Attainment Scotland Fund evaluation: fourth interim report - year 5

This report focuses on the Year 5 (2019 to 2020) evaluation of Attainment Scotland Fund (ASF) across Pupil Equity Funding (PEF), Challenge Authority and Schools Programme Funding streams.

Chapter 2 Inputs: Governance and Funding

2.1 This chapter focuses on how the ASF was organised and supported at both a national and a local level. It also outlines the financial inputs to the programme by funding stream.


2.2 The evaluation considers what did and did not work well in the governance of the ASF at national and local level and considers the part Attainment Advisors play in local governance. It reviews how national and local organisation and governance of the fund worked across the funding strands of the ASF.

2.3 Evidence used to address this has been largely drawn from the Local Authority Survey 2020 and Challenge Authority and Schools Programme progress reports.

National Governance and Support

2.4 National governance refers to the support provided by the Scottish Government and Education Scotland and the organisation and administrative requirements of ASF.

2.5 Local authority perspectives on working with the Scottish Government and Education Scotland were broadly positive. Some challenges associated with administrative requirements raised in the first two years of ASF were noted as having reduced by Year 3/Year 4 with the Year 4 evaluation report describing established reporting procedures. Challenge Authority Progress Reports reflect embedded reporting procedures and support from Attainment Advisors is noted.

2.6 In terms of what was working well in relation to Scottish Government governance, several themes emerged on local authority perspectives from the Local Authority Survey 2020. Overall responses highlighted the ongoing and consistent focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap, the clarity of national guidance, communication and opportunities for discussion and exchange with other local authorities as positives. Communication and opportunities for discussion and exchange were more prominent in Challenge Authority responses with a number of responses from Schools Programme and PEF only authorities indicating more limited communication in particular.

2.7 Areas of potential improvement to national support were suggested by Local Authority Survey 2020 respondents, broadly focused on the need for greater clarity given the current stage of the programme and increased pressures resulting from responding to COVID-19. The need for early clarity on funding strategy and timescales for 2021/22 and greater certainty to enable longer term planning, including for staff on temporary contracts was particularly highlighted. This was linked with the need for early communication of proposals around SAC 2.0.

2.8 There were also a number of further suggestions including attention to reducing perceived duplication of reporting requirements and difficulties associated with reporting timescales being based on financial rather than academic year. One local authority respondent also suggested the need for a national Health and Wellbeing census tool particularly in light of COVID-19. Greater clarity of guidance on timescales and key dates for reporting at the beginning of the year was also suggested, reflecting ongoing concerns also reported in the Local Authority Survey 2019. Some calls were made for further reduction of bureaucracy and greater recognition of the resource demands associated with existing reporting requirements, as well as the need for greater alignment of funding streams.

2.9 Local authorities responding to the Local Authority Survey 2020 were broadly positive about what was working well with Education Scotland in terms of the fund. As referenced previously through the Local Authority Survey 2019, positive relationships continued to be evidenced between local authorities and Education Scotland and the advice, guidance and support received in relation to the fund. One local authority respondent particularly referenced closer working relationships established as a result of the period of school building closures and responding to COVID-19. As well as resources through the National Improvement Hub, other sources of support mentioned included the regular SWAY ‘Signposting Equity’ resource. Opportunities for sharing good practice and attending events and training were also viewed as positives, including virtual events and training such as ‘Big Blethers’ and ‘Wee Blethers’ during the period of school building closures. Opportunities for sharing of good practice and collaboration at the regional level through the RICS were also mentioned by a few respondents. Many local authority respondents indicated that the majority of interactions with Education Scotland were through Attainment Advisors. This is addressed in the section on Local Governance below.

2.10 Areas for potential improvement highlighted in the Local Authority Survey 2020 in working with Education Scotland included:

  • Occasional instances where there were perceptions of more limited or inconsistent support (such as due to staff changes);
  • Need for strengthened focus on some training and events (e.g. clearer outcomes for Wee Blethers), and strengthened opportunities for evaluation and feedback on events;
  • Further opportunities for sharing of good practice at local authority and school level (e.g. one respondent suggested an ASF dashboard to link local authority and school approaches would be beneficial);
  • Need for greater clarity and longer lead in times for audit and reporting (challenges associated with recent audit reporting timescales were noted on occasion).

Local Governance and Support

2.11 The role of Attainment Advisors in respect of local governance and support was highlighted in the Local Authority Survey 2020. Local authority responses were very positive of the support provided by Attainment Advisors with “tremendous support”, “strong relationships” and “collegiate working” being referenced. The majority of responses indicated that the support and challenge provided by Attainment Advisors was embedded within local governance structures and was working both at authority-wide level as well as on a more targeted basis with identified schools. As in the Local Authority 2019 survey, support provided by Attainment Advisors was described in terms of information and good practice exchange, professional learning, data analysis, strategic planning, policy development support and direct work with schools.

2.12 As in the 2019 Local Authority Survey, the Attainment Advisor role continued to be viewed as providing an important link between the national, regional and local levels.

2.13 Areas for further improvement also broadly continued themes highlighted in the 2019 Local Authority Survey. Consistency and availability of Attainment Advisor resource continued to be raised by a small number of local authorities. A small number of comments related to a desire to have more direct input from Attainment Advisors in schools, in one instance specifically to support schools in receipt of small amounts of PEF to maximise their use of funding. The challenge of working directly with schools in the context of COVID-19 was however recognised. A number of respondents indicated they were no areas for further improvement, reaffirming their highly positive experience with the Attainment Advisor role.

PEF support and processes – headteacher perspectives

2.14 Evidence on headteachers’ views of the support in place for schools to develop and implement their school plan for PEF was gathered in the Headteacher Survey 2020. Approximately three quarters (76%) of respondents to the 2020 survey felt there was sufficient support in place to develop and implement their school plan for PEF. This was similar to the 2019 survey (74%) and represents a 20-point increase on the 2017 survey (56%). Views were broadly similar across key respondent groups.

2.15 Headteachers were also broadly positive in relation to processes around the allocation of PEF, with 3 in 4 respondents (75%) to the Headteacher Survey 2020 indicating that reporting requirements associated with PEF were reasonable. A similar proportion felt that timescales for planning for PEF have been sufficient (75%). These findings each represent a 12-point improvement from the 2019 Headteacher Survey.

2.16 The great majority of headteachers also felt they had autonomy to develop PEF plans that are responsive to their local context and needs (94%). This view was consistent across key respondent groups and is also similar to that reported in 2019.

2.17 Local authorities also provided details of the level and nature of support given to schools in their local authority to aid their implementation of PEF through the Local Authority Survey 2020. This included:

  • Mechanisms to support procurement processes;
  • Equity networks to facilitate links between schools and the local and national levels;
  • Development of PEF guidance linking national and local levels;
  • Data-focused sessions to support headteachers to make the best use of data sources for planning and measuring impact of PEF interventions;
  • School visits, cluster meetings, and clinics;
  • Co-ordination roles to support headteachers;
  • Professional development opportunities for headteachers including input on finance and staffing resources.

Specific examples were also provided:

  • development of a ‘closing the gap’ planning tool to support schools with planning and implementation of PEF;
  • development of suite of PEF guidance (national guidance, local planning and impact templates).


2.18 This section considers evidence related to funding gathered to address the following evaluation question:

How much funding did local authorities and schools receive, to what extent did they consider it adequate, supplement it with other funding sources, and use it in accordance with the fund’s requirements?

2.19 Evidence on funding is primarily drawn from Scottish Government administrative data. It also draws on the Local Authority Survey 2020, which explored local authorities’ use of resources towards improving outcomes for pupils living in the most deprived communities. Challenge Authority and Schools Programme progress reports have also informed the analysis. Specific evidence on aspects of the above evaluation question related to adequacy of funding, supplementation with other funding sources, and use in accordance with the Fund’s requirements gathered through qualitative research undertaken in Year 2 has not been repeated, and therefore there continues to be limited more recent evidence on these aspects. However, in line with ASF flexibilities introduced in May 2020 to enable local authorities to respond to COVID-19, evidence has been drawn from the Local Authority Survey 2020 on the use of flexibilities during this period.

How much funding did local authorities and schools receive?

2.20 During the first two years of the ASF (2015/16 and 2016/17), approximately £52 million was distributed for the Challenge Authorities Programme and Schools Programme. In Year 3 (2017/18), following the introduction of PEF, around £165.3 million was distributed. PEF was allocated to schools on the basis of the number of children and young people from Primary 1 to Senior 3 who were estimated to be eligible for free school meals. In Year 4 (2018/19), a total of £172.6 million was allocated.

2.21 In Year 5, a total of £210,408,081 was allocated through the ASF. This included:

  • £43,153,867 allocated to Challenge Authorities;
  • £7,096, 523 allocated to Schools Programme; and
  • £122,517,480 allocated to PEF.

2.22 In 2018/19, a further funding strand, the Care Experienced Children and Young People Fund (CECYP) was introduced. CECYP[1] provides funding to local authorities to support work related to improving the educational outcomes of care experienced children and young people. CECYP is outwith the scope of this evaluation report and therefore funding data on CECYP is not included in the tables below.

Local Authority Year 1
Year 2
Year 3
Year 4
Year 5 (2019/20)
Clackmannanshire £718,000 £1,253,999 £1,548,000 £1,569,376 £1,576,091
Dundee £2,145,000 £4,041,682 £5,582,805 £6,224,790 £6,323,910
East Ayrshire - £2,037,323 £2,760,659 £3,762,789 £3,762,790
Glasgow £3,030,000 £9,107,262 £7,665,677 £8,049,992 £8,050,000
Inverclyde £592,000 £2,103,269 £3,100,200 £3,505,999 £3,470,640
North Ayrshire £1,965,000 £3,490,024 £4,874,620 £5,889,762 £5,789,762
North Lanarkshire £2,241,000 £6,897,347 £7,274,968 £7,478,959 £7,578,859


£1,711,919 £3,531,000 £4,658,000 £4,558,000
West Dunbartonshire £1,024,000 £1,850,410 £2,013,108 £2,043,815


Total £11,715,000 £32,493,235 £38,351,037 £43,183,482 £43,153,867

2.23 The Challenge Authority Programme was extended in Year 2 to include East Ayrshire and Renfrewshire Council. No further additions to the Challenge Authority Programme have been made. Whilst the overall funding allocation to Challenge Authorities increased considerably between Year 2 and Year 3 (18% increase) and between Year 3 and Year 4 (12% increase), the overall funding allocation for Year 5 remained broadly the same (0.06% decrease). Table 2.1 above provides a breakdown of Challenge Authority Programme allocations by year and by individual Challenge Authority.

2.24 Funding allocations to the Schools Programme at the local authority level are provided in Table 2.2 below. There were no further allocations to either East Ayrshire or Renfrewshire Council through the Schools Programme following their introduction to the Challenge Authority Programme in Year 2 (2016/17). The overall Schools Programme allocation increased from £6.85 million in Year 3 to £7.14 million in Year 4, a small increase of approximately four per cent, and has remained broadly the same in Year 5, with £7.10 million allocated at the local authority level.

Local Authority Year 1
Year 2
Year 3
Year 4
Year 5
Aberdeen City £157,500 £454,565 £597,938 £636,133 £632,965
Argyll & Bute £20,000 £19,944 £25,002 £23,895 £23,895
Dumfries & Galloway £45,000 £116,533 £139,494 £137,376 £137,376
East Ayrshire £291,470 - - - -
Edinburgh £304,645 £743,808 £800,742 £852,403 £847,876
Falkirk £73,000 £169,463 £282,768 £272,768 £272,500
Fife £416,112 £685,944 £965,687 £1,010,579 £1,005,280
Highland £92,700 £594,209 £965,565 £1,200,755 £1,199,445
Renfrewshire £231,120 - - - -
Scottish Borders £66,650 £166,620 £218,167 £188,744 £175,603
South Ayrshire £150,400 £299,580 £399,523 £399,523 £399,523
South Lanarkshire £548,690 £1,619,271 £2,019,374 £1,980,294 £1,963,820
Stirling £45,600 £166,581 £180,268 £181,816 £181,816
West Lothian £26,197 £188,139 £256,505 £256,429 £256,424
Total £2,469,084 £5,224,657 £6,851,032 £7,140,713 £7,096, 523

2.25 PEF allocations at both school level and local authority level are published online annually. Pupil Equity Funding is allocated to primary, secondary and special schools, as well as grant maintained schools, on the basis of the estimated number of children and young people in P1-S3 registered for free school meals under the national eligibility criteria. Whilst the funding is allocated on a per pupil basis headteachers can use their judgment to raise the attainment of any pupils in their schools as they see fit.

2.26 Of the £122,517,480 million PEF allocated in 2019/20, there was also £37,660,110 million carry over from 2018/19 available. Cumulatively, £365 million has been allocated through PEF across the three years. The chart below provides a breakdown of total allocation per pupil across 2017/18 to 2019/20. This spatial representation of PEF allocation is broadly as expected given higher concentrations of deprivation in the central belt.

Figure 2.1: Pupil Equity Funding – Total Spend to Date 2017/18 – 2019/20
Heat map of Scotland showing Pupil Equity Fund spend per pupil by local authority area across years 2017/18 – 2019/20

Was funding used according to requirements?

2.27 Challenge Authority and Schools Programme progress reports indicate that funding was being used according to requirements, with clear work-streams and plans in place for these respective funding streams.

2.28 Table 2.3 below compares spend versus allocation across the five years by funding stream. This indicates that overall Challenge Authorities spent 97% of their allocated budget in 2019/20, with some variation at the local authority level. Ninety-seven per cent of allocated Schools Programme funding had also been spent in 2019/20. As shown in the table below, Challenge Authority and Schools Programme spend as a proportion of allocation have continued to broadly increase year-on-year from 2017/18 to 2019/20.

Year Funding Stream Allocation
£ (Million)
Actual Spend
£ (Million)
Spend vs Allocation (%)
Year 1 (2015/16) Challenge Authorities 11.7 5.9 50%
Schools Programme 2.5 2.3 92%
PEF - - -
Total 14.2 8.2 58%
Year 2
Challenge Authorities 32.5 25 77%
Schools Programme 5.2 4 77%
PEF - - -
Total 37.7 29 77%
Year 3
Challenge Authorities 38.4 35.1 92%
Schools Programme 6.9 6.1 90%
PEF 120.2 72.2 60%
Total 165.4 113.5 69%
Year 4
Challenge Authorities 43.2 40.5 94%
Schools Programme 7.1 6.9 97%
PEF* 170.1 ^ 132.3 78%
Total 220.4 179.7 82%
Year 5
Challenge Authorities 43.2 41.7 97%
Schools Programme 7.1 6.9 97%
PEF 160.2^^ * *
Total 210.4 * *

^ Figure represents total distributed for PEF, including £47.9 million carry forward from 2017/18.

^^ Figure represents total distributed for PEF in Year 5, including £37.6 million carry forward from 2018/19.

*PEF spend information for 2019/20 will be published alongside PEF spend for 2020/21 later this year.

2.29 In terms of evidence regarding the extent to which the Fund was supplemented by other sources, there was limited relevant evidence to draw on for this aspect of funding.

Use of core funding towards equitable outcomes

2.30 There continues to be some evidence that local authorities have changed the way they use core funding as a result of the ASF. Challenge Authority and Schools Programme progress reports evidence this, as well as the Local Authority 2020 results.

2.31 Findings from the Local Authority Survey 2020 showed that the majority of respondents (12 of 15) perceived that there had been some change of use of resources in their local authority over the previous year to focus on outcomes for the most socio-economically disadvantaged children and young people (one to a great extent, 11 to some extent), with a further three indicating a limited change of use of resources. Examples provided include:

  • Agreement of a family learning budget to support ‘holiday hunger’, provision of food vouchers and family learning across the local authority (Schools Programme local authority);
  • Introducing changes to enable central teams to work with schools and clusters, to enable sharing of resources and sharing insights into working with pupils from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds (Schools Programme local authority).

2.32 During the COVID-19 school building closure period, local authorities highlighted ways in which resources had been used to focus on outcomes for pupils affected by poverty. This included, for example, combined use of funding from ASF and other sources, including Connected Learning programme, to commission/develop and deploy online learning applications and tools. This was associated with benefits such as economies of scale, through central commissioning. Changes in the use of central staff teams to support logistics, to manage hubs etc, were also identified.

2.33 In their responses, a number of local authorities also mentioned flexibilities introduced in order to respond to the challenges associated with COVID-19. This issue is covered in the section below.

Responding to COVID-19: introduction of flexibilities in the use of ASF

2.34 The Local Authority Survey 2020 invited respondents to indicate the extent to which they had used flexibilities in the use of ASF introduced in May 2020[2] to enable local authorities to respond to COVID-19. All but one local authority respondents indicated that ASF flexibilities had been used (one to a great extent, 12 to some extent, and one to a limited extent).

2.35 Local Authority respondents described a broad range of ways in which flexibilities had been introduced with funding used flexibly to support response to the challenges associated with the period of school building closures. This included:

  • Funding for physical resources to support remote learning, including digital devices;
  • Provision of food parcels/vouchers,
  • Deployment of central SAC staff to schools to take forward attainment related activities and ensure service continuity;
  • Development of new structures and mechanisms.

2.36 Flexibilities were viewed as a welcome introduction by local authorities. Audit of existing plans and revision/adaptation of plans to be responsive to changing needs and circumstances of families experiencing poverty was highlighted by respondents. This included, for example, increased focus on health and wellbeing in some instances. It was also acknowledged that some funding could not be spent as planned due to pausing of activities, or changing the delivery mode from physical to remote, and therefore having the capacity to plan and deliver more appropriately to take account of the challenges during this period was beneficial. The following illustrate benefits associated with the introduction of flexibilities from the perspective of a number of local authorities:

‘The ability to divert funding as required gave us the flexibility we needed to meet the demands of the extended period of lockdown. This is very much a model we see as more efficient than the restrictive model we have been adhered to in previous years.’ (Challenge Authority respondent)

‘Individual schools have used PEF more flexibly in their response to Covid to meet the changing needs of pupils affected by poverty.’ (Schools Programme respondent)

2.37 Another feature to emerge from responses was the support provided by Attainment Advisors and the SWAY resource in supporting and informing schools and clusters regarding the use of flexibilities.

2.38 There was also reference to the creation of local guidance for schools’ use of PEF, as well as guidance provided by local authority departments such as HR and finance around use of flexibilities.

2.39 The importance of working collaboratively with partners was a key feature highlighted by local authorities in describing planning and delivery associated with the use of flexibilities, including joint/cluster working and sharing/pooling of resources. (The theme of collaboration is explored further in Chapter 4).



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