I sometimes wonder what goes through the minds of government ministers and their officials.
Imagine deciding that schools with high levels of disadvantaged pupils were clearly in need of additional funding – but then also concluding that, if you give it to them, then you must also attach some strings, to ensure that it creates its own workload.
What really is the purpose of the pupil-premium spending strategy and review? Was the fear that, if schools with disadvantaged pupils were simply given the money they needed to support those pupils, they would somehow fritter it away?
Are school leaders trusted so little that every little scrap of funding thrown our way must be accounted for through online reports?
Coronavirus: How can schools assess the effects of catch-up funding?
The same was true of the Year 7 catch-up premium, even long after it was ever meaningfully linked to any need identified in schools. The new Year 6 Sats made it impossible for the government to afford money for every pupil falling short of the new standard, so it just abandoned the calculation, stuck with outdated figures, and still demanded that schools justify how every penny was being spent.
And now, it seems, the same will be true of the Covid-19 catch-up premium. Once again, schools are expected to publish a report showing how they intend to spend their £80 per pupil, and how the effect of the spending will be assessed.
What asinine nonsense. Presumably, somebody in the department decided that schools could not possibly be trusted to spend a few extra thousand pounds without some way of checking up on them.
After all, this does make up a potential 1-2 per cent of school funding this year. And, what with all the surplus cash floating around in schools, there’s every likelihood that schools would just fritter it away if not forced to account for it by posting a report that barely anyone will look at on the school website.
A whole system in turmoil
How on earth will any school “assess the effect of this expenditure on the educational attainment” of relevant pupils in such a chaotic year as this?
The whole system is in turmoil. Children are lucky enough if they’re able to attend their actual school on any given day, let alone being taught by their own class teacher, with a full complement of resources available, and with the usual support in place for a school.
Between lockdowns, quarantine, isolation, staff absence, short-term cover and endless other impacts on the school day, what hope has anyone got of calculating whether or not the educational outcomes at the end of the year are a reflection of the additional spending? It seems perfectly possible that an individual’s test scores might go down with a whole host of factors by way of explanation, and yet still be a reflection of money well spent on the catch-up premium.
What if every school just completed their report saying that every penny of the catch-up premium was spent on ensuring that as many children as possible could attend school every day?
Surely it can be argued that the additional cleaning costs every school faces are helping to close the gaps caused by Covid? Presumably, every supply teacher brought in at the school’s expense is helping to affect the educational attainment of those pupils who would otherwise have to be sent home?
For the department to crow about growing budgets and additional funding as though the past 10 years of cuts hadn’t happened is one thing. But to ask school leaders to provide the unsupportable evidence that this catch-up money has done anything but plug the many gaps in education funding is beyond a joke.
Michael Tidd is headteacher at East Preston Junior School in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979