School funding: DfE reveals how £2bn injection will be allocated

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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The Department for Education has published details of how the extra £2bn announced in the Autumn Statement is to be allocated to schools.

The news comes on the same day as research is published showing that a record number of schools are diverting Pupil Premium money to plug budget gaps.

Polling released by the Sutton Trust also shows that headteachers are cutting back on teaching assistants, school trips, sports, extra-curricular activities, and IT equipment to make ends meet.

The DfE announcement, meanwhile, says that from May 10 onwards, a typical primary school of 200 pupils can expect to receive approximately £35,000 and a typical secondary school of 900 students will get around £200,000.

Responding to the news, school leadership unions say the additional money is not enough amid a cost-of-living crisis and on-going problems with teacher recruitment.

They point to existing evidence showing that the £2bn investment means that school funding in 2024 will return – in real-terms – to levels last seen in 2010.

Confirming the allocations, a DfE statement said: “The majority of this funding is allocated on a per-pupil basis, and disadvantaged pupils attract additional funding to their school. The allocations also factor in differences in wage costs between areas.

Schools can choose how to invest the extra funding, however it is primarily expected to support salary uplifts for teachers and teaching assistants and help with increased running costs, school trips, and learning materials.”

The DfE says that the remainder of the £2bn will be used to increase Pupil Premium funding rates, which it says are rising by 5% in 2023/24. The new rates now stand at £1,035 per secondary school and £1,455 per primary with looked after or previously looked after children attracting £2,530.

Speaking on Wednesday (April 26), Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that the government’s “insistence that an extra £2bn will fix every funding problem is at odds with reality” and that many schools will “continue to experience extremely difficult financial circumstances which will necessitate further cuts”.

Responding specifically to the DfE’s announcement, he added: “It is important to understand that the £2bn of additional funding, that was previously announced in the Autumn Statement, follows a decade of real-terms cuts to school funding and rising costs which have left budgets teetering on the brink of disaster. The additional money will not be sufficient to cover increased costs in many schools and it is inevitable that there will need to be further cuts.

“The government talks about how this funding will benefit a typical school, but there is no such thing as a typical school. Schools come in many different shapes and sizes and many of them are in absolutely desperate situation financially because the system has been starved of the money it needs. School leaders are at their wits’ end of where they can make further cuts while maintaining a level of provision that children need and parents expect.

The Sutton Trust research

It was back in 2017 when the Sutton Trust first asked schools if they use their Pupil Premium to plug general budget gaps – at that time, 30% admitted to doing this.

This figure later dropped to 23% in 2019 and stood at 33% last year but has now risen to a record high of 41%. This year’s survey involved 1,428 teachers and senior leaders working in schools in England.

When broken down by phase, primary schools were more likely to report diverting Pupil Premium funds than secondaries (42% vs 31%).

The Sutton Trust has labelled the finding “deeply concerning” at a time when schools are fighting to tackle the impact of the pandemic on the attainment gap between poor pupils and their peers.

Elsewhere, the polling shows that 63% of the responding schools say they are cutting back on teaching assistants, this compared with 42% in the same research a year ago. Wider support staff are also more like to be axed this year (40% compared to 33%).

Furthermore, 50% are cutting outings and trips and 42% IT equipment (compared with 21% and 27% respectively in 2022). And 26% of the respondents say sport and other extra-curricular activities are being cut (compared with 15% in 2022).

Across almost all the measures except wider support staff, primary schools were more likely to report making cuts than secondaries.

At secondary level, a quarter of the respondents said subject choice was being reduced at GCSE and A level.

The Sutton trust says that its findings show the impact of the cost-of-living crisis in schools and is calling on ministers to “urgently review” school fundings, especially for those operating in deprived areas. It is calling for increased investment over and above the £2bn.

The survey also confirms the on-going teacher recruitment crisis is showing no sign of abating: 71% of the responding senior leaders reported difficulties in recruiting teachers this year, with 26% saying they had faced difficulties “to a great extent”.

Carl Cullinane, director of research and policy at the Sutton Trust, said: “The polling paints a deeply concerning picture of our schools. It is deeply concerning that increasing numbers of schools report having to use their Pupil Premium funding to plug budget gaps. It is vital that this funding is used to narrow the gaps in progress that have opened alarmingly in the wake of the pandemic.

“The government must urgently review the funding given to schools, particularly those in the most deprived areas, in light of these trends. It is also vital that the government does not lose sight of the importance of education recovery, and should urgently increase investment to ensure that no pupils are left behind.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the figures were “shocking” and “lay bare how a continuing funding and recruitment crisis is preventing many schools from offering children, including some of the most disadvantaged, the rich education they deserve”.

He added: “Schools are also being forced to pursue an increasingly narrow core curriculum because they cannot afford to offer cultural and sporting activities which level up opportunities and enrich children’s knowledge and wellbeing.

"The government needs to recognise that school leaders desperately need more funding and make a serious offer to end the industrial dispute which reflects the real-term pay cuts, crippling workload and high-stakes accountability faced by dedicated staff.”

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