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Cash fails to reach poor

Councils are not distributing funds allocated to the most deprived schools. Dorothy Lepkowska reports

Schools catering for the poorest pupils are still getting the least money despite a 32 per cent increase in government funding for the most deprived areas, research reveals.

A study for Save the Children Fund says that although spending on schools in disadvantaged authorities has risen significantly since 1997, councils are not distributing the cash to the most needy pupils.

It shows that since Labour came to power, government spending on education has been skewed towards poor children and deprived areas.

Between 1997 and 2004 funding went up by almost a third in the 10 per cent most disadvantaged authorities, compared to a 25 per cent increase in the 10 per cent most prosperous councils.

Last year, funding per pupil in the most deprived authorities was, on average, 24 per cent higher than in the least disadvantaged areas.

However, the report called Fair Share of Welfare and carried out by Tom Sefton of the London School of Economics, shows the most needy pupils do not necessarily get the money earmarked for them by the Government.

It said: "There is a tendency for authorities in deprived areas to spend less on education relative to their central allocations than authorities in less deprived areas.

"It seems that the most deprived authorities are more constrained in the priority they are able to give to spending on education, perhaps because they face greater pressure on other budgets."

The study also suggested that changes to the funding formula for schools were having little impact on the amounts being spent on the poorest areas.

This was because the new arrangement gave less weight to social need.

One of the reasons for the discrepancy in funding was that local authorities were sometimes reluctant to treat schools differently.

"Any allocation that moves too far away from a uniform amount per pupil is seen as unfair and may be resisted by those schools who would lose out," the report says. "Schools that do best from the current system are schools in better off neighbourhoods within the poorest authorities, while schools in the poorest neighbourhoods are losing out."

The study said the Government should monitor better how money was distributed and targeted at the most needy pupils.

Researchers also found that spending on education increased by 38 per cent in real terms during the same period, which was greater than the rise in overall government spending.

The largest increase, at 68 per cent, was on pre-school children.

The report can be obtained by contacting: www.savethechildren.org.uk

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