HEADTEACHERS who are already "drowning in paperwork" are being saddled with even more red tape after receiving extra powers to tackle inequality in the classroom.

The flagship £120 million Pupil Equity Fund (PEF) is becoming a “poisoned chalice” because of rising bureaucracy, headteachers have warned.

The issue was raised at a meeting of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS) attended by John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary.

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One primary school headteacher told him: “The biggest problem I have is that I am drowning in paperwork and the bureaucracy that goes with school policies and the PEF."

“It is brilliant and inspiring to have this money, but we cannot go on with the level of bureaucracy that we have at the moment.”

Another said: “It is a wonderful position to be in to have a substantial amount of money which one the hand is so empowering and exciting, but on the the other is in danger of becoming a poisoned chalice.

“The local authority is putting a lot of pressure on us which is why we are drowning.”

Under PEF money is allocated directly to individual schools for the first time with headteachers having the final say.

The money amounts to around £1,200 for each pupil from P1-S3 known to be eligible for free school meals – a key indicator of poverty.

Greg Dempster, general secretary of the AHDS, said headteachers were clear they welcomed PEF, but were finding there was much more bureaucracy associated with it than they expected.

He said: “Given it was a new scheme, headteachers needed guidance to understand what their money could buy, what hidden costs there were and when they would be expected to tender, but heads are not complaining about that.

“What they are complaining about is the bureaucracy associated with writing plans for how they’re going to spend the money and justifying how they are going to spend the money being out of proportion to the amount of money they have. That is all from local authorities.”

Jim Thewliss, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, which represents secondary heads, said the same concerns were being raised in secondaries.

He said: “You have got to go through the paperwork hoop to get the money, you have another paperwork hoop to account for how you have spent the money and then a further paperwork hoop to demonstrate the impact it has had. That doesn’t square with the Deputy First Minister saying he is trusting headteachers and giving power to headteachers."

“Councils need to trust headteachers and have a more intelligent accountability which creates a much simpler audit trail.”

Mr Swinney said he would take the issue up with council umbrella body Cosla. He added: “I take very seriously the feedback I have had from headteachers because PEF is an empowering intervention.

“It should not be an excuse for bureaucracy to go mad and I will pursue this with local authorities to make should there is a proportionate approach to the accountability so headteachers can use these resources to transform educational opportunities.”

Cosla also said the PEF scheme was overly-bureaucratic in a written submission to the Scottish Government.

“Feedback from local authorities suggests the current operation of PEF has been problematic with the creation of more bureaucratic structures both in terms of reporting and implementation,” the paper said.