ALMOST every school in the Borders is to be given further cash in a bid to end the poverty attainment gap which has been growing in classrooms.

And education bosses are going back to ask for even more funding as the number of struggling households in the region continues to climb

Government figures show that almost one in four Borders children are living in relative poverty – the eighth worst-off local authority area in the country.

And further research has found by the age of five, a 10-to-13 month gap in development has occurred between children from well-off households and those in poverty.

By the time of reaching secondary school, pupils from better-off areas are more than twice as likely as those from deprived areas to do well in numeracy.

And the trend continues with qualification achievements.

In a bid to bring equality to the classroom, government ministers pumped £1.81 million into the local education budget last year. And it was announced this week that a further £1.84 million will be divided between 68 schools in the region in the forthcoming financial year.

Scottish Borders Council leader Shona Haslam (Cons, Tweeddale East) said: “Tackling poverty is a challenge in the Borders but the Conservative and Independent-led administration of SBC has made this a key priority moving forward. Reducing the attainment gap is essential to ensuring that poverty does not become a cycle, that our children can see and value their own worth – that they can believe that they can achieve anything that they set their minds to.”

A scoring system – which uses income data from HMRC, clothing grant payments, free school meals and education maintenance allowance grants – has led SBC to draw up a league table of the schools most in need of assistance.

While Burnfoot in Hawick, which scored 19.8 out of a possible 21 on the index, tops the table, Philiphaugh in Selkirk, with a poverty scoring of 15.3, is also in the first tier of schools for assistance.

Several schools in the Galashiels Academy catchment fall into the second tier - Burgh and St Margaret's (13.3), Langlee (12.9), Balmoral (12.1) and Tweedbank (11.8).

St Peter's Primary (11.3) in Galashiels is listed in the third tier as is Knowepark (9.9) in Selkirk, Lilliesleaf (8.5), and Glendinning Primary (8.5) in Galashiels.

Although many schools are in the fourth tier of the the poverty index, such as Lauder (7.7), Fountainhall and Heriot (7.5), Earlston (7.2), Newtown (7.2), St Boswells (7.2), Melrose (6.5) and Kirkhope (6.0) - they will still receive funding to help close the attainment gap.

As well as individual projects and support within each school, last year’s Pupil Equity Funding was also used to take on two new attainment officers for the Borders. They have provided guidance for schools as well as analysing needs, identifying appropriate interventions and designing ways to measure the impact of each intervention.

A headteacher engagement day was also held in September when experts in child poverty demonstrated good practice from other schools and authorities. Heads have also had training in how to ‘poverty proof’ their schools.

SBC said: “Almost all schools have identified the key areas of literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing as the focus of their interventions. There is considerable work taking place within and across schools to close the poverty related attainment gap.

“The work is in its infancy and the challenge is significant.”

The Scottish Government identifies ‘relative poverty’ as any single-parent household with children between five and 14 having a weekly income of less than £346.

For households with two parents it is £441 per week.

A spokesperson told us: “Poverty means not being able to heat your home, pay your rent, or buy essentials for your children.

“It means waking up every day facing insecurity, uncertainty, and impossible decisions about money.

“The constant stress it causes can overwhelm people, affecting them emotionally and depriving them of the chance to play a full part in society.”

In the Scottish Borders, areas which have the most households living in ‘relative poverty’ are in the Hawick areas of Burnfoot and Wellogate, Bannerfield in Selkirk, and Langlee in Galashiels.

The least deprived areas include Peebles South and March Street, West Linton Upper, Innerleithen West, Melrose, Maxwellheugh in Kelso and Cardrona.

Local MSP Christine Grahame (SNP) has welcomed the £1,841,280 to help tackle the attainment gaps during 2018/19.

She said: “Every child should have the best possible start in life, no matter their background.”

– and the role that schools play in giving children the support they need is absolutely vital.

“That is why it is right that this significant investment to close the poverty-related attainment gap goes straight to headteachers – giving those with the most intimate knowledge of their schools the ability to develop initiatives to benefit children across the area.”

The Scottish Attainment Challenge was launched five years ago to help the nine most deprived local authorities break the cycle of poverty.

At the time the Scottish Borders wasn’t classed as one of the poorest.

Three years ago the funding was extended to include the most deprived schools with Burnfoot Primary and St Margaret’s Roman Catholic Primary in Hawick both being granted additional resources.

Hawick High School was included in 2016 as the Scottish Attainment Challenge was extended.

A recent hike in the number of deprived households in the Borders may lead to further cash coming to the area.

A spokeswoman for Scottish Borders Council’s education department explained: “The recent information on children living in poverty in the Scottish Borders would suggest that Scottish Borders Council should now be included as one of the challenge authorities owing to the scale of the challenge the council faces in tackling child poverty levels, especially within the added pressures of how rurality impacts upon child poverty.”

Details of the latest poverty index findings for the Borders will be sent to Holyrood in the coming weeks.

The spokeswoman added: “We want to open up a dialogue about possible sources of innovation funding to tackle the dramatic increase in child poverty levels through a partnership and whole communities based approach.”