Pupil Premium stealth cuts: Williamson accuses Labour of ‘moaning’ over £133m loss

As anger remains over the Pupil Premium stealth cuts, Gavin Williamson has been challenged to “come clean" and publish a “full financial analysis” of the estimated £133m that schools have lost out on.

The education secretary was challenged In Parliament on Monday (April 26) but twice ignored the specific issue in his response and accused his questioner of “moaning”.

The row has come after an “administrative change” in how the Pupil Premium is allocated. Seemingly innocuous, the change has seen the Department for Education (DfE) move to using October 2020 census data – and not the usual January census – to decide on Pupil Premium eligibility.

It means that any children who have become “eligible” between October and January will not attract Pupil Premium funding from April 2021. Instead they will have to wait a year.

Freedom of Information requests by the Labour Party suggest that as many as 120,000 pupils have fallen into this between census black hole. The lost funding amounts to an estimated £133m.

In Parliament, shadow education secretary Kate Green called on Mr Williamson to “come clean and publish his department’s full financial analysis of the funding lost to schools from this Pupil Premium stealth cut”.

However, Mr Williamson refused to address the specific question: “The honourable lady forever moans and complains about the resources – the extra resources – that we have been putting into schools. Just a short time ago, we unveiled a £14.4bn expansion of funding into secondary schools. On top of that, we have outlined a further £1.7bn that is going to support schools in helping to ensure that children are able to catch-up having been away.”

Ms Green responded: “So are headteachers moaning when they say that the Pupil Premium stealth cut means that they will not be able to pay for speech and language therapy, or a teaching assistant, or additional small group sessions? One head told me that they lose out more on Pupil Premium cuts than they receive in catch-up funding.

“Will the secretary of state guarantee that no school will be worse off as a result of his changes to the Pupil Premium?”

Mr Williamson again ignored the question: “This government are delivering real increases for schools right across the board. We are delivering an extra £1.7bn in support to schools to ensure that they are able to help children to catch-up.”

The exchange has not impressed headteachers. The National Association of Head Teachers said that “the children who are losing out are exactly those children most in need of additional support”.

In a statement on Monday, general secretary Paul Whiteman added: “The government is giving with one hand while knowingly taking away with the other. A significant number of children appear to have become eligible for help via Pupil Premium during the pandemic and these children will now not receive any additional funding for another whole year.

“The government may say ‘no child left behind’, but with this simple ‘administrative tidy-up’ they have found a way to snatch back funding from schools and to further entrench educational disadvantage for the poorest families.”

Recent NAHT research found that 62 per cent of primary schools had five or more pupils that had become eligible for Pupil Premium between the October and January census, thus wiping out their “catch-up funding” (a loss of at least £6,725 versus £6,000 average ‘catch-up’ funding allocated to primary schools).

There is particular anger because the pandemic has seen many families slip into poverty and their children become eligible for free school meals.

Last year, the Food Foundation estimated that as many as 900,000 children aged eight and above were newly registered for free school meals in September as the pandemic hit family finances hard. It means 29 per cent of children are now claiming FSM – 2.2 million nationwide.

And the trend has continued past the October 2020 census point. Analysis by the Schools North East network puts the losses at between £5.2m and £7.3m, with as many as 5,400 pupils falling into the between census black hole.

Mr Whiteman added: “The government must put this right. They must come clean about what they have saved and they must put that money back into schools budgets immediately.”