Concerns about its costs


The Coalition Government has committed itself to the Pupil Premium which will be included in the Second Education Bill, announced in the Queens speech.

The Government wants the introduction of a pupil premium to target extra funding, specifically at deprived pupils to enable them to receive the support that they need to reach their potential. By targeting the funding via a pupil premium, extra funds to support disadvantaged children will be clearly identifiable. Central to the  agenda of this government is prioritising the needs of the most disadvantaged  pupils.

It will publish its proposals, with details on how it plans to distribute the pupil premium, in due course. As Sarah Teather the Minister of State (and  deputy to Gove) who leads on this issue  has said “At the moment, the system for distributing deprivation funding often does not get to the front line, particularly where pockets of deprivation are surrounded by an otherwise relatively wealthy area.”

Significantly, the pupil premium would involve substantial extra money from outside the education budget but is not intended as a subsidy to the new Academies. Advocates of the premium claim it would help to raise standards for poorer children by creating more balanced intakes in all schools, or offering incentives for outside providers to start schools in poor areas, although freedom to make a profit would seem to underpin this assertion.

Of course, we already have a funding system where some money follows pupils and is weighted for deprivation. A recent Institute for Fiscal Studies paper found that there was a considerable premium already in play for pupils on free school meals, largely funded by specific funding streams introduced by the last government but this system is widely seen as inefficient, wasteful and poorly targeted.

Some feel the Free School Meal measurement is too blunt a measurement anyway, mitigating against accurate targeting.  Indeed, another IFS report suggested that the way this funding  is  managed by local authorities did little to support the previous Government’s equity agenda. The 2008 IFS/CFBT Education Trust report A Level playing Field? found  that ‘ Local authorities only allocate around 40–50% of the extra funding they receive for pupils who are eligible for free school meals towards the schools these pupils attend. In other words, local authorities seem to spread the funding targeted at low-income pupils more widely (i.e. ‘flatten’ it). If local authorities did not flatten extra income in this way, the additional money following a low-income pupil would be roughly 50% higher in secondary schools and more than doubled in primary schools’.

So it is argued, this means that deprivation funding is not going directly to the education of the children most in need of extra support.

Using a  more targeted approach – directly  linking funding to individual pupils – would lead to  better results ,although the IFS suggests that there would only be   “modest reduction in the attainment gap between rich and poor through the direct effect of extra resources” But this would depend on how the money was used by the school, says the IFS.  “This policy will not, on its own, abolish the attainment gap, which is still likely to remain large afterwards, still likely to lead to inequalities in later life outcomes and still likely to be passed down through the generations,” says the report.  “In order to significantly narrow the achievement gap, interventions must be wider than changes in schools policy.”

The most beneficial policy, the IFS concluded ,would be to target extra funds in addition to existing money. This is most similar to the policy set out pre-election by the Liberal Democrats.  But the report said: “The gains in terms of extra funding for disadvantaged schools need thus to be set against the impact of the measures required to pay for them.”

American researchers at the University of California (Equalizing Opportunity for Racial and Socio Economic Groups in the US through Educational Finance Reform 2005) used estimates of the effect of spending on the attainment of black children to say that nine times as much needed to be spent on black children to get their attainment up to the national average. Closing ethnic gaps and gaps in attainment by socio-economic status might not be directly comparable, but if the cost for getting the attainment of poor children up to the national average were just five times the current spending per pupil, the pupil premium would need to be set at err… over £25,000. But the Liberal Democrats and Policy Exchange (propose a premium in the range of £3,000.

So there are concerns that to make any real difference and to have a measurable impact the Premium would have to be very significant indeed, requiring considerable extra funding.

So it could be an expensive initiative and redirect funding away from other priority areas. Fiona Millar put it as follows in the Guardian on 8 June “Some estimates suggest the premium would need to be tens of thousands of pounds per pupil to really make a difference, but if that investment comes at the expense of other initiatives to support families and attack child poverty, it could be counter-productive and no better than a forensic assault on the quality of teaching in the most disadvantaged schools.”

So the devil is in the detail and we have no clear idea yet of how much will be allocated to this initiative except that it will be separate from and in addition to  the schools budget. However as we know, and are being reminded of on a daily basis, we are living in austere times and public funds will be scarce. So the big question is- where will this money come from and might  its allocation  disadvantage other  important education  programmes?

We know the Coalition Government is currently heavily involved in internal discussions around the funding issue for both the free schools initiative and the pupil premium. But they are discovering just how difficult it is to to get the balance right.


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