you see yourselves in what we are calling for. We’ve taken our time to develop the Manifesto, engaging with our members at several stages, alongside our staff team, our Board and children and young people’s advisory group Changing our World. We’ve also sought to draw from published evidence to inform our calls and ground them in what we know works. These are all referenced throughout our Manifesto, but represent only a small range of the evidence that’s informed the positions we’ve taken. Crucially, this includes evidence from children, young people and families themselves. 

The Manifesto has been structured into 10 themes covering the priorities that emerged from our consultation process and reflecting our own strategic aims and project findings.

In each section within the Manifesto you’ll also find links to all the relevant Articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, in recognition of how children’s rights are embedded throughout.

We are acutely aware we have published our Manifesto at a very unusual time, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Things are ever-changing and it is difficult to imagine what life in Scotland post- pandemic may look like, or when or how restrictions will be lifted.  With that in mind, it is important that we reflect on the huge challenges and difficulties the pandemic has placed on children, young people, families and the sector as a whole.

But we are also keen to look beyond this. 

We want to think about what we can take from our experiences in 2020 to inform the future shape and structure of Scottish society. With incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic law around the corner, we have a wonderful opportunity to forge a society built on respecting and upholding the rights of all children. That is really something to take hope and strength from.  

We’re very proud and encouraged by the range of organisations who have already offered their support, and continue to do so.  Many thanks for your input, guidance and support. It is a privilege to work in a sector where so many share a common vision for improving the lives of children, young people and families.  

Together we are a force to be reckoned with!  

Amy Woodhouse is Children in Scotland's Head of Policy, Project and Participation




Issue 199: Manifesto special

Access more content from the current edition of Children in Scotland magazine

Read the full magazine

2021-26 Manifesto: PageSuite version

Read our themes and calls on our PageSuite digital platform

Read on PageSuite

2021-26 Manifesto: PDF version

Download a PDF booklet to read our themes and calls

Download the PDF

News: Manifesto for 2021-26 launched today

Read about the launch of our Manifesto 2021-26 for the Scottish Parliament

Read the news item

Blog: Time to choose a different path

Our Chief Executive, Jackie Brock, says now is a chance to redistribute power

Read her blog

Building budgets for children's wellbeing

Dr Trebeck's interim report on this important project links to our Manifesto calls

Read the report

Manifesto launches with calls for wellbeing to be at heart of Scottish budget and children protected from air pollution

13 November 2020

Children in Scotland today launches its Manifesto for the 2021-26 Scottish Parliament, backed by national and local organisations from across the children’s sector.

The Manifesto outlines key changes in policy and legislation the charity believes the next Scottish Government must make to improve outcomes for children and young people living in Scotland, and their families.

Click here to download a copy of the Manifesto

It contains 10 themes and 33 calls, with demands of political parties including:

Drawing on the experience in Finland to introduce a ‘hobby premium’ to ensure that all children and young people in Scotland have free access to a hobby or activity of their choice within or around the school day.

Rights and democracy
Supporting Citizens Assemblies to extend their scope to include the voice and perspectives of under-16s.

Economic planning
Producing a comprehensive Wellbeing Budget by 2022 to ensure that the annual Scottish budget is designed and implemented with the goal of improving the wellbeing of all citizens in Scotland, including children, young people and families.

Improving air quality in locations where children live, learn and play: a school air quality monitoring and education scheme should be introduced to measure air quality, educate children and families about this issue, and reduce children’s exposure to harmful pollutants.

Children in Scotland’s Chief Executive Jackie Brock said:

“Our Manifesto is being launched at the end of a punishing year for so many children and families, but we feel there’s a shared recognition that this is also a time for a radical change in direction for policymaking and legislation.

“We now need a deeper and more wholehearted restructuring of society, based on redistributing power to children, young people and families who’ve never had it before. Taken together the calls in this Manifesto make that case.”

Amy Woodhouse, the charity’s Head of Policy, Projects and Participation, said:

“This Manifesto builds on three examples of hugely significant policy change in Scotland over the past year – the recommendations of the Independent Care Review, the introduction of the Equal Protection Act, and the promise of full incorporation of the UNCRC.

“These are all powerful signs of the effectiveness of collective campaigning to make change for children, and we’ll be taking forward our 2021-26 Manifesto in that spirit.

“In the run-up to the election as we use this Manifesto to influence parties’ policy platforms, we will welcome the support and solidarity of other organisations who may wish to endorse our calls.”

Organisations who have already endorsed the Manifesto in full include Save the Children, Children 1st, YouthLink Scotland, Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights), PEEK (Possibilities for Each and Every Kid), Includem, Play Scotland, Starcatchers, the Health and Social Care Alliance and the Yard.

Organisations that have signed up to specific themes include the Children’s Parliament (Theme 1), Friends of the Earth Scotland (Theme 9), Place2Be (Themes 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8 and 10) and the Royal Caledonian Education Trust (Themes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 10).

The Manifesto was shared yesterday with Children in Scotland’s members, and attendees at the charity’s online annual conference.

It has been developed over the past 18 months with input from Children in Scotland’s members, its children and young people’s advisory group, and its staff and Board.

Media contacts

Chris Small:

Catherine Bromley:

Photography from the Manifesto is available to publish on request. Please contact Chris Small or Catherine Bromley.

2021-26 Manifesto: PDF version

Download a PDF booklet of the Manifesto to read our themes and calls

Click to download the PDF

2021-26 Manifesto: Page Suite version

Read our themes and calls on the Page Suite digital platform with 'flickable' pages

Click to read on Page Suite

2021-26 Manifesto: Young People's Version

A short, child-friendly version and summary of all our themes and calls

Click to download it

Building Budgets for Children’s Wellbeing

Dr Katherine Trebeck's report informs many of our Manifesto themes

Click to download the report

Manifesto Magazine

Contributors from across the sector tell us why they're endorsing our Manifesto in this special edition

Click to read the magazine

A plan for renewal not simply recovery

Amy Woodhouse explains the approach we took to compiling the Manifesto

Click to read Amy's blog

Changing our World

Our young people's advisory group have been key to shaping the Manifesto

Click to find out more

UK Government Manifesto

In December 2019 we launched a children's manifesto for the new UK Government

Click to find out more

Why our Manifesto for 2021-26 must be more about renewal than recovery

Head of Policy, Projects & Participation Amy Woodhouse on how we're developing our Manifesto for the next Scottish Parliament and the challenges of representing the children’s sector in the face of an unknowable future.

It’s mid-May and we should be far on in the writing phase of Children in Scotland’s Manifesto for the Holyrood elections in 2021.

We started thinking ahead to our new Manifesto last summer. It should outline the changes Children in Scotland thinks are necessary for the Scottish Government to make over the timescale of the next parliament to improve outcomes for children and young people living in Scotland, and their families.

It should inform our strategic plan and our policy and influencing priorities over the next five-year period. It should also reflect the priorities of our members and be something they can align themselves to. To say it’s an important document for us is something of an understatement.

We agreed that we wanted to take a really thoughtful and inclusive approach to developing the Manifesto. Over the latter part of 2019 we facilitated discussions with members through our Voices Forum, held a (Lego!) workshop at our annual conference, ran a members’ survey and held a variety of discussions with our children and young people’s advisory group Changing our World, our staff team and our Board.

We analysed our report recommendations and consultation responses from across the last five years and reflected on evidence from other important sources, including what children and young people have said. As a researcher by trade, I’ve been proud of the approach we’ve taken, particularly considering the limited capacity we have had as a team and as an organisation to do this work.

But then COVID-19 hit and we found ourselves in a very different world from the one we started this work in.  It has forced me and colleagues to stop and think: Is our work on the Manifesto up to this point irrelevant now?

Has Scotland changed so irrevocably that we have to think about everything from this point onwards in response to the impact of the coronavirus?

This truth is that it’s very difficult to say at this point. We know many families have faced considerable hardship through the lockdown period, and that as a country, we’ll experience the financial impact of this crisis for many years to come.

We also know that other previous priorities, such as the climate crisis or Brexit are still pressing but have fallen down the agenda as we respond to the real and immediate needs directly in front of us.

This Manifesto needs to look forward to a future that feels unknowable.

But, to badly paraphrase Joe Strummer, if the future is unknowable, it is also unwritten, and therefore open to the potential for positive change.

In that respect, while the current crisis we find ourselves in is unprecedented, our approach to the Manifesto remains the same. We think about the future we want for children and young people, and agree the steps that are necessary to get us there, based on the evidence of what we know works and what children and young people say themselves.

Rights, poverty, health and wellbeing, learning, equalities – COVID 19 has shone a different light on all these issues, and in many cases has exacerbated existing problems further, by increasing inequalities and challenges we face as a society. But the big issues remain largely the same – it’s the level of the problem that has increased.

This is why many people are talking renewal and not recovery, when conceptualising a post-crisis Scotland.

We don’t want to go back to where we were before, because in many ways it really wasn’t good enough.

The important thing is how we build back better.

It’s mid-May, and yes, we are a bit behind schedule on our Manifesto writing. But we’re persevering and will be reaching out to members again soon to help us shape the final calls.

We’re able to continue like this because our work builds on what we and the wider children’s sector have long known and believed is necessary to improve the lives of children and young people. It will need to reflect our current times but it should be a Manifesto for an ambitious future and not simply a crisis response.

Our next Voices Forum is scheduled as a video meeting on the morning of Thursday 25 June. Please get in touch if you are a Children in Scotland member and would like to take part.

Contact Amy at



Policy, Projects & Participation (PPP)

Amy is head of Children in Scotland's PPP department

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Members' forums

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Strengthening the children's sector

Read a recent blog from Karin, who leads our Learning & Events team

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Manifesto for the new UK Government

In December 2019 we published calls alongside 19 partner organisations

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Confronting the crisis

Jacqueline Cassidy discusses the third sector response to Covid-19

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Children in Scotland calls become pledges in party manifestos

Calls from Children in Scotland to promote and strengthen the rights and experiences of children and young people are supported across the local election manifestos of Scotland’s main political parties.

Included in at least one party manifesto are pledges to:

  • prioritise early learning and childcare
  • ensure all families receive the benefits and support they are entitled to
  • provide adequate resource for additional support for learning
  • put children and young people at the heart of decision-making
  • make better use of school estate facilities to serve community needs; and
  • protect mental health services are included in at least one party manifesto.

These are calls we sent to all local election candidates last month.

The only call not reflected in at least one party manifesto is a commitment to provide better support for children and young people who have experienced trauma.

Amy Woodhouse, Head of Policy at Children in Scotland, said:

“We are pleased to see focus across the political spectrum on the key areas of early years and childcare, education, health and social care, housing, and local devolution.

“We will work hard to ensure that the specific issue of providing better support for children and young people who have experienced trauma is brought onto local authorities’ agendas following the election.”

Comment and analysis

Local Election Manifestos: Children in Scotland Comment and Analysis

Read more


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