Schools in the most deprived areas of the country have been robbed of funding so money can be transferred to those in wealthier areas, a cross-party committee of MPs has warned. And Birmingham is one of the areas where school budgets have been cut most.
MPs said a new funding formula introduced three years ago “has resulted in a relative re-distribution of funding from more deprived schools to less deprived schools.”
The criticism came in a new report from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, which scrutinises public spending. MPs looked at changes to the way funding is shared out across the country, after the Government introduced a new system which it said was designed to be fairer and more transparent.
In the three years to 2020–21, average funding per pupil actually fell by 1.2% for the most deprived fifth of schools, but increased by 2.9% for the least deprived fifth. The figures take into account the impact of inflation.
And Birmingham, as a city which has high levels of deprivation, was one of the places hardest hit. The report said: “Most London boroughs and cities with relatively high levels of deprivation, such as Nottingham and Birmingham, experienced real-terms falls in per pupil funding between 2017–18 and 2020–21, while local authorities with relatively low levels of deprivation in the South West, the East Midlands and the South East saw the largest real-terms growth in per-pupil funding.”
The MPs warned: “In making changes to the school funding system, the Department for Education has failed to take enough account of the impact of its decisions on individual schools and their pupils.”
The report is based partly on findings from the National Audit Office, the official spending watchdog.
In the same report, the MPs criticised the Government’s changes to the pupil premium, which have meant some schools missed out on significant sums of money.
They said: “The Department’s decision in 2021 to change how it calculates pupil premium funding means that schools have lost out on £90 million of funding to support disadvantaged children.”
The Department for Education has changed the way it allocates the Pupil Premium, a special payment for schools based on the number of pupils eligible for free school meals. The West Midlands as a whole is losing around £14 million.
In previous years, the amount of pupil premium funding going to each school was based on the number of pupils eligible for free school meals in January. But this year, the Department for Education has decided to base it on the eligible pupils in October 2020.
This makes a difference, because lockdown meant thousands of families suffered dramatic cuts to their incomes between October 2020 and January 2021. As a result, the number of pupils eligible for free school meals increased significantly – but they will not attract funding.
The Government admits schools will lose money. Giving a national figure, the Department for Education website says: “The overall impact is approximately £90 million.”
The report comes after schools across the West Midlands said they had been forced to cut staff or activities due to a lack of funding.
One in three, 33 per cent, said they had already made cuts to balance their budget, and 38 per cent said they expected to make cuts this year. The results were published by headteachers’ union the NAHT, following a survey of the region’s schools.
Heads highlighted a series of problems, including lack of funding for pupils with special educational needs. Almost all school leaders, 98 per cent, reported that funding for pupils with special needs in their school was insufficient. They also highlighted increased costs due to Covid, including buying cleaning and sanitising materials.
Get the latest politics news direct to your inbox through our daily newsletter.