Poverty funding helping to narrow attainment gap in schools, heads say

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Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney has welcomed the results of a survey of headteachers about the Attainment Scotland Fund (Press Association)

The attainment gap between children from poor and affluent families is getting smaller at schools where there is specialist funding, head teachers have said.

A survey of 533 heads across Scotland found that 88% of schools have seen an improvement in closing the poverty-related gap in pupils’ achievements or in their health and wellbeing.

Heads at schools receiving money from the Attainment Scotland Fund (ASF) were asked about the impact of the funding, which aims to narrow the difference in attainment between children living in poverty and other pupils.

The £750 million funding, shared by more than 1,300 schools, has been used for “improving teaching skills and practice”, according to the majority of heads who responded to the Scottish Government’s survey.

While 12% said they have seen “a lot” of improvement so far, more than half (56%) were expecting a lot of improvement over the next five years as a result of ASF support.

The funding has also led to an increase in collaborative working, 71% of heads reported.

Although most say they are still clear about the purpose of the ASF (93%) and agree with its aims (94%), these are both down by 5% from the 2017 survey.

Education Secretary John Swinney at Holy Rood school in Edinburgh (David Cheskin/PA)
Education Secretary John Swinney at Holy Rood school in Edinburgh (David Cheskin/PA)

Education Secretary John Swinney has announced an additional £50 million to support the fund and on a visit to Holy Rood RC High School in Edinburgh, he said: “I welcome these survey findings which echo the promising early results we are already seeing in closing the poverty-related attainment gap.

“This funding will enable that vital work to continue in the areas where it is needed most.

“We use a range of indicators to measure the attainment gap, including official statistics, which show an increase at all levels of attainment since 2009-10, but it is extremely encouraging that the majority of head teachers are noticing improvements in their own school communities too.

“I look forward to seeing how the schools and local authorities who will benefit from this additional £50 million use their allocation to ensure every child has an equal opportunity to fulfil their potential.”

Responding to the publication of the survey results, Scottish Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray said: “Attainment funds represent many millions of public funds and they need to be properly evaluated.

“This is a survey asking head teachers if they thought their school getting extra money was a good idea, and not surprisingly they do. It asks if they think their use of it has been successful – unsurprisingly they do.

“We know that some attainment funding is paying for dubious interventions, such as police officers in school. There is no mention of that.

“This may give Mr Swinney something to grandstand on, but it tells us nothing about whether he is succeeding in closing the attainment gap.

“Only an independent expert review of attainment funding could do that. Even then, Mr Swinney has abolished the survey which told us how big the gap is – so we may never know if this government policy is working. How convenient.”

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