When the coalition introduced the pupil premium last year, it gave schools the freedom to spend the additional money as they wished. But under new plans unveiled by the government this week, heads will be forced to publish precise details of where the cash is going.
As of September, every school will be expected to publish how much money it receives through the premium, show how it spent the money over the previous year and set out how it intends to spend it in the year to come.
The pound;1.2 billion policy, which allocates extra cash to schools for every deprived pupil on their rolls, was one of the key concessions won by the Liberal Democrats when the coalition was formed almost two years ago.
According to children's minister Sarah Teather, who is responsible for overseeing the pupil premium, the new proposals will give parents a greater say over how the money is spent.
"Schools will need to publish how much they are getting, what they spent it on in the last financial year and what they plan to spend it on in the next financial year," Ms Teather told TES. "We are not saying how they should spend it, we are saying they need to be accountable and therefore show how they are using it."
One of the key pledges of the pupil premium was that heads would be free to spend the money as they saw fit. But just last week, the Department for Education announced it was taking pound;50 million of pupil premium money to fund its summer schools programme, which it hopes will help the most disadvantaged pupils to overcome the summer dip when moving from primary to secondary school.
This has led to concern among heads that the freedom surrounding the pupil premium could be beginning to be watered down.
David Carter, chief executive of the Cabot Learning Federation, said that he understood the need for transparency over funding, but questioned whether detailed lists were necessary. "It's important that parents can see how we're supporting our most vulnerable pupils, but it does feel that there is a bit of Big Brother about it," he said.
"There seems to be this tension between giving schools the flexibility and freedom to spend the money, but then a concern around what happens when (ministers) don't like what we spend it on."
The DfE changed how it allocates the pupil premium last year, expanding the number of pupils who are eligible to include any pupil who has received free school meals in the past six years. For some schools serving particularly deprived areas, the change could mean that they are awarded substantial additional funding.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was reasonable for schools to be held accountable for the extra cash, but not at the cost of the "professional judgement" of headteachers.
"We have told Sarah Teather on numerous occasions that we are worried the freedom over the pupil premium could be constrained, but she has assured us that it will be left to heads to decide how best to spend the money," Mr Lightman said.
"So we were disappointed that the government decided to top-slice money from the pupil premium to give it to summer schools, as this method may not work for every school."
Photo: Sarah Teather: The children's minister believes the move towards transparency will give parents a bigger say in how the pupil premium is used. Photo by: Stephen Shepherd