Many heads fear the push to close gap is unsustainable

Nine in 10 heads believe Covid is having an impact on efforts to close the poverty-related attainment gap, poll shows

Emma Seith

Covid and schools: Just a third of headteachers say the push to close the attainment gap is sustainable, poll shows

Just a third of Scottish headteachers believe progress in closing the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils will be sustainable when the funding ends – and they are becoming less optimistic over time about their ability to continue the drive when the money runs out, a new survey shows.

In the poll, which was carried out by the Scottish government and received responses from 420 heads, just 34 per cent said they believed improvement in closing the gap will continue when the funding stops – a seven-point reduction on the previous year’s survey, with primary heads now "less likely to feel that the focus on equity will be sustainable beyond funding”.

However, the survey analysis urged caution when comparing responses in previous years due to “a change in the question structure... which makes direct comparison difficult”.

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In the survey, the “great majority of schools” – a total of 95 per cent of headteachers – believed that Covid-19 was having at least some impact on progress in closing the attainment gap. This included 61 per cent who felt that the pandemic was having a “significant impact” on their progress.

Covid and schools: The impact on the attainment gap

The proportion of headteachers who expect to see improvement in closing the gap over the next few years fell 10 percentage points from 98 per cent in 2019, to 88 per cent in the 2020 survey.

The survey results were published yesterday along with the Scottish government’s five-year evaluation of the Scottish Attainment Challenge, which was launched in 2015 and had £750 million invested in it over the course of the current Parliament, from 2016 to 2021.

That report found that progress in closing the gap had been varied and “on some measures the gap has widened”. Meanwhile, a report published this morning by Audit Scotland into school education described progress in closing the attainment gap as “limited” and said there was “evidence of worsening performance” in some authorities on some measures – including in the council areas that had received the largest share of the Attainment Challenge cash.

Now the survey of headteachers' views – which was conducted to inform the government evaluation – suggests that school leaders are becoming less optimistic that the limited progress at a national level to date will continue due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, while few heads were optimistic that they could keep progress going without the extra cash from the Attainment Scotland Fund, the survey found that they were more positive when it came to retaining a focus on equity beyond the years of funding; 58 per cent felt that this will be the case, a 17-point increase on the 2019 survey.

Other key statistics from the survey include:

  • 90 per cent: The proportion of headteachers who have seen improvement in closing the poverty-related gap in attainment and/or health and wellbeing as a result of the Scottish Attainment Challenge (a 12-point increase since 2017).
  • 89 per cent: Heads who felt the Pupil Equity Fund (PEF) provided additional resource to address the attainment gap.
  • 98 per cent: Heads who said they understood the barriers for pupils affected by poverty.
  • 84 per cent: Heads who said they have embedded the approach to equity in their school.
  • 84 per cent: Heads who said they have good data/evidence skills.
  • 94 per cent: Heads who said they have the autonomy to develop plans that respond to local context and needs using Pupil Equity Fund cash
  • 76 per cent: Heads who said they have sufficient support in place to develop and implement their school plan for the Pupil Equity Fund, a 20-point increase since 2017.

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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