More than £3 million of money earmarked to improve the academic performance of disadvantaged children in Dundee has not been spent, figures reveal.
Through a freedom of information (FOI) request, the Courier found that a total of £3,155,935 of more than £20 million in pupil equity funding (PEF) given to Dundee City Council since 2017 has not been spent.
PEF is a targeted initiative which focuses on supporting pupils in the local authorities of Scotland with the highest concentrations of deprivation.
The initiative was brought in for the first time in 2017.
Dundee City Council was among the nine areas designated as a “challenge authority” when the fund was first announced by the Scottish Government.
How much money each school receives depends on how many pupils are registered for free school meals.
Schools are able to choose how they spend the funds, with the only condition that the initiatives are designed to reduce obstacles to children from deprived areas performing well.
For the upcoming financial year, DCC has been allocated £5.286 million – the third highest amount of the “challenge authority” areas.
The PEF spending figures come after a report by Audit Scotland published this week revealed little progress had been made Scotland-wide in bridging the attainment gap and that Dundee had the joint lowest proportion of school leavers achieving one or more National 5 qualification.
For the period between April 2017 and March 2018, DCC was allocated £4.9 million in PEF by the Scottish Government.
Of this, £3.1 million was spent in total. This means that approximately £1.8 million was not spent by schools in the city during this time.
The majority of the money was spent on supplies and services, with a further £1.4 million spent on staff costs.
Out of the 42 schools in the city – as well as the Rockwell learning centre – 13 spent less than half of their allocated amount.
Just two schools – Craigie High School and St Paul’s Academy – spent all or more of their allocation of PEF during this period.
Any money not spent by schools can be carried forward into the financial next year.
For the 2018/19 financial year, £4.98 million in PEF was allocated to the Dundee City region.
However in contrast to the previous year, there was an overspend of more than £200,000 during this period.
Similar to the previous financial year, the majority of this was spent on supplies and services – with £2.8 million shelled out.
A little over £2 million was also spent on school staff.
Twenty-five schools in the city spent more than their allocated amount, including eight of the 13 schools who spent less than half the previous year.
However, despite the overspend by these eight schools, when the total from both years were added up none of them spent the full allocation they’d been given.
Dundee City Council was allocated just over £5million to distribute to schools in the 2019/20 financial year.
Of this, around £4.9 million was spent by schools across the city. The vast majority was on school staff, with £2.7 million shelled out in this period.
A further £1.7 million was spent on supplies and services and more than £365,000 on third party payments.
Of the 42 schools in the city, 18 spent more than their total allocation during this financial year.
No school spent less than half of their allocation during this period.
2020/21 – up to March 3
The 2020/21 financial year saw the biggest PEF budget allocated to DCC since 2017, with £5,068,557 given to the local authority.
However up to March 3, just £3.6 million has been spent – making the lowest total since 2017/18. As of this date, there was an underspend of £1.4 million.
The majority of the PEF has been spent on school staff, with this amounting to £2.5 million of the total allocation.
This is more than double the amount spent on supplies and services and more than 25 times that of third party payments.
The figures also show that six schools in the city have also spent less than half of their total allocation, with one secondary spending less than a quarter.
“More needs to be done”
Scottish Conservative Bill Bowman, who is standing down as North East Scotland MSP, called for more to be done to ensure pupils in Dundee are not missing out.
He said: “The pandemic has shifted even more of an educational burden on to children in areas of multiple deprivation.
“There is already a massive attainment gap, which could take 35 years to close if the Scottish government doesn’t treat education with the urgency it deserves.
“Some pupils in Dundee will need a concerted effort to help them get back on track.
“PEF money is ring-fenced to reduce inequality.
“Dundee City Council should get the money out the door now – this is the rainy day.
“Beyond that, more needs to be done to address the consequences of lost schooling.
“The Scottish Conservatives would invest £120 million to help children catch up, and recruit 3,000 more teachers to help close the gap.”
A Dundee City Council spokesman said: “Dundee City Council has been able to claim over £20 million from the Scottish Government in recent years to assist with attainment challenge projects, and a similar sum has been awarded under the Pupil Equity Fund.
“Meanwhile during the pandemic, additional study and learning support funding has been provided to all secondary schools for looked after and care experienced young people including examination preparation.”
Children and Families Services Convener Councillor Stewart Hunter added: “The impact of the pandemic was felt across all our schools, but those young people who are the focus of our attainment challenge efforts would have been most disadvantaged.
“That is why schools and the council’s children and families services are taking new approaches to continue and build on the progress that was being made before the pandemic.
“We want to improve outcomes for these children and young people, but there are no quick fixes or easy solutions.
“Our committee recently heard of the creativity being used by our dedicated staff to bring about improvements for young people to help them onto a positive future.”