Often in politics, we rightly focus on the work ahead of us and the challenges to be addressed. However, it is equally important to reflect upon progress and assess whether our policies are having the impact they were designed to achieve.
Closing the poverty-related attainment gap is a defining mission of the SNP Government and a central part of this is the Attainment Challenge Fund, launched in 2015.
As one of Scotland’s nine challenge local authorities, between 2015/16 and 2017/18, North Ayrshire was allocated £8.63 million from the SNP Government to support Scottish Attainment Challenge primary initiatives and £2.07 million to support secondary initiatives. To monitor the impact, Education Scotland published a report assessing North Ayrshire Council’s efforts to improve learning, raise attainment and close the poverty-related attainment gap.
Hearteningly, NAC is making very good progress, with HM Inspectors who visited schools in February confident that significant strides have already been made in narrowing the attainment gap and that this success is set to continue. Inspectors found the drive of school staff and vision for continuous improvement, supported by strong governance structures, provides opportunities for innovative learning practices, with staff feeling valued and very well supported.
This strong leadership is leading to better outcomes for children and young people, especially those living in the highest areas of deprivation. Literacy and numeracy are both improving and more children now meet developmental milestones when starting school; up from 69% in 2014 to 77% in 2017. Teacher numbers in North Ayrshire rose from 1,371 to 1,396 over the last year, helping to reduce classroom sizes and provide more direct pupil support.
Of course, learning does not begin or end with schools and teachers, therefore this additional funding has also helped schools to engage more with parents and families; making increasingly effective use of social media to keep parents well-informed about the work of their child’s school and how they are progressing. This encourages children, young people and their parents, to have higher expectations of what they can achieve.
Family learning is another key focus of closing the attainment gap and Education Scotland found that North Ayrshire parents feel good about involvement in their children’s development and their role in education.
The Attainment Challenge Fund is separate from the rest of Scotland’s education budget and core school budgets. Responsibility for its expenditure lies with headteachers. By taking ownership of their spending and it to target the specific needs of their school, headteachers can ensure funding goes where it’s most effective. Examples include innovative approaches to literacy and numeracy, home interventions using home-school link workers to provide personal, emotional and educational support for parents and carers; supplying additional uniforms and PE equipment for children who need it; and subsidising school trips to guarantee equal learning opportunities for all pupils.
NAC does not stand in isolation in receiving excellent reports from Education Scotland; North Lanarkshire and Dundee are also doing well. Everyone working in education deserves high praise for using SNP Government funding to deliver tangible improvements. I’m sure we’ll see similarly good reports from the other six challenge authorities when published.
This year, North Ayrshire’s primary and secondary schools will share a £5,889,762 funding boost to build upon this excellent work. An additional £4,413,960 in Pupil Equity Funding was also awarded to local schools by the SNP Government, bringing the total investment on raising attainment in North Ayrshire to £10,303,722 this year.
Given the excellent progress and commitment shown by all staff and pupils, I believe our schools will continue to build on the strengths highlighted in this report, which can be read at: