OVER A THIRD OF HEAD TEACHERS in England say the funding they get for poorer pupils is being used to plug general gaps in their school’s budget – a rise from 23 per cent in 2019.

This suggests that the cost to schools of coping with the pandemic is having an impact on funding earmarked for disadvantaged pupils, according to new polling published by the Sutton Trust.

The problem is particularly pronounced in primary schools, where 35 per cent of senior leaders say they’re using their pupil premium funding in this way, compared with 28 per cent of those who lead secondary schools.

The survey of 1,528 teachers, conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) for the Trust as part of their Teacher Voice Omnibus Survey, examines how schools across England are using their pupil premium funding.

A large body of research now shows how disadvantaged pupils have suffered the most because of the disruption to schooling caused by the pandemic. Yet a change to the reporting date for the pupil premium has meant that schools are set to lose tens of millions of pounds.

Schools usually report the number of pupils they have who are eligible for pupil premium in January. But for this school year, the government changed the date to October. This means that any children who became eligible recently – for example because their parents have lost work – will not receive any extra funding until next year.

With more pupils becoming eligible for pupil premium funding as a result of the economic effects of the pandemic, data from the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) suggests the average primary school is set to lose £6,000 because of the reporting date change. The Sutton Trust and its sister charity, the Education Endowment Foundation, is concerned about the impact this lost funding could have on teaching and learning for disadvantaged pupils.

They are calling on the government to reverse the decision to ensure that schools receive pupil premium funding for all eligible pupils. In addition, both charities would like to see significant financial support for disadvantaged pupils prioritised in the education recovery plan.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chair of the Sutton Trust and chair of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “At a time when schools are facing monumental challenges, the additional funding they get through the pupil premium has never been more important.

“So it’s concerning to see that a third of heads are using this funding to plug general budget gaps, likely because they face additional costs due to the pandemic. The priority of the education recovery plan must be to provide enough resources for disadvantaged pupils, so that they can begin to recover from the massive disruption of the last year.”

Kevin Courtney, joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “We know school budgets have been hit hard by coronavirus and the inadequate reimbursement from Government. Schools have had to spend more on cleaning, heating, supply costs and other Covid security measures, while income from lettings is down. It is not remotely surprising that pupil premium funding is being used to plug shortfalls in general funding this year even more than previous years.

“Matched to this is a shift in the date of the census from January 2021 to October 2020, meaning that many disadvantaged children will miss out on the funding they are entitled to for their education. Gavin Williamson must come clean as to how much schools have lost as a result of his moving the goalposts.

“The public sector pay freeze in September is clearly intended to help balance the books – punishing teachers and support staff who have gone the extra mile during the pandemic.

“As the EPI [Educational Policy Institute] reported last week, other countries have put much more significant sums into education recovery – in the US the equivalent of £1600 per pupil, the Netherlands £2500 and in England just £250. Without a similar investment plan, children in England will fall behind and disadvantaged children will fall behind further.”

  • Read School Funding and Pupil Premium 2021 here.

* Source: Sutton Trust