The pupil equity fund: all your questions answered

13th January 2017 at 00:00
Jumping to action: the new pupil equity fund is aimed at helping to close the attainment gap
As Scotland boosts funding for deprived students, TESS explores the implications for schools and wider policy

The Scottish government launched its own version of England’s pupil premium last month, meaning that schools will soon receive more than £1,000 extra for every pupil eligible for free meals. Here, we examine what the new pupil equity fund will look like and the major shift in Scottish government policy that it signals.

What is the pupil equity fund?

The fund will involve schools receiving about £1,200 extra for every child from P1 to S3 who is entitled to free school meals.

How much is it going to cost overall?

The government is investing £120 million in the scheme in the coming financial year, meaning that the money will be available from April. The fund had seemed to be hanging in the balance after local authorities walked away from discussions about raising the cash through council tax. However, when the draft Budget was announced in December, finance secretary Derek Mackay said that the government would be committing £120 million to the scheme from its own coffers. This is £20 million more than was originally mooted.

Sounds like good news for schools?

It’s exactly what school leaders have been asking for – secondary headteachers’ organisation School Leaders Scotland called for extra per-pupil funding to be given to schools “on the basis of deprivation” in its submission to the governance review. Having said that, a report for the Education and Skills Committee recently pointed out that the fund might really just be making up for a shortfall caused by budget cuts.

So how is it going to be divided up?

Glasgow, with its high levels of poverty, will get the biggest chunk of the cash and is set to receive an estimated £22.6 million. Fife will receive £9.7 million, North Lanarkshire £9.1 million, South Lanarkshire £7.8 million and Edinburgh £7.3 million. Interestingly, the money is to be ring-fenced.

But hasn’t ring-fencing been scrapped?

Yes it was, back in 2007. And prior to the announcement of the draft Budget last month, the only remaining education “specific grant” was £4 million for Gaelic education. A report from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre states: “In introducing a new ring-fenced grant, the Scottish government is moving away from its policy of minimising such funding.”

Why?

The SNP government is often accused of having centralist tendencies, with the merging of Scotland’s eight regional police forces into a single service being the most obvious example. Meanwhile, the recent furore over spending on the early years will have done little to improve trust between central and local government. A review of childcare funding revealed an apparent £140 million underspend by local authorities – although councils dispute that figure.

How will the government ensure that the pupil equity fund money is well spent by schools?

The government is investing £120 million in the scheme in the coming year

The government has said that guidance will be issued to assist headteachers in the use of this additional funding, and existing planning and reporting processes – including inspection – will be used to ensure it is well spent. England has a similar scheme, known as the pupil premium, which involves primary schools receiving an extra £1,320 per pupil eligible for free meals. Secondaries receive £935 per pupil. There is also an increased rate of £1900 for pupils who have been in care. Inspections by England’s schools watchdog Ofsted report on the attainment and progress of disadvantaged pupils who attract the pupil premium. Local authority schools are also obliged to publish their strategy for using the funding on their websites.

Can Scottish headteachers learn anything from England about the best way to spend the cash?

The Education Endowment Foundation has produced a Teaching and Learning Toolkit to help schools effectively use the pupil premium to support disadvantaged pupils (which is freely available online).

@Emma_Seith

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