E.1. The Attainment Scotland Fund supports the aims of the Scottish Attainment Challenge, which is to raise attainment and reduce inequity for children across Scotland. During the first two years of the fund, around £52 million was distributed to nine Challenge Authorities and 74 schools with the highest levels of deprivation.
E.2. Overall, the evaluation aims to provide learning about the overall implementation of the fund and the extent to which the aims of the fund have been met. This interim report focuses on the first two years of the fund, that is from 2015 to 2017.
Were the aims of the fund understood and supported?
E.3. The Attainment Scotland Fund was found to be a driver for change and cohesion. As a result of the fund, there was an increased awareness, understanding and commitment to address the impact of poverty on attainment across local authorities and schools.
E.4. Funding was perceived as adequate, reasonable and fair and seemed to be used according to requirements.
What activities took place as a result of the fund?
E.5. Most interventions revolved around the three focus areas of the fund: Numeracy, Literacy and Health and Wellbeing. During the first two years, Literacy and Health and Wellbeing interventions were prioritised. Progress around Numeracy was less evident.
E.6. There was considerable progress made in the primary programme, with strong foundations being built around leadership, resources and training of the workforce. Reflecting the later expansion of the fund into secondary schools, evidence of progress in the secondary programme was more limited.
E.7. There were wide ranging and varied approaches to choosing interventions across authorities. Approaches varied and so did the level of autonomy given to schools. On the whole, teachers felt included in the process.
E.8. In terms of targeting strategies, both local authorities and schools used a mix of targeted and universal approaches. Their approach was designed to respond to local needs.
What was working well in the implementation of the fund?
E.9. Overall, the fund appeared to have had a positive impact on:
- Collaboration. The level and nature of collaboration appeared to increase over the life of the fund; particularly within-school collaboration and collaboration with external partners.
- Data / evidence usage and understanding. Data usage appeared well embedded within fund activities. Data played a significant role in selecting, monitoring and targeting interventions. Stakeholders reported increases in their usage and understanding of data as a result of the fund.
- Skill development. The fund appeared to have improved teaching skills and increased leadership opportunities. It had provided access to training, encouraged reflection on skills, increased professional dialogue and provided opportunities to mentor, network and lead on new approaches.
E.10. The role of local authorities and Attainment Advisors in supporting schools appeared pivotal to the success of the fund. Both played a significant role in helping schools to plan and develop strategies for implementation and targeting, choose interventions and use data to plan, monitor and evaluate their efforts.
What challenges did stakeholders encounter?
E.11. In some areas, the level of bureaucracy and challenging timescales was seen as an area that could be improved. Stakeholders reported that the level and nature of reporting requirements and tight timescales acted as a barrier.
E.12. A significant challenge for local authorities and schools was around the recruitment of staff. This put extra pressure on schools and impacted negatively on the success of planned interventions, leading to frustration and underspend.
E.13. There is scope for greater collaboration at a local authority level. Firstly, within each Challenge Authority, greater collaboration at a strategic level between the primary and the secondary programme could be in place. Secondly, there is scope for further supporting the sharing and learning of practices across authorities.
E.14. Poverty as a wider issue. A wide range of stakeholders stressed that it was important to recognise that a number of factors, other than poverty, were likely to affect attainment. Stakeholders emphasised that education could not bring about sustainable change on its own, and that wider partnership across a range of other services was essential.
E.15. There were some concerns around measures of poverty and deprivation and how to appropriately identify children that need extra support. Concentrating on SIMD data appeared too limiting; with some concerns around stigmatisation evident.
E.16. Support provided by Attainment Advisors. But many local authorities were critical of the variety of roles across Attainment Advisors. Attainment Advisors themselves felt there were issues around clarifying their own role.
E.17. Stakeholders had mixed views about the success of parental engagement, and schools continued to find this challenging.
What impact did the fund have on the long term outcomes?
E.18. Many stakeholders thought that it was too early to comment on long term outcomes around raising attainment and closing the gap, but initial indications were good.
E.19. Confidence in sustainability of improvements increased over time. There was a belief that the fund had created significant change in practice and culture.
E.20. At local authority level, stakeholders reported positive evidence from small scale interventions, particularly for Literacy and Health and Wellbeing outcomes.