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 3 Activities and Outputs: Approaches

3.1 This chapter explores the development of approaches taken by schools and local authorities with regard to addressing the poverty-related attainment gap.

3.2 The early phase of the evaluation focused on the types of interventions implemented as a result of the fund and how these were planned for and targeted to reduce the poverty-related attainment gap. The evaluation was refocused at the end of Year 3 to consider how schools and local authorities identified, selected and implemented their approach for addressing the poverty-related attainment gap, in order to facilitate a broader exploration of approaches rather than focusing on the intervention level. An associated evaluation question sought to explore the extent to which the selected approach aimed to support pupils and parents from the most deprived backgrounds.

3.3 For the Year 5 evaluation, as outlined in the report introduction, the evaluation was further enhanced to include consideration of the impact of COVID-19 on the development of approaches. As a result, the evidence is presented below with reference to the period of time between August 2019 and March 2020, and separately with reference to the period of school building closures between March and June 2020. This is in recognition of the importance of the ‘story’ of change and adaptation which occurred throughout the course of the 2019/20 year.

3.4 Evidence is primarily drawn from the Local Authority Survey 2020, Headteacher Survey 2020 and Challenge Authority and Schools Programme progress reports.

How did schools and local authorities identify, select and implement approaches for addressing the poverty-related attainment gap?

3.5 The Local Authority Survey 2020 is a key evidence source on the development of local authority approaches. In the 2019 survey, local authorities provided their views on the extent to which the approach for addressing the poverty-related attainment gap had changed within their local authority over the period of funding, with 20 of 27 respondents indicating that their approach had changed either significantly or to some extent. The focus of the survey question was changed slightly for the 2020 survey to ask specifically about the development of approaches, rather than changes to the approach as in the 2019 survey.

3.6 Local Authority Survey 2020 respondents were invited to report on each of the two key time periods (prior to COVID-19 and the period of school building closures between March and June 2020). The 2020 survey also introduced a specific question on approaches to engaging families and communities, in order to better capture this important aspect of ASF approaches and reflecting a strengthened focus in the SAC logic model.

Approaches during the period August 2019 to March 2020

3.7 All local authority respondents indicated their approach had developed over the period August 2019 to March 2020. Six (of 15 respondents) indicated the approach to closing the poverty-related attainment gap had developed significantly over the previous year between August 2019 and March 2020 in their local authority, and nine indicated the approach had developed to some extent.

3.8 Themes which emerged from responses in terms of development of approaches include the continued development and enhancement of approaches over a number of years, with structures, processes and systems in place to support this, together with increasing use of data and associated improved understanding of closing the poverty-related attainment gap and of the effects of poverty on children and young people, increased collaborations and embedding of equity.

3.9 Factors associated with the development of approaches highlighted included:

  • Collaborative working;
  • Evidence of approaches becoming more embedded;
  • Improvements in use of guidance and planning;
  • Increased focus on the use of data, including greater rigour in use of data, greater access to data and greater data literacy;
  • Staffing increases;
  • Increasing opportunities for professional learning;
  • Easily accessible support and clear communication channels;
  • Improved understanding of the poverty-related attainment gap and of the experience of poverty and its impact on children and families;
  • Continued development of mechanisms to support strategic planning and governance;
  • Aspirational target setting; and
  • Increasingly adaptive and responsive approaches.

Exemplar: Local Authority Approach to Numeracy

A Schools Programme local authority described a numeracy intervention menu created to support schools in selecting relevant interventions, as well as a numeracy ‘equity and excellence’ group which is supporting driving up numeracy attainment through focusing on pedagogical themes identified in research as raising numeracy attainment, linking this to professional learning and the development and roll out of a Closing the Numeracy Gap intervention.

3.10 The box above provides an example of a local authority approach to closing the numeracy gap, outlining a range of complementary actions taken by the local authority which all focus on closing the numeracy gap but which act at different levels. This includes mechanisms to support exchange and sharing of good practice, learning from current research, support for schools on selecting relevant existing interventions, professional learning, and developing a new bespoke intervention for roll out across the local authority. Local authorities also described the continuing development of specific initiatives, a number of examples of which are provided below for illustration:

  • Cost of the School Day[3] - One local authority specifically described that CotSD was ‘data led and data driven’, highlighting the importance of data in driving improvements;
  • mentoring through MCR Pathways[4] available across local authority area;
  • a supported study approach, targeted at pupils in SIMD 1 and 2, now available across nearly all schools in local authority in response to pupil feedback.

3.11 At the school level, the development of approaches to closing the poverty-related attainment gap and addressing equity in education was explored in the Headteacher Survey 2020. The survey found that the large majority of schools had developed their approach to achieving equity during the first part of the 2019/20 year from their approach in 2018/19, with 85% indicating they had developed their approach during this period.

3.12 There was strong evidence from Challenge Authority and Schools Programme progress reports regarding the importance of health and wellbeing within approaches, both before and during COVID-19. There were a wealth of examples of whole school nurture approaches and collaboration with specialist providers.

Approaches during school building closures – March to June 2020

3.13 Local authority approaches had also developed during the period of school building closures (March to June 2020), with the majority of respondents to the Local Authority Survey 2020 indicating this. Five respondents indicated their local authority approach had developed significantly, and seven indicated their local authority approach had developed to some extent. Three respondents felt there had been limited development over the period of school building closures.

3.14 Local authority approaches had developed in a range of ways. A number of local authorities had undertaken reviews to consider planned activities with decisions subsequently made to pause or progress work related to current and emerging priorities and needs. One local authority noted it had undertaken an equity audit to support future planning. Flexibility, agility and creativity were key aspects highlighted during this period of review and adaptation.

3.15 Large-scale changes were introduced in order to adapt to meet the challenges of providing remote learning, frequently ‘pivoting’ in very quick time-periods to meet the unprecedented challenges presented by responding to COVID-19. This included the introduction of a wealth of responses, from providing physical resources (e.g. food parcels, home-learning packs), equity-related advice and information, signposting to other sources of support, as well as the continuation of face-to-face support where possible. Prioritisation of health and wellbeing support was a common theme in responses, ranging from increased pastoral support and support for mental health through to physical support such as linking up with food banks. The creation of new partnerships with other agencies in order to take this activity forward, in particular with third sector organisations, were commonly highlighted. Cross-departmental responses were also highlighted, such as joint working through social work and education.

Exemplar: Developing Approaches to Health and Wellbeing

A Schools Programme local authority established a new partnership involving Educational Psychology Service and youth work to provide counselling support in schools. This positively impacted on children and young people affected by poverty, with nearly three quarters of those participating being entitled to free school meals. During the period of school building closures, a wellbeing telephone consultation service was set up for pupils and their families, together with the creation of wellbeing guidance for pupils and families.

3.16 Local authorities described using data to support schools to identify pupils and families in need of further support, whether in terms of attending childcare hubs, or to receive additional support at home, for example digital devices/connectivity, physical home-learning packs etc.

3.17 A variety of systems were established at local authority level to support schools, for example in tracking engagement in home-learning and for keeping in touch with identified pupils, to establish virtual networks across schools to support sharing and exchange, to support schools with adapting plans for use of PEF funding.

3.18 Also commonly highlighted in local authority responses were modifications to existing plans and approaches to enable progress to continue. For example, training was modified to online delivery rather than face-to-face. Authorities highlighted the success in changing delivery of aspects of professional learning to online delivery, often within very short time-frames.

Exemplar: Developing approaches to mitigate the impact of COVID-19:

A Challenge Authority described its schools’ use of data and knowledge of families to provide food to vulnerable families, signpost to sources of third sector support, welfare rights advice, and identification of mental health and wellbeing issues. This provision was supported by key family link worker roles based within education hubs.

3.19 Headteachers were invited to provide their views on the development of approaches during the period of school building closures from March to June 2020, with almost two thirds (61%) of respondents to the Headteacher Survey 2020 indicating their approaches had also developed during this period. Whilst this finding was broadly consistent across respondent groups in terms of funding streams and urban/rural location, schools were more likely to have developed their approach during the period of school building closures if the approach had developed from the previous year in the period August 2019 to March 2020.

Approaches to engaging families and communities

3.20 There is considerable evidence of the ongoing development of approaches to engaging families and communities across evidence sources. Evidence from the Local Authority Survey 2020 indicates that the majority of respondents (13 of 15) developed their approaches to engaging families and communities during the previous year (four significantly, nine to some extent).

3.21 In the period August 2019 to March 2020, there were numerous developments highlighted with regard to engaging families and communities. For example, local authorities variously described the development of parental involvement and engagement strategies, and of approaches to family learning. Challenge Authority progress reports detailed a whole range of ways in which local authorities had sought to support children and young people through projects to support families, including provision of targeted support for families, the role of school/family development workers focusing on improving attendance, engagement and participation, and parenting support such as benefits advice, mental health, substance misuse etc, pointing to the holistic nature of much of this activity.

3.22 Whilst family and community engagement aspects had frequently been driven forward at pace in order to respond to the challenges created as a result of COVID-19, some planned aspects of family and community engagement had been paused, or adapted as a result of the school building closures. Adaptations included the development of virtual approaches. For some, work at the local authority level progressed on a more limited level during the school building closures, whilst at the school level engagement with families and communities increased.

3.23 Several made reference to the use of ASF funding including PEF to employ family/link workers in order to build capacity/expand this aspect, and there was evidence of networking between family/link workers to share and exchange developing approaches and problem-solving in response to emerging issues and challenges.

3.24 Themes which emerged with regard to the period of school building closures include:

  • Increased partnership working, both with parents’ groups, with third sector and with other local authority services;
  • Schools working directly to facilitate increased contact with families, with provision of food, hard copy materials to support home-learning, face to face visits etc;
  • The role of family/link workers, often funded through PEF, were highlighted. For a number of local authorities, existing family link worker roles enabled a rapid response to the challenges facing families, often working in partnership with third sector organisations to respond to changing circumstances of families as a result of the ongoing pandemic. Family/link workers were viewed as key as they were able to use their existing knowledge of families and existing relationships with families to engage quickly to start to address their needs, including direct provision to support Health and Wellbeing needs (e.g. delivery of food parcels, clothes), signposting to other services including benefits advice, food banks, and linking with other statutory and non-statutory services in the local area. Evidence sources, including Challenge Authority and Schools Programme progress reports, strongly identified such roles as an increasingly integral part of the local community infrastructure, supporting strong links between both school and individual families and between school and the local community more widely.

To what extent did approaches selected aim to support pupils and parents from the most deprived backgrounds?

3.25 The evaluation sought to explore the extent to which selected approaches aimed to support pupils and parents from the most deprived backgrounds with evidence sought from a range of sources.

3.26 Whilst some approaches focused on universal provision, others were more focused on support of pupils from the most deprived backgrounds.

3.27 Evidence from the Headteacher Survey 2020 on targeted versus universal provision indicates that a large majority of schools have included a targeted focus on pupils and parents experiencing socio-demographic disadvantage as part of their approach to achieving equity. However, survey results show that most schools have taken a mixed response, with 85% of respondents to the survey indicating the use of ASF to support universal approaches. Whilst these findings were consistent across most key respondent groups, there were some differences related to responses of headteachers from rural areas where there was less likelihood of a specific focus on those affected by socio-economic disadvantage and/or other types of disadvantage.

3.28 In terms of mechanisms to ensure approaches were focused on pupils and parents from the most socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, evidence considered for Year 5 points to improved understanding and use of data sources to support decision-making around identifying target groups. This will be explored further in Chapter 4.



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