Schools attempting to spend money to cut the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils are being held back by local authority rules, MSPs have heard.
Holyrood’s Education Committee was warned that the issues facing some head teachers were “bonkers” as they attempted to spend a Scottish Government fund to raise standards in poor areas.
MSPs were told head teachers were facing a “bureaucratic nightmare” in spending their allocation of pupil equity funding (PEF).
The committee also heard concerns the initiative was “cart before the horse” because it had failed to provide head teachers and schools with enough advice on what was likely to work.
The government scheme hands funding directly to schools and headteachers to spend on initiatives aimed at closing the poverty-related attainment gap, with £120 million distributed in 2017/18.
Eileen Prior, chief executive of the charity Connect, which encourages parental engagement in education, gave the example of a head teacher who had wanted to install a kitchen to help pupils learn about nutrition.
She said: “A year later they are still waiting because of procurement. It’s mad, absolutely bonkers.”
Stella Gibson, chief executive of counselling service The Spark, agreed that some schools were being held back by rules and regulations.
She said: “Some local authorities have been quite relaxed in terms of allowing the schools to choose what service they want put in place and that’s been fantastic.
“What we’ve found is, though, that some local authorities have said you can only provide counselling from that organisation to an amount of money, say £50,000, and once you’ve got to the £50,000 mark then the school has to pick another provider because of procurement rules within that local authority.”
Finlay Laverty, senior head of partnerships at Prince’s Trust Scotland, which supports young people to achieve, said his organisation had “the same battle scars”.
He said: “The procurement experience is hugely patchy.
“I think one of the unintended consequences of all of this might be that, at least for a transition period, some organisations, particularly national organisations, are faced with losing ground rather than gaining ground with things that are clearly working.
“It is about procurement and how we make procurement work efficiently for everyone and not create a bureaucratic nightmare.”
Andrea Bradley, assistant secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) said procurement allowed for important checks and balances but that these should be proportionate.
She added: “Our headteachers are very anxious about additional bureaucracy attached to PEF spending , attainment challenge spending and so on.
“Of course they welcome the additional funding to schools but it does bring hefty additional workload for them.”
She added: “It’s almost like cart before the horse has happened here.
“Money has been distributed to schools to spend on initiatives that are supposed to bring about reductions in the impact of poverty but there hasn’t been the groundwork done, I would argue, to best equip schools and headteachers to be able to make those decisions.
“I think there has been a rush at this and while of course we want there to be additional funding to schools we’re not entirely convinced in the EIS that this was the means by which to have done that.”