Poor pupils ‘hit hardest’ by funding changes as MPs warn of perfect storm’

The Commons Public Accounts Committee found per-pupil funding in England has fallen in real terms by 1.2% for the most deprived fifth of schools but increased by 2.9% for the least deprived fifth since 2017/18

Schools in deprived areas are bearing the brunt of funding cuts, according to MPs

Pupils in deprived areas have been “hit hardest” by changes to education funding with cash funnelled to better off schools, MPs have warned.

Damning research by the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found per-pupil funding in England has fallen in real terms by 1.2% for the most deprived fifth of schools but increased by 2.9% for the least deprived fifth since 2017/18.

The report blasted the Department for Education (DfE) for failing to consider how changes to school funding would impact “disproportionately on deprived local areas and schools”.

The overhaul to how pupil premium funding is allocated means that “schools have lost out on £90 million of funding” to support disadvantaged children, it said.

The Government shifted the cut-off date from January 2021 to October 2020 for when schools report how many pupils are eligible for pupil premium cash.

Children’s schooling suffered major disruption during the pandemic


Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Teaching unions have previously criticised the decision to move the date during the pandemic, which has seen a steep rise in pupils becoming eligible for free school meals since the first lockdown.

Pupil premium, which was introduced under the Coalition, awards extra funding to pupils from poorer families or looked after children.

The DfE insists that the changes do not amount to an overall cut and children who are missed out will be included next year.

Some £3.1 billion has been promised to education recovery after children’s schooling was massively disrupted during the pandemic.

But the committee said this “falls well short” of the £15 billion demanded by the Government’s former catch-up tsar Sir Kevan Collins.

It also accused the Government of “unacceptable delays” to publish a review into support for children with special educational needs and disabilities – first announced in 2019.

Dame Meg Hillier, Labour chair of the PAC, warned of a “perfect storm” for schools due to funding cuts, falling rolls and confusion over when pay rises for teachers would be implemented.

She said: “Schools and pupils in deprived areas are being hit hardest by the funding formula at a time when the Government’s commitment is to level up.

“Add to this the ongoing delays in the review of support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities and some of the most vulnerable children are facing an uncertain future – on top of the impact of Covid-19.

“Every part of Government has faced challenges but the impact of the exam chaos, funding uncertainties and repeatedly delayed decisions is hitting young people hard and risks scarring their life chances.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “The PAC report highlights that the Government is actually doing the reverse of levelling up.

“For all its talk, the actual practice of the Conservative Government seems to be channelling money from the worse off to the better off.”

He added: “The Send review was due to have been published by June 2021. The reason for the delay is unknown, but the DfE should not attempt to change definitions of need in order to square the circle.”

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said the report painted “a pretty bleak picture” of the hit to vulnerable children.

“Over the last few years, we have seen a new funding formula that directs money away from the most disadvantaged, a pupil premium policy change that has led to the some of the poorest families not receiving funding they should have been entitled to, and a failure to deliver on long overdue SEND reforms,” he said.

“In light of all that, talk of ‘levelling up’ starts to sound rather hollow.”

The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.

Meanwhile, the Education Secretary announced that laptops and tablets will be given to children arriving from Afghanistan.

Child refugees fleeing the Taliban will be allocated devices, alongside care leavers and children with social workers through a £126m funding programme.

Nadhim Zahawi said: “Our £126 million investment in laptops and tablets for those children who need them most will complement learning in school, and help drive our work to level up long term outcomes for those in care or leaving care.

“This added investment builds on the 1.3 million laptops and tablets we have already provided during the pandemic, helping all children and young people, no matter their background, to access education and support for a better and brighter future.”

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