Only just over one in four teachers believe that the millions of pounds being handed directly to headteachers by the Scottish government to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils is making a difference.
Almost a third say the £120 million Pupil Equity Fund is having no impact on attainment of the children from the most deprived families and over 40 per cent say they do not know if the cash is having a positive effect on performance.
The findings come in a survey of more than 550 teachers by Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS.
Nearly 60 per cent of the EIS school reps surveyed said their schools had been hit by cuts, with a similar proportion saying these cuts had “adversely affected pupils from the most deprived families more than other pupils”.
Closing the attainment gap
When the PEF was first launched there were concerns that it might be “shoring up” local budget cuts, as opposed to adding value.
In the survey, more than 90 per cent of the teachers said the cuts had hit the support provided to pupils with additional needs and two-thirds said their school had been affected by the teacher shortage.
Over a third said there were currently unfilled teaching posts in their school and over 80 per cent said their school had struggled to find supply teachers to cover classes over the past three years.
Labour MSP Mary Fee said the education secretary John Swinney should be “embarrassed” by the figures.
She added: “Just one in four teachers think that Pupil Equity Funding, designed to close the poverty-related attainment gap, is actually working.
“It’s little wonder when, as teachers in this survey have recognised, the poorest pupils are being hit hardest by the SNP’s cuts to councils.
“This is a damning verdict by teachers on the SNP's performance on what [first minister] Nicola Sturgeon promised was her top priority.”
However, EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said that the EIS supported PEF funding and that demonstrating impact over a short period was “problematic for a variety of reasons”. He said that improvements would be incremental and – whilst the questions asked in the survey were about improvement in attainment – the change for the better might initially be related to wellbeing. He suggested that this could explain why the largest proportion of teachers said they did not know if the PEF was impacting on attainment.
He added, though, that cuts to school and council budgets had impacted particularly on support for ASN pupils, and that the EIS wanted to see the cuts reversed.
Mr Flanagan continued: “The EIS has argued for the additional funding to be guaranteed to schools longer term so that forward planning can be undertaken and successful projects embedded into school approaches.
“We are also clear, as the survey confirms, that cuts to core funding have had a significant impact, particularly in relation to ASN and we would wish to see such cuts reversed.”
A Scottish government spokesperson said: “We know that closing the attainment gap will take time but we also know that what we are doing is having a tangible effect.
"Attainment Scotland Funding evaluation, published in June 2019, found that 88 per cent of headteachers saw improvements in closing the poverty-related attainment gap as a result of interventions supported by the fund while 95 per cent expect to see improvements over the next five years.”
In the survey, 481 EIS school reps answered the question "Do you think PEF funding has raised attainment for pupils from the most deprived families?", 26.2 per cent answered "yes"; 31.2 per cent answered "no"; and 42.6 per cent answered "I don't know".