Richard Johnstone in Birmingham | 19 September 2011
The coalition government is to double the ‘pupil premium’ paid to schools with disadvantaged pupils.
The total available will now be £1.25bn, Liberal Democrat education minister Sarah Teather announced at the LibDen conference yesterday. This year the scheme, which aims to improve the education chances of poorer children, distributed £625m to schools with pupils who receive free school meals.
Teather told delegates that although the government had not told schools how to spend the extra cash, it had been used ‘up and down the country... to help children who otherwise would have fallen behind their peers’.
The pupil premium is expected to reach £2.5bn a year by 2014/15, and Teather said that the Department for Education will ensure that the schools are held to account as the fund increases in value. ‘We’ll be sharing evidence about what works,’ she said.
Teather also announced plans to extend the number of children who are eligible for free early education.
The government plans to provide 15 hours of early education a week to disadvantaged two-year-olds. Teather announced that a consultation would soon take place on who would be eligible.
All families that meet the criteria for free school meals should qualify, she told the conference. She also suggested that councils should be able to offer the hours to children with special educational needs and disabilities.
But the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said Teather’s announcement merely confirmed existing government plans.
Daniela Wachsening, ATL’s education policy adviser, said: ‘In the current economic climate and with severe budget cuts to public services, the increase in the pupil premium is unlikely to make a significant improvement to the life chances of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils.
‘This year’s pupil premium has not given schools any new money in real terms, and with budgets not rising above the level of inflation, it is unlikely that schools will be able to provide the high-quality support needed to help improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils in the future.’