Councils have been given the go ahead to use some funding given directly to all schools by the Scottish Government to help close the poverty-related attainment gap to help with Covid-19 related costs, estimated to be around £23.5 million across the Education and Children’s Services department. In a letter to head teachers in Fife, the Council has said that it is proposing to divert 17.5 per cent of schools’ Pupil Equity Fund (PEF) to contribute to its Covid-19 expenditure.
However, MSP Willie Rennie strongly criticised the plans: “This is outrageous. The Pupil Equity Fund is there to support children from less well-off families. This is an outrageous cash grab from the poorest pupils. The evidence is that children from less well-off backgrounds have suffered the most during the lockdown. These young people should be getting extra help with new catch-up funding. Instead they are having their money grabbed from them.”
“The money is meant to follow the child but instead it is following the road to the council HQ. I worked hard for years to persuade the government to introduce the PEF. It’s heartbreaking to find that so much of it is being taken away at the time it’s needed most. It’s not good enough. We should be helping pupils after a tough lockdown, not taxing them. Fife Council and the Scottish Government need to rethink their plans.”
Shelagh McLean, head of Education and Children’s Services, defended the move: “It is not the case that Fife’s poorest pupils have had money seized from them; quite the opposite, with millions of pounds of additional funding already being used to tackle barriers to learning and attainment amidst a global pandemic. The Scottish Government advised councils of additional flexibility in the use of PEF funding to help meet the mounting costs of Covid-19 related additional spend. The flexibility set over-arching principles including that the funding could be redeployed.”
“The Education and Children’s Services Directorate has already incurred costs supporting vulnerable children and young people while schools were closed during the lockdown period. The use of PEF funding for this purpose is covered by the additional flexibility provided by the Scottish Government. Overall schools will benefit from £2.53m PEF funding carried forward from last year.”