Attainment Scotland Fund evaluation: interim report (year 3)

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

2. Inputs: Governance and Funding 

2.1. This chapter focuses on the financial inputs and how the ASF was organised and supported at both a national and local level. 


2.2. The evaluation considers what did and did not work well in the governance of the ASF at national and local level and in the support provided by Attainment Advisors.  

2.3. Evidence used to address this has been drawn from the Challenge Authority progress reports, the local authority mini survey, headteacher survey and school case studies. 

National Governance 

2.4. Local authorities responding to the online survey had differing experiences with regard to support from Scottish Government. 

2.5. In Years 1 and 2, Challenge Authorities raised concerns about paper work requirements alongside challenging timescales. By Year 3, Challenge Authorities indicated that the reduction of reporting requirements and meetings was helpful. However, they also requested greater advance notice of submission deadlines and more timely sign-off of authority plans.  

2.6. Similar to the Challenge Authorities in Year 1, non-Challenge Authorities in Year 3 were positive about the focus on issues relating to the influence of poverty upon attainment. A few noted that they had had limited direct involvement with Scottish Government. There was also suggestion of scope to improve national governance of the ASF. This is described in more detail below. 

2.7. Local authorities responding to the online survey also highlighted their positive experience in support received from Education Scotland. They valued established relationships with key staff including Area Lead Officers, Attainment Advisors, Improvement Advisors and Lead Inspectors. 

2.8. Specific aspects of the support from Education Scotland included: advice on research methodology and development of outcomes; signposting to existing evidence and other resources; and the opportunity to share practice via organised events and meetings, such as the Scottish Learning Festival and PEF conferences. 

2.9. The survey also suggested that national support provided by both Scottish Government and Education Scotland could be improved via: 

  • Collaboration: Increased opportunity for collaboration and sharing practice/experience between Challenge and non-Challenge Authorities. For example, non-Challenge Authorities suggested that a learning package from Challenge Authorities showing measures used to assess impact would be helpful. 
  • Evidencing impact: Greater consistency in national communication around measuring the impact of the ASF
  • Reporting: Improvement in the guidance and documentation around the reporting of the ASF
  • Allocation of funding: Non-Challenge Authorities suggested that the Scottish Government consider other mechanisms for distributing funding to take better account of factors, for example, rural poverty.
  • Education Scotland: Authorities also advised that increased consistency in staffing as well as clarity around the role of Education Scotland would be welcomed. 

2.10. In Year 3 of the headteacher survey, respondents were asked about their experiences of receiving PEF; transparency of allocations; and reporting requirements. Responses could relate to their experience of governance at local or national level. 

2.11. The majority of respondents agreed that the process of receiving PEF was easy to understand (83%) and that the process for allocations were transparent (71%). Schools receiving PEF only were less likely than those also in receipt of Challenge Authority or School Programme funding to agree that the process of working out PEF allocations was transparent. 

2.12. Overall, headteachers were less positive about the associated reporting requirements. Whilst 58% agreed that the reporting requirements were reasonable, 17% did not agree and 24% neither agreed or disagreed. 

2.13. Finally, in relation to Pupil Equity Funding, 89% of headteachers felt they had the autonomy to develop a plan which took account of school’s local context and needs. In addition, headteachers noted in their written comments that autonomy/flexibility for schools was something that was working well in the overall governance of the ASF (at local and/or national level). 

Figure 2.1: Processes around Pupil Equity Funding, headteacher survey

Figure 2.1: Processes around Pupil Equity Funding, headteacher survey

2.14. These survey responses resonated with the findings from the case studies where many of the schools emphasised that they valued the autonomy and flexibility provided by PEF. For example, whilst they recognised the value of strategic local authority support, they also mentioned the additional scope provided by PEF to tailor interventions specific to their context. 

Local Governance 

2.15. In the headteacher survey, local authority support was the most commonly mentioned example of something that was working well in relation to the overall governance of the ASF. It was identified as a key positive by 30% of respondents in relation to Challenge Authority funding, and 17% of respondents in relation to PEF. It was also mentioned as something that could be improved by slightly fewer respondents (11% in relation to Challenge Authority/Schools Programme and 9% in relation to PEF).[1]

2.16. Some of the schools involved in the case studies also mentioned the support they had received from local authorities in relation to recruitment, advice on procurement and sharing practice across schools. This support may be particularly important to smaller schools who have limited planning capacity. 

2.17. From the perspective of Challenge Authorities, local authority support via people and/or strategic frameworks was essential in the success of their approach. Indeed, all authorities responding to the mini survey indicated that they had mechanisms in place to support schools in their implementation of PEF

2.18. Local authorities discussed the role of local authority staff (e.g. Quality Improvement or Education Officers, Principal Teachers, Business Managers, Educational Psychologists) in providing support and challenge. Specific support noted by local authorities in relation to how they supported schools with PEF included:

  • Providing guidance on the use of PEF, procurement and HR 
  • Encouraging collaboration and collective working across schools. This included organising events to help share learning across schools and provide links to third sector and other partners 
  • Support on monitoring and evidencing impact.  

2.19. As was found in Years 1 and 2, there was evidence that staffing in general continued to be a challenge in the overall governance of the ASF

2.20. At local authority level, recruitment issues were mentioned in relation to specialised posts such as development officers, clinical practitioners and manager roles. There were also difficulties in securing staff cover and Challenge Authorities specifically mentioned difficulties in staff turnover. 

2.21. At school level, a similar percentage of headteachers in the online survey noted that staffing and workload was a challenge in relation to Challenge Authority/Schools Programme funding (14%) or PEF (12%). Case study schools noted difficulties in staff recruitment due to shortage of staff and similar challenges in relation to securing the required staff time and cover for essential CPD

2.22. Headteachers responding to the online survey also suggested that there was a need to address organisational issues in relation to both Challenge Authority/Schools Programme funding (mentioned by 22% of respondents) and PEF (19% of respondents). 

2.23. Responses from the case studies shed further insight into these organisational issues. Respondents noted bureaucracy around recruitment, the significant time needed for planning and implementing interventions and some also noted that the pressure to demonstrate impact to the local authority had influenced their planning. 

2.24. Finally, whilst headteachers indicated that they valued the opportunity to share practice and experience, a similar proportion also felt there was scope to increase these opportunities. This was similar to the findings in Years 1 and 2. 

Attainment Advisors

2.25. Across the evidence sources, it was clear that local authorities and schools valued the role of Attainment Advisors. The local authority mini survey found that, overall, Challenge and non-Challenge Authorities appreciated the support from Attainment Advisors.

2.26. There was also evidence that there could be improved support, achieved via consistency in staffing and (specifically mentioned by non-Challenge Authorities) increased sharing of practice and expertise.  

2.27. In Year 3 of the headteacher survey, respondents indicated that support from Attainment Advisors was a key positive in relation to Challenge Authority/Schools Programme funding and PEF, respectively. A small number of respondents indicated there was scope for more support from Attainment Advisors in relation to implementation of Challenge Authority/Schools Programme funding. 

2.28. Evidence from the case studies also suggested that some schools benefited from advice from Attainment Advisors, particularly around identification of interventions. 

2.29. Overall, relationships with Attainment Advisors were reported as positive and important in: 

  • Providing a link to national priorities and resources; 
  • Identifying, organising and evidencing impact of appropriate interventions;
  • Supporting collaboration 


2.30. This section looks in detail at the funding received by local authorities and schools through the Attainment Scotland Fund. 

2.31. Evidence is drawn primarily from Scottish Government administrative data and Challenge Authority progress reports. It also draws on responses to a question in the local authority mini survey conducted in April 2018 on local authorities’ use of core education funding towards improving outcomes for pupils living in the most deprived communities. 

How much funding did local authorities and schools receive?

2.32. Funding of around £52 million was distributed during the first two years of the Attainment Scotland Fund for the Challenge Authorities and Schools Programme. In total, around £165.5 million was distributed in Year 3 of the ASF. This included:

  • £38.4 million Challenge Authority Programme;
  • £6.9 million Schools Programme; 
  • £120.2 million Pupil Equity Funding (PEF). 

2.33. PEF was introduced in Year 3 and was allocated to schools on the basis of the number of children and young people in P1 to S3 who eligible and registered for free school meals. 

2.34. In total, across the three years of the ASF, approximately £82.6 million was distributed to Challenge Authorities. Table 2.1 below shows funding allocations across Years 1, 2 and 3 for Challenge Authorities. 

Table 2.1: Funding allocations to Challenge Authorities

Local Authority  Year 1 (2015-16) Year 2 (2016-17) Year 3 (2017-18)
Clackmannanshire  £718,000 £1,253,999 £1,548,000
Dundee £2,145,000 £4,041,682 £5,582,805
East Ayrshire - £2,037,323 £2,760,659
Glasgow £3,030,000 £9,107,262 £7,665,677
Inverclyde £592,000 £2,103,269 £3,100,200
North Ayrshire £1,965,000 £3,490,024 £4,874,620
North Lanarkshire £2,241,000 £6,897,347 £7,274,968
Renfrewshire - £1,711,919 £3,531,000
West Dunbartonshire  £1,024,000 £1,850,410 £2,013,108
Total  £11,715,000 £32,493,235 £38,351,037

2.35. East Ayrshire and Renfrewshire Councils were introduced into the Challenge Authority Programme in Year 2. There were no further changes to the Challenge Authority Programme in Year 3 in terms of local authority involvement. However, the overall funding allocation to Challenge Authorities increased by £5.8 million between Year 2 and Year 3, an increase of 18%.

2.36. In terms of the Schools Programme, Table 2.2 below outlines funding allocations to the Schools Programme by local authority. As East Ayrshire and Renfrewshire Councils were introduced to the Challenge Authority Programme at the start of Year 2, there were no further allocations to either authority through the Schools Programme from Year 2 onwards. The overall Schools Programme allocation increased from just under £5.2 million in Year 2, to £6.9 million in Year 3, an increase of £1.6 million (31%).

Table 2.2: Funding allocations – Schools Programme by Local Authority

Local Authority  Year 1 (2015-16) Year 2 (2016-17) Year 3 (2017-18)
Aberdeen City  £157,500 £454,565 £597,938
Argyll & Bute £20,000 £19,944 £25,002
Dumfries & Galloway £45,000 £116,533 £139,494
East Ayrshire £291,470 - -
Edinburgh  £304,645 £743,808 £800,742
Falkirk £73,000 £169,463 £282,768
Fife £416,112 £685,944 £965,687
Highland  £92,700 £594,209 £965,565
Renfrewshire  £231,120 -
Scottish Borders £66,650 £166,620 £218,167
South Ayrshire £150,400 £299,580 £399,523
South Lanarkshire £548,690 £1,619,271 £2,019,374
Stirling  £45,600 £166,581 £180,268
West Lothian  £26,197 £188,139 £256,505
Total  £2,469,084 £5,224,657 £6,851,032

2.37. Pupil Equity Funding allocations at both school level and local authority level have been published online. In the first year of PEF, over £120 million was distributed to schools (see also Table 2.3). This included 1927 primary schools, 358 secondary schools and 112 special schools. A total of 8 grant maintained schools also received PEF

Was the ASF used according to requirements?

2.38. Evidence provided in Challenge Authority progress reports suggested that funding was being used according to requirements, with Challenge Authorities having clear work-streams in place. Challenge Authorities reported that they were able to spend a greater proportion of their allocated funding in Year 3 than the previous year. All but two of the Challenge Authorities reported some degree of underspend. 

2.39. Table 2.3 compares spend versus allocation across the three years by funding stream. 

2.40. This shows that Challenge Authorities spent 92% of their allocated budget overall in Year 3, with some variation at the local authority level. Similarly, 90% of Schools Programme funding was spent in Year 3. 

2.41. There was however higher underspend in Year 3 overall. This was due to an underspend of PEF in Year 3, with £72.2 million of the £120.1 million (excluding grant maintained schools) allocation (60%) spent. 

2.42. The underspend in Year 1 of PEF was in line with what occurred in the Year 1 of both the Challenge Authority and Schools Programme strands. In addition, the biggest investment schools made was in relation to staffing. Although PEF was allocated in April, schools could often not start employing staff until August. Emerging evidence from Year 4 of the ASF (2018-19) suggests a lower level of underspend in Year 2. We will review this in Year 4 of the evaluation. 120208000

Table 2.3: Funding allocation and spend Years 1, 2 and 3

Allocation £ (Million) Actual Spend £ (Million) Spend vs Allocation %
Year 1 (2015-16) Challenge Authorities  £11.7 £5.9 50%
Schools Programme  £2.5 £2.3 92%
PEF - -  
Total  £14.2 £8.2  58%
Year 2 (2016-17) Challenge Authorities  £32.5 £25 77%
Schools Programme  £5.2 £4 77%
PEF - - -
Total   £37.7 £29  77%
Year 3 (2017-18) Challenge Authorities  £38.4 £35.1 92%
Schools Programme  £6.9 £6.1 90%
PEF* £120.1 £72.2 60%
Total  £165.3 £113.5 69%

* In addition, £108 K PEF funding was allocated to Grant Maintained Schools in 2017-18. Just under £77 K (71%) of this allocation was spent

2.43. There was limited evidence gathered regarding the extent to which the ASF was supplemented from other sources. One Challenge Authority continued to receive funding from other sources, as had been the case in Years 1 and 2, and their progress report made reference to the wider impact of the general strategy with regard to raising attainment.  It was unclear from progress reports submitted whether other Challenge Authorities were supplementing funding from other sources. 

Use of core funding towards equitable outcomes

2.44. There was some emerging evidence that local authorities have changed the way they use core funding as a result of the Attainment Scotland Fund. Over half of respondents to the local authority mini survey indicated that they had changed the way they used core funding as a result of the Attainment Scotland Fund. From 22 local authority respondents, 13 had changed the way they used core resources, including core education funding, to improve outcomes for pupils experiencing poverty-related disadvantage. 

2.45. Two key themes emerged from local authority responses regarding how this occurred:

  • Deprivation as a focus. Many authorities, both Challenge and non-Challenge, indicated that as a result of the ASF, all their resources were being used with a clearer focus on deprivation and closing the poverty-related attainment gap. 
  • Greater joined-up working. Some authorities, both Challenge and non-Challenge, also indicated that there was greater joined-up working across services as a result of the ASF, or that they now involved wider partners for service delivery. 

2.46. Of the 8 authorities who had not identified changes in how core resources were used, a wide range of reasons were given:

  • Perception that changes in allocation of funding to improve outcomes for disadvantaged pupils would have happened in any case; 
  • Perception of existing focus on delivery of excellence and equity; 
  • Perception that as PEF went directly to schools the funding formula at the local authority level was not altered. 

2.47. In addition, qualitative evidence from schools involved in the case studies suggested that the impact of ASF supported interventions was somewhat offset by overall reduction in wider resourcing. For a few schools, this somewhat limited the extent to which the funded interventions were ‘additional’ as they would have previously or been expected to be provided through core funding. 



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