Plugging the funding gap in Scottish schools

Voice Scotland surveyed education professionals on budget cuts in Scottish schools. Report in TES Scotland.

27 October 2017 An article in TES Scotland ("Schools using equity fund to ‘shore up’ damage done by cuts") reports that:

'Concerns are mounting within the sector that a £120 million fund to bridge the educational divide between rich and poor is often simply “shoring up” local budget cuts.

'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".'

Teachers respond

In the full (subscription) version of the article ("Headteachers ‘plug gaps’ with Pupil Equity Fund"), the article quotes more feedback from Voice Scotland members:

“Our classroom assistant pupil-support hours have been cut for next year, while coincidentally the Pupil Equity Fund has increased, thereby covering the gap. Therefore net effect is nothing, apart from staff currently in limbo and [this] affecting morale.”

“Our schools have reduced the support teachers’ and additional needs assistant hours over many years. Much of this is now used to support pupils with severe and complex or behaviour needs. This means there is little extra help to perform interventions with pupils who need more teaching and practice. The PEF is merely being spent on what has been reduced.”

“Being in a catchment where numbers of free school meals is low, [yet pupils still have] a wide range of needs, equity funding will have little impact as our support budget for next session has been cut by more or less the same amount as our equity funding [comes to], so it is looking like our support for next session will be further eroded.”

“In my school the additional funds provided to reduce the attainment gap are being wasted in the appointment of a DHT (depute head) for the next academic session. This will have no impact and shows the misguided nature of the government’s education funding. The money is not being targeted to the pupils who would benefit from more support.”

'Source: Voice Scotland feedback'

Supplies and support

In "Supplies and support have left the building" (subscription), there is more on the Voice Scotland survey:

'Frustration is the overriding sentiment in comments received by the Voice Scotland union, shared with Tes Scotland, with some staff even “ashamed” by the quality of education they are now able to provide pupils.

'As one member of support staff puts it: “I love my work and the variety of it but the job is changing. It is hugely frustrating to not be able to give colleagues the support they need.”

'The Scottish government played down the feedback, which was provided by 69 educators. But the often emotional responses – from teachers, support staff, early-years practitioners and school management – reflect the hard data on the dwindling staff and resources at schools’ disposal.

'Teachers report feeling “demoralised” at falling numbers of staff, with support teachers and assistants often not replaced and those remaining regularly asked to cover classes since supply teachers are “like gold dust”.

'One teacher says their school is 15 teachers down and that there are “nowhere near enough staff in our school to address closing the attainment gap”. Another member of support staff reports a school technician team cut by 40 per cent. Schools were also trying to get by with fewer cleaners, janitors and clerical staff.

'A teacher says: “Not only are the staff stretched, but we are desperate for even the basics, such as paper and art materials. Some learning experiences don’t happen because we don’t have the resources…some parents have even donated glue sticks, etc.”

'Another teacher says: “There is not enough money to buy new textbooks, and so we are not able to send books home for further practice of a skill. The online resource we have been using – Edmodo – has been taken away.”

'Pupils preparing for crucial exams are not immune: there are reports of less teaching time for Advanced Higher pupils as transport cuts make it harder to get to other schools that offer their subjects, and of costly science experiments being scrapped.

'Music is being “removed” from some schools, and extracurricular clubs are disappearing because staff cannot find the time.

'“My faculty used to run a writers’ group and a reading club, but no longer,” says one member of a school management team. Another senior member of staff says: “Things like Duke of Edinburgh’s Award are increasingly difficult to sustain.”

'Many report that children with additional support needs (ASN) are suffering – or that if they devote the necessary time to those pupils, others will be neglected.

'Voice Scotland senior professional officer Dougie Atkinson said the comments “paint a bleak picture of the ability of our schools to meet the challenges of delivering a quality educational experience for children in Scotland.

'“Instead of raising attainment and improving standards, sustained squeezing of resources has diminished our schools to the point that many are barely able to provide more than a basic curriculum.”

'He added that “children with additional support needs are suffering the most”, and that pupils who cannot afford tutors or do not have supportive parents will fall further behind.

'“So much for closing the attainment gap,” said Mr Atkinson. “There is deep dissatisfaction among teachers and support staff alike.”'

The feedback


“Far too much expected of class teachers in primary. The curriculum is overflowing. So many pupils go to secondary with inadequate decoding, spelling and numeracy skills…Secondary schools are appalled at the poor skills of pupils in S1.”

“Demands on staff and students are becoming a bit ridiculous at times – two hours of PE per week, 20 minutes a day of spelling, 20 minutes a day of handwriting, digital literacy, 1+2 for modern languages… interdisciplinary learning, outdoor learning, active learning, plus all the areas of the curriculum...paperwork and standardised assessments.”

“The range and complexity of additional support needs has increased. I and my support staff…are running on adrenaline most days simply to keep our heads above the water. We are discouraged, exasperated, tired and ashamed that we are not meeting the needs of our pupils as we would like to.”

Early years staff

“Staff often feel like they are making do and seem frustrated at not being able to deliver best practice or meet all children’s individual needs.”

School management

“Nothing has changed for the better. The constant fixation on summative assessment and attainment means that we teach to the tests. The constant changes – including curriculum, qualifications, governance and inspection – means we are navigating shifting sands.”

“Although staff fully endorse the concept of early intervention, in reality, it does not happen because – in many cases – support staff are firefighting at the upper end of the school.”

School support staff

“They are encouraged to get lots of training but, without any promotional path or financial reward, don’t take the chances. This means they stagnate and become closed to new ideas and ways of working.”


The impact of budget cuts on schools in Scotland

By Dougie Atkinson, Senior Professional Officer (Scotland) for the November 2017 issue of Your Voice members' magazine:

Over the summer, Voice Scotland surveyed education professionals on budget cuts in Scottish schools. The number of respondents was small, but there are some interesting, if not entirely surprising, findings:

  • 80% believe that their school is not resourced to close the attainment gap;
  • almost 70% consider that there are fewer support staff than five years ago; and
  • 90% say that their workloads have increased compared to five years ago.

Teachers’ comments on closing the attainment gap:

‘… the additional funds provided to reduce the attainment gap are being wasted in the appointment of a depute head. This will have no impact and …shows the misguided nature of the Government's education funding.’

‘There is nowhere near enough staff … to address closing the attainment gap. We are losing more and more subjects as we can't staff them.’

‘Our [primary] schools have reduced the support teachers’ and additional needs assistants’ hours. Much of this is now used to support pupils with severe and complex or behaviour needs…there is little extra help to perform interventions with pupils who need more teaching and practice. The PEF [Pupil Equity Funding] is merely being spent on what has been reduced.’

On support staff numbers:

‘Council removed many of our support staff at the end of last session. Now subject specialist teachers are doing their job.’

‘There are more ASN [additional support needs] children requiring support, but the existing support staff just have their time more thinly divided between [them].’

‘Support staff are essential members of the school team. Teaching staff and students cannot achieve without them. Management and other staff members are picking up the slack and adding burden to their already stressful roles.’

On workload:

‘I'm working longer hours and have been under so much pressure that I have been off work with illnesses linked to stress. I have been teaching for over 20 years and am seriously having to consider if I continue. It's very worrying how many new teachers are leaving the profession because they can't manage the pressure.’

‘More pupils are falling behind in acquiring literacy skills. This puts lots of pressure on support for learning teachers. I feel under pressure because, as an education system, we are failing pupils.’

Voice will share the findings with Cosla and the Scottish Government. 

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