This report presents findings from a recent survey of headteachers of schools in receipt of support from the Attainment Scotland Fund (ASF).
The Attainment Scotland Fund supports the Scottish Attainment Challenge (SAC), launched in 2015 with a focus on improving literacy, numeracy, health and wellbeing of children adversely affected by poverty. The SAC has developed over time to include: the Challenge Authority (CA) programme providing additional resource to nine local authorities with the highest levels of deprivation; Schools Programme (SP) supporting 74 schools outwith those authorities with a high concentration of deprivation; Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) providing funds directly to more than 95% of Scottish schools for use in initiatives to help close the poverty related attainment gap; and Care Experienced Children and Young People funding for targeted initiatives designed to improve the educational outcomes of this group.
This is the fourth survey of headteachers, previous surveys having been conducted in 2016, 2017 and 2018. The survey was issued to all schools in receipt of ASF support (via CA, SP and/or PEF). A total of 1,102 responses were received by survey close, equivalent to an overall response rate of 47%. Key findings are set out below in relation to each of the five survey themes in turn.
ASF supported approaches
A great majority of headteachers (96%) felt they understood the challenges and barriers faced by pupils affected by poverty, had good awareness of the range of approaches that can help to close the poverty-related attainment gap (96%), and were confident in selecting approaches that would be most effective in their school (93%). A large majority (84%) indicated that the approach to achieving equity in education is embedded within their school.
Most schools (67%) reported some change in their approach to closing the poverty-related attainment gap over the last year, most commonly a scaling up from the previous year. Monitoring and evaluation of impact appears to have been the key factor influencing schools' decisions around any change in approach. For those who have changed approach this was most commonly based on use of evidence to identify approaches that are not having the anticipated impact. Similarly, evaluation and being able to demonstrate positive impacts were the most common reasons for schools choosing to leave their approach unchanged.
Schools had a relatively broad focus in their approach to closing the poverty-related attainment gap. Targeted support for individual pupils was the most common; three quarters of schools included a 'strong emphasis' on targeted support as part of their approach. However, most schools had multiple areas of focus with development of teaching skills and practice, dedicated staff time and culture/ethos also referenced by a substantial proportion of schools.
Use of data and evaluation
The great majority (93%) of headteachers felt confident using data and evidence to inform development of their approach, a statistically significant (nine point) increase from 2017.
A large majority (90%) indicated that they always used evidence to measure the impact of their approaches. A lower proportion of headteachers were confident in selecting the most appropriate measures to evidence the impact of their approaches (77% were confident in this). However, most (66%) felt that they had improved their skills and knowledge in use of data for planning, evaluation and development through the Fund.
A large majority (91%) of schools had seen an improvement in closing the poverty-related gap in literacy attainment, numeracy attainment, or health and wellbeing as a result of ASF supported approaches, a 13 point increase since 2017. Nearly all (98%) expected to see improvement over the next five years. More than a third (37%) of schools had seen 'a lot' of improvement to date (19%) and/or expected to see 'a lot' of improvement over the next five years (34%).
In addition to variation across funding streams, survey analysis also indicates that the headteachers most likely to report improvement in closing the gap were those who had seen a change in culture or ethos (more collaborative working and/or embedding the approach to equity) or have improved understanding of barriers faced by pupils and families. Those who were confident using evidence to develop and measure their approaches, and who felt they had sufficient support to develop their plan for PEF were also more likely to have seen improvement to date.
The survey also asked for headteachers' views on factors that support or hinder the success of ASF supported approaches. The ability to implement approaches relevant to the school context and having sufficient teaching and staffing resources were the most commonly cited factors contributing to progress. Staff time/workload and reduction in other resources were seen as the main factors limiting progress.
Headteachers were asked for their views on the sustainability of (a) ASF-supported progress achieved to date and (b) the focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap within their school. Around half (53%) expected progress to date and/or the focus on closing the gap to be sustainable beyond funding. There was considerable overlap between these groups; 41% expected progress to date to be sustainable (a 17 point reduction from 2017) and 41% expected the focus on closing the gap to be sustainable. Staff skills and development, staffing levels and embedding practice were seen as the most important factors for the sustainability of progress to date and/or the focus on closing the poverty-related gap.
Most schools (64%) had seen an increase in collaborative working as a result of ASF support, a seven point reduction from 2018. Challenge Authority and Schools Programme schools were most likely to report increased collaboration. PEF-only schools and those with a lower PEF allocation were less likely to have seen increased collaboration.
Pupil Equity Funding
Most schools (74%) felt they had sufficient support to develop and implement school plans for PEF, an 18 point increase on 2017. Guidance to develop plans, practical advice and practice examples were key areas where schools would have welcomed more support.
The great majority (91%) felt they had the autonomy to tailor PEF plans to local context and needs. Views were also positive on whether PEF has provided the additional resource needed to address the poverty-related attainment gap; 86% felt this was the case although PEF-only schools with a lower PEF allocation were less positive.
Most schools had used multiple sources in developing plans for PEF. The most commonly used were information from teachers within the school, local guidance, parents, children and young people, and Scottish Government national operational guidance.