Author Archives: John Swinney MSP

Letter to Primary 1 parents⤴

from @ Engage for Education

There has been some positive debate in recent weeks on the Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSA), particularly for primary 1 children.

I would like to explain what the assessments are for, and importantly what they are not. 

Like you and everyone at your school,  I want your child to get the best start in life and every help they might need to achieve their full potential.   I am a parent myself and I want to ensure that my son’s teachers have all the information they need to help him learn and progress.   Teachers use a range of evidence to build up a picture of every child’s progress.  The SNSA is one source of evidence on how your child is doing at school and what further help they might need.

Play is a vital part of the learning experience in P1. Play helps your child to explore, learn and develop. In P1 your child is learning to read, write and count. The P1 assessments relate directly to this experience. Your child will take two short assessments across literacy and numeracy, asking them some questions relevant to the level they are expected to achieve in P1 as part of Curriculum for Excellence.  The questions are multiple choice and audio is available as part of the assessment. 

Experience tells us that on average your child should spend less than one hour on these assessments over the whole school year.  I am listening to feedback and have agreed some enhancements to the assessments for this year, to provide extra reassurance to you and, most importantly, to enhance the experience of your child.   

The assessments should be delivered as part of everyday learning and teaching.  They are absolutely not a ‘test’ – and should not feel like one.  There is no pass or fail and there is no time limit.  Each child can work at their own pace and there is no requirement for the assessment to be completed in one sitting.  The arrangements for the assessment, including when and how it is taken, are at the discretion of the teacher and the needs of your child.

The results are not published. Following the assessment, your child’s teacher will be able to view a report to see how your child is progressing and consider the next steps in learning.  The literacy report will set out which of the essential tools for reading your child has developed and what they need to learn next in order to become a good reader.  Your child’s teacher should provide you with a rounded picture of how your child is progressing, drawing on all the available evidence, including the SNSA, classwork and observation.      

Crucially, this model of assessment is not new. The majority of local authorities have been carrying out a form of standardised assessment in P1 for many years.  The SNSA for the first time brings consistency across Scotland.

You can talk to your child’s school at any time about the SNSA or any other aspect of their education. Further information is also available at:

John Swinney,

Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills


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Results day⤴

from @ Engage for Education

For more than 135,000 young people and their families today is the most anticipated day of the summer as they receive their SQA results.

I had the opportunity to meet just a few of them during a visit to Firrhill High School in Edinburgh this morning and again at a special SQA celebration for care experienced young people in Glasgow.

They should all be proud of the hard work and determination that has gone into preparing for today, as should all our young people receiving results right across the country.

It is also important to remember that, whatever the outcome, today is only the beginning of an exciting and sometimes unpredictable journey to the career of your choice.

So what do the results tell us?

Overall, Higher passes are stable, despite a continuing fall in the number of young people on the school roll, while the number of Advanced Highers being taken continues to grow. This is the first year where unit assessments have been removed from the National 5, and the overall pass rate remains high at 77.4%. The number of awards of skills-based qualifications increased to over 50,300 this year, more than double the number in 2012.

That reinforces to me, yet again, that we have fantastic young people led by dedicated teachers and lecturers delivering first class education in our schools and colleges every day. And that is backed by a robust, credible assessment system. I would like to offer my congratulations to everyone involved.

Today we also welcomed figures that show a record number of students from Scotland’s most disadvantaged areas gained a place at university – the third consecutive annual rise.

The poverty related attainment gap – the cycle of poverty that passes from one generation to the next – is closing. Every child growing up in Scotland, regardless of their background, should have an equal chance to succeed.

I am delighted we are making steady, sustained progress on ensuring students from the most deprived areas of Scotland are going on to higher education.

At the same time, the total number of Scottish students from all backgrounds getting a place at a Scottish university has hit a new record.

We have more people from Scotland going to university than ever before, more modern apprenticeship places than ever before, and our colleges are delivering more courses with qualifications and awards that help get people jobs than ever before.

I know there is much more to do but today is the perfect time to reflect on the progress we have made within Scottish education to date and, most importantly, to celebrate the success of each and every one of our young people.

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Adverse Childhood Experiences⤴

from @ Engage for Education

Today Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, John Swinney, will host an event  bringing together Government Ministers and key stakeholders with an interest in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

More than 80 experts working across Scotland in all of the main sectors affected by ACEs will take part in discussions aimed at understanding what is already working well, highlighting where further action is needed and exploring opportunities for collaboration to drive progress.

Read his blog post  below about what ACEs are, why they are important and what we are doing in Scotland to tackle them.

What happens to us as children can have a huge impact on the rest of our lives.

When young people have adverse or traumatic experiences growing up this impacts on their emotional and physical development, their capacity to learn, and thrive.


The experiences we have during our childhood shape who we are and how we interact with the world, especially if those experiences are harmful, and without the right support the effects can last a lifetime.


The first adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) study was done over 20 years ago in the US but recently this long-standing evidence base has been gaining increasing international interest. The impacts of ACEs on children, adults, services and wider society are clear to see.


A recent study in Wales showed that those who had experienced ACEs were more likely to develop heart disease and type 2 diabetes, have high-risk drinking, smoking or drug use and were more likely to have been in prison.


We are determined to make Scotland the best place for children to grow up and we need to make sure we’re doing all we can to prevent adverse childhood experiences occurring in the first place, and where they do happen, to reduce their negative impact.


By making sure children and adults get the right support, at the right time, we can support their resilience and prevent a cycle of adversity being passed down from generation to generation.


Adverse Childhood Experiences are not a new thing, but the way we tackle them in Scotland is changing.


Today I will be joined by half the Scottish Cabinet at an event I am hosting to hear from people working across the main sectors affected by ACEs.


It marks the start of the journey to create a united approach across the whole of Scotland to ensure we are doing all we can to prevent ACEs and respond to them in the most effective way when they do happen.


I am looking forward to honest and direct conversations with experts from across the board to find out what is already working well in preventing and responding to ACEs, but also where we can improve.


Some of these conversations might be difficult but one thing we can all agree on is that the end result, improving the life chances of our children and young people who have had the toughest start in life, is the most important thing we can do.

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One year on – what’s happened since the first annual Cabinet meeting with children & young people?⤴

from @ Engage for Education

I am delighted to publish our progress report on the actions agreed at our first annual Cabinet meeting with children and young people, which took place on 28 February 2017 at Bute House.

Representatives from the Children’s Parliament and Scottish Youth Parliament attended this meeting and raised issues that were important to them.

A short film, co-produced by the children, highlighted school and teachers, feeling safe in the community, bullying, and what children need as areas to be discussed.

On the young people’s agenda were “Lead the Way” (Scottish Youth Parliament  manifesto), children and young people’s rights, “Speak Your Mind” campaign (on mental health), and the future of Scotland’s relationship with Europe.

At the end of the meeting, Cabinet members and children and young people collectively agreed actions for the year ahead. These actions have been taken forward by relevant Scottish Government policy teams over the past year. The report sets out our progress on these actions. We have also developed a children and young people’s summary.

The purpose of the annual meeting of Cabinet members and children and young people is to support the development of a more coordinated, systematic and sustainable approach to engaging with children and young people, enabling them to lead discussions by raising issues that matter to them and to inform the government’s agenda over the coming year.

Agreed actions from the previous event will be reviewed at the meeting of Cabinet Ministers with children and young people the following year.  This demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that children and young people are at the heart of decisions that affect them,  as set out in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

We are committed to meaningfully and credibly engaging with children and young people at a national level and ensuring they are at the heart of decisions which affect them, with the aim of improving policy development and implementation.

Access the reports here:

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First meeting of new Scottish Education Council⤴

from @ Engage for Education

Today I chaired the first ever Scottish Education Council, a new body established to the oversee the work we are doing to improve education in Scotland.

It brings together young people, education leaders and representatives from local authorities and the teaching profession, with a common national purpose of improving education in Scotland. I hope that it will be a forum for frank and open discussion about what is working in education and where improvement is required. I am in no doubt that members of the council will be able to provide us all with their expert advice and guidance and honest opinions and views, which will enable the council to oversee progress on the implementation and direction of improvement priorities.

Strong leadership and working together are vital to driving improvement and ensuring that all children and young people are able to reach their potential. As we work towards an education system that is led by teachers and schools, it is essential that we have the right national oversight and support in place. I am keen that this council works closely with local government and key stakeholders, including the new Regional Improvement Collaboratives, reflecting the significant role local partners play in the delivery of system-wide improvement.

Improving education is not one person’s responsibility, it is in all of our interests to get this right. I am confident that these new arrangements will ensure a shared responsibility and improve transparency of decision-making while driving our relentless focus on improvement. Rather than just talking about raising standards in education, the new council will deliver them.

Deputy First Minister with the young people representatives ahead of the first meeting of the new council











Membership of the new Scottish Education Council:

  • Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Chair)
  • Stephen McCabe, COSLA Children and Young People spokesperson
  • Five young people representatives on the council, with two attending each meeting. They will be supported by Young Scot and their names are: Josh Traynor, Cahal Menzies, Rowan Watkins, Olivia Stobart and Amelia Szypczynska
  • Janet Brown, Scottish Qualifications Authority Chief Executive
  • Larry Flanagan, General Secretary, The Educational Institute of Scotland
  • Graeme Logan, interim HM Chief Inspector of Education and Chief Education Adviser
  • Ken Muir, Chief Executive, General Teaching Council for Scotland
  • Joanna Murphy, Chair, National Parent Forum of Scotland
  • Morag Redford, Chair of the Scottish Council of Deans of Education
  • Fiona Robertson, Scottish Government, Director for Learning
  • Maureen McKenna, President of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)
  • Jim Thewliss, General Secretary, School Leaders Scotland
  • Bernadette Malone, Chief Executive, Perth and Kinross Council
  • Sheena Devlin, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, Tayside Collaborative
  • Gayle Gorman, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, The Northern Alliance
  • Douglas Hutchison, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, South West Collaborative
  • Carrie Lindsay, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, South East Alliance
  • Robert Naylor, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, Forth Valley and West Lothian Collaborative
  • Mhairi Shaw, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, The West Partnership

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Respect for All anti-bullying guidance launches⤴

from @ Engage for Education

Anti-Bullying Week provides us with the opportunity to send a clear and positive message that bullying of any kind, whether it takes place face to face or online, is totally unacceptable and when it happens, we all have a responsibility to address it.

Today we are launching our refreshed anti-bullying guidance for everyone who works with children and young people – Respect for All: the National Approach to Anti-Bullying for Scotland’s Children and Young People. It’s every child’s right not to be bullied so we need to intervene early, and deal with bullying quickly, and effectively.

The main purpose of the refreshed guidance is to support all adults working with children and young people to develop environments where bullying cannot thrive. Environments that promote respect, celebrate difference and promote positive relationships and behaviour are less likely to see bullying as acceptable behaviour.

I want all children and young people to be included fully in their learning and to learn tolerance, promote respect and celebrate difference. Bullying of any kind must be challenged whenever and wherever it occurs. It should never be seen as a typical part of growing up.

‘Respect for All’ builds on the positive work which has already taken place in Scotland to address bullying and provides a framework for all adults working with children and young people.

It reflects Getting it Right for Every Child and recognises that bullying impacts on wellbeing and attainment. In order to thrive and achieve their full potential, children and young people need schools to be safe, nurturing, respectful and free from fear, abuse and discrimination.

In the seven years since our first National Approach to Anti-Bullying was published, Scotland has seen huge legislative and policy change, such as the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, Education (Scotland) Act 2016, and the UK Government Equality Act 2010, that have put greater focus on the health and wellbeing of children and young people.

We now understand more about how an individual’s confidence, resilience, participation and attainment can be affected by bullying. In particular, ‘Respect for All’ is clear about the impact of prejudice-based bullying – including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying – and includes guidance to help schools, youth and sports organisations respond appropriately.

Support and training

Additional supporting guidance for schools and local authorities on recording and monitoring bullying incidents will be developed and issued in the coming months. This will streamline the process and ensure uniformity in recording and monitoring by schools and local authorities.

To support the roll out of this guidance, joint training events will be held across Scotland in the New Year led by the Scottish Government, Education Scotland and respectme,our national anti-bullying service in the delivery of anti-bullying work across Scotland.

We will continue to listen to the views of our teachers, support workers, parents, carers, children and young people to ensure that the approach in ‘Respect for All’ is working and is making a difference to the lives of children and young people in Scotland.

Director of respectme Katie Rafferty said:

“We are delighted to support the launch and implementation of Respect for All and we look forward to working with partners across Scotland to help deliver a consistent and cohesive approach to anti-bullying.

“We welcomed the opportunity to work collaboratively with the Scottish Government and others to develop this national guidance – reflecting our learning from ten years of anti-bullying work and the experiences of children and young people and the adults who play a role in their lives.

“respectme will continue to offer free training, policy support and resources that are designed to enable adults to prevent and respond to bullying effectively, and help children and young people realise their right to live free from bullying and harassment.”

You can download Respect for All: The National Approach to Anti-Bullying for Scotland’s Children and Young People here:

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Children and Young People’s Cabinet Meeting⤴

from @ Engage for Education

Last week I chaired our first annual meeting of Cabinet Ministers with children and young people at Bute House.

Four Members of the Children’s Parliament (MCPs) and ten Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYPs) spoke to us about the issues that are important to children and young people in Scotland today.

The children and young people all spoke eloquently and compassionately about their views on key issues. I was extremely impressed and inspired by their enthusiasm and commitment and it gives me great confidence in the future of Scotland.

The MCPs showed an excellent film that they had co-produced, which highlighted four key issues for children – school and teachers; feeling safe in the community; bullying; and what children need.

The MSYPs then presented the key issues for young people, which were “Lead the Way” (SYP manifesto); Children and young people’s rights in Scotland; “Speak Your Mind” campaign on mental health; and the future of Scotland’s relationship with Europe.


Cabinet Ministers then took part in a discussion with the children and young people around the issues they had raised. We agreed to hold this event annually and also recognised the importance of involving children and young people on an ongoing basis in policy development. We also acknowledged the importance of listening to and respecting children and young people.


A number of specific issues were also raised and we will explore how best to take these forward.


This government is committed to meaningfully and credibly engaging with children and young people at a national level and ensuring they are at the heart of decisions which affect them, with the aim of improving policy development and implementation.


It is important that we take the time to listen to children and young people and give them the opportunity to participate in, and influence, local and national activities and decisions.


Events like this support the development of a more coordinated, systematic and sustainable approach to engaging with children and young people and to inform the government’s agenda over the coming year.

It builds on previous Ministerial engagement with children and young people, such as the children and young people’s regional summits in 2015, which contributed to the Year of Young People 2018 agenda and Fairer Scotland.


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DFM responds to EIS decision to suspend industrial action in schools⤴

from @ Engage for Education

This is welcome news from the EIS and I am delighted that they have confirmed suspending a programme of industrial action in relation to teacher workload.

Over the past few months, I have listened carefully to what teachers, parents, young people and others have had to say on workload, and have responded positively with a range of actions to help reduce workload pressures.

As part of this, I have now announced the removal of mandatory unit assessments from National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses. This will significantly reduce the workload for our teachers, giving them more time to focus on what is most important – teaching our young people – while maintaining the core principles of Curriculum for Excellence.

I have taken swift action in response to feedback from teachers and others, to de-clutter the curriculum guidance and review the workload demands placed on teachers by local authorities. The new measures around the qualifications, ratified by the CfE Management Board yesterday, will build on this work, reducing workload and over assessment for teachers and learners.

I am glad that the EIS have recognised these efforts and I hope that together we can move forward to ensure that teachers in Scotland have more time to teach, and contribute to closing the attainment gap.

Devolution of responsibility to schools⤴

from @ Engage for Education

It is the defining mission of this Government to deliver excellence and equity across Scottish education.

I have been tasked by the First Minister to ensure that every child in Scotland – no matter where they are from or how well off their family is – has the same opportunities and an equal chance to succeed.

In the 118 days since I became Education Secretary I have made it a firm priority to get out into Scotland’s schools to hear directly from our teachers and practitioners about what it’s like to teach in Scotland’s classroom.

I have been deeply impressed by the excellent work I have seen. But I have also heard about the barriers and challenges getting in the way of delivering great education.

In response to the issues raised, I have moved decisively to free teachers up to teach by removing unnecessary bureaucracy and workload.

I have provided a definitive statement of priorities for Scotland’s schools, setting out clearly and concisely what teachers should and shouldn’t be focusing on.

These actions will empower teachers to spend their time teaching and giving our children the best possible opportunities to learn.

The next step is to ask ourselves how school education should be run?

Today I set out this Government’s vision for the most critically important part of our early years and school education system – our teachers, practitioners and their relationship with our children.

The presumption at the heart of the governance review I launched today, is that decisions about our children’s learning should be taken  as close to our children as possible – at school level.

Our teachers and early years workers have the expertise and are best placed, to make decisions about children’s learning and school life – supported by parents and the local community.

In my statement to Parliament today I also made clear that this Government will never go down the divisive academy model, and we will not have selection or Grammar Schools in Scotland.

Evidence shows collaboration at every level of education builds capacity and delivers the best outcomes for children and young people. So by working together we can achieve more.

Some of our schools are already working collaboratively through the development of school clusters. Through the governance review I want to hear how this type of collaboration and others can be encouraged.

Of course, some of the support our schools need is best delivered at a local or a regional level.  Many of these services are currently delivered by local authorities, and local authorities will continue to exercise democratic control over Scottish education at a local level.

But we must question the support provided at every level of our education system to ensure it delivers what our teachers, and our children, need.

We need a system of school governance which is clear to parents, teachers,  communities and everyone. The governance review is our opportunity to make this a reality.

I plan to spend a significant amount of time over the next three months talking and listening to teachers, children and young people and those with a stake in Scottish education, about how our education system is run.

I want to hear views from across every part of Scotland – from children and young people, from parents, teachers, practitioners and the wider community.

I encourage you to attend one of our engagement events or submit your views in writing or through our social media channels. Details of how you can engage with the review are available at

We are ready to take the next steps in making Scotland’s school education world-class. I invite you to join us.