‘Hidden’ poverty means rural schools miss out on funding

Schools in rural authorities are far less likely than those in urban areas to receive money from a Scottish Government. Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Schools in rural authorities are far less likely than those in urban areas to receive money from a Scottish Government. Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
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Schools in rural authorities are far less likely than those in urban areas to receive money from a Scottish Government fund aimed at closing the attainment gap

Analysis shows that the 113 schools receiving no money from the Pupil Equity Fund (PEF) are overwhelmingly in rural authorities such as Highland, Aberdeenshire and Argyll and Bute.

A number of education bodies and poverty campaigners are calling for a more strategic approach which would include “hidden” rural poverty, claiming that current definition of poverty needs to be more wide ranging.

Experts claim part of the problem is that PEF allocations are determined by the number of pupils claiming free school meals - something parents in rural area can be wary of doing due to the perceived stigma in small communities. They also say these areas also have particular problems such as fuel poverty meaning some children cannot benefit from attending after-school activities because their parents’ household budget does not stretch to cover travel costs home.

Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, said the PEF had been the correct way to start the initiative, but that poverty manifests itself in different ways and is not being picked up.

John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said: “With poverty less concentrated in rural areas, it can be easier to miss or overlook the pupils from families who are struggling financially.”

Euan Duncan, professional officer for the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, suggested PEF would achieve more if distributed by local authorities.

“While extra money in schools is always a good thing, I feel it might have been better shared - and impact measured - through local authorities that are better placed to take a strategic approach to poverty reduction.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Pupil Equity Funding has extended the reach of the Scottish Attainment Challenge to every local authority and provides additional resources to the majority of schools in rural communities.

“We are committed to developing national programmes to further extend the reach of the Scottish Attainment Challenge. This includes looking at the impact of rural deprivation on attainment.”