E1. The Scottish Attainment Challenge (SAC) was launched in February 2015 with the strategic aim of ‘closing the poverty-related attainment gap between children and young people from the least and most disadvantaged communities’. The £750 million Attainment Scotland Fund (ASF) follows the duration of the SAC over the course of this Parliament, prioritising improvements in literacy, numeracy, health and wellbeing of those children adversely affected by poverty in Scotland’s schools. Achieving excellence and equity in education are the key aims.
E2. The programme of evaluation of the ASF is ongoing. The evaluation aims to provide learning about the overall implementation of the ASF and to assess progress
towards the following long-term outcomes:
1. Embedded and sustained practices related to addressing the impact of the poverty-related attainment gap.
2. All children and young people are achieving the expected or excellent educational outcomes, regardless of their background.
3. An education system which is aspirational, inclusive in practice and approaches for all including teachers, parents and carers, children and young people.
4. Closing the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged children and young people.
E3. This report focuses on the Year 5 (2019/20) evaluation of ASF across Pupil Equity Funding (PEF), Challenge Authority and Schools Programme Funding streams.
E4. In order to take account of the unprecedented challenges associated with responding to COVID-19, the evaluation was adapted to consider both the period of August 2019 to March 2020 prior to COVID-19, and the period of school building closures from March to June 2020.
E5. The report provides a narrative on progress from a range of evidence sources which inform the evaluation including:
- Administrative data;
- National Improvement Framework (NIF) quantitative measures on attainment and wellbeing;
- Challenge Authority and Schools Programme progress reports;
- Surveys of headteachers and local authorities undertaken on an annual basis to explore perspectives on ASF.
E6. We have seen response rates to the Headteacher and Local Authority surveys impacted by COVID-19, however the current evaluation methodology continues to make the best use of existing data to inform our understanding of factors that support improvement in closing the attainment gap at the five year point of the Programme.
E7. The findings overall suggest broadly continuing trends across Year 5 of the ASF as previously indicated in the Year 4 report. This included, for example, a focus on continued development of collaborations, the increasing use of and capacity within the system regarding data and evidence, and the governance and support arrangements in place nationally and locally.
The role of Attainment Advisors
E8. The role of Attainment Advisors continued to be highly valued in providing support at local authority and school level, with strong recognition of the importance of Attainment Advisors in facilitating links between national, local and school contexts.
Approaches to closing the poverty-related attainment gap
E9. Approaches to close the poverty-related attainment gap continue to develop, with evidence of ongoing refinement of approaches based on improvement and use of data and evidence. Rapid developments resulted from COVID-19 and school buildings closures March to June 2020, with approaches and interventions paused, adapted and/or adjusted. During this period there was strong evidence of new partnerships and collaborations, particularly with the third sector and there was a considerable focus on health and wellbeing and on engaging families and communities.
Funding and sustainability
E10. Funding continued to provide a focus throughout 2019/20. Whilst there was a need to address the immediate challenges associated with school building closures as a result of COVID-19 in the period March to June 2020, the focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap remained.
E11. There was evidence of considerable use of ASF flexibilities to respond to the challenges associated with responding to COVID-19.
Culture change and ethos
E12. There was continued evidence of systemic change in terms of culture and ethos towards:
- improved understanding of barriers faced by pupils and families affected by poverty;
- approaches to equity becoming more embedded within the school;
- a more collaborative system at school and local authority level.
Long-term outcomes: Contribution to improvement and reduction of the poverty-related attainment gap
Perceptions of success
E13. There were continuing positive messages in terms of perceptions of success. This included the views of headteachers gathered through the Headteacher Survey 2020:
- 90% of headteachers reported to have seen an improvement in closing the poverty-related attainment gap as a result of ASF supported approaches. This measure remained broadly the same as in 2019 (91%).
- 88% of headteachers reported to expect to see improvement in closing the gap over the next five years. There was a 10 percentage point decrease on this measures since the previous survey (98%).
Quantitative data on attainment and wellbeing
E14. Progress in closing the attainment gap on a number of measures, although this is a varied picture depending on the measure under consideration.
E15. For the majority of measures, attainment of those from the most deprived areas has increased, although in some cases not at the same rate as those in least deprived areas.
E16. Change in attainment in the Challenge Authorities (combined) is also a mixed picture; the gap has widened for more measures than it has narrowed, however, largely, this is not due to performance worsening, rather performance has improved but not kept pace with performance of those from the least deprived areas.
E17. With respect to the Challenge Authorities (combined), the proportion of S3 pupils achieving Third Level or better in literacy and the proportion of school leavers with one or more pass at SCQF Level 5 or better are measures where attainment for pupils from the most deprived areas has decreased and the gap has widened.
E18. It is worth considering the data on the attainment gap in the context of the headteacher perceptions of success to date. The attainment data presents a national picture of performance for the pupils within the scope of each measure’s definition e.g. Achievement of CfE Level data report on P1, P4 and P7, but not the remainder of the Primary stages. Conversely, the Headteacher Survey results present a holistic view of headteachers’ perceptions at their school level. It is important to reflect on the range of data sources in order to consider on progress on closing the attainment gap.
Conclusions and discussion
E19. The ASF seeks to support progress towards the strategic aim and associated long-term outcomes of SAC, alongside the wider range of national programmes and initiatives which form the SAC. The ASF evaluation report has sought to bring together evidence to assess progress towards achieving these long-term outcomes and the overall aims of the fund.
E20. The evidence continues to highlight positive progress towards long-term outcomes in a number of areas, including:
- Embedded and sustained practices related to addressing the impact of the poverty-related attainment gap;
- An education system which is aspirational, inclusive in practice and approaches for all including teachers, parents and carers, children and young people.
E21. Evidence on closing the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged young people suggests that there is progress on some measures, and there continues to be positive reported evidence of perceptions of impact.
E22. However, there is an ongoing and long-term challenge which remains in closing the poverty-related attainment gap between the most and least deprived pupils.
E23. Whilst the evidence suggests COVID-19 will impact on progress towards closing the poverty-related attainment gap, progress towards the long-term outcomes at the education system level continues.
E24. It remains difficult to assess the reasons behind any observed improvement in attainment or closing the poverty-related attainment gap, and whether these changes have occurred as a direct result of the fund. However, the evaluation continues to support our understanding of these improvements, and the contribution made by the fund to the realisation of these improvements.
E25. Moving forward into the evaluation of ASF in 2020/21, there will be continued consideration given to gathering evidence of the ongoing impact of COVID-19.