Rural schools miss out on anti-poverty funds

Experts highlight different challenges facing schools away from the big urban centres

Henry Hepburn

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A Tes Scotland analysis of Pupil Equity Fund (PEF) allocations has shown that schools in rural authorities are far more likely than their urban counterparts to receive no money.

Several education bodies have called for a more sophisticated approach to PEF – which aims to help close the attainment gap between poor and affluent children – to alleviate the rural poverty that they fear often remains hidden.

The analysis shows the 113 schools that receive no money – about 5 per cent of state schools in Scotland – are overwhelmingly in rural authorities, such as Highland, Aberdeenshire and Argyll and Bute.

Similarly, small allocations of less than £6,000 – of which there are 359 across Scotland – are heavily concentrated in rural authorities, including Highland (63) and Aberdeenshire (55). The highest award from the £120 million PEF for 2017-18 was £354,000 to a Glasgow secondary school.

Poverty overlooked

While the figures might be partly explained by the number of small schools in such authorities – PEF allocations are determined by number of pupils eligible for free school meals – education experts suggest that poor families in rural areas are wary of stigma and so are often less likely to claim free meals. They also point to rural poverty’s distinct features and argue that PEF’s methodology, and those of other anti-poverty initiatives, are not sophisticated enough to reflect this.

John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said: “With poverty often less concentrated in rural areas, it can be easier to miss or overlook the pupils from families who are struggling financially.”

A government spokesman said: “Pupil Equity Funding has extended the reach of the Scottish Attainment Challenge to every local authority and provides additional resource to the majority of schools in rural communities.

“We are also committed to developing national programmes to further extend the reach of the Scottish Attainment Challenge. This includes looking at the impact of rural deprivation on attainment.”

This is an edited version of an article in the 10 November edition of Tes Scotland. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Tes Scotland magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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