Blog September 2023

Investing in big change that lasts in our Education system in Scotland

DonnaMarie Steel, our Programmes and Practice Officer, shares her insights and learning from our Education Pathways work so far and provides an update on upcoming opportunities under this theme.

Our Education Pathways theme aims to shape an education system that maximises its contribution to wellbeing, to spotting and addressing trauma and to tackling poverty in Scotland. We’re now planning an open call for programme award ideas focused on delivering long-term change around engagement in school-age learning and education.  

Over the past year, we’ve been working hard to understand the impact we could have on our Education system in Scotland, and how we can best contribute to big change that lasts to prevent and reduce poverty. We’ve continued our discovery work, including a series of stakeholder conversations, engaging with 130 organisations across all sectors, and schools from across 19 local authorities in Scotland.  

Initially, we had a focus on mentoring and tutoring provision in Scotland. However, during these discussions, it became apparent that we should be prioritising outcomes rather than solely specific interventions – particularly during our conversations with schools. 

So, what are we thinking? 

We know that education and learning is about more than exam results. However, we also know that young people who leave school with no or low levels of qualifications are at significant risk of experiencing poverty in future years. We’re interested in what can be done to deliver the support needed, whether through formal or informal learning, that can reduce the risk of poverty in the future, including through reducing the risk of young people leaving education with no or low-level qualifications.   

We’re convinced that learning and education must go wider than the formal setting of nursery, school or college. We’ve also heard that a focus on learning and education in the school setting, could be overlooking learning and education that can take place outside of the school. Informal education settings, such as third sector, community, outdoor and home, have the potential for ultimately re-engaging young people in learning that can prevent them falling into poverty in the future.

By linking schools more actively to their community, including through the third sector, we can work to maximise the impact on engagement in learning and education. We’re interested in learning in both the formal and informal setting – including in the third sector, through work, in outdoor settings and in the home – that can work to re-engage young people in education and learning and successfully prevent and reduce poverty in the future. 

We also know that engagement is about more than attending, whether in the formal or informal setting. It is about attitudes to school, education and learning more broadly, participation in learning activities, and a sense of belonging – that education and learning is valued and seen as something for pupils and families from all backgrounds to participate in together.

The experience of the last few years, firstly through the Covid-19 pandemic, and now through the ongoing cost-of-living emergency, has brought a renewed focus on school attendance rates. We’re interested in going wider than that. We want to focus on improving levels of engagement, in school or college and outside of school/college, to ensure that we keep in mind the overall outcome we are aiming to achieve. For us, that goes beyond attendance and is about action now that can prevent and reduce poverty and trauma in the future.  

What’s Next? 

As an independent funder, we want to make decisions that are driven by evidence and with a focus on delivering big change that lasts on preventing and reducing poverty in Scotland.    

We’re currently working on the details of an open call for applications under our Programme Awards, which will focus on improving engagement in education and learning to prevent and reduce poverty in Scotland. This priority area has emerged from extensive stakeholder engagement carried out across Scotland over the course of the last year, and we anticipate applications will open in early October. We’ll continue other development work in relation to attainment funding, school-age childcare and fair access so do look out for updates on those in the future. 

We’re excited about what we can achieve with the right partners in this area at this time. And we’re looking forward to opening our open call so that we can begin to see the ideas that exist across the sector on how we can work together in this area to improve engagement in education and learning to prevent and reduce poverty and trauma in Scotland.  

We’re finalising the details of the open call, and will include time to discuss ideas and a webinar for potential applicants in the coming weeks, which will delve into what we mean by big change that lasts and provide more detail on our priority area for this open call.   

We look forward to sharing more details of the open call soon and to keep up to date, you can sign up to our mailing list or follow our social channels where we will share more updates on our upcoming opportunity.

In the meantime, if you have any questions, please get in touch with our Education Pathways lead, DonnaMarie Steel, at