Pupil premiums will not bridge the educational divide, says IFS

3 Mar 10
Conservative and Liberal Democrat policies to reduce the educational attainment gap between rich and poor pupils are unlikely to make much difference, experts have warned
By Lucy Phillips

3 March 2010

Conservative and Liberal Democrat policies to reduce the educational attainment gap between rich and poor pupils are unlikely to make much difference, experts have warned.

In an analysis published on March 2, the Institute for Fiscal Studies reviewed the ‘pupil premium’, as proposed in different forms by both parties. This involves paying schools to take on children from poorer backgrounds. The IFS said this policy would have a ‘modest’ impact on the performance gap between schoolchildren from rich and poor backgrounds.

‘There is a very big gap in attainment between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils so this is unlikely to change it completely,’ said report author and research economist Ellen Greaves. The study found there was little evidence from around the world linking extra resources with better grades at school. Other policies relating to home environment, family life and health were likely to have more influence.     
 
Pupils from wealthy families were twice as likely to achieve five good GCSEs (at grades A* to C) as those from poor backgrounds, the report said.
 
Pupil premiums were seen as a way of bridging this divide. But Greaves argued that schools ‘don’t behave like firms’, so might not be financially motivated.

The LibDems have pledged an additional £2.5bn of funding for the scheme, raised through cutting tax credits and reducing other areas of spending. The Tories intend to overhaul the current system of local authority grants, worth about £31bn a year, to create a single national formula incorporating a pupil premium.

The IFS warned that the Tory proposals could potentially create ‘big winners and losers’. Some 40% of the most affluent primary schools and 60% of the richest secondary schools would have their budgets cut, while a third of primaries and 18% of secondaries would receive at least 10% more funds than they do at the moment.

The IFS findings were welcomed by the Child Poverty Action Group. ‘The best way to close the educational divide is to tackle the family poverty that creates it in the first place,’ said Imran Hussain, the charity’s head of policy. ‘Spending money to subsidise schools to mitigate the effects of poverty does not make sense on its own.’

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