Publication - Research and analysis

Attainment Scotland Fund Evaluation - Headteacher Survey: 2020 report

Published: 17 Jun 2021
Directorate:
Learning Directorate
Part of:
Education
ISBN:
9781802010107

The Attainment Scotland Fund Evaluation: Headteacher Survey – Full Report 2020 presents key findings from the fifth survey of headteachers of schools in receipt of Attainment Scotland Fund (ASF) support, covering the 2019/20 academic year including the period of school building closures from March.

Attainment Scotland Fund Evaluation - Headteacher Survey: 2020 report
3. ASF and supported approaches

3. ASF and supported approaches

3.1. This section summarises survey findings on respondents’ experiences in developing their approach, including schools’ focus in achieving equity, and engagement with families and communities.

Developing schools’ approach

3.2. A great majority of headteachers felt they understood the challenges and barriers faced by pupils affected by poverty; 98%, including 78% who felt they understood this ‘to a great extent’. This is similar to 2019 survey results and was also consistent across ASF streams. However, those in small town and rural areas, and those with lower PEF allocations were less likely to feel that they understood these challenges.

Figure 2: Understanding of challenges/barriers faced by pupils affected by poverty in your school
Top: Bar chart showing comparison 2020 versus 2019, Middle: Bar chart showing comparison by urban versus rural area, Bottom: Bar chart showing comparison by lower/middle/higher PEF allocation

3.3. A large majority of headteachers felt that the approach to achieving equity in education is embedded within their school community; 84% felt that their approach was embedded within their school community to a great or moderate extent. Only 3% felt their approach was not very well embedded.

3.4. These findings are similar to 2019 survey results and were broadly consistent across key respondent groups.

Figure 3: Whether approach to achieving equity is embedded within the school community
Bar chart showing comparison survey results 2020 versus 2019

Focus for achieving equity in education

3.5. A large majority of schools have included a focus on the pupils or parents experiencing socio-economic deprivation or disadvantage as part of their approach to achieving equity; 83% include a focus on those experiencing socio-economic deprivation and 77% include a focus on other types of disadvantage. However, most schools have taken a mixed approach, with 85% of all respondents indicating that they have used ASF to support ‘universal’ approaches. These findings are consistent across most key respondent groups, although schools in rural areas are less likely to include a specific focus on those affected by socio-economic deprivation and/or other types of disadvantage.

Figure 4: How approach to achieving equity is targeted within the school community
Top: Bar chart showing comparison by type of targeting of approach, Bottom: Bar chart showing comparison by urban versus rural area

3.6. The majority of schools have seen new circumstances emerge since school building closures that may need to be taken into account by their approach to closing the poverty-related attainment gap; 75% indicated this. Survey results show some variation across key respondent types, notably that those in urban areas were more likely than others to have seen new circumstances emerging.

Figure 5: Whether new circumstances emerged since school building closures that may require additional support to close the poverty-related attainment gap
Bar chart showing comparison by urban versus rural area

3.7. The survey also invited respondents to provide written comments about the new circumstances they had seen emerge since school building closures. Table 3 below summarises the main points raised by respondents.

Table 3: New circumstances affecting need for support (n=306)
Theme % of comments
Change in income, more families experiencing poverty including food and fuel poverty, risk of losing home 42%
Insecurity of employment including furlough and unemployment 39%
Health and wellbeing of pupils and parents 35%
Digital connectivity, lack of devices and internet access 34%
Emotional wellbeing and mental health of pupils and parents, isolation 32%
Struggling to engage with remote learning 24%
Parental digital literacy 15%
Parents under pressure/stress including balance of work and home schooling 12%
Increase in free meal entitlement 7%
Reduced access to other support services due to COVID-19 2%

3.8. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on income and employment within school communities was a key theme in terms of new circumstances emerging since school building closures. This included reference to an increase in the number of pupils and families experiencing poverty, with examples cited of food and fuel poverty, and families at risk of homelessness.

More families out with traditional supports are struggling – including those who do not receive FSM or are 'traditionally' seen as experiencing poverty. (Challenge Authority school in urban area)

3.9. Responses also made clear that families whose income and employment had been affected by COVID-19 included some who had not previously experienced poverty. These families may also have been unknown to support services.

Families who previously were not affected by poverty now affected by long COVID and unable to work and/or losing jobs and businesses. Increase in families requiring support from local foodbanks, Christmas gifts from local charities. (Challenge Authority school in urban area)

3.10. Schools also noted the extent to which poverty can affect pupils’ self-confidence, and ultimately limit their engagement with remote learning. Some suggested that pupil engagement was a particular issue for families who were experiencing poverty for the first time, including those who may have been ‘just about managing’ prior to the pandemic.

Many working-class families on low-income employment and zero hours contracts have slipped from just about managing to not managing. This has a knock-on effect for pupil readiness for learning, motivation and self-confidence. Children are worried about their family circumstances before they even turn to school. (Schools Programme school in urban area)

3.11. In addition to direct impacts on household income, responses also highlighted impacts on pupil and parent health and wellbeing, including emotional and mental health. Around a third of those providing comment referred to an increase in the number of pupils and families with support needs related to their health and wellbeing. This included some who referred to a significant increase in needs. Responses also referred to difficulties for families in accessing in-person support services due to COVID-19 related restrictions, and to an ongoing shortage of support services to meet the increase in mental health needs.

Mental wellbeing is suffering across the community – there are not enough professionals available to deal with this need quickly and effectively. Our school does not have the expertise to support some of our worst hit families. (Challenge Authority school in small town)

3.12. Some schools reflected on how the pandemic and associated government restrictions had impacted the mental health of pupils and families. This included the impact of isolation and reduced access to (formal and informal) supports, and the stresses experienced by families trying to balance remote learning, childcare and work commitments.

Increased mental health concerns for families due to the isolation and reduction in face to face supports. Increased stress for families as they attempt to support children carrying out remote learning with limited ICT knowledge or technical difficulties – and juggling childcare and work commitments. (Challenge Authority school in small town)

3.13. A number of respondents reported that some families had turned to schools for immediate support, where they were unable to access other support services. These schools reported some concerns regarding the extent to which staff had the skills and capacity required to meet these needs, with some having seen an adverse impact on staff wellbeing.

A real lack of supports available from other services. More families in crisis than before and looking to schools for immediate support. This in turn is having a major impact on the wellbeing of staff in schools. (PEF-only school in urban area)

3.14. As noted above, schools highlighted potential for impacts around employment, income and health/wellbeing to affect the ability of pupils to engage with remote learning. This was also reflected in wider concerns regarding the extent to which some pupils had difficulty engaging with remote learning. A number of schools suggested that engagement had been a particular issue during the first phase of government restrictions, but had improved subsequently as pupils and families have adapted to the requirements of remote learning.

Many families did not engage in online learning during the first period of lockdown due to family circumstances, lack of equipment, difficulties navigating online programmes, etc. As a result there was a marked difference in ability between those who had engaged and those who had not. (Challenge Authority school in urban area)

3.15. Digital connectivity and skills were also noted as a significant barrier for some pupils engaging in remote learning. This included in terms of access to digital devices (with particular challenges for households with multiple pupils requiring access) and internet connectivity. Some noted that programmes to supply devices and connectivity to families had helped to improve pupil engagement.

A lack of digital access is a major issue for many of our pupils. They are struggling to access online content from home. (Challenge Authority school in urban area)

3.16. However, schools also highlighted the extent to which a lack of parental skills and confidence can limit pupil engagement in remote learning. This was seen as a particular issue in relation to digital technologies, with some noting that provision of digital devices has only a limited impact if parents struggle to support pupils in making use of these.

A lot of parents do not have the capacity to support remote learning, due to educational background and work commitments. We have worked hard to provide digital devices and internet dongles. However, families with multiple children continue to struggle to meet the demands of remote learning. (Challenge Authority school in small town)

We have become more aware of the lack of parental confidence, knowledge and understanding of technology to support learning. This leads to poor engagement even where devices have been provided. (Schools Programme school in small town)

3.17. Headteachers were also invited to provide written comment on whether and how they had adapted their approach in response to these new circumstances. The main points raised by responses are summarised below.

Table 4: How adapted approach in response to new circumstances (n=289)
Theme % of comments
Support for parents and families including those struggling with remote learning 65%
Increased focus on mental health including counselling and emotional support 21%
Digital connectivity support including skills development 21%
Building on community links and partnerships to reach more families in need 17%
Increased focus on health and wellbeing support, nurture 17%
Foodbanks and other support with food/meals 16%
Helping families to access financial support, grants 8%
Additional staffing skills and capacity, including skills development in digital learning and mental health/trauma 8%
Recovery planning for enhanced/expanded provision on return to school 8%
Clothing bank 8%
Linking and signposting to other support services 5%
Initiatives to reduce cost of the school day 5%

3.18. Some of the comments provided here noted the importance of tailoring support to the specific circumstances of pupils and families. This included reference to use of varying approaches to improve communication with families, as a means of generating a more complete picture of families’ circumstances. Responses also reflected the range of new challenges that may be affecting families including financial challenges (particularly around the cost of the school day), deterioration in health and wellbeing, and a need for third party support.

We have had to listen carefully to what our families and children are telling us to allow us to intervene appropriately. We have expanded efforts to combat the cost of the school day, continued the work of our Health and Wellbeing Champion, and have furthered work with 3rd sector partners to support families. We have also surveyed families to ensure all have devices to access online learning. (Challenge Authority school in urban area)

3.19. Digital connectivity was again a key factor in terms of tailoring support to pupils and families. For some schools, this was also useful as a route to discussion of other poverty-related impacts. Responses also highlighted the importance of hands-on support with pupils and families ‘where they are’, in helping families make use of digital resources and to engage with other aspects of the school’s approach. The importance of hands-on working was also reflected in the extent to which ASF-supported interventions included a focus on attendance.

Supporting families with digital connectivity has allowed a safe route to discussion around other impacts of poverty in the home that previously may not have come to light. We have seen that the support families require is more hands on and meets them where they are. In-school interventions have worked very well but we are identifying that attendance underpins the rationale for many of our planned interventions. (Schools Programme school in urban area)

3.20. Responses also referred to a range of specific supports provided to pupils and families. These included reference to a range of issues related to the impact of COVID-19 on income and financial circumstances, such as signposting to benefit maximisation services and potential grants, provision of food parcels and help with the cost of the school day. Some schools referred to this use of community supports and services as helping to engage families in the school community.

Accessing funding while families get Universal Credit sorted, applying for grants. Being creative to find ways of supporting families to engage with school including through strong community links/partnerships. (Challenge Authority school in urban area)

3.21. Mental health and emotional support were also key themes for the supports provided to pupils and families. Respondents referred to an increase in need for counselling and mental health services, including multi-agency support packages for vulnerable families.

We have provided food parcels and stationery and anticipate this need to continue. More families needing support with remote learning in terms of devices and access to internet – this has been addressed to some degree but the need continues. Greater emotional support to families, greater demand on counselling and greater need for multi-agency working to protect and support vulnerable families.

(Challenge Authority school in small town)

3.22. As is noted earlier, a substantial number of schools had seen an increase in the number of families affected by poverty. Some expressed concern that free school meal entitlement may not be sufficient to capture the full range of emerging support needs. These respondents suggested that a focus on ‘just managing’ families may be required to reach pupils who may not be entitled to free school meals, but who may be affected by the poverty-related attainment gap.

We may need to look at ways of supporting pupils whose families earn just over the current allowance to qualify for free school meals. (Challenge Authority school in rural area)

Responding to changing circumstances

3.23. A large majority of schools had developed their approach to achieving equity from the previous school year; 85% indicated that their approach at the start of 2019/20 had developed from 2018/19, including 20% where the approach had ‘developed significantly’. This represents an increase on the previous survey, where 67% indicated that their approach had changed from the previous year.

3.24. A substantial proportion of schools also further developed their approach to achieving equity during school building closures in March to June 2020; 61% indicated this, including 15% where the approach had ‘developed significantly’ during this period. This finding was broadly consistent across key respondent groups. However, survey findings suggest that schools were more likely to have developed their approach during school closures if their approach had developed from the previous year. For example, 81% of schools who had significantly developed their approach from 2018/19 continued to develop their approach during school building closures, compared with 24% of schools who had little or no development from 2018/19.

Figure 6: To what extent approach to closing the poverty-related attainment gap has developed
Pie chart showing whether approach has developed from previous year compared with during school building closures

3.25. Schools had the opportunity to provide written comment describing how their approach to closing the poverty-related attainment gap had developed during the period of school building closures. The main points raised by respondents are summarised below.

Table 5: Where approach had developed during school building closures (n=214)
Theme % of comments
Support for learning at home including digital and other resources, refined pedagogical approach 62%
Focus on pupil and family wellbeing, regular 'check-ins', mental health and emotional support 38%
Focus on tackling poverty, deprivation, supporting access to financial support, support with food and clothing 19%
Responding to an increasing scale of need 16%
Building community links, links with support services 10%
Increasing awareness and understanding of family circumstances and needs 5%

3.26. Responses made clear that, for many schools, this period had involved multiple changes to their approach to closing the poverty-related attainment. This most commonly involved reference to support for remote learning, including adapting the teaching approach and targeting of support (including around digital connectivity). Responses also highlighted the importance of engagement with pupils and families, in supporting their engagement in remote learning, and as a means of monitoring progress.

All vulnerable pupils and families were identified and allocated dedicated support, including weekly calls. Pupils were supported through Microsoft Teams and could contact their teachers whenever needed. Devices were loaned and paper packs issued as appropriate, and IT support was made available. Engagement was monitored weekly and contact made to provide support where concerns were raised. We now have daily registration with a built-in wellbeing and learning check. (PEF-only school in rural area)

3.27. Comments on the development of remote learning approaches also made clear that this had been an iterative process for some, with schools adapting their approach based on experience and feedback from pupils and families. However, some also made clear that access to digital connectivity and resources remained a challenge.

We struggled with our online learning initially as we were using a homework only platform and many pupils did not have digital devices. We supported families through our online learning platform, and ensured every young person was contacted once a week for a ‘check-in’ focused on mental health and wellbeing – looked after children and young carers were contacted more often. We identified those not engaging in online learning and were able to support some families, but not the number needed due to lack of digital resources. (Challenge Authority school in urban area)

3.28. A substantial number of those providing comment had also made changes focused on pupil and family circumstances more widely. Health and wellbeing emerged as an important theme, with some schools noting that their experience had highlighted the importance of mental wellbeing support for pupil engagement. Some indicated that increased use of ‘check-in’ contact had been sufficient to meet families’ needs, while others had required interagency support to meet increasing mental and emotional wellbeing related needs.

Children were receiving learning via digital means but didn't have the technology. As more families struggled, check-in phone calls became more frequent. When families really began to struggle, it became apparent that mental and emotional wellbeing was paramount. We had to request support from many other agencies through this time. (Challenge Authority school in urban area)

3.29. Comments also highlighted the challenges faced by schools in responding to the increased number of families affected by poverty. This included reference to the prevalence of mental health needs amongst those newly affected by poverty. Schools described a range of approaches and support provided to these families including help to access financial support, help with costs such as food and clothing, and access to mental health support.

Many new families now come under the 'vulnerable category' - mental health and emotional difficulties have been a huge factor. We have supported families in numerous ways: supporting access to technology and use of online learning, and supporting their family circumstances (e.g. finding a counsellor to provide weekly sessions, weekly check-in calls, monitoring pupil interactions, signposting families to supports for bills/food/clothing). (Challenge Authority school in urban area)

3.30. Understanding the challenges faced by families emerged as a key theme in the development of schools’ approaches during school building closures. As noted above, schools highlighted the value of increased engagement with pupils and families in improving understanding of their circumstances and needs. A number of headteachers also referred to the value of hub working in enabling staff to engage with a diverse range of pupils, and develop a better understanding of the full range of needs. For some, this work had identified new groups of pupils affected by school building closures and in need of additional support. These headteachers emphasised the value of ASF support in enabling schools to tailor their response to the specific circumstances of pupils.

We became much more aware of what families had experienced. We have identified a group of pupils disadvantaged during school building closures and they are now being monitored closely in case they fall behind - PEF / Attainment Challenge funding has really helped us in this situation as we have been able to create new roles to help our own circumstances. (Challenge Authority school in urban area)

3.31. More than half of schools (57%) had used the additional flexibility in how they use ASF funds introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. There was some variation across key respondent groups in take-up of this flexibility, most notably that secondary schools and those with higher PEF allocations were more likely than others to have made use of this flexibility.

Figure 7: Whether used COVID-19 flexibility to change aspects of how ASF funds used in school
Bar chart showing comparison all respondents versus lower/middle/higher PEF allocation

3.32. Schools had the opportunity to provide written comment describing how they had made use of this additional flexibility in how ASF funds could be used in school. The main points raised by respondents are summarised below.

Table 6: How used additional flexibility in response to COVID-19 pandemic (n=214)
Theme % of comments
Digital resources and connectivity, supporting remote learning 38%
Remote learning resources and support 34%
Additional staffing capacity, including a focus on supporting remote learning 31%
Additional support services with a health and wellbeing focus, links with other services 16%
Supporting outdoor access and learning 8%
Targeting those affected by poverty, support with food, clothing, etc 7%
More family and community engagement 1%

3.33. Responses indicate that this was primarily focused on using ASF funds to support remote learning. Providing digital resources and connectivity was the most common theme here, with a number of schools referring to the importance of improving digital connectivity and other resources in supporting remote learning.

Additional devices have been purchased to increase ICT capacity for remote learning. This has allowed staff to deliver better quality learning and teaching. (Challenge Authority school in urban area)

3.34. Some also noted that the increased focus on digital connectivity and resources for remote learning had been in part a response to wider COVID-19 restrictions. These schools referred to having adapted their approach, temporarily moving away from wider experiences which had been curtailed by COVID-19, and thus placing greater emphasis on digital connectivity.

COVID restrictions limited our ability to continue the types of wider experiences such as learning to swim, visits to museums and the cinema etc. We have changed our plans to invest in ICT for pupils and staff. (Challenge Authority school in urban area)

3.35. In addition to ensuring pupils had the required digital connectivity, headteachers also noted that additional flexibility had allowed them to respond to other emerging needs. This included reference to provision of food and clothing parcels, stationery and learning resources to assist with the cost of the school day, and learning/development for parents and carers.

Funds used to provide resources for pupils and families to use at home (including digital devices), to provide food and clothing for families, to provide CLD and help parents and carers access courses. (Challenge Authority school in urban area)

Provided stationery packs for all pupils, purchasing and introducing a new reading scheme (allowing online distribution of reading books) and a new Maths resource. Purchasing subscription to online learning scheme and Outdoor Learning training for staff. (Challenge Authority school in urban area)

3.36. A substantial number of those providing comment had used the flexibility to increase staffing capacity. For some, this reflected a wider view that staff input is a key success factor in closing the poverty-related attainment gap, and some noted that flexibility in use of funding had enabled them to respond to increased pupil and family needs without adversely affecting teacher workload. This included use of data to tailor approaches, with the additional benefit of building staff skills and capacity in use of data and evidence.

To support our plans to widen this approach across the curriculum, a teacher has been commissioned using PEF funding to analyse subject data and support teachers to design appropriate interventions where gaps are identified. This enabled us to move forward with our plans without adversely impacting on teacher workload and has also built teacher capacity for moving forward next session. (PEF-only school in rural area)

Engaging with families and communities

3.37. A large majority of schools had used engagement with families and communities as part of their school’s approach to closing the poverty-related attainment gap; 85% indicated this, including 52% who used family/community engagement ‘to a great extent’.

3.38. There was some variation across key respondent groups in use of family and community engagement. Most notably, secondary schools and those with higher PEF allocations were more likely to have used family and community engagement.

Figure 8: To what extent engagement with families and communities has been part of school’s approach
Bar chart showing scaled responses on extent engagement with families and communities part of school’s approach

3.39. A large majority of schools had developed their approach to family/community engagement during school building closures; 81% indicated this, including 45% who had developed their approach significantly.

3.40. There was again some variation across key respondent groups, with secondary schools and those with higher PEF allocations more likely to have developed their approach to engagement.

Figure 9: To what extent approach to engaging with families/communities has developed during school building closures
Bar chart showing scaled responses on extent approach to engaging families/communities developed during school building closures

3.41. Schools had the opportunity to provide written comment on how they had developed their approach to family and community engagement during the period of school building closures. The main points raised by respondents are summarised below.

Table 7: How developed approach to family engagement during school building closures (n=285)
Theme % of comments
More ‘outreach’ communication with families inc. regular 'check in', gathering feedback, improving understanding of circumstances/needs 81%
More tailored approach, supporting the most vulnerable families 18%
More community engagement, building links with community support 15%
Provision of remote learning resources 14%
Tackling poverty, deprivation, supporting access to financial support, support with food and clothing 14%
Provision of digital resources and support 10%
Greater focus on wellbeing including mental health and emotional support, counselling 10%
Responding to an increasing scale of need 2%
Specific work to improve engagement with families with English as an Additional Language 2%

3.42. Extending use of ‘outreach’ communication was by far the most common way in which schools’ approach to family and community engagement had developed. A large majority of those providing comment referred to use of more frequent contact to build relationships and improve understanding of family circumstances and needs. This included a particular focus on regular wellbeing checks, with some noting the benefits of ensuring that pupils and families feel nurtured.

All families are phoned by class teachers on a weekly basis and contacted by text or e-mail twice weekly to support remote learning. Families feel nurtured and are able to ask for resources delivered by staff. Live lessons allowed some more vulnerable parents to learn alongside their children, improving their capacity to support remote learning. This is a practice we will continue, albeit in a reduced form, after school buildings re-open. (Challenge Authority school in small town)

3.43. Respondents also referred to the variety of approaches used to engage with the most vulnerable pupils and families. This included reference to multiple communication channels such as social media and video messages, and referral to third parties to provide the support required, particularly for those affected by poverty.

Increased use of social media to promote community and school identity and sense of belonging. Use of video messages to pupils, parents & carers to support health and wellbeing and school ethos. Weekly contacts for all families, and more often for identified pupils & families. School referrals to local charities for food and fuel poverty support. Regular remote learning packs for collection via school grounds or delivery to pupils’ home. (Challenge Authority school in urban area)

3.44. Focusing engagement on the most vulnerable families was also a key element for some schools. This again involved a variety of approaches to reach out to pupils and families, with responses referring to methods such as Virtual Parent Partnership meetings and community wellbeing walks.

Vulnerable families were contacted on a weekly basis. Inclusion drop-ins were open to families and counselling was widened to support some parents. Engagement was maintained through Virtual Parent Partnership meetings, wellbeing walks in the community and doorstep catch-ups where necessary. Support for Learning staff maintained weekly contact with pupils and families to provide a range of bespoke supports. (PEF-only school in rural area)

3.45. Comments also made clear that the understanding developed through family engagement was used by schools as an opportunity to address other needs. This included reference to engagement with remote learning, health and wellbeing, supporting those affected by poverty, and signposting to other supports.

Initially, our focus was on maintaining contact with the families that we had deemed vulnerable. As many more families began to experience financial, social and emotional difficulties, Senior Management Team maintained contact with every family to ensure they were as safe as possible and that their needs were being met. (Challenge Authority school in urban area)

Significant rises in door-step visits, developed links to local food and support charities, signposting financial inclusion support and local authority supports, mental health supports for parents. (Challenge Authority school in rural area)


Contact

Email: Fiona.Wager@gov.scot