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Every child and young person in Scotland has the right to education, no matter who they are, regardless of race, gender or disability; if they’re in detention, or if they are a refugee. Socioeconomic inequality can be seen across the whole education system, from early years to higher education and beyond.

Giving children the best start in life is a fundamental part of improving health and reducing health inequalities. The circumstances in which children and young people live and learn contribute to inequalities in educational outcomes.

The challenges faced by children and young people living in low-income families potentially hinder them in making the most of the opportunities offered by the formal education system.

  • Education is a social determinant of health which help us all live in good health.
  • More educated individuals are less likely to suffer from long-term diseases and to report themselves in poor health.
  • The circumstances in which children and young people live and learn contribute to inequalities in educational outcomes.
  • Higher educational attainment and skills are associated with substantially higher earnings and employment prospects for individuals and future generations.

Education and health inequalities

Education is important for wellbeing and can impact on many outcomes in life such as

  • employment
  • future earnings
  • involvement in crime
  • life expectancy.

Learning experiences start before a baby is born, for example sounds and language can be picked up inside the womb.

Learning experiences continue throughout life. Where and when we learn will change over the course of our lives. Formal (i.e. school) and informal education (outside of structured curriculum such as play based activity or attending a club) can provide opportunities that impact on our social circumstances and health.

Educational Attainment

In general, children from more affluent families have better educational outcomes compared to those from poorer families. These outcomes, sometimes referred to as ‘educational attainment’, have an impact across the life course.

Children and young people with better-educated parents are more likely to do well at school than their peers with less-educated parents. We are all determined to improve the life chances of all of our children and this inequality gap is one that can be tackled.

The Scottish Attainment Challenge is about achieving equity in education. This can be achieved by ensuring every child has the same opportunity to succeed, with a particular focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap.

Education and poverty

Poverty unfairly restricts the educational attainment of children and young people from low income families by limiting their access to education and school opportunities.

Whilst our universal education provision for school age children in Scotland is free at point of access, there are often many extra costs for all families. Some of these are hidden costs and can be a barrier to participation for children living under the grip of poverty, the majority of whom live in working households. These costs include

  • Transport to and from school
  • School uniforms
  • School trips
  • Learning materials
  • School clubs
  • Events
  • Homework equipment.

Visit our pages for more information on cost of school day.

Poverty-proofing education policies and practices at local authority and school level helps reduce poverty related stigma and facilitate greater inclusion. This ensures a more equitable foundation for improved educational outcomes for all of our children regardless of their socio-economic circumstances.

Visit our pages on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and child poverty for other information and research linked to education.

National and local action

The Curriculum For Excellence (CfE) is the national framework for education for children between ages 3 – 18.  This framework supports young people and children to gain knowledge, skills and attributes to help them in their learning and for their life.

CfE aims to ensure that children and young people become

  • confident as individuals
  • successful as learners
  • responsible citizens
  • effective contributors to society as a whole.

Health and wellbeing is one of the eight curriculum areas, which aims to ensure children acquire the skills to live healthy, happy lives.  This includes ensuring that pupils are able to make the most of their educational opportunities regardless of their background or financial circumstances and through promotion of attendance at school. It therefore aims to reduce the impact of socioeconomic inequality on educational attainment.

More information on Curriculum for Excellence and Scottish Attainment Challenge can be found on the Education Scotland website. 

Briefings and evidence reviews

We have produced some briefings and evidence reviews around education and wellbeing to inform decisions on taking effective action both at local and national level.

Children’s mental health and wellbeing at transition from primary to secondary school

Moving from primary to secondary education is an important step for children and young people. Despite many children feeling apprehensive about the change, most children have positive experiences.

Children’s social, emotional and educational outcomes can be affected if they have poor experiences of the move. Children with additional support needs are at an increased risk of negative transition outcomes.

For smooth transitions from primary to secondary school, our evidence suggests that it is important to

  • Take a whole-school approach to support children’s relationships with peers, teachers and school staff
  • Prepare primary school pupils and their parents for the practical and academic changes
  • Ensure that there are clear communication channels between primary and secondary schools, and home and school
  • Provide extra tailored support for children with additional support needs.

Teachers' mental health and wellbeing

Teachers’ mental health and wellbeing is important for the social and emotional wellbeing of their pupils. In Scotland, a significant proportion of teaching staff responding to work-related surveys report feeling stressed. High levels of work-related stress are linked with a range of physical and mental health problems. Our evidence suggests that a whole-school approach that combines proactive preventative strategies to alter the workload and/or the work environment with approaches to build teachers’ resilience is likely to be more effective than individual-level approaches alone.

Social circumstances and educational outcomes

You can find out more about how the circumstances in which children and young people are born, grow up and learn, contribute to inequalities in educational outcomes in our briefing paper and evidence summary.

The relationship between a trusted adult and adolescent health and education outcomes

Evidence shows that a supportive bond with a trusted adult during adolescence can help achieve

  • improved health
  • academic performance
  • wider positive developments.

You can find out more about how the relationship between a trusted adult and adolescent health and education outcomes in our briefing paper and evidence summary.

School Violence and Bullying

School violence and bullying can have both short and long-term consequences for children and young people’s health and wellbeing.

We found that whole-school strategies that include all of the following are likely to be more effective than approaches delivered in isolation.

  • Use a range of complementary approaches to prevent, as well as respond to, bullying behaviours.
  • Be tailored to the context of the school.
  • Be integrated into existing systems.

School anti-bullying policies provide the framework for a consistent whole-school approach to prevent and respond to bullying.

The papers below bring together evidence from international reviews and published outcome evaluations of programmes implemented in schools in the UK and Ireland.

Get involved

You can contact the Education Team for more information about our work.