London Councils cast fresh doubt on pupil premium plans

1 Dec 10
Councils in London have published figures today showing that current proposals for the pupil premium for deprived children could make school funding less fair
By David Williams

1 December 2010

Councils in London have published figures today showing that current proposals for the pupil premium for deprived children could make school funding less fair.

Research by London Councils shows that if the pupil premium funds schools on the basis of children who qualify for free school meals – one of the options being considered – the most deprived will lose out.

In a deprived borough such as Tower Hamlets, the least well-off pupils could lose more than two-thirds of the additional funding currently directed to them. London Councils’ figures show the current allocation of £2,197 per deprived child per year could fall to £653.

However, the equivalent figure for Wokingham, which has a tenth of the deprivation levels, would drop by considerably less – from £4,060 to £2,943.

All areas in England will receive less deprivation funding because the proposed size of the pupil premium is less than is currently spent.

In a letter to the Department for Education, Hugh Grover, London Councils’ director for fair funding, said he was ‘gravely concerned’ that allocating the pupil premium on the basis of free school meals could have ‘significant detrimental effects on the attainment of deprived children in the most deprived areas of the country’.

London Councils says the root of the problem is that the government is aiming to use the premium to reduce inequalities in funding between areas. The result is that richer areas appear less well-funded compared with poorer areas, and the pupil premium becomes weighted towards the least deprived populations to compensate.

For every 1% increase in FSM eligibility in an area, each child in that area would lose £100 in deprivation funding.

Steve Reed, leader of the London Borough of Lambeth and London Councils’ executive member for children’s services, told Public Finance: ‘The government seems to prefer the worst option – basing the premium on children on free school meals because the data is readily available.’

He said that, although diverting money away from the most deprived people in the country was consistent with other reforms around benefits and welfare, the problems with the pupil premium appear to be unintended consequences of a well-meaning initiative.

Using the pupil premium to equalise funding across the country, rather than direct it to the poorest, would have the opposite effect to what ministers say they want to achieve, Reed said. ‘Part of this was really the Liberal Democrats in the election trying to come up with something that sounded good on the doorstep. But when you try to put it into practice it doesn’t work because we already have grants based on deprivation.’

Other options for allocating the premium under consideration are an area-based measure based on indices of multiple deprivation.

Last week’s educationwhite paper did not set out details for how the premium would be funded. However, it did indicate that the government is already aware that FSM is not the most reliable way of making sure deprivation funding reaches those who most need it.

In the paper’s foreword, Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg wrote: ‘There are some groups – Chinese girls on free school meals, for example – who significantly outperform the national average.’

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