Enhanced data collection for educational improvement

The Royal Society of Edinburgh’s (RSE) Education Committee welcomes Scottish Government’s consultation on enhanced data collection for educational improvement, following on from relevant recommendations made by both the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Audit Scotland in their respective publications. The RSE supports the need for more systematic, integrated, and robust data gathering which adequately captures the full breadth of learning and attainment, from formal qualifications to more qualitative markers of personal development. The type of data that is collected is ultimately a reflection of what Scotland has decided constitutes ‘success’ for its education system.

However, these parameters are often too narrow and rigid, prioritising traditional pathways and outcomes that may not be appropriate for every pupil, nor for society at large as it contends with increasingly daunting ‘grand challenges’ that demand ingenuity, creativity, and adaptability from the citizens of tomorrow. While the current education reform agenda espouses this broader thinking, our current metrics remain out of step and so are ripe for re-evaluation.

We must also be clear on the power of data. As a society, we must ensure that data is being communicated and used responsibly and for its intended purpose rather than to uphold popular narratives. We must also discourage gathering data solely as a tool for delivering accountability, recognising the perverse incentives this can introduce.


Overall, we believe there is an insufficient amount of meaningful educational data being gathered in Scotland. The RSE has previously remarked on the paucity of national attainment data (with an overemphasis on literacy and numeracy markers) and Scotland’s lack of participation in international comparator surveys except for the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Similarly, there is a perceived shortage of consistent and accurate attainment data throughout the Broad General Education (BGE) phase as there are no categorical national standards that can be used for comparison purposes (in contrast to the rigorous standards that exist for SQA qualifications).

Data collection creates administrative burdens on schools and teachers and so we must be clear on the need for said data to be gathered in the first place, how it links to system monitoring and improvement, whether there are ways to streamline the process, and whether the data can be trusted (for example, can we be certain that the data is being gathered in the appropriate manner and with the right consistency to be credible).

We express strong support for the need for data measures that cover wider achievement and attainment. Scotland has the benefit of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework which incorporates qualifications and awards across
the learning and skills spectrum. More generally, it will be important to take up the challenge of convincing parents, universities, employers, and wider society of the validity of these different pathways and outcomes in order to arrive at a more sensitive and integrated measure of educational performance

Educational metrics should be defined by the goals that have been set for the education system; currently, the metrics are often geared towards tracking the most conventionally valued pathways or outcomes (e.g. the number of pupils who make it to university) without considering whether the wider benefits of education to the individual and society are being realised.

We question the utility of using the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) as the sole proxy for disadvantage, given it operates on the level of the neighbourhood rather capturing household or individual cases of disadvantage.

Having reliable longitudinal data to track success and outcomes as they relate to different pathways will be critical in gaining greater societal approval for ‘non-traditional’ pathways (e.g. those outwith university streams) and in identifying and mitigating any adverse impacts on equality.

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