Pupil Premium census change will wipe-out recovery funding for two-thirds of primary schools

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The £6,000 recovery premium being given to primary schools is set to be wiped out because of changes in how the Department for Education (DfE) calculates Pupil Premium eligibility.

A seemingly innocuous change has seen the 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 the crucial £1,345 Pupil Premium funding from April 2021. Instead they will have to wait a year.

The issue has been highlighted by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT). It says that the three-month gap may seem small, but with many families in “volatile financial situations”, higher than normal numbers of pupils are at risk of rapidly falling into further disadvantage.

A survey conducted by the union asked school leaders how many children had missed out on the funding because of the change.

Sixty-two per cent of 1,316 respondents told the NAHT that they had five or more pupils who had become eligible between the two censuses. Pupil Premium funding for five primary-age pupils would normally total £6,725.

Furthermore, 33 per cent of respondents had 10 or more pupils that had become eligible between October and January, meaning at least £13,450 in lost funding.

One in 10 respondents had 20 or more pupils missing out, which amounts to at least £26,900.

Earlier this year, the DfE announced an additional £702m for Covid recovery support, including £302m to go directly to state primary and secondary schools in the form of a recovery premium. The average primary school is to receive around £6,000, and the average secondary school around £22,000.

As such, the NAHT survey suggests that two-thirds of schools have been left worse off due to the change.

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”.

It adds: “Per pupil funding rates will be the same as in 2020 to 2021. Total Pupil Premium funding is expected to increase to more than £2.5bn in 2021 to 2022 as more children have become eligible for free school meals as a result of the impact of the pandemic.” (DfE, 2021)

Paul Whiteman, the NAHT’s general secretary, said: “The government is giving with one hand while knowingly taking away with the other. A three-month gap may not seem like it would make a big difference but, given the volatile financial situation for many families due to Covid-19, it is an exceptionally bad time to implement this change.

“A significant number of children appear to have become eligible for help via Pupil Premium during that time and these children will now not receive any additional funding for another whole year. Worse, the children who are losing out are exactly those children most in need of additional support as they return to school.

“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 has warned the DfE a number of times about the “unintentional consequence” of making this change.

He continued: “Our warnings have fallen on deaf ears. The government must put this right. We aren’t asking for additional money here. Only for what schools would have received if this census date change hadn’t been implemented. If they don’t they will be abandoning those children most in need at the most critical time.”

The NAHT’s findings were published today (Thursday, March 18), during the union’s online School Leaders’ Summit. The all-day conference is looking at how education might emerge from the current pandemic.

DfE: Policy paper: Pupil Premium, updated February 1, 2021: www.gov.uk/government/publications/pupil-premium/p...

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