The government should bring forward pupil premium payments to schools to help them cope with any rise in disadvantaged pupils as a result of the economic downturn caused by coronavirus, a union has said.
Under its current “lagged” model, the Department for Education allocates pupil premium funding in a school year according to census data from January in the previous year – but that would mean, this year, that pupils who have become newly-eligible for pupil premium since the pandemic began in March would not be picked up in the data.
Funding specialist Julia Harnden, from the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Lagged funding continues to be an issue.
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“What is important is that the pupil premium grants can accurately reflect the number of children that are eligible now and that they are not funded on a lagged basis.
“In these very specific circumstances, it would be really helpful if schools knew that they could access pupil premium [money] for the children that are there and need it now. And not have to wait.”
The DfE cannot say at present how many extra pupils have become eligible for free school meals and the associated pupil premium funding since the start of the pandemic.
However, the Department for Work and Pensions has reported “unprecedented levels of demand” for Universal Credit (UC) in the six weeks prior to 12 April. It says that almost a million people successfully applied for UC in the two weeks after the prime minister told everyone to stay at home on 16 March, compared to around 100,000 people in a "normal" two-week period.
Ms Harnden added: “It is hard to say how this will affect pupil premium, but our feeling is that it is unlikely to result in a significant increase in the amount of funding to schools through this route. Pupil premium eligibility for those on universal credit applies only to families whose household income is below £7,400 a year, and applicants may not necessarily have school-age children, so we do not know how many more pupils might be affected.”
At current levels, pupil premium payments to schools amount to £1,345 per primary-aged pupil, and £955 per secondary-aged pupil. The money is used by schools in various ways, including for one-to-one support, extra-curricular activities, school trips and IT equipment.
Headteacher Jules White, of school funding campaign Worthless?, said the DfE needed to be “proactive” at providing support to those at risk.
He said: “The fact that more children will be eligible for pupil premium funding because of an economic downturn will mean that schools will have to redouble their efforts to intervene with greater numbers of children when we return.
“A new approach to supporting disadvantaged youngsters will need to be mapped out.”
Current DfE guidance states: “The pupil premium for 2020 to 2021 will include pupils recorded in the January 2020 school census who have had a recorded period of FSM eligibility since May 2014, as well as those first recorded as eligible at January 2020.”
The DfE said it had no plans at the moment to change this model.