A regional improvement collaborative is harnessing the power of data to help close the poverty-related attainment gap across eight Scottish councils in the north and west of Scotland.

The Northern Alliance has joined forces with the Data for Children Collaborative – a joint partnership between UNICEF, the Scottish Government and the University of Edinburgh’s Data Driven Innovation programme – to explore how to make better use of data to assess the disparities in educational performance between poor pupils and their wealthier classmates.

The regional improvement project team, which strives to boost outcomes for children across Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Bute, Western Isles, Highland, Moray, Orkney Islands and Shetland Island, has been working closely with education practitioners to understand what data currently exists, how these datasets may link with one another, and how this may help inform issues associated with poverty and deprivation.

They have also completed an in-depth analysis of the tools currently available to teachers, to understand what is needed to enable practitioners to make better decisions with the data that is available to them.

The work has provided an overview of existing features, their capabilities and limitations, and provided insight into potential alternative solutions.

Addressing the attainment gap remains a huge challenge for schools and services across Scotland. Last year a report by Audit Scotland found that progress on closing the poverty-related attainment gap since 2013-14 has been limited and “falls short” of ministers’ aims. It also found inequalities have been made worse by Covid.

Grant Murray, Northern Alliance research assistant, said: “We are very pleased to be working in partnership with the Data for Children Collaborative. It’s a great example of how working together across council areas means we can look to address shared challenges.

“This work is allowing us to conduct in-depth analysis at a regional level, alongside local insight and challenges on the ground, drawing on potential new data sources and techniques.”

Jo Kirby, Northern Alliance lead officer for raising attainment and closing the gap, said: “More relevant data in a local context will serve to improve the system so that those working in schools can better understand and facilitate equity and progression in the classroom for all our learners, regardless of the barriers they may face.”

The Date for Children Collaborative’s goal is to leverage expertise from partner organisations in order to address existing problems for children using innovative data science techniques.

Alex Hutchison, director of the Data for Children Collaborative, added: “This project highlights the power of academia, private sector and public sector working together, and how each of those areas brings different strengths to look at a problem in a new way.”

Laurence Findlay, regional improvement lead for the Northern Alliance and director of education and children’s services for Aberdeenshire Council says the analysis of data will help to inform approaches at a local level.

He said: “This important work will help practitioners to think about the trends identified within their local context. This isn’t just about schools but all services that support children and families understanding how best they can work together to make a difference. Understanding the factors that present barriers to families and young people will help us to better support families to access the help they need to thrive.”

The outcomes of the first phase of work are now available to read here.