Pupil Premium 'stealth cut' – £92.5m taken away from disadvantaged primary pupils

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

Furious headteachers are demanding the government reverses its “stealth cut” to the Pupil Premium budget – which has saved the Department for Education (DfE) almost £90m it was confirmed this week.

The long-running saga is centred on changes to how the Pupil Premium is calculated, with the government now using the October census rather than the January census to allocate funds.

It means any children becoming eligible for Pupil Premium support between October 2020 and January 2021 will not be getting any funding this financial year despite living in poverty.

Research from the likes of the Local Government Association and the Labour Party had put the cuts at anything from £118m to £133m.

And now – after months spent refusing to confirm the financial impact of the changes – the DfE has admitted that the net result of the change is that 62,216 students have missed out on Pupil Premium funding.

The figures are contained within the recent update to the DfE’s guidance on Pupil Premium budgets (DfE, 2021) and confirm that the cut will save the department precisely £89,856,109.

It is primary schools which are hit the hardest. The change means that there are 67,189 disadvantaged pupils in primary schools who are not attracting Pupil Premium funding (a budget hole of around £92.5m).

At secondary level, however, there are an additional 4,973 Pupil Premium students than there would have been if the January census had been used, meaning an increase of £2.6m to budgets.

Overall, the DfE says that total Pupil Premium funding is increasing to more than £2.5bn in the 2021 to 2022 financial year. This means funding is up £60m on the previous year.

Its guidance states: “Most schools across England will see an increase in funding. The overall impact (of the census change) is approximately £90m. This does not mean that Pupil Premium funding is decreasing – total Pupil Premium funding is increasing compared to the previous year.”

However, while 62,216 students have missed out on Pupil Premium funding, school census data for January 2021 show that the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) has risen to 20.8 per cent – more than one in five school-aged children in England.

The rise shows the impact of Covid-19 on family finances. The latest figures compare to eligibility of 17.3 per cent in January 2020 and 19.7 per cent in October 2020.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "This data shows that the government’s previous claims that schools would not lose out as a consequence of the changes to Pupil Premium this year were, at best, disingenuous.

“The stark reality is that we now know that the change to how the pupil premium is allocated has led to a £90m stealth cut to school budgets. Worse still, it means more than 60,000 pupils won’t get the vital support they should have been entitled to this year.

"There is simply no justification for this change, and the government must reverse this decision immediately. A failure to so will completely undermine its claims to be ‘levelling up’ and ‘leaving no child behind’. It is hard to think of a worse possible time for the government to be withholding support for tens of thousands of disadvantaged pupils.”

Daisy Cooper, the Liberal Democrats’ education spokesperson, meanwhile, has called for the cuts to be reversed and Pupil Premium payments to be backdated to cover the lost funding.

  • DfE: Guidance: Pupil premium: effective use and accountability, last updated June 2021: https://bit.ly/3dt4vje


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