Tuesday, October 19th

Since I wrote my article on the Pupil Premium for Education Journal back in May, there have been some developments which give clues to some of the questions posed in that piece.

Specifically, there is more information available in relation to a central dilemma referred to there: whether or not the pupil premium is to be paid for by cuts to Labour’s existing grant schemes, which went directly from government to schools and which have had the effect, according to the IFS’s paper which was published in May, of helping to provide much greater funding for children from deprived backgrounds.

On page 23 of the Government’s consultation on the pupil premium, published in late July, there is part of an answer. The paper says that the Government intends to “mainstream” relevant grants into its calculation of schools’ “core” budgets, provided through what is called the Dedicated Schools Grant. The relevant grants likely to be bound up into the Dedicated Schools Grant include the School Development Grant, the School Standards Grant and the School Standards Grant (Personalisation).

On first reading this, it seemed to me that this meant that the coalition was simply scrapping the money that goes with these grants. But that does not seem correct, on reflection. The recommendation would seem to imply, instead, that schools might continue to receive similar amounts as they did last year under these direct grants, only all bound together as part of their core budgets.

If true, this would go some way to alleviating worries in the IFS’s paper that the money for the pupil premium would come from scrapping existing direct funding which applied under Labour completely. However, we don’t know yet if all of the grants are to be transferred in full to schools’ core budgets. And just to make things more confusing, the paper stresses that the “mainstreaming” of these grants is subject to a final decision at the review.

The consultation paper is also interesting in setting out a methodology for the calculation of the pupil premium which is already proving controversial. The method proposed is not the obvious one that one might assume: that the Government sets a simple amount of funding per pupil – possibly adjusted in certain parts of the country to reflect a higher or lower cost of living – and adds that figure to schools’ core budgets for every child categorised as “disadvantaged”.

No, instead the method proposed is that the pupil premium should vary according to how well- or poorly-funded councils already are in terms of their mainstream budgets (ie the amount they receive through Dedicated Schools Grant, plus the “mainstreamed” grants). Those in poorly-funded areas would receive a higher pupil premium than those in better-funded areas, so that the total amount allocated per deprived pupil would be broadly similar across the country.

A second paper from the IFS, published only this month, underlines the fact that pupils from disadvantaged homes in relatively well-off areas will therefore gain a higher “pupil premium”, under this system, than disadvantaged pupils in relatively poor areas. The effect of this, I think, will be to equalise funding for disadvantaged pupils across different local authorities. Schools educating disadvantaged pupils in more well-off areas will gain more than those in poorer places.

It also looks, from the Government’s consultation, that the pupil premium will be phased in over four years, with increases to gradually bring it up to a roughly equivalent figure for disadvantaged pupils from all areas over that time. I’m reluctant to write more than this, however, at least until after we see the detail of the spending review tomorrow.

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