Attainment Scotland Fund 2019: evaluation

Evaluation of the Attainment Scotland Fund with analysis of local authority survey findings for 2019.

Executive Summary


E.1. The report summarises findings from the Local Authority survey, which took place between July and September 2019.

E.2. The survey explored local authority perspectives on the Attainment Scotland Fund. This was the third wave of the survey. The first wave took place in 2016 with Challenge Authorities only. The second wave of the survey was undertaken in 2018 with all local authorities invited to participate.

E.3. The survey considered themes such as governance, funding, sustainability, Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) planning and implementation, and unintended consequences covered previously. The survey also sought to gather local authority perspectives on:

  • developing approaches to closing the poverty-related attainment gap;
  • the extent to which data and evidence relevant to the local context featured in decision-making;
  • the extent to which the fund increased collaboration within local authorities;
  • factors supporting and mitigating (inhibiting) progress towards closing the poverty-related attainment gap;
  • views on planning and implementation of the Care Experienced Children and Young People (CECYP) Fund.

E.4. Overall, 28 (out of 32) local authorities replied, representing a response rate of 88%. This included responses from all 9 Challenge Authorities.

Key findings

E.5. In terms of governance, local authority viewpoints were broadly positive in terms of working with Education Scotland, including Attainment Advisers, and with Scottish Government.

E.6. The Attainment Adviser role was viewed very positively overall. This included the range of support provided by Attainment Advisers, including providing a national perspective and bringing this into the local level, and good working relationships between Attainment Advisers and local authority staff. A number of areas for further improvement were also identified regarding availability of expertise and resource from Attainment Advisers, such as some inconsistency of staffing/periods without an Attainment Adviser in post.

E.7. A number of wider concerns were also raised by local authorities with respect to governance, including recruitment and retention pressures (particularly for those local authorities outwith the central belt), and resource availability (with some perception, particularly amongst non-Challenge Authorities, of the development of a 'two tier' system).

E.8. The Attainment Scotland Fund continues to be a driver of change and cohesion. There was evidence of a shifting focus and streamlining towards approaches where there was evidence of effectiveness and impact. Improvement was a driver for change. Self-evaluation of effectiveness and impact of intervention programmes were viewed as the basis of decisions for continuation, amendment or discontinuation.

E.9. Emerging enhancements and adaptations in approaches were based on:

  • Increasing use of a broad range of data
  • Focus on measuring impact
  • Building sustainability

E.10. Data and evidence featured strongly in local authority decision-making, with evidence of increasing use of and focus on data to support decision-making in terms of approaches and interventions. There was evidence of:

  • Improved capacity
  • Improved capability
  • Increasing focus on local data
  • Improvements in data quality

E.11. However, despite such improvements, there remains considerable variability in terms of use of data and evidence. There were also some suggestions of the potential for overwhelm arising in terms of data and evidence use.

E.12. The extent to which collaboration has increased as a result of the fund emerged strongly with collaboration evident at different levels of the system and between different levels of the system (eg within schools, between school clusters, within local authorities and between schools and external partner agencies). Funding was viewed as a driver of collaboration. Whilst collaboration was viewed broadly as positive, it was also recognised that concerns and barriers regarding collaboration can also exist (eg time consuming; staff availability).

E.13. Local authorities were broadly positive regarding the extent to which the focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap would be sustainable beyond the years of the fund. A range of actions were being taken with regard to sustainability, including both strategic approaches and actions, as well as actions at a more local level. There was emerging evidence of the prioritisation of interventions with the greatest impact by local authorities. Staffing and budget factors were raised as concerns related to sustainability.

E.14. In terms of the use of resources, including core education funding, to improve outcomes for pupils from deprived backgrounds, similar to themes which emerged in the 2018 local authority survey there was evidence of a greater focus on deprivation and of a more collaborative focus. However, some concerns also emerged in terms of the use of resources, both in terms of concerns related to reduction in central resource and the potential for emerging differentials between schools in terms of available resources.

E.15. As in the 2018 local authority survey, there were broadly positive perceptions of planning and implementation of Pupil Equity Funding (PEF). This included, for example, local and national guidance for headteachers and Attainment Adviser role in supporting schools. There was evidence of pooling of resources and building partnerships, collaboration, use of data and evidence and the development of tools and approaches to support schools. However, barriers in planning and implementing PEF were also raised, not least related to staffing (such as recruitment challenges, staff availability and retention of staff), as well as challenges perceived as a result of PEF funding going directly to schools.

E.16. Views on planning and implementing PEF alongside Challenge Authority or Schools Programme funding were invited where relevant, with themes emerging including:

  • Increased integration/alignment between SAC and PEF;
  • Important role of Attainment Advisers supporting schools in terms of using SAC and PEF funding effectively;
  • Some tensions in terms of planning cycles and concerns regarding teacher workload.

E.17. A range of factors were identified as supporting progress towards closing the poverty-related attainment gap, including the development of structures, tools and processes, greater emphasis on strategic links, and greater attention, focus and understanding of the impact of poverty. Factors which mitigated or inhibited progress were also raised, including recruitment difficulties, staff turnover, funding uncertainty in the longer term, and levels of data literacy. There were a number of broader considerations also raised, including the scale of the challenge in terms of closing the poverty-related attainment gap, rurality and measurement of poverty, perceived funding inequity across schools and local authorities depending on funding stream and a recognition of the length of duration required and continuation of support required to address the scale of the challenge.

E.18. Local authorities were broadly positive regarding the Care Experienced Children and Young People Fund in terms of supporting strategic decision-making to improve attainment or outcomes for care experienced children and young people. Whilst it was recognised that it will take time to consult, plan, develop understanding and buy-in, there are positive indications reflecting, for example, an increased focus on care experienced children and young people and links to existing local authority priorities such as Children's Services Plans. The development of new structures, processes and approaches were also noted, with evidence of decision-making informed by analysis of research and data, and of collaboration and sharing of good practice.

E.19. Finally, local authorities were invited to indicate positive and negative unintended consequences emerging as a result of the fund. Positive unintended consequences perceived by local authorities included: partnership and collaboration, culture change, improved data use, increasingly skilled classroom practitioners and increased understanding of poverty and its impact. Negative unintended consequences perceived by local authorities were also reported, including issues of workload, reporting demands/bureaucracy, staffing concerns, and concerns about sustainability in the longer term.



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