Anger over Pupil Premium admin change that is costing schools millions

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: MA Education/Lucie Carlier

Schools nationwide will lose out on an estimated £133m in Pupil Premium funding due to the DfE's recent administrative change – with new figures showing North East schools alone face a loss of up to £7.3m. Pete Henshaw takes a look

More schools are reporting huge potential losses in funding – amounting to millions of pounds – due to an “administrative change” in the way Pupil Premium is being allocated.

A new analysis estimates that the move will cost schools in the North East of England between £5.2m and £7.3m.

The seemingly innocuous 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.

The Labour Party has also weighed into the row, with shadow education secretary Kate Green estimating that the change will cost schools across England as much as £133m.

Pupil Premium funding currently amounts to £1,345 per primary pupil, £955 for secondary age students, and £2,345 for looked after children.

The change is particularly damaging given that the pandemic has seen many more families slide into poverty.

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 of new data by the Schools North East network suggests that there was an increase of 5,400 pupils in receipt of FSM across the North East between the school census of October 2020 and that of January 2021. But schools won’t receive Pupil Premium funding for these students.

Furthermore, Labour Freedom of Information requests show that as many as 120,000 children nationwide are estimated to have become eligible for FSM between the October and January census points.

Schools North East is a schools-led regional network representing more than 1,150 schools in the region. Alongside the North East Child Poverty Commission and the charity Children North East, it has now written to education secretary Gavin Williamson to urge him to reverse this decision.

Ms Green also raised the issued during her address to the NASUWT annual conference over Easter.

The National Association of Head Teachers has also voice concerns. Last month, a survey of its primary school members found that two-thirds of schools were worse off due to the change.

  • Sixty-two per cent of 1,316 respondents said they had five or more pupils who had become eligible between the two censuses. Five primary pupils would normally attract £6,725 in Pupil Premium funding.
  • Thirty-three per cent of respondents had 10 or more pupils missing out (at least £13,450 in lost funding).
  • One in 10 respondents had 20 or more pupils missing out (at least £26,900).

The DfE says that the change “brings the Pupil Premium in line with how the rest of the core schools’ budget is calculated and will provide both schools and DfE with greater certainty around future funding levels earlier in the year” (DfE, 2021a).

It adds: “Total Pupil Premium funding is expected to increase to more than £2.5bn in 2021/22 as more children have become eligible for free school meals as a result of the impact of the pandemic.”

However, Schools North East director Chris Zarraga said: “Existing high levels of deprivation and a wider gap in learning loss means that schools in our region are likely to be hit even harder than elsewhere.

“With school budgets already suffering due to continuing costs of Covid safety measures, this will have a serious detrimental impact on our students who have already suffered significant disruption.”

Director of the North East Child Poverty Commission, Amanda Bailey, added: “We all know the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on people’s lives and livelihoods and these new figures illustrate quite how stark that economic impact has been for thousands of families across our region, given how stringent the free school meal threshold currently is.

“It’s not right that some of the most disadvantaged pupils in the North East could lose the additional support they are entitled to as a result of this change.”

Paul Whiteman, the NAHT’s general secretary, accused the DfE of “giving with one hand while knowingly taking away with the other”.

He added: “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.”

Mr Whiteman said that the NAHT had warned the DfE a number of times about the “unintentional consequence” of making this change: “Our warnings have fallen on deaf ears. The government must put this right. If they don’t they will be abandoning those children most in need at the most critical time.”

The row comes as the DfE has updated the conditions attached to the Pupil Premium Grant (DfE, 2021b), requiring schools to show that their spending is evidence-led and to use the DfE’s strategy statement templates (DfE, 2019) when publishing their Pupil Premium strategy.

The change states: “From academic year 2021/22, schools must demonstrate how their spending decisions are informed by research evidence, making reference to a range of sources including the Education Endowment Foundation’s (Teaching and Learning) Toolkit.

“In line with the EEF’s Pupil Premium Guide, activities should include those that: support the quality of teaching, such as staff professional development; provide targeted academic support, such as tutoring; and tackle non-academic barriers to success in school, such as attendance, behaviour and social and emotional support.”


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