Schools attainment fund ignores rural deprivation, councillors claim
Criticism has been levelled against a much-vaunted pupil equity fund from the Scottish government after Shetland received the lowest allocation of all local authorities.
From April, £120 million will be provided through the Attainment Scotland Fund directly to head teachers throughout the country to use for additional staffing or resources they consider will help reduce the poverty-related attainment gap.
But the isles are being awarded just £188,400 from the pot – the lowest total amount of all local authorities, and almost £4,000 less than had been expected.
The funding allocations to each school are based on the number of free school meals, which means Shetland – with its relatively sparse population – fares worse than other council areas.
Elected representatives say that, out of 28 schools, 10 stand to receive nothing. They have voiced concern that the fund fails to take account of rural deprivation.
Chairwoman of the SIC’s education and families committee, Vaila Wishart, told this newspaper the fund failed to pay heed to youngsters with “rural disadvantage”. She said the allocation also meant busy head teachers were being handed another burden, as they decided how best to use the funds.
“Some of our pupils have a rural disadvantage that isn’t recognised by the way the allocation is made, so I think it is unfair. It’s not a large amount of funding, anyway,” she said.
“I also think it places yet another burden on head teachers who have to consider how to use the money and deal with the administration that goes with it, at a time when the Scottish government says it is keen to reduce bureaucracy in schools.
“If the aim is to raise attainment, a positive development would be funding for more classroom assistants and that would be better done by the central service.”
Committee vice-chairman George Smith said the fund “clearly takes no account” of factors affecting rural deprivation, adding the allocation lead to “a scatter gun approach” – with some schools getting nothing at all.
“A much more sensible approach would have been to give the monies to the local authority and in return expect a plan as to how the authority would use the money to address the attainment gap. If need be this plan could have been subject to scrutiny by Education Scotland.”
A much more sensible approach would have been to give the monies to the local authority and in return expect a plan as to how the authority would use the money to address the attainment gap. GEORGE SMITH
Isles MSP Tavish Scott serves on the education committee at Holyrood. He said the method of allocating the funds meant the isles were losing out.
“Allocations based on free school meals means Shetland does very badly. I have been pressing the government to adopt a more favourable system for allocating education monies that reflect island circumstances,” he said.
The Scottish government says the pupil equity cash will reach schools in every local authority area, and will be distributed on the basis of the numbers of pupils in P1-S3 known to be eligible and registered for free school meals.
It says pupil equity funding is provided on top of the existing £50 million Attainment Scotland funding.
Overall, it points to £170 million being provided in 2017/18 towards a “commitment” to allocate £750 million through the Attainment Scotland Fund during the course of this parliament.