Teachers 'using cash for disadvantaged pupils to plug funding gaps'

12 Apr 17

Nearly one in three headteachers are using cash from the pupil premium to plug funding gaps, according to research by the Sutton Trust.

The charity has released figures today showing 32% of senior leaders in primary schools said they were using their pupil premium funding in this way.

The survey of 1,361 teachers, conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research for the Trust, also revealed 27% of headteachers in secondary schools used the money to cover their overstretched budgets.

The research follows reports from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Public Accounts Committee, which found that schools in England are facing their first real-terms funding cuts in 20 years and this is threatening to undermine the standard of education.

The pupil premium, worth £2.5bn this year, is additional funding for publicly funded schools in England to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils of all abilities and to close the gaps between them and their peers.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “Our new polling adds to the growing evidence from highly credible sources that the squeeze on school budgets is having a detrimental effect on schools.

“Of particular concern is that schools are having to use funding for poorer pupils to plug gaps in their finances. Many are having to get rid of teachers to close these funding gaps.”

He said the pupil premium should be used for cost-effective interventions such as peer tutoring and pupil feedback.

Almost two-thirds (65%) of the secondary school heads polled in the survey released today said that their school had cut back on teaching staff to save money.

Four-fifths (80%) said they had cut back on either teaching staff or teaching assistants and 50% said they had cut both. Schools with more disadvantaged intakes were more likely to report cuts to staff too.

Almost half (47%) of heads in the most disadvantaged fifth of primary and secondary schools said they had cut teaching staff, compared with just over a third (35%) in the least disadvantaged fifth of schools.

Teachers in London and the North East were also more likely to report cutting staff. The research also asked teachers their priorities for spending their pupil premium funding.

Most teachers cited early intervention schemes (27%), followed by more one-to-tuition (12%) and teaching assistants (12%).

But just 4% of all teachers cited pupil feedback as a priority while 1% said peer-to-peer tutoring.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "All schools are trusted to use this premium to ensure it meets the needs of their students and are held to account by Ofsted for how disadvantaged pupils benefit from the extra funding.

“School funding at its highest level on record at almost £41bn in 2017-18 – and that is set to rise, as pupil numbers rise, to £42bn by 2019-20.

“We recognise that schools are facing cost pressures and we will continue to provide support to help them use their funding in cost effective ways.

"This includes improving the way they buy goods and services and our recently published School Buying Strategy is designed to help schools save over £1bn a year by 2019-20 on non-staff spend.”

Today’s survey from the Sutton Trust comes as the government announced it had approved applications for 131 free schools which it said would create more than 69,000 places.

Education Secretary Justine Greening said: “We need schools that can bring out the best in every single child no matter where they’re growing up, how much their parents earn, or however different their talents are.

“That’s why these new schools are so important - they give us the school places we need for the future, and they also give parents more choices to find a great school place in their area that’s right for their child.”

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