Auditing school education in Scotland – an update

By Antony Clark, Audit Director

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An important part of my role since March has been co-ordinating Audit Scotland’s response to Covid-19 on behalf of the Auditor General and Accounts Commission, while reviewing our work programme to ensure it reflects the pandemic’s implications for public services.

This includes work on school education in Scotland that was due to be published this summer. Given the immediate demands the pandemic placed on the Scottish Government and councils, it was one of several audits that were paused in March.

During this very challenging time, teachers, schools, councils, Education Scotland, the Scottish Government and others have been supporting young people and preparing to get pupils back to school safely.

We know closing schools during the pandemic has both short and potentially long-term consequences for Scotland’s young people, affecting learning outcomes, health and wellbeing, and the poverty-related attainment gap.

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In recognition of Covid-19’s impact on schooling, Audit Scotland will be carrying out more audit work over the autumn and winter with a view to the Auditor General and Accounts Commission publishing a report in early 2021. Timescales will be kept under review given the risk of a second wave of Covid-19 cases and the implications it could have for school education.

Much of the work we’ve already done on the effectiveness of Scotland’s education system is still relevant and will be used to inform the report in 2021.

For example, the Scottish Government wants to raise attainment and close the poverty-related attainment gap. Prior to the pandemic, it was clear that the attainment gap between pupils in the most deprived and least deprived areas remained wide – although it has narrowed slightly at the national level. Some councils have had more success than others in closing the gap, but there is a risk that it could increase due to the impact of Covid-19.

The scope of the new audit work is still to be determined and key stakeholders will help inform it. The work will likely consider educational outcomes, how the system has responded to Covid-19, longer-term implications for young people and the poverty-related attainment gap.

It is also likely to look at how effectively the Scottish Government, councils and their partners have worked together to address pupils’ immediate needs and remedy the damage to pupils’ learning and wellbeing.

We want to help inform school education post-Covid-19, so the report will outline the Auditor General and the Accounts Commission’s views on the key opportunities and challenges facing education in Scotland, as well as our longer-term plans for audit work in this area.

Our approach will be sensitive to the difficult circumstances faced by the education sector since the start of the pandemic, that are likely to continue for some time.

We’ll also be keeping you updated on this blog about other Covid-19 audit work as we continue to plan in this fast-moving environment. You can sign up for blog update alerts below.