One in three schools 'using pupil premium funding to plug budget gaps'

Joe Lepper
Wednesday, April 28, 2021

More than a third of headteachers say they are using pupil premium funding meant for disadvantaged children to plug gaps in their school budget.

Primary schools are more likely to use funding for disadvantaged children elsewhere, research shows. Picture: Adobe Stock
Primary schools are more likely to use funding for disadvantaged children elsewhere, research shows. Picture: Adobe Stock

Among school leaders surveyed, 34 per cent said pupil premium funding, which is allocated for disadvantaged pupils, is instead being used to help schools cover costs elsewhere.

This is up on less than a quarter (23 per cent) of headteachers who, in 2019, said they were using the funding elsewhere

Primary school headteachers are among school leaders most likely to use pupil premium funding to plug budget gaps. Among those surveyed, 35 per cent of primary school leaders are using this funding elsewhere, compared with 28 per cent of secondary school headteachers.

When the funding is used for disadvantaged pupils, one in five (17 per cent) of secondary headteachers said their priority was using pupil premium allocation for one-to-one and small group tuition.

The survey involved more than 1,500 teachers and was carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research for the Sutton Trust.

The Trust said the rise suggests schools are facing mounting costs to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“At a time when schools are facing monumental challenges, the additional funding they get through the pupil premium has never been more important,” said Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl.

“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.”

The National Education Union (NEU) says that schools are facing increasing costs on cleaning, heating, supplies and other Covid security measures amid the pandemic.

“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,” said Kevin Courtney, NEU joint general secretary.

Last month the National Association of Head Teachers warned that the £6,000 average funding allocated to primary schools through the government’s Covid-19 recovery grants has been wiped out. This is due to changes in the way the government calculates the number of children who are eligible for pupil premium funding.

Schools normally report the number of eligible pupils in January, but for the 2020/21 academic year this was collected in October. This means children who became eligible for the funding between October and January will not receive extra funding until next year.

Courtney added that Education secretary Gavin Williamson “must come clean as to how much schools have lost as a result of his moving the goalposts”.

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