Taking steps to reduce the damaging impact of poverty on young people’s education is an extremely worthwhile objective, supported by teachers across Scotland
The Scottish Government's Pupil Equity Fund (PEF), therefore, which provides ring-fenced funding directly to schools to promote this aim, was welcome as is its continuation.
Teachers are very aware, however, that schools can have only a limited effect on tackling the scourge of poverty which extends well beyond the school gate.
Additional funding is important but there needs also to be a systematic approach to eradicating poverty within our communities.
The Government would like to see a dramatic impact from PEF on closing the attainment gap but that is unrealistic, in part because such improvements are incremental and, also, because too many factors in a child’s life are beyond the influence of schools.
An EIS survey to gauge teachers’ views on how successful PEF has been in closing the attainment had a mixed response, probably for precisely this reason. Teachers know there is no quick fix.
Many respondents valued the additional resources that have come with PEF, but others questioned how much impact the relatively small amounts allocated have made in the context of broader funding, resource and staffing cuts across the education sector.
Where concerns arose, they were often founded on decisions being taken without the involvement of teachers. In too many schools, the decision on how PEF is spent is often taken without appropriate consultation with the teachers working face-to-face with young people every day.
And sometimes PEF is funding a service which should be mainstream funding - for example, to pay for campus police officer posts. Such posts have existed in various guises before, and they can be useful, but they have previously been funded by either the local authority or in some instances by the Police. Teachers may be quite sceptical if they feel that PEF is just covering for cuts elsewhere.
Whilst recognising that PEF is not perfect, however, the EIS regards it as valuable resource which can help to reduce the impact of poverty on education if it is spent wisely; to achieve that, decisions on expenditure should involve the whole school community.
Larry Flanagan, EIS General Secretary