Praise for Falkirk schools handed £3m pot to spend

Councillors have praised the work Falkirk schools have been doing with more than £3 million from the Scottish Government's Pupil Equity Fund.

A meeting of the council's scrutiny committee heard that members looking into the scheme had been impressed with the work done by schools and the support they have had from Children's Services along the way.

The fund is unusual in that the cash is given directly to schools, rather than the council, and it is up to headteachers to then decide how it is spent.

The schools are awarded funding depending on the number of pupils who are entitled to free school meals.

First First Minister Nicola Sturgeon meets school children after launching the Pupil Equity Fund across Scotland (Pic: John Devlin)

The scrutiny panel was asked to look at how this was working in practice and whether schools were being well supported and any spending properly monitored.

The panel was set up last January, but the work was significantly delayed by the coronavirus pandemic,

However, Councillor Jim Flynn, who chaired the panel, said the length of time had actually given them a greater insight into what was going on behind the scenes.

"It's a lot of money and it's important to see that it's being managed properly and that the headteachers feel supported," he said.

"The outcome was very reassuring indeed and I look forward to the final report next year."

The report highlighted successful projects such as Bantaskin Primary's kitchen project.

It has not only been used to improve pupils' skills, it has also had a big impact on getting families involved with the school - even those who had been hard to reach.

Funding of £69,000 also helped Grangemouth High target several numeracy and literacy projects and meant it could stop charging parents for classes such as home economics.

The school reported good results, with a significant increase in its tracked attainment and attendance rates, while it now has one of the lowest exclusion rates in Falkirk.

Councillors were particularly impressed by the work done in several schools by family liaison officers, paid for by PEF.

Head of education David Mackay explained that one of the main challenges facing young people was attendance and family liaison officers were a very good way to support families and build trust and good relationships.

Early intervention and getting to know families and the challenges they are dealing with in getting children to school means that problems can be managed from an early stage, rather than building up to a crisis.

The impact this has had on attendance has been so marked that it is something that other schools look likely to try, and several have said they would very much like to keep these posts even if the PEF money does not continue.

Other examples included Beancross Nursery using an expert to support babies in their development and a focus on speech and language therapy.

A fuller report, looking at how PEF money is helping to reduce the attainment gap, will be brought at the end of next year.

Panel member Jim Blackwood agreed the work being done through the fund was impressive and he too looked forward to a fuller report.

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