Deprived pupils miss out

Cash earmarked to help children in poverty is being spent on basic resources, says Estyn

Cash earmarked to help children in poverty is being spent on basic resources, says Estyn

Almost 30,000 children and teenagers entitled to free school meals in Wales miss out on extra Assembly government cash to tackle pupil poverty.

The "negative impact" created by the exclusion of thousands of young people in deprivation from the RAISE fund was this week attacked by Estyn in its first progress report. But as well as criticising the mechanism, the Welsh inspectorate cast a further damning verdict on the initiative, saying many schools given the cash are not even using it to tackle underlying pupil poverty.

Estyn had looked at the success of the project 18 months after it was announced by the Assembly government. Schools receive extra funding of between pound;11,000 and pound;220,000 per year depending on their status and free school meal (FSM) entitlement. In just under 200 schools inspected there had been limited progress.

But the report says boys are benefiting most from RAISE projects. This is because schools are using the funding to help boost achievement levels generally, rather than targeting pupils in poverty.

Dr Bill Maxwell, Wales's chief inspector, said some schools had spent money on staffing or resources, with little direct benefit to disadvantaged children.

"Schools have tended to concentrate on those with low educational performance, and they mostly fail to support disadvantaged pupils," said Dr Maxwell.

Under RAISE, only schools with 20 per cent or more FSMs eligibility are entitled to the direct funding. Most of the 562 schools have used the extra money, totalling pound;32 million over two years, to train teachers or employ new staff to help pupils with literacy and numeracy skills, improve attendance and run after-school clubs.

The project was developed following a cash windfall for British schools announced by the then chancellor Gordon Brown in the April 2006 budget. The money was passed on to the Assembly government, which decided to give it to schools with high levels of FSM.

The mechanism proved controversial at the time, with many schools complaining they should have been eligible and that the cut-off point was unfair. Many of those that missed out said the extra cash should have been shared equally between everyone, but the Assembly government said it would then have been too small an amount to make a difference.

Around half of secondary and one-third of primary FSM pupils did not benefit from the project as their schools did not fall under the criteria for the funding, says the report. But Estyn does acknowledge pockets of good practice.

Steve Bowden, head of Porth County Community School in Rhondda Cynon Taf, which has 28 per cent FSM pupils, defended his use of the cash but agreed that all disadvantaged children should get some form of support.

"Every school, wherever it is, will have pupils who fall into those categories, and the data is there to identify them. RAISE has definitely helped our pupils," he said.

Dr Philip Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru, said: "Some schools are understandably focusing on their poorest performers, often boys, but what we should be doing is getting youngsters to achieve their full potential."

The report also found schools and local authorities were not sharing enough good practice and had not planned how to keep projects going after the funding ended. It recommended setting national targets for all FSM pupils.

A government spokesperson said: "We realise many schools have trouble distinguishing between socio-economic and educational disadvantage. In light of Estyn's report, we will reinforce the issue with schools and local authorities."

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