A survey of primary and secondary schools in Wales by the Welsh Liberal Democrats has revealed how students from poorer backgrounds are starting to benefit from the pupil deprivation grant.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats surveyed 1,630 schools in Wales to seek their views and experiences so far in implementing the grant that was introduced last year. All schools in Wales now receive £450 per child, aged 5-15, on free school meals. 33% of schools responded to the survey.
Many of the comments received in response to the survey highlighted the positive impact that the pupil deprivation grant is having. Some schools noted that carefully focused spending and teaching had resulted in 'positive, measureable outcomes' and was having a 'huge impact on improved pupil performance'.
Other schools said that there appears to be a marked improvement in attainment levels, with schools commenting that the PDG is a 'valuable grant' and a 'vital resource' that has helped raise attainment and reading levels and that pupils had scored higher in 2013 reading tests.
The survey also highlights how the grant could be improved.
69% of schools said that they were unaware of how long the pupil deprivation grant will continue to be available.
Just 67% said that all staff had been made fully aware grant guidelines and requirements.
Only 23% of schools use the grant strictly on pupils on free school meals. The majority stated that additional support is shared among pupils on free school meals as well as those who are low achievers.
39% of schools listed staffing within their top three items of expenditure.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats will present their findings to the Welsh Government to further improve the effectiveness of the pupil deprivation grant.
The report can be read here.
Aled Robers, Welsh Liberal Democrats Shadow Education Minister, said:
"The Welsh Liberal Democrats are committed to ensuring that all pupils, regardless of their social background, are able to achieve their full potential.
"The response from schools across Wales strongly indicates how the grant is starting to have a positive effect on the attainment levels of children from poorer backgrounds. While it is too early to see any measurable outcomes, anecdotal evidence from teachers about its effect is an encouraging sign.
"The link between social background and educational underachievement is still strong in Wales. We know that children from poor backgrounds do not achieve as well as their peers from more affluent backgrounds.
"We are proud that we were able to provide additional resources towards the education of children from poorer backgrounds. We carried out his survey to see how the pupil deprivation grant is being implemented and how it can be improved.
"This is only the first year the pupil deprivation grant has been running and, overall, we are very happy with the responses from teachers themselves and the positive effects it is having on their pupils' attainment levels. The survey did highlight some issues that need to be addressed, particularly in relation to the implementation of the funding.
"Our survey revealed that 39% of schools use the additional funding on staffing. The Welsh Liberal Democrats were clear that head teachers and school leaders should be responsible for deciding how that money is spent, not central government. While increasing staffing levels can improve educational attainment, evidence based practice from academic findings should be made available to teachers to evaluate whether their funding decisions are having the best outcomes. This is not about telling teachers how to spend money, it's about giving teachers various tried and tested interventions for them to adapt in their classrooms. We want Welsh Government to help schools be more aware of the different ways they can use this funding for the benefit of their students.
"The Liberal Democrats and the coalition government in England have increased the funding to £1,300 per child. We are calling on the Welsh Government to increase the funding for poorer students to ensure that Welsh children don't fall behind their English counterparts."
Comments about the Pupil Deprivation Grants from teachers:
"This has been an invaluable grant"
"This excellent funding allows us to focus on pupils from less advantaged backgrounds - we have a high proportion."
"This grant has had a very positive impact on standards of achievement in our school. The attainment gap is narrowing between FSM and non-FSM pupils."
"I hope it continues as we are using it according to the criteria and it is impacting on improved outcomes."
"We hope that when the government see the success story they will continue the grant in the future"