Innovation Exchange

Attainment Challenge


Key activities

Benefits and impacts


North Ayrshire Council has secured funding from the Scottish Government’s National Attainment Challenge which is targeted at local authorities who have the highest concentrations of primary aged children living in deprived areas. The Council will use this funding to drive transformational change and have identified 5 key areas of work. This project, the creation of a Professional Learning Academy, is one of these key areas.


The Scottish Attainment Challenge is a four year initiative which will run until June 2019 and the Professional Learning Academy (PLA) is at the heart of the North Ayrshire Attainment Challenge programme.


National and International research acknowledges that a key intervention within all education systems to effectively drive improvement and increase attainment is the quality and skill of the teacher. Moreover, key messages from established school improvement programmes (that is, those sustained for at least 8 years) include working across schools to build capacity and raise attainment. Launching a Professional Learning Academy with a clear, strategic vision is a critical component of North Ayrshire’s attainment challenge which will impact positively on the attainment of our children and young people.


‘To improve schools one must invest in people, support people and develop people’ (Schlecty, 1990)

The PLA are building their reputation as a group of skilled practitioners who can effectively lead and support teachers and practitioners in developing enquiring and coherent approaches across learning. Systematic evaluation is our key to sustaining and building the capacity of teachers and practitioners with clear processes established for establishments. Our distinct approach will ensure that continuous improvement in learning and teaching with improved outcomes for learners lie at the heart of our work.

Theme: Children and Education

north ayrshire council logo

The key activities of the project are as follows:


  • Create a North Ayrshire Professional Learning Academy to lead evidence-based pedagogical practice with a focus on Literacy, Numeracy and pedagogy.

  • Create a Professional Learning Academy building that is suitably equipped and resourced to provide an inspiring learning environment for delegates. Delegates will range from students to probationers to highly experienced practitioners.

  • Build and develop a core staff team to deliver professional training and development programmes to delegates. This includes the delivery of outreach training and coaching and mentoring support.

  • Develop skills progression frameworks in core curricular areas and complement these with consistency guides to ensure coherence of high impact teaching methodologies across the education authority.

  • Utilise literature, research, policy sources and action research to support the process of leading and developing learning.

  • Develop a proactive approach to extending and deepening our knowledge, understanding and skills by engaging with organisations beyond the education authority.

  • Provide high quality professional learning for Head Teachers and senior leaders with a key focus on quality improvement and measurement.

  • Provide a focus for leadership at all levels within, across and beyond schools.

  • Sustain and extend the existing learning partnership with the Robert Owen Centre by focusing on evaluation of the systems, processes and quality of the breadth of learning provision offered within the PLA and within, across and beyond establishments. Ensure systematic approaches to working within, across and beyond establishments are embedded within the culture of learning

  • Develop a proactive approach to extending and deepening our knowledge, understanding and skills by working across sectors and organisations including with  our Speech and Language Therapist and Universities to impact positively on the provision of high quality career- long professional learning.

The  Robert  Owen  Centre (Glasgow University), will implement a robust evaluation of the impact of the PLA. We believe it vital that a credible, external organisation evaluates and validates our own professional reflection and evaluations in order that continual improvement remains a key feature of our work.


The impact of the project will be as follows:


  • The quality of learning and teaching across all North Ayrshire Council establishments will be improved. The Professional Learning Academy will enable teachers and practitioners to enhance their pedagogical expertise by developing evidence based practices.

  • Teachers and practitioners will develop a deep knowledge of learning and teaching and data driven quality improvement.

  • The learning experiences and attainment of pupils will be improved.

  • Working across Early Years, Primary and Secondary sectors, there will be consistent, high quality learning and teaching approaches. This will include key areas of focus such as sharing standards, methodology and curricular progression (including application across the curriculum.)

  • An increase in pace, depth and challenge, through the development of North Ayrshire Frameworks for literacy and numeracy, will be evident.

  • The principles of HGIOS 4 and the NIF will be integral to driving effective self-evaluation forward and therefore impact strongly on raising the quality of learning across establishments.

  • Teachers will become more confident in their assessment and collection of data and in its use to inform their practice. This benefit will link closely with the work of the Data Analysis workstream of the Attainment Challenge.

  • There will be a consistent approach within and across the authority to pedagogy, based on research. This will lead to improved opportunities, expectations and aspirations amongst staff, children and young people.


Intended benefits will be to extend our provision out with school establishments  and provide training to child groups such as child minders and foster parents and the private and voluntary sectors in Early Years. Training will focus on learning and enhancing educational provision for children when they are out of school/Early Years and thus significantly improving the learning experiences of children and young people.

Through professional dialogue with Senior Management Teams and Head Teachers, it is evident that there is a clear drive to improve standards and work collaboratively with the Professional Learning Academy Team. This is evidenced with the overwhelming participation as outlined below:


  • 96% of primary schools, all Early Years Centres and all Additional Support Needs Schools have sent a member of staff on the Early Years Numeracy Framework training.

  • 99% of staff attending training agreed on the relevance of the training for them whilst 97% strongly agreed or agreed that the training was helpful for them.

  • Qualitative data was collected to assess participants’ perspectives on the workshops. Evidence demonstrates that the input of the PLA team is having a positive impact on teaching methodologies which fulfil the principles of CfE. Resultantly, children and young people have begun to benefit from a more informed, consistent, research based practice delivered by practitioners with enhanced skills.

  • A key lesson learned is the importance of the effective use of data in driving forward our priorities for the staff, pupils and parents of North Ayrshire. One example provided is a Survey Monkey questionnaire issues across all sectors with informal, formative feedback ensuring that the agenda of the PLA is driven by the needs of the schools.

  • Professional Learning Networks, e.g., the Listening and Talking Professional Learning Network, are demonstrating increased capacity in raising attainment. This network incorporates teacher representatives from two clusters. The factors contributing to its effectiveness are a clear focus and input on pedagogy from the PLA, opportunities to share principles and practice across schools and a planned improvement agenda.

  • There have been challenges in delivery in terms of accommodation and therefore creating a dedicated learning environment for professional learning has been a highly effective plan.

  • Working in partnership by responding to the needs of schools, e.g., teachers request the format of support that is likely to make the greatest impact, has proven to have greater impact on working collaboratively to impact pupil attainment.

  • The process of ensuring consistent revisiting, sharing of progress and evaluation has enhanced the quality of learning for delegates and contributed to highly effective professional dialogue around impact of teaching and learning.


Although the PLA team have only been in place for around 6 months, the impact and positive influence on teaching and learning, and subsequently children’s outcomes, is already exceptionally positive. Indicators to date would suggest that the impact of this work stream on increasing attainment will continue to be significant and will effectively promote the criteria for ‘outstanding schools’ in the Scottish



Contact details:

To find out more about this case study, please contact:


Angela Cassells

Senior Manager

North Ayrshire Council

01294 324045

Case study added to site: June 2016

Please report any errors using this web form

Improvement Service, working in partnership with

solace scotland logo