Schools using equity fund to ‘shore up’ damage done by cuts

Money spent on staff and replacing resources lost in budget reductions, rather than ‘added value’

Henry Hepburn

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Concerns are mounting within the Scottish schools 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 Pupil Equity Fund (PEF) money similar to England's Pupil Premium 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 simply “shoring up what had been lost”.

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.”

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.

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.”

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”.

This is an edited version of an article in the 27 October edition of Tes Scotland. Subscribers can view the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click hereTes Scotland is available at all good newsagents.


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