Sun 25 July 2021

The Education Secretary accused Labour of moaning and complaining, as schools express anger about changes to Pupil Premium funding

The Government has been condemned by MPs, councillors and teachers for introducing a “stealth tax” on the extra funding delivered to schools to support their most disadvantaged pupils.

The Pupil Premium is extra-funding delivered to schools to help them “improve the attainment of their disadvantaged pupils”.

Before Christmas, the Government quietly announced that, rather than calculating Pupil Premium funding for the next financial year based on the number of children on free school meals in January 2021, it would instead be calculated based on pupils who were eligible for the funding in October 2020. 

The decision meant that any children who have become eligible for free school meals in the months between October 2020 and January 2021 will not be factored in – leading to accusations of a stealth cut in school funding. 

Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green asked the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson in Parliament to “come clean and publish his department’s full financial analysis of the funding lost to schools from this pupil premium stealth cut”.

The Department for Education will reportedly not reveal its estimate of savings from cutting school Pupil Premium funding for the poorest in case of “harm” to its reputation. However, Freedom of Information requests submitted by campaigner Andy Jolley and analysis by Schools Week have revealed the extent of the “stealth cut” across a range of English councils. 

Jolley has estimated that the full shortfall could amount to £250 million nationally, while the NAHT school leadership union has suggested that England’s primary schools alone could face a £180 million funding gap.

Green said that the “stealth cut” has led to headteachers saying that they “won’t be able to pay for speech and language therapy or a teaching assistant or additional small-group sessions”.  She added: “One head has told me that they lose out more on Pupil Premium cuts than they will receive in catch-up funding. This Government is not serious about catch-up support for pupils.”

According to Williamson, the Government “is delivering real increases to schools right across the board”. He said Labour’s raising of the issue amounted merely to “moans”.

Potential Losses Worth Millions 

In Hillingdon – which includes the Prime Minister’s constituency – 500 more children became eligible for free school meals between October and January, with schools losing up to £625,000. 

Staffordshire – where the Education Secretary’s constituency is – faces a potential loss of £1.3 million, with an additional 1,010 children missing out on Pupil Premium funding.

The biggest change was in Kent, which faces losing £4 million in potential Pupil Premium cash. It is followed by Birmingham, where 3,029 pupils moved onto free school meals during the period, representing a potential loss of £3,786,350 in Pupil Premium funding. In Northumberland, 2,015 more children became eligible – a potential loss of £2,518,750.

In Cheshire and West Cheshire, the number of pupils was 1,084 – translating to £1,355,000 in funding. Derbyshire saw an increase of 1,142 pupils on free school meals, meaning that it could lose £1,438,880 in Pupil Premium funding. 

Other big increases in free school meals pupils can be found in Hertfordshire, with 1,436 additional eligible children representing a potential loss of £1,795,000; and Hampshire, where the increase in free school meals pupils between October and January was 1,696 – or a potential loss of £2,120,000 in Pupil Premium funding. 

In the Greater Manchester area, the changes to how Pupil Premium funding is calculated means that schools could lose £10 million this year.

A Freedom of Information request submitted by Jolley revealed that, in Bolton and Bury, the number of children on free school meals increased by 542 between October 2020 and January 2021 – representing £1 million in lost funding.

Oldham saw an increase of 1,024 with a loss of £1.25 million in funding; Trafford by 483 and Wigan by 283 – again, approximately £1 million worth of Pupil Premium funding that won’t be included in this year’s schools’ budgets. 

Catch-Up Money Offset by Stealth Cut

Councillors across boroughs in London have written an open letter condemning the change. Its authors claim that the Government’s promised COVID Catch-Up fund of £705 million would be “more than offset by the massive loss of Pupil Premium funding”. 

Councillors representing Barking and Dagenham, Brent, Ealing, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Merton, Lambeth, Lewisham, Waltham Forest and Redbridge urged the Government to “reconsider this ill-thought through, and discriminatory policy change, an attack on the poorest children in our schools, and revert to the census date of January 2021 for Pupil Premium funding”. 

A Freedom of Information request submitted by Jolley revealed that the number of children missing out on Pupil Premium funding in Barking and Dagenham will be 950, with a hit to school funding of £1,182,820. In Southwark, the figure is 1,021 pupils or £1,224,655.

The total number of children across London losing out on the Pupil Premium is 18,661 – or £22,796,400 in funding. 

Labour’s Karin Smyth echoed the claims of London councils, explaining that in Bristol the promised catch-up funding is “virtually wiped out” by the changes to Pupil Premium calculations. In Bristol, 1,357 additional pupils have moved on to free school meals since the October census – or £1,696,250 in potential lost Pupil Premium funding. 

Teachers branded the change “disgusting” and one said that they were “sickened and angry” by the decision which would mean that they would have to wait an additional year to receive funding for disadvantaged pupils.

The Government’s website states: “The Government has announced that Pupil Premium and service premium rates will remain unchanged for the financial year 2021 to 2022. Pupil Premium allocations for mainstream and special schools will be calculated based on the number of eligible pupils recorded by schools in their census in October 2020.”


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