Attainment Scotland Fund evaluation: interim report (years 1 and 2)

The evaluation aims to provide learning about the overall implementation of the Attainment Scotland Fund over its first two years.

7. Targeting strategies

7.1. This chapter explores in more detail the range of targeting strategies applied as part of the Attainment Scotland Fund. Specifically, it looks at two key questions:

  • How were interventions targeted?
  • To what extent did the interventions succeed in reaching the target groups?

7.2. Firstly, the chapter considers what methods or criteria schools and authorities used to target their interventions and to what extent these interventions were targeted at pupils or parents of pupils from the most deprived backgrounds. If interventions were not targeted at those from the most deprived backgrounds, the chapter aims to explore why this was.

7.3. Secondly, the chapter explores how successful the interventions were in reaching their target group.

Chapter Highlights – Targeting strategies

  • Both local authorities and schools used a mix of targeted and universal approaches. Their approach seemed to respond to local needs.
  • Towards the end of Year 2, it seemed that deprivation was a key criteria in targeting interventions.
  • Data played a significant role in the targeting process and schools strongly valued the support provided by local authorities and Attainment Advisors in particular.
  • There was limited evidence on the success of targeting approaches. However, awareness of the poverty related attainment gap and confidence in using data were deemed fundamental to the success of any targeting.
  • Recruiting staff and challenges around the use of data had the potential to impact negatively on targeting success.

How were interventions targeted?

What method or criteria did authorities and schools use to target their interventions?

7.4. On the whole, both authorities and schools used a mix of targeted and universal approaches. Approaches varied depending on the intervention, the type of school, the mix of pupils and catchment areas. Targeting strategies were therefore adjusted to fit local needs appropriately.

7.5. It was evident that data played a significant role in the targeting process across both authorities and schools. This chapter focuses on the role of data to support the targeting process whilst chapter 12 discusses the use of data in more detail.

7.6. This section of the report looks in turn at the approach taken by local authorities and schools.

Local Authorities

7.7. Overall, there was no clear pattern around targeting. Some interventions were highly targeted and some were universal.

7.8. Information about the targeting of interventions by Challenge Authorities was gained from self-completed progress reports and in-depth interviews as part of the qualitative research. Note that progress reports provided information about targeting approaches as a whole with varying degrees of detail depending on the Challenge Authority.

Local authorities and their approach to targeting

7.9. At the outset of the programme, authorities planned to target specific interventions at different populations, including pupils, staff and parents. Within these populations, there was a difference in the level of targeting, such as:

  • All schools in the authority
  • Clusters of schools
  • Individual schools
  • Age groups within schools (for example all primary 2 pupils)
  • Targeted individuals within schools

7.10. In line with the scope of the fund, all authorities focused on primary schools during Year 1 of the programme. This was then expanded to secondary schools in Year 2.

7.11. Two authorities, in particular, planned to expand their targeting to more schools/communities in subsequent years, with one explicitly stating the aim of 'starting small, thinking big'.

7.12. Focusing on targeting of individual pupils, most authorities discussed a combination of both universal and targeted interventions. A 'targeted' support commonly referred to the identification of particular pupils and used a range of data to identify children. 'Universal' support was used with different meanings between authorities; either to all pupils across the authority, or to all pupils in identified schools, or to all schools in a particular year group.

7.13. By the end of Year 2, most authorities referred to targeting all 'those most in need'. From the progress reports, it was not always clear how 'those most in need' were defined or indeed identified. Although in some isolated cases, some authorities specified that they aimed to reach those from the lowest SIMD groups; in particular SIMD 1 and 2. Other authorities reported that they also targeted pupils with additional support needs.

7.14. This mixed approach to targeting was also evident through the qualitative research. Local authority officers were asked about whether and how they targeted certain schools within the local authority area. Approaches to targeting schools differed across and within authorities. In some areas, local authorities targeted schools with the highest proportion of pupils living in areas of high deprivation. Sometimes a small number of schools were targeted in early years, expanding over time.

Local authorities - Skills and use of evidence

7.15. For both schools and local authorities, data played a significant role in the overall approach to targeting.

7.16. Some of the data sources used for targeting by authorities included: SIMD, school rolls, attainment data, pupil background information, NGRT and professional judgement data, amongst others.

7.17. Furthermore, all local authorities emphasised the need to support schools in their own targeting strategies. Local authorities stated that they had supported schools to target their activities at pupils and families through various ways. Some of the support provided included:

  • Providing access to data
  • Support with analysing data
  • Building networking approaches and families of schools based on similar challenges; and
  • Training and coaching staff within each school on targeting

"Data is used for the early identification of children and young people at risk. Schools have more rigorous tracking systems in place. Through a combination of staff training and Literacy Coach training, schools are reporting increased knowledge and skills in their ability to deliver appropriate evidence based Literacy interventions'"

(Challenge Authority, Primary Programme, Progress report – Year 2)

7.18. Attainment Advisors played a pivotal role in supporting schools directly. The qualitative research showed that Attainment Advisors supported schools to target creatively, to meet needs of individual schools, based on evidence.

7.19. The role of the support provided by local authorities and Attainment Advisors in increasing awareness and knowledge of data is also evident when looking in detail at schools, as shown in the next section.


7.20. As seen at a Challenge Authority level, there was no clear pattern around targeting at a school level either. Some interventions were highly targeted and some were universal. The evidence is not conclusive as to whether there was greater focus towards one or another approach. On balance, it seemed that schools assessed their individual circumstances and made targeting decisions attuned to their local needs.

7.21. It appeared, however, that targeted approaches based specifically on deprivation were favoured among both schools in Challenge Authorities and in the Schools Programme.

7.22. In Year 2 of the survey, all headteachers in both the Schools Programme and Challenge Authorities were asked about their targeting approaches. A total of 75% of headteachers indicated that most of their interventions were targeted at pupils or parents living in the most deprived areas.

7.23. Schools in Challenge Authorities, in particular, were, by the end of Year 2, more likely to also be part of interventions that had a more universal approach to targeting, compared to schools out with Challenge Authorities.

7.24. Information about the targeting of interventions within schools was gained from self-completed progress reports, responses collected through the headteacher survey and the interviews undertaken through the qualitative research.

Schools and their approach to targeting

7.25. Most teachers indicated that they used a mix of targeted and universal approaches to involving children and families.

7.26. The approach to targeting varied dependent on the interventions being implemented, with schools often using multiple approaches.

7.27. Approaches to targeting varied depending on the mix of pupils within the schools. For example, schools in areas of high deprivation ( SIMD 1 and 2) operated in different ways to schools with more mixed catchment areas. Evidence suggested that those schools with a high proportion of pupils living in areas of deprivation were more likely to employ universal approaches. On the other hand, those schools with more mixed catchment areas were more likely to carefully target their interventions.

7.28. When targeting was used, stigmatisation appeared to be a key concern for teachers. In the qualitative interviews, teachers talked about the importance of taking care when targeting pupils, to ensure that they did not feel stigmatised. Approaches included providing additional support within the class, targeted group work at the same time as other pupils do work and regular individual attention for targeted pupils.

7.29. In some instances, teachers also indicated that once they had tried interventions within a small, targeted group, they would consider rolling out successful interventions.

7.30. Universal approaches to targeting were also implemented in schools in Challenge Authorities. Some of the key reasons uncovered through the qualitative research were:

  • Catchment areas including a high proportion of pupils living in areas of high deprivation ( SIMD 1 and 2)
  • Overall falling trends in attainment
  • Focus on teaching approaches which by definition affect all pupils; and
  • A desire to not exclude some children

7.31. Participants in the Schools Programme appeared to favour targeted approaches based on deprivation. This is supported by data from the qualitative research and the headteacher survey.

7.32. However, while participants in the Schools Programme favoured targeted approaches, there were still a considerable number of interventions that were universally targeted and a smaller number of interventions were targeted according to another criteria; for example, pupils with additional support needs or English as an additional language.

Schools - Skills and use of evidence

7.33. As seen amongst Challenge Authorities, evidence and data in general appeared to play an important role for schools when targeting their interventions.

7.34. Awareness of and skills in using evidence appeared to have improved from Year 1 to Year 2, based on progress reports, survey data and interviews with schools. This is discussed in more detail in Chapter 12.

"Previously we relied on common sense, there was no baseline information. It is amazing that we now have baseline information, our approach has been much more structured."

(Headteacher of primary school, Challenge Authority, Qualitative research – Year 2)

7.35. The support provided by local authorities and Attainment Advisors had a positive impact on teachers' understanding and confidence in using data. Many teachers interviewed said that after receiving support they understood how to use data much more confidently.

7.36. Specifically, many teachers in the interviews talked of the value of Attainment Advisors. In particular, schools valued the support provided around understanding schools' local needs, interpreting data and developing data knowledge and interpretation skills.

7.37. Some of the data sources being used at the school level to target interventions included: SIMD and free school meal data; attainment or Health and Wellbeing data, school engagement data and professional knowledge.

To what extent did the interventions succeed in reaching the target groups?

7.38. On the whole, there is limited evidence at this time on the extent to which specific interventions succeeded in reaching target groups. Progress reports and surveys did not focus on this aspect. The qualitative research, however, explored with teachers what had worked well and what had worked less well in relation to reaching the children and families they had targeted.

7.39. This section provides a brief summary of the findings from the qualitative research around the successes and challenges of reaching the targeted children and families. It also includes data from the headteacher survey.

Successes of targeting

7.40. Reflecting the flexibility provided to implement interventions and targeting approaches, teachers had different experiences of what had worked well for them.

7.41. An increased awareness of the need to tackle the poverty related attainment gap and an increase in confidence using data were seen by teachers as fundamental to successfully targeting interventions.

7.42. Other positive variables for targeting interventions successfully, as reported by teachers were:

  • A growing commitment to using a targeted approach – with staff buying into the approach
  • Pupil enthusiasm about being involved
  • Staff training and development

7.43. Headteachers mentioned which factors they considered helpful to the success of the fund. During Year 2 specifically they referred to the ability to deliver targeted initiatives and agreed with the focus of the fund. They believed that the targeted group needs additional help and the fund allowed teachers to deliver it. Over a third (35%) of headteachers saw a clear collective focus as means to success, and perceived targeting as one of the ways in which the focus can be sustained and directed.

Challenges in relation to targeting

7.44. Teachers also highlighted what didn't work well in relation to targeting. The recurring themes from the qualitative research were:

  • Challenges recruiting staff
  • Difficulties in understanding the nature of the 'attainment gap' when the vast majority of pupils in a particular school lived in areas of high deprivation
  • Challenges engaging with parents
  • The extra administration created around targeting and the use of data
  • The challenges of balancing data with other factors like teacher judgement

7.45. A minority of headteachers (5%) responding to the online survey referred to targeting when asked about barriers around the implementation of the fund. The issues identified by this minority of teachers were:

  • Too few or too many children from deprived areas for targeting to seem precise.
  • The perceived cultural isolation of some rural areas.


Learning Analysis:

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