A TWO-YEAR-OLD scheme that has spent more than £200 million into boosting learning amongst disadvantaged pupils in Scotland is making little difference due to its "shambolic" implementation, it has been claimed.

The Scottish Government’s Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) scheme, which puts money directly into the hands of headteachers, was launched two years ago to focus on supporting pupils in the local authorities of Scotland with the highest concentrations of deprivation.

New figures show that more than £132m was spent in 2018/19 alone to close the so-called poverty-related attainment gap – but more than £37m of allocated funds remained unspent, to be carried forward to next year.

According to a recent survey of more than 550 teachers by Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, almost one in three said it was having no impact on attainment of the children from the most deprived families and over 40 per cent said they do not know if the cash is having a positive effect.

READ MORE: 'Teachers know there is no quick fix' to bridging attainment gap in Scotland

And there are concerns about how PEF is being allocated and that it might be “shoring up” local authority budget cuts.

HeraldScotland:

Scottish Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray, a former maths and physics teacher, said the problems lie in the “shambolic” way the fund is being managed – and criticised the effectiveness of the scheme, how PEF is being spent and over the money that so far remains untouched.

“Targeted additional funding to raise attainment, especially literacy and numeracy amongst children from deprived families, is a good idea – albeit not new. Forty years ago when I was a teacher schools received extra funding to that end,” he said.

READ MORE: Agenda: Tackling the attainment gap through school libraries 

“It is shameful that a child’s family income remains the best predictor of their school success. Nonetheless the Scottish Government Attainment Funding figures raise some serious concerns.

“Millions have been spent, yet the attainment gap remains stubbornly wide.”

He said that one of the issues was it started in only six local authorities “as if no-one was poor anywhere else”.

“It was then expanded somewhat randomly to individual schools elsewhere,” he said.

“When payments were introduced in all schools based on free school meals entitlement confusion about how it should or could be used left almost half of the funding unspent.

“A year on, one fifth of the fund has been left unspent.

“The biggest problem is that per-pupil funding has been cut in real terms, so attainment funding ends up backfilling cuts.”

HeraldScotland:

The government’s own ten-member International Council of Education Advisers warned in September that the nation might not see a dramatic reduction in the attainment gap for at least 15 years.

While they said there had been progress in closing the gap, sustained progress was required before a “sudden growth spurt” would see it substantially narrowed.

The latest Education Outcomes for Looked After Children statistics reveal that just 39 per cent of looked-after children had one or more National 5 qualifications, compared with 86 per cent for all pupils.

And the data also revealed that just 4.5 per cent of looked-after children went into higher education three months after leaving school compared with 41 per cent of all school leavers.

READ MORE: School attainment gap between rich and poor could take decades to close

There was, however, an acknowledgement that the attainment gap had narrowed over the last five years.

Earlier this year, reports suggested Glasgow wanted to use PEF funding to pay for janitors while in the first year of the scheme North Lanarkshire intended the money to be used to pay for classroom assistants who would otherwise have lost their jobs.

And there remains concerns about how the funds are being used.

HeraldScotland: SCHOOLS: The National Funding Formula is being revised after a long campaign from counties like Worcestershire.

An EIS spokesman said: “The EIS welcomes the additional ring fenced funding provided by PEF. We firmly believe, however, that spending decisions should be made with whole staff involvement and that under no circumstances should PEF monies be used to mask cuts elsewhere in education budgets."

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Beatrice Wishart said PEF should not be used to "patch up gaps in the core teaching budget", adding that certainty around its future would help in future planning.

She said: "The problem is that PEF still isn't a permanent feature of Scottish education."

Mr Gray said that when education secretary John Swinney says teacher numbers are up year on year "almost all of these are teachers paid from attainment funds on temporary contracts".

He said: "This is a well-meaning policy badly introduced and incompetently managed, but it is salvageable."

He said the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy, which the SNP "abolished", should be reintroduced to track progress robustly and honestly.

"Core budgets must be restored, so attainment funding is genuinely additional," he said.

"Evidence based interventions on which attainment funds can be used should be agreed. Cooperation between schools should be much greater for best effect."

HeraldScotland:

In the EIS survey, 481 school reps answered the question "Do you think PEF funding has raised attainment for pupils from the most deprived families?", 26.2 per cent answered "yes"; 31.2 per cent answered "no"; and 42.6 per cent answered "I don't know".

It also found that 60 per cent of school reps said their schools had been hit by cuts, with a similar proportion saying these cuts had “adversely affected pupils from the most deprived families more than other pupils”.

Dougie Atkinson, senior professional officer at Voice Scotland, the union for education professionals said it was too early to say what effect the PEF funding is having on pupil attainment.

“Anecdotally, many of our members report seeing quite innovative and creative ways of spending PEF money in schools which enhance the educational experience for pupils and allow teachers to come up with learning ideas without the constraints of a lack of cash," he said.

And Deputy First Minister John Swinney said a rise in the spending of the available money shows it is working.

“Every child deserves to grow up knowing there are no limits to what they can achieve. Empowered teachers, given the right resources and appropriate support, are making a massive difference in our classrooms and are transforming lives," he said.

"Closing the attainment gap will take time but we also know that what we are doing is having a tangible effect.

“The increase in Pupil Equity Funding investment by headteachers shows that our measures to empower teachers are working. Too often we hear the accusation that Scottish education lacks creativity and innovation. PEF proves that argument entirely wrong.”

PEF was brought in for the first time in the 2017/18 academic year and is part of a wider strategy to raise attainment in the most deprived children, along with initiatives pinpointing particular "challenge authorities" and specific schools.

The Pupil Equity Funding forms part of the £750m Attainment Scotland Fund which will be invested over the current Parliamentary term, which is due to end in May, 2021.

In a report published by the Scottish Government earlier this year, 88% of headteachers said they had seen a closing of the attainment gap and 95% said they expected to see improvements in the next five years.

During the 2018/19 academic year, teachers spent 78% of the total available, with the remaining cash being carried forward into next year.

Head teachers will now have more than £37 million extra to spend in the next academic year, 22% of the total allocation.

In June, the Scottish Government's Education Scotland agency said "solid progress" was being made in narrowing the poverty-related attainment gap across nine local authorities designated as challenge authorities within the Scottish Attainment Challenge.

Those challenge authorities are Clackmannanshire Council, Dundee City Council, East Ayrshire Council, Glasgow City Council, Inverclyde Council, North Ayrshire Council, North Lanarkshire Council, Renfrewshire Council, and West Dunbartonshire Council.