Education & Family

Poor pupil cash 'plugging holes in school budgets'

Child doing maths
Image caption Some children need catch up help in later primary.

Schools are facing increasing pressure to spend money aimed at very poor pupils, known as the pupil premium, to plug holes in budgets, a report says.

Two-thirds of England's schools face real-term budget cuts during this Parliament, according to the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR).

It comes as a newspaper report says the Department for Education is to be hit with £2bn worth of spending cuts.

The DfE said it was vital schools used the funds to help disadvantaged pupils.

This year schools in England received £623 for every pupil on free school meals - a total of £2.5bn by the end of this Parliament.

Jonathan Clifton's analysis for the think-tank of how schools use the coalition's flagship pupil premium argues that it is "not additional money" for the majority of schools.

'Struggling'

He said: "Over the next three years, schools face a cut in their main budget on the one hand, and an increase in their pupil premium funding on the other.

"The Institute of Fiscal Studies has calculated when these are taken two things are taken into account, the majority of schools are expected to see a real-terms cut in their per-pupil funding.

"They conclude that around 65% of primary schools and 80% of secondary schools will see a real-term cut in their budget between 2010-11 and 2014-15."

At the same time a minority will see a substantial increase in their budgets, it says.

He continued: "Many schools are struggling to maintain their existing level of provision, and are unable to fund additional or innovative activities.

"Perhaps unsurprisingly, those schools that report they have 'significantly' changed the way they support disadvantaged pupils tend to be the same schools that have seen an increase in their budget."

'Catch-up help'

The fact that the pupil premium is not ring-fenced means that is "subject to competing demands", and the school league tables system often means schools focus their resources to ensure pupils get at least C grades in GCSEs.

He also highlighted how politicians talk interchangeably about the pupil premium being used to support pupils who are falling behind and those on free school school meals.

But last year only 23% of low attaining pupils at the end of primary school were on free school meals, and only 26% of pupils on free school meals were low attaining.

He also calls for the extra funding to be tied to a strong professional infrastructure to ensure the best results are achieved.

The report calls for the greater share of the money to be re-targeted at primary schools to ensure that more pupils are starting secondary school with adequate standards in English and maths.

It also suggests that money aimed at secondary school pupils who are falling behind, known as the "catch-up premium", should be re-named a "catch-up entitlement" to ensure it reaches the correct pupils.

A DfE spokeswoman said: "The coalition has protected schools funding, while also ensuring that every disadvantaged child benefits from the pupil premium, which will be worth £2.5billion a year in 2014/15.

"It is vital that schools use this funding effectively to raise disadvantaged pupils' attainment and close the unacceptable gap with their peers.

"While schools are free to use this funding in the way they think will most help disadvantaged children, they are held accountable through Ofsted inspections, performance tables and a requirement to report online on how they use the pupil premium.

"In contradiction to the IPPR's allegations, the Sutton Trust/NFER survey in May shows that only 3% of schools surveyed said the pupil premium was offsetting budget cuts elsewhere, down from 11% in 2012."

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