Local authorities were asked what they thought was working well and what could be improved in their experience of working with Education Scotland, Scottish Government and Attainment Advisors.
Overall, local authorities (both challenge and non-challenge) voiced a very positive experience of their dealings with Education Scotland. The key highlights included:
- On-going, positive and constructive relationships with Area Lead Officers, Attainment Advisors, Improvement Advisors or Lead Inspectors.
- Praise for specific support provided, such as key documents, advice on data gathering or outcome focused evidence.
- The value of organised conferences and events, such as PEF conferences or the Scottish Learning Festival.
Some areas for further improvement were also highlighted. These included:
- A need for greater stability in the organisation.
- Clarifying responsibilities and their specific role.
- Clearer guidance on measuring impact. Specifically, some authorities suggested greater consistency in messages from Education Scotland and Scottish Government.
- Develop further opportunities for local authorities to collaborate – one local authority suggested utilising RICs to a greater extent.
Challenge and non-challenge authorities had different views on what was working well and what could be improved in their dealings with Scottish Government.
- Challenge authorities praised in particular the support provided by policy colleagues which they found to be "helpful", "supportive", "appropriate and proportionate". The reduction of reporting requirements and meeting schedules was also highly welcomed.
However, they would prefer greater advance notice of submission deadlines.
- Non-challenge authorities stated that they had limited direct engagement with Scottish Government but that it was generally positive. They highlighted as positive the policy drive towards raising attainment and closing the poverty related attainment gap and found the communications clear and helpful.
Non-challenge authorities offered a range of ideas for further improvements, including:
- Development of a learning package from challenge authorities
- Streamlining of paperwork
- Consideration of other variables to allocate funding, e.g. rural poverty
- Ensuring events / sessions are undertaken outwith the Central Belt
Overall, local authorities praised the role of Attainment Advisors highly. Both challenge and non-challenge authorities found them to be an "excellent source of support" providing "high quality and adequate challenge".
Specifically, authorities valued the role of Attainment Advisors in:
- Support. For example for identifying appropriate interventions, organising interventions, delivering professional development, analysing data and self-evaluation.
- Networks. Attainment Advisors having and using their networks, and supporting networking of school or authority staff as well as linking this to national priorities.
- Knowledge and experience . The Attainment Advisor having good knowledge of local context, and being credible with everyone involved because of their experience in education.
- Working relationship. Having developed a productive and good working relationship with the Attainment Advisor.
In terms of areas for further improvement, authorities referred to some challenges encountered in recruiting an Attainment Advisor or finding a replacement for one. Non-challenge authorities, also suggested that the focus of Attainment Advisors should be on collaboration and ensuring the sharing of expertise more widely.
Local authorities were asked whether as a result of the fund, there had been any changes in how the local authority uses all its resources, including core education funding to improve outcomes for disadvantaged pupils.
Overall, 13 authorities (out of 22) said they had changed the way they used all their resources as a result of the fund.
When asked to explain how authorities have changed the way they use their resources, the following key themes emerge:
- Deprivation as a focus. Many authorities (challenge and non-challenge) said that as a result of the fund they were using all their resources with a clearer focus on deprivation and closing the poverty related attainment gap.
- Greater joined-up working. Some authorities (challenge and non-challenge) stated that there was greater joined-up working across services or that they now involve wider partners for service delivery.
Of the eight authorities who had not seen any change in the way they used all their resources, a wide range of reasons were given, each mentioned by one to two authorities:
- Changes in allocation of funding to improve outcomes for those disadvantaged would have happened anyway.
- There was already a focus on delivery excellence and equity.
- The funding went directly to schools ( PEF) and as such funding formula at a local authority level was not altered.
Local authorities were asked whether they would expect the different improvements achieved as a result of the fund to be sustainable beyond the years of the fund.
Overall, there was a positive outlook in terms of sustainability, amongst both challenge and non-challenge authorities. Out of the 22 respondents, 13 believed improvements to be sustainable, three did not and six were unsure.
The key areas identified by authorities as drivers of sustainability were:
- A change in culture / ethos / focus – with authorities stating that there is now a wider and deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on attainment and a strong commitment to close the poverty related attainment gap
- Having a clear focus on staff capacity, leadership and training and development.
- Changes in practice and improvements in quality of learning of pupils
One challenge authority stated that they were linking key aspects of SAC projects with core authority provision and another challenge authority said they were working on an exit strategy. Another authority stated that while they had been very focused on building sustainability, "the withdrawal of such funding will undoubtedly have a negative impact".
Amongst those who did not believe improvements to be sustainable (n=3), the reason given was that the biggest proportion of the fund was used to secure staff. One authority said that without the additional support local authority budgets would be unable to meet required staffing costs alone.
Concerns about a heavy reliance of the fund to secure staff, was also shared amongst some of those who believed improvements to be sustainable.
4. Pupil Equity Funding planning, implementation and support
Local authorities were asked what they thought worked well and what were the main barriers in the process of planning and implementing Pupil Equity Funding. Another question gathered what sort of support authorities provided to schools to aid in the implementation of the fund.
Local authorities highlighted the following areas as working particularly well:
- Targeted support to headteachers. There appeared to be an emphasis on targeted support for headteachers driven by local authorities. This was highlighted as an area of success across both challenge (5 out of 9) and non-challenge (8 out of 13) authorities. Some authorities mentioned having a "strong sense of trust and confidence" with headteachers and "spending a lot of time talking to headteachers about how to use PEF".
- Monitoring and data. A focus on evidence and data was also mentioned by authorities as working particularly well in the process of planning and implementing PEF. There appeared to be a focus on monitoring impact of chosen interventions, plans and/or outcomes.
- Sharing learning. This was mentioned mostly in relation to SAC authorities or schools sharing learning and experiences with those newer to the funding. This sharing of learning was valued both by challenge and non-challenge authorities.
- Collaboration. Authorities mentioned how they encouraged collaboration across schools and some referred to a "collegiate approach with some schools working together as a cluster to raise attainment".
- Guidance. Non-challenge authorities in particular highlighted the development of guidance on the use of PEF to support schools in their planning and implementation of PEF. For example, one authority stated that they "had clear guidance for all schools in terms of HR and procurement and gathered a wide range of partner providers and shared their offer with schools".
There were three key barriers identified across challenge and non-challenge authorities. These were, in order of mentions:
- Staffing. Many authorities (5 out of 9 challenge and 10 out of 13 non-challenge authorities) mentioned concerns around staffing. This included issues with shortage of staff or challenges in organising staff covers and absences.
- Timescales. Some authorities found the funding too rushed, with limited time to plan ahead and implement activities.
- Procurement. General issues with procurement were also raised by some authorities.
Support provided to schools
Local authorities were asked to describe the level and nature of the support they had provided to schools in their local authority to aid their implementation of PEF.
All authorities had provided some sort of support to their schools. The type of support provided varied across authorities. However, the three most common support mechanisms were, in order of frequency of mentions:
- General guidance on strategies, plans and/or spend.
- One to one meetings with headteachers.
- Support on evaluation and/or data.
A few authorities also provided support on monitoring spend or how to manage a financial budget.
Non-challenge authorities in particular mentioned how Quality Improvement Officers had been providing support and challenge in relation to PEF funding.
5. Unintended consequences
Authorities were asked what, if any, were the unintended positive and negative consequences of taking part in the Scottish Attainment Challenge.
Unintended positive consequences
Overall, 16 out of the 22 authorities mentioned unintended positive consequences. The key themes emerging related to:
- Collaboration. Though some highlighted that an increase in collaboration was not necessarily unintended, many authorities described an "increase in schools working together and sharing practice" as "brilliant".
- Greater focus on deprivation. Some highlighted a culture change across the authority with a greater emphasis and awareness of the impact of deprivation on attainment.
Unintended negative consequences
Overall, 14 out of the 22 authorities mentioned unintended negative consequences. The key themes emerging related to:
- Recruitment issues. A number of respondents talked about difficulties in securing staff. Non-challenge authorities in particular stated that the Scottish Attainment Challenge had "taken a lot of staff" and the "pool of available staff was smaller".
- A sense of division. A couple of challenge authorities stated that some schools felt "left out" if they were not identified as a focus schools. Two non-challenge authorities referred to a sense of division between local authorities with and without the Challenge Authorities programme.
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