Headteachers ‘plug gaps’ with Pupil Equity Fund

Money spent on staff and replacing cut resources, rather than ‘added value’
27th October 2017, 12:00am
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Headteachers ‘plug gaps’ with Pupil Equity Fund

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/headteachers-plug-gaps-pupil-equity-fund

Concerns are mounting within the sector that a £120 million fund to bridge the educational divide between rich and poor is often simply “shoring up” local budget cuts.

Tes Scotland asked several national education bodies to share any early analysis or feedback in relation to how PEF money was being used, after concerns had been raised that some councils were not using it in the intended way.

One teacher in Voice Scotland feedback on the impact of budget cuts said that PEF money had compensated for cuts to pupil support so that the “net effect is nothing”.

Elsewhere, several influential figures in Scottish education shared concerns that PEF money is not providing the hoped-for “added value”.

Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, said that PEF was often “shoring up what had been lost”.

He added: “This is not a cherry on the top - it’s plugging gaps.”

Mr Searson had concerns that schools - which the government says should decide how to spend the money - were being expected to drive innovation without central support they previously relied on, citing dwindling numbers of quality improvement officers.

Eleanor Coner, partnership development officer at the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said: “We are starting to gather all sorts of stories about PEF. Many schools do seem to be spending the money on staff - family-learning workers, family-link workers, etc. One could question whether that is added value, as this service was certainly hit by budget cuts.”

Greg Dempster, general secretary of primary school leaders body AHDS, said: “While heads broadly welcome PEF, it does put them in a tricky position. When core funding is being reduced, there is a clear temptation and sometimes pressure to plug gaps with PEF.”

Mr Dempster said that “heads need to justify PEF spend as providing additionality but it isn’t clear what baseline that is to be measured against”. He added: “Is it reasonable to use PEF to replace resources withdrawn five years ago? What if they were withdrawn last year or last week?”

‘A very mixed picture’ with PEF funding

Mike Corbett, an NASUWT Scotland teaching union executive member, said that problems around PEF funding cropped up repeatedly when the union recently hosted a primary teachers’ seminar where, “disturbingly”, most had not been consulted by their school about use of PEF money.

“One delegate reported that the money had been spent on a 3G AstroTurf pitch - not quite what we were expecting in terms of attempting to close the poverty-related attainment gap,” said Mr Corbett.

One teacher contacted Tes Scotland to question the wisdom of a decision in her 13-class primary school to spend PEF money on higher salaries, so that 10 teachers are now on management-level salaries.

An east of Scotland science and physics teacher, however, said it was “sensible” to put PEF money towards support staff posts that had been cut, because their influence could be crucial in raising attainment.

Educationist and recently-retired primary headteacher George Gilchrist said there was “a very mixed picture” with PEF funding. While some councils and schools were “trying to plug funding gaps”, others were “ensuring [it] is protected and used for targeted strategies”, such as nurture groups, breakfast clubs, pupil support and extracurricular activities.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “Any school plans for using this funding must also be grounded in evidence of what is known to be effective at closing the poverty-related attainment gap.”

The government advises that “Pupil Equity Funding must enable schools to provide interventions, staffing or resources that are clearly additional to those that are already planned”.

Local authorities body Cosla said it would not comment on use of PEF funding as “Budgetary decisions are rightly and properly a matter for individual councils.”


@Henry_Hepburn

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