Call for shake-up of school funds for poorest

Meg Hillier, Home Office minister,
Meg Hillier, Home Office minister,
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A POWERFUL public spending watchdog has called for a shake-up of Government funding for poor pupils to ensure more is done to help these youngsters to succeed at school.

A new report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) also warns that the roll out of Universal Credit will make it more difficult to identify which children are eligible for extra funding – and says that the Department for Education has no plan to deal with this.

MPs on the committee say there is evidence that the achievement gap between rich and poor youngsters has started to narrow since the introduction of the Pupil Premium in 2011.

However, it warns that there are still “inequalities” in funding, and suggests that the Government needs to do more to support schools so they can share ideas to use the funding effectively.

The Pupil Premium is funding given to state schools in England to help educate disadvantaged youngsters – those who are eligible for free school meals.

This year it is worth £1,320 per primary school pupil and £935 for each secondary school student.

Around two million youngsters in England come from disadvantaged backgrounds, the committee noted.

In the last four years, head teachers have started to pay more attention to closing the achievement gap and there are examples of schools using the money on schemes that are successful in boosting results, the committee’s report said.

But it goes on to say that more work is needed to help weak schools to learn from those that are using the Pupil Premium effectively.

The committee also called for the Government to set out a clear timetable to review the national school funding formula, claiming that under the current system, some schools received around £3,000 a year more than others for each poor pupil.

The report said: “The Department for Education needs to be better at supporting schools to share and use best practice more consistently so that more schools use the Pupil Premium effectively. In addition, there remain inequalities in the core funding received by schools with very similar levels of disadvantage.

“As the impact of the Pupil Premium will take a long time to be fully realised, the department needs to do more to demonstrate its emerging benefits in the meantime.”

PAC chairman and Labour MP Meg Hillier said: “Figures show there has been some narrowing of the attainment gap but results have been uneven.

“More joined-up thinking is required. It is clearly in children’s best interests that weaker schools learn from successes elsewhere and new measures are needed to ensure this happens.”

A DfE spokesman said: “It is encouraging that this report recognises the extent to which the Government has been able to narrow the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.”

He said the DfE would now consider the PAC findings.