Poor children outside of London should receive more pupil premium money than their peers who live in the capital to close the attainment gap between different regions, new research has suggested.
The study, conducted on behalf of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the premium - extra money for pupils in receipt of free school meals - should be lower in London because its poor pupils already outperform their counterparts in the rest of England when it comes to GCSE results.
"(The) pupil premium is a black and white policy, which fails to see the true colours of educational disadvantage," the report states. "In particular... it ignores regional differences (for example, London will receive the greatest proportional funding increase, but has the smallest attainment gap)."
The report suggests that "increasing the pupil premium in the regions outside of the capital" should be explored as a potential means of narrowing the gap.
The premium provides schools with more than #163;600 of additional funding for each pupil who has received free school meals in the past six years. But the use of free meals as a means of allocating the funds should also be overhauled, the study says. According to the research, 47.3 per cent of pupils in London in receipt of free school meals reached the five good GCSEs benchmark, compared with just 31.3 per cent in the rest of the country.
Malcolm Trobe, ASCL's deputy general secretary, said the Department for Education needed to develop a more "sophisticated" funding formula to distribute the premium fairly.
"We have always had concerns that free school meal criteria is a blunt instrument for deciding which pupils warrant additional funding," Mr Trobe said. "This data provides clear evidence that backs our concerns. An equitable and appropriate funding formula is almost by definition not a simple and transparent one. We need a sophisticated and detailed formula for calculating not only for the pupil premium, but for the whole funding system."
Schools in London have historically been funded more handsomely than their counterparts outside of the capital, with some London secondaries receiving as much as #163;1,800 more per pupil than a similar school in rural areas.
Ivan Ould, chair of the f40 Group, which represents the worst-funded local authorities in the country and campaigns for the introduction of fairer funding, said that the pupil premium had done little to help his members' schools.
"The government has said there is a need for a national funding formula but decided not to implement it until 2015," Mr Ould said. "What that means is that for those among the lowest-funded schools, the introduction of the pupil premium has done nothing. Those local authorities that received far less per child are still receiving far less."
But Kenny Frederick, headteacher at George Green's School in Tower Hamlets, East London, said that schools such as hers received more because the cost of living was higher in the capital. About 60 per cent of her pupils received free school meals, she said, and many were suffering from serious poverty as much as those elsewhere in the country.
"It isn't a matter of doing better, these are just the kids we have," she said. "I worry about these arguments around a fairer funding formula because no one is coming up with a better way of doing it. It's as fair a method as anything and it's the way the school uses the money that makes the difference.
"London will always benefit from attracting some of the best and most motivated teachers in the country, which might be a strong factor as to why it does so well."
A DfE spokeswoman said: "The pupil premium is designed to help schools improve the attainment of the poorest children, wherever they live.
"London is home to a huge number of disadvantaged children and the great strides that its schools have made in recent years should be congratulated, not punished."
How it adds up
#163;623 - Amount of pupil premium funding per child, 2012-13.
#163;900 - Amount of pupil premium funding per child, 2013-14
14% - Proportion of pupils that receive free school meals nationally.
27.4% - National attainment gap between pupils who receive free school meals and those who don't.
16% - Attainment gap between free school meals pupils in London and outside London.
Source: Department for Education.