Attainment Scotland Fund evaluation: interim report (year 3)

Findings from the evaluation of Year 3 (2017-2018) of implementation of the Attainment Scotland Fund. 

Executive Summary


E.1. In Year 3 (2017/18) of the Attainment Scotland Fund, around £165.5 million was distributed to schools and local authorities as part of the Challenge Authority, Schools Programme and Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) strands. This included: nine Challenge Authorities (receiving £38.4 million); 74 schools part of the Schools Programme (receiving £6.9 million); and 95% of schools receiving a total £120.2 million of PEF.

E.2. This second interim report focuses on experiences and progress in Year 3 of the ASF (2017/18) and how this has evolved over time.  

In what ways were schools and local authorities working to plan, implement and evaluate activity relating to the ASF

E.3. Overall, Challenge Authorities spent 92% of their allocated budget in Year 3, with some variation at the local authority level. Similarly, 90% of Schools Programme funding was spent in Year 3. In the first year of PEF, 60% of the allocated budget was spent.

E.4. Local authorities and schools were focusing their approaches on pupils and parents from the most deprived backgrounds. Other factors were also considered, such as additional support needs and attainment data when targeting their improvement activity, as appropriate to their local contexts and circumstances. 

E.5. In relation to Pupil Equity Funding, local authorities had processes in place to support schools with their implementation of PEF and many headteachers felt well supported. A variety of sources informed headteachers’ approach to planning for PEF including: local guidance, national operational guidance, teachers in the school, parents or the local authority more generally. 

E.6. There was some emerging evidence that schools outwith the Challenge Authority and Schools Programme and in receipt of Pupil Equity Funding only may have slightly different perspectives in relation to their experiences of the ASF. This could reflect the PEF only schools’ later stage of involvement with the ASF.  

E.7. Local authorities and schools recognised the importance of data and evidence for monitoring the impact of their improvement activity. Some Challenge Authorities had worked with local universities to support their evaluative activity. Headteachers reported having evaluation plans in place to monitor the progress of their approaches and 90% felt confident in the use of data and evidence. 

What was working well in the implementation of the ASF?

E.8. In Year 3 of the ASF, it was clear that the autonomy made available to headteachers through PEF was welcome, providing additional scope to tailor approaches specific to local context. The evaluation found that 89% of headteachers felt they had the autonomy to develop a plan for PEF.

E.9. At the same time, local authority support emerged as central to the effective governance of the ASF and schools valued the support they had received in relation to, for example, procurement, budget management and recruitment. 

E.10. Support from Attainment Advisors was valued by local authorities and schools specifically in relation to providing a link to national priorities, supporting with evidencing impact and facilitating collaboration. 

E.11. Collaboration continued to feature strongly as a positive impact of the ASF. At local authority level, there was evidence of collaboration with third sector, other professionals, and universities. At school level, collaboration was supported by school leadership and evidenced by an increase in, for example, Professional Learning Communities within schools. In Year 3 of the headteacher survey, 71% of respondents felt there had been an increase in collaboration as a result of the ASF.

E.12. A number of unintended positive consequences were also reported in Year 3, including increased skill development; a change in culture/ethos and an increased awareness of the impact of deprivation; as well as improvement in pupil and parental engagement.

What challenges did stakeholders encounter?

E.13. The first interim evaluation report identified difficulties around bureaucracy and challenging timescales. Challenge Authorities indicated this had improved in Year 3. Schools encountered difficulties in having enough time to plan for PEF but there was some emerging evidence that planning for 2018/19 had benefitted for longer timescales. 

E.14. There continued to be challenges around staffing, with local authorities and schools noting delays in staff recruitment and difficulties finding cover for staff to attend training.

E.15. The experience of the ASF in the context of wider resourcing pressures was an issue raised by schools. This impacted on the extent to which the ASF was perceived as additional by a few schools and this is an area to be explored further in Year 4 of the evaluation. 

E.16. Sustainability was a key consideration for local authorities and schools and there was some evidence of a decrease in confidence of sustainability over time. Stakeholders were confident that the improved skills and practice would remain beyond the years of the ASF. However, they also raised concerns that withdrawal of funding would lead to a loss in additional staffing resources, viewed as key to the success of the ASF.

What did the evidence suggest about progress towards closing the poverty-related attainment gap? 

E.17. As a result of the ASF, some local authorities reported changes in how they were using core funding to support and improve outcomes for pupils experiencing poverty-related disadvantage. 

E.18. Most headteachers (88%) saw improvements in relation to closing the poverty-related attainment gap as a result of their interventions and almost all (95%) expect to see improvements over the next 5 years. 

E.19. This report draws on the agreed basket of measures used within the National Improvement Framework (NIF) for assessing progress in closing the poverty-related attainment gap. Analysis focuses on patterns of attainment in Challenge Authorities, who have been involved with the ASF since 2015. 

E.20. Data from Achievement of a CfE Level, school leaver attainment and the participation measure allow us to consider progress in Year 3 of the ASF. Attendance and Exclusion data is included within the report but only covers the period from 2014/15 (pre-ASF) to 2016/17 (Year 2), prior to the introduction of PEF. A summary of key findings in relation to progress in Year 3 of the ASF is provided below. 

E.21. Attainment in Broad General Education. This data (which are published as experimental) showed that in Year 3 of the ASF the attainment gap in literacy and numeracy (at primary and secondary level) was smaller in Challenge Authorities compared to the average in non-Challenge Authorities and Scotland overall. In addition, a higher percentage of pupils from the most deprived areas achieved expected CfE levels in Challenge Authorities than in non-Challenge Authorities. 

E.22. Attainment in Senior Phase. Between Year 2 and 3 of the ASF, 3 Challenge Authorities showed a narrowing of the gap at SCQF Level 5 and 5 Challenge Authorities showed a narrowing of the gap at SCQF Level 6. Overall across Challenge Authorities, the attainment gap widened at SCQF Level 5 and narrowed at SCQF Level 6. 

E.23. Participation rate. Between Year 2 and 3 of the ASF, there was an overall reduction across Scotland in the participation gap between those living in the most deprived areas compared to those living in the least deprived areas. Over this time, 6 of the 9 Challenge Authorities showed a narrowing of the participation gap between young people from the most and least deprived areas.  

E.24. Overall, the attainment data presents a mixed and complex picture of progress towards closing the poverty-related attainment gap. As new data emerges, the evaluation will continue to explore different ways of analysing patterns of attainment across Scotland. 



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