Prime minister Boris Johnson’s pledge to level up funding for all schools will mean extra cash will not necessarily go to schools where it is most needed – only “where it is politically needed”. That's the fear of Jon Andrews, director of school system and performance at the Education Policy Institute (EPI) think tank.
He says schools that have been “operating in less challenging circumstances” – which had therefore been receiving less money – were the ones that would benefit from the PM’s pledge to increase per-pupil funding for all schools.
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“When the prime minister talks about levelling up opportunity, he is talking about levelling up funding and not necessarily opportunity,” Mr Andrews told a conference on pupil disadvantage last week.
Extra school funding
Mr Andrews made reference to the government's pledge to increase per-pupil funding in primary schools from £3,500 to £4,000, and in secondary schools from £4,800 to £5,000 – as part of plans to inject £4.3 billion “in today’s money” into the school system by 2022-23.
He added: “It depends how [the money] goes out to schools and whether it is targeting the right schools and the right pupils who we know are facing some of the biggest challenges when it comes to attainment.”
When asked in a Q&A session what was needed to reduce the attainment gap experienced by disadvantaged pupils, he said the government should "target funding where it is needed – not where it is politically needed”.
A Department for Education spokesperson said the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers had narrowed in both primary and secondary schools since 2011, adding: "During that time this government has delivered a range of reforms to ensure every child, regardless of their background, gets a high-quality education.
“We are also investing £2.4 billion this year alone through the Pupil Premium to help the most disadvantaged children.
“Teachers and school leaders are helping to drive up standards right across the country, with 85 per cent of children now in 'good' or 'outstanding' schools compared to just 66 per cent in 2010, but there is more to do to continue to attract and retain talented individuals in our classrooms.”
The conference also heard that it would take around 560 years, at current rates, to close the attainment gap experienced by disadvantaged pupils by the time they reach 16.
EPI director of social mobility Jo Hutchinson said the gap was currently, on average, the equivalent to 18 months' development for a 16-year-old disadvantaged pupil, while it was just over nine months' for a pupil leaving primary school.