3.1. This chapter explores what did and did not work well in the national and local governance and support as part of the programme.
3.2. The chapter includes three sections describing national governance, local governance and Attainment Advisor support, respectively. Each section explores what was working well and what could be further improved in terms of the support provided.
3.3. The evidence that informs this chapter has been gathered from various sources covering the first two years of the fund; namely, the annual headteacher survey, the local authority mini survey, Challenge Authority progress reports and the qualitative research.
Chapter Highlights – Governance
- The Attainment Scotland Fund appeared to have become a driver for change and cohesion. During the first two years of the fund, there appeared to be increased awareness, commitment and joint focus on issues relating to the influence of poverty upon attainment.
- Collaboration increased at a local authority and school level – although there is still scope for the further sharing of expertise.
- There appeared to be greater consistency in approach, particularly in relation to professional learning opportunities and an increased use of data.
- However, there is still a degree of variability in governance practices and support provided within and across schools by local authorities and by Attainment Advisors.
- There were mixed views on the support provided by Attainment Advisors. Their support was highly valued by schools, but many local authorities were critical of the variety of roles across Attainment Advisors; and the rationale behind their support. Attainment Advisors themselves also felt there were issues around clarifying their own role.
- Perceived barriers were the high level of paperwork and challenging timescales.
3.4. The evaluation sought to understand what was working particularly well in the national governance of the fund and what aspects could be further improved. The figure below summarises key findings and the paragraphs that follow provide further detail.
Figure 3.1: Key findings around National
What was working well?
3.5. Evidence collected highlighted the following to be positive drivers around governance and support:
- Fund as driver of change and cohesion
- Widespread support of long term outcome
- Increased professional dialogue and collaboration
- National events and meetings
- Clear national priority
3.6. Fund as a driver of change and cohesion. The Attainment Scotland Fund appeared to have become a driver for change and cohesion. During the first two years of the fund, there appeared to be increased awareness, commitment and focus on issues relating to the influence of poverty upon attainment.
3.7. Many local authorities explicitly mentioned in Year 1 the benefits of the fund in 'driving change' and shaping plans within the local authority. This included Literacy, Numeracy and Health and Wellbeing being drivers to school planning, and a wider commitment to focus on improving outcomes for those experiencing deprivation. Authorities also noted greater consistency in approach, particularly in relation to professional learning opportunities and an increased widespread use of data.
3.8. Widespread support of long term outcome. Progress reports revealed that there was widespread agreement with the importance of raising attainment and closing the poverty related attainment gap. The majority of headteachers participating in the online survey found the aims of the fund to be clear (over 96% in Year 1 and 2); and overwhelmingly agreed with the aim of closing the poverty related attainment gap (97% in Year 1 and 2).
3.9. Increased professional dialogue and collaboration. Professional dialogue was a recurring theme in authority reports and the headteacher survey:
- Local authorities reported at the end of Year 1 that positive aspects of working with the Scottish Government and Education Scotland involved opportunities to communicate, receive constructive feedback and support, and link into inter-authority and national networks.
- At the end of Year 2, 20% of headteachers spontaneously highlighted local collaborations (within the local authority, between headteachers and between clusters or groups of schools) and national collaborations (platforms such as the Attainment Challenge Hub and the Attainment Challenge Conference).
3.10. National events and meetings. Challenge Authorities valued the one to one meetings with Scottish Government and found those to be useful, reassuring and to enable the development of positive relationships. National events and networking opportunities were welcomed by Attainment Advisors, local authorities and teachers alike.
3.11. Clear national priority. Some teachers, interviewed in the qualitative research felt that it was very helpful that the Scottish Government is driving the agenda, setting clear principles, establishing policy approaches within national policy documents and working to keep the profile of the overall Attainment Challenge high across the country.
What could be further improved?
3.12. During the first two years of the fund, evidence showed that there were some areas for further improvement around the national governance and support provided. The key areas identified across various data sources are summarised below and the paragraphs that follow provide further detail into each.
- Reporting requirements and short timescales
- Variability in the support provided to Challenge and non-challenge Authorities
- Local authority collaboration and involvement
- Pace of change
- Clarity of support provided by Education Scotland
3.13. Reporting requirements and short timescales. The most common challenges, reported across data sources around the national governance and support provided, were associated with reporting requirements and relatively short timescales. These came through from various stakeholders.
- Local authorities raised concerns about paperwork requirements and timescales, in the local authority mini survey conducted during the first year of the fund. Specifically, respondents felt that there were challenges in relation to both the level and timing of reports, which often followed the financial year rather than the school year. Some authorities stated in the qualitative research that they would like more trust in the direction of travel evidenced through reduced bureaucracy.
- Attainment Advisors in the qualitative research also reported that the timescales for reports to the Scottish Government did not match the usual reporting cycle of schools.
- Many teachers participating in the qualitative research found the timescales for responding to Attainment Scotland Fund deadlines very tight, which some said made the process very stressful. A few also said there was a lack of flexibility around budgets and timescales. The headteacher survey highlighted similar issues.
3.14. Variability in the support provided to Challenge and non-Challenge Authorities. The qualitative research revealed that whilst Challenge Authorities found support from the Scottish Government to be reassuring, authorities in the Schools Programme did not feel they had any direct support from the Scottish Government. Authorities with participants in the Schools Programme felt that:
- Demands on schools were unrealistic
- Deadlines were too tight
- Expectations were not always clear
- Paperwork and reporting was time consuming and laborious
3.15. Local authority collaboration. Data showed that there was scope for increasing collaboration across local authorities, mainly to share practice and learning from experience. Responses to the local authority survey suggested there was scope for more national support in creating opportunities to share practice across the country. Attainment Advisors felt there was a need to organise more national events beyond the central belt in order to engage those working in rural areas.
3.16. Pace of change. Some teachers participating in the qualitative research said that the pace of change and volume of associated information was overwhelming. This included the volume of communications about the fund, the range of different initiatives and the information that teachers needed to read and understand.
3.17. Clarity on the support provided by Education Scotland. The qualitative research and the headteacher survey showed that there were mixed views from both Challenge Authorities and teachers around the support provided by Education Scotland.
- A few Challenge Authorities referred positively to the support provided by area lead officers and the range of materials available on the National Improvement Hub. However, some Challenge Authorities were unclear on what support was available and some felt that there was a lack of leadership from Education Scotland.
- Some teachers felt that the National Improvement Hub had lots of information. However, some felt that it was not very accessible, it was hard to find what they were looking for, and that advice was not helpful. Teachers valued in particular the events organised by Education Scotland. They found those motivational and welcomed the range of information provided. Teachers also valued the emails and newsletters sent with information on what other schools were doing; and the local input provided. A few mentioned that Education Scotland staff had attended headteacher meetings and had provided advice which they found helpful.
3.18. Other challenges impacting on the governance of the programme mentioned by strategic stakeholders involved its iterative nature; the political drive; the tension between autonomy and accountability; and the need to move away from reporting on spending to reporting on outcomes.
3.19. The evaluation sought to understand what was working particularly well in the local governance of the fund, and what aspects could be further improved. The figure below summarises key findings and the paragraphs that follow provide further detail.
Figure 3.2: Key findings around Local Governance
What was working well?
3.20. The evidence highlighted the following to be positive drivers around governance and support:
- Clear strategic plan
- Guidance and support
- Opportunities to share experience
3.21. Clear strategic plan. For the most part, teachers felt that their local authority had a clear strategic plan and provided schools with a drive and focus to work. The qualitative research showed that teachers were very happy with the support they had received from their local authority. The Year 2 headteacher survey also suggested high levels of satisfaction. Many respondents saw leadership from their local authority as effective, encouraging, flexible and increasingly tailored to their specific needs.
3.22. Guidance and support. Local authorities stated that local leadership and governance arrangements were working well, including the formulation of Project Boards around the overall Scottish Attainment Challenge, and the appointments of key individuals such as project managers. Benefits related to governance that were reported by authorities included: greater cohesion between initiatives; clear direction to schools about local and national expectations; and progress towards sustainability.
3.23. Teachers reinforced this positive role of local authorities in providing guidance and support. Respondents from the headteacher survey mentioned positively the support provided by their local authority in communicating and sharing information, as well as employing individuals to provide direct support and advice to schools. In Year 2, 47% of headteachers spontaneously referred to the positive support provided by their local authorities.
3.24. Most teachers interviewed in the qualitative research were very happy with the support they received from their local authority. Teachers particularly valued:
- Access to good guidance from their local authority – including keeping schools up to date with priorities and expectations and providing access to research
- Tailored support – opportunities to meet with the local authority to discuss and challenge approaches
3.25. Training. Training featured prominently during the first two years of the fund. The qualitative research showed that teachers appreciated the access to training and professional development opportunities provided by their local authority. Most teachers felt that training and professional development was provided at the right level, was organised well, and on appropriate topics such as data, improvement science and new pedagogies. In Year 2 of headteacher survey, 26% of respondents reported access to resources as a major accomplishment at the authority level and the majority of their praise focused on access to quality training opportunities.
3.26. Opportunities to share experience. Teachers felt that the opportunity to collaborate with other schools was a positive feature of local governance, as data from the headteacher survey showed. Sharing of knowledge and experience across schools, and between the different authorities, was especially important. Examples of this noted by headteachers in the qualitative research were, headteacher meetings, implementation group meetings and other gatherings. There was also evidence of collaboration between schools through the support of the Attainment Advisors.
3.27. There was, still, further appetite for more, with 15% of headteacher survey respondents wanting more collaboration focused on the exchange of knowledge and experience in the future.
What could be further improved?
3.28. During the first two years of the fund, evidence showed that there were some areas for further improvement in the local governance and support provided. The key areas identified across various data sources are summarised below and the paragraphs that follow provide further detail into each.
- Consistent sharing of experience
- Recruitment and staffing
- General organisational issues
3.29. Consistent sharing of experience. Progress reports provided by authorities showed that by the end of Year 2, the primary programme appeared well established with clear and solid foundations built across most authorities. Funding to secondary schools was introduced in Year 2, and plans for the secondary programme provided limited detail. From the progress reports submitted, the two programmes, the primary and the secondary, appeared disjointed. The sharing of experience and practice did not come through from the reports provided by local authorities.
3.30. Recruitment and staffing. A recurring theme over the first two years was that recruitment and staffing issues presented sustained challenges. Specifically, headteachers described staffing issues both generally and in relation to specific posts (including teachers, support and specialist staff), and authorities discussed difficulties in filling teaching posts, backfilling new posts created and covering staff absences.
3.31. Some authorities indicated that the timescales of funding release and a lack of available teaching staff had direct impact on staff recruitment to attainment-related activities. In some cases, authorities indicated that staffing difficulties had impacted upon workstream progress or had led to a change in workstream plans, for example by scaling down the planned initiative.
3.32. Staffing issues came through particularly strongly in data collected from the headteacher survey. Challenges in recruitment and staffing appeared as the second most often mentioned problem when asked about governance issues. 18% of respondents spontaneously mentioned insufficient staffing and discussed the need for more teachers, a decrease in workload, and better means to ensure teaching standards of external staff.
3.33. General organisational issues. Around a third of headteachers in Year 2 mentioned some general organisational issues that could be improved in the local governance of the fund and the support they received. Namely, headteachers stated:
- A need for greater focus. Headteachers felt that schools were already dealing with a wide range of issues which resulted in scattered attention and insufficient engagement with the fund.
- More time to implement changes. A few headteachers saw the process as rushed and unfocused with unrealistic deadlines. Some mentioned that any positive change would only be seen in the long term.
- Less paperwork. Some headteachers felt that the paperwork associated with the fund was excessive.
- Call for stability. Some headteachers stated that schools needed to know if the funding was to be continued in the long term to have a feeling of stability and to alleviate their worries about sustainability.
3.34. Other issues raised by a few teachers. While most teachers were generally content with the support provided in their Challenge Authority, a few teachers from four Challenge Authorities in the qualitative research explained that there existed issues around lack of strategic leadership from their local authority. Some teachers in one authority also felt there had been a lack of local support around implementing and measuring impact of interventions. Finally, one strategic stakeholder in the qualitative research raised concerns about the ability of schools to cope with the level of funding.
Attainment Advisor Support
3.35. The evaluation sought to understand what was working particularly well in the support provided by Attainment Advisors, and what aspects could be further improved. The figure below summarises key findings and the paragraphs that follow provide further detail.
Figure 3.3: Key findings around Attainment
What was working well?
3.36. Overall, there were mixed views on the support provided by Attainment Advisors. Generally, teachers welcomed the support and guidance provided. Local authorities had more mixed views.
3.37. Across the data sources, both local authorities and schools reported that positive aspects of the Attainment Advisors role involved their ability to:
- Link in with national and local networks, fostering collaboration and information sharing
- Provide support and expertise, particularly around the use of data and research methodologies
- Ask challenging questions, and thus initiating change in professional practice
3.38. Fostering collaboration. Evidence submitted by Challenge Authorities through their progress reports suggested that Attainment Advisors contributed to increased collaboration between schools. Furthermore, teachers participating in the qualitative research valued that Attainment Advisors brought links with other advisors, other local authorities, Education Scotland and Scottish Government.
3.39. Support and expertise. The support provided by Attainment Advisors and their level of expertise was valued by local authorities and schools alike.
3.40. In the mini online survey at the end of Year 1, some Challenge Authorities described their working relationship with Attainment Advisors as good and productive. They reported the following as things that were working particularly well:
- The guidance and support provided, for example in identifying and organising appropriate interventions, delivering professional development, analysing data, and self-evaluation
- Their ability to access wider networks
- Their knowledge of local context, and being credible with everyone involved because of their experience in education
3.41. Headteachers responding to the survey in Year 1 described the support from Attainment Advisors in terms of providing helpful challenge, supporting with the use of data and linking into national networks. In Year 2, the positive support of Attainment Advisors was mentioned by 36% of respondents. Some of them were highly complementary and singled out their collaboration with the Attainment Advisor as one of the most positive aspects of their participation with the fund.
3.42. Most teachers interviewed in the qualitative research felt their Attainment Advisor was an extremely useful source of support. They valued their supportive, visible, approachable and reassuring role. Respondents to the headteacher survey in Year 2 discussed the importance of easy access to their Attainment Advisors with the ease of contact contributing to the positive impression of approachability.
3.43. Raising challenging questions to drive improvement. Teachers felt that Attainment Advisors were able keep schools up to date with national aims, signpost to research, ask challenging questions, link in with national networks and bring expertise in relation to research methodology.
3.44. Attainment Advisors were asked in the qualitative research about what worked well around governance. They felt that support worked well when they had: existing links with the local authority; were able to work closely and directly with schools; were accepted by the local authority team and not seen as a threat; and were able to discuss approaches with other Attainment Advisors.
What could be further improved?
3.45. While on the whole, the support provided by Attainment Advisors was received positively, data collected showed some areas for further improvement.
- Clarity of role
- Gaps in provision
- Skills and expertise
3.46. Local authorities had more mixed views about the support provided by Attainment Advisors. Most Challenge Authorities but only a few of the authorities part of the Schools programme found them to be a valuable source of support.
3.47. Clarity of role. The key challenges in the support from Attainment Advisors were around issues of clarity of their role. It appeared that support was provided in different ways in different authorities. Local authorities were critical of the variety of roles across Attainment Advisors and the rationale behind their support. This came through both in Year 1 (those responding to the mini survey) and in Year 2 (those interviewed in the qualitative research).
3.48. Attainment Advisors themselves also felt there were issues around clarifying their role. From their perspectives, it took time to embed their role effectively and some felt it was difficult to bring balance between their local and national remit.
3.49. Responses to the mini survey also suggested that there was scope for local authorities to be more involved in the development of Attainment Advisors. Local authorities suggested that it would be beneficial to collaborate more in relation to reporting progress and professional development.
3.50. Gaps in provision. Some local authorities and teachers referred to gaps in provision of Attainment Advisors. Some teachers in a few local authorities indicated in the qualitative research that they had not received much or any support from their Attainment Advisor. Two local authorities in the Schools Programme reported that the Attainment Advisor position in their area was unfilled at that time. This was also a common complaint from respondents to the Year 2 headteacher survey. 12% of respondents mentioned issues they experienced in relation to the role of the Attainment Advisor. Some of them complained about having insufficient access or no access to an advisor. Others simply noted that they would like to access the help more easily and on a more regular basis.
3.51. Some respondents focused on the need for a stable relationship with their Attainment Advisor (headteacher survey, Year 2). Headteachers wanted to have the same Attainment Advisor throughout the duration of the fund. Advisors developed skills and knowledge relevant to the specific schools and losing them also meant losing their specifically tailored expertise.
3.52. Skills and expertise. A few teachers in the qualitative research felt that support was variable, and depended on the individual in post. A few respondents to the headteacher survey (Year 2) mentioned inconsistent advice and wanting the advisor to be equipped with more directly relevant guidelines and suggestions.