The education funding system will leave schools in more deprived areas in a worse position when dealing with Covid-19 challenges, a new analysis warns.
According to a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, schools in more deprived areas have already seen the largest falls in spending per pupil over the past decade.
And in the immediate term, factors such as National Funding Formula discrepancies may compound the challenge and prevent deprived schools from accessing the funding increase that they need.
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Dr Luke Sibieta, research fellow at the IFS, said: "Schools in poorer areas of England face significant challenges over the next few years, with a likely widening of educational inequalities during lockdown and higher costs associated with higher teacher starting salaries.
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"However, schools with more deprived pupils have seen the largest falls in spending over recent years and are set to see smaller funding increases than schools in more affluent areas from the government’s new funding formula.
"Most of the Covid catch-up funding will be spread across all schools, regardless of disadvantage. This provides a strong case for greater targeting of additional funding to more deprived schools."
The National Funding Formula, announced to "level up" school funding, will deliver funding increases of 3 or 4 percentage points less to schools in deprived areas compared with those in more affluent ones up to 2021, the report explains – a point also raised by the Education Policy Institute.
Also, of all the initiatives that the Department for Education has launched to cater for the impact of the coronavirus crisis, only the new £250 million National Tutoring Programme is targeted at the more deprived schools, representing just 0.5 per cent of school funding, the IFS points out, concluding that the programme is also "not at a scale that will allow schools to address the inequalities that have widened during lockdown". Planned increases in teacher starting salaries, the report also points out, will weigh more heavily on such schools, given that they are more likely to employ new teachers.
Commenting on the report, Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: "This is a historic failure of the nation's children. It is also striking that despite government rhetoric of 'levelling up', the reverse is true. It is those schools that serve children from the poorest backgrounds which have had their funding cut the hardest.
"Schools have the enormous challenge of trying to overcome the effects of the pandemic; however, the funding allocated for the National Tutoring Programme are not of a scale to make an impact, and the resources allocated to disadvantaged pupils will not address the inequalities widened by the lockdown.
"Schools have also had to spend considerable sums to mitigate the risk of coronavirus spreading, and most schools have received no support from the government."
Also commenting on the report, Josh Hillman, director of education at the Nuffield Foundation, said: "As a result of the Covid-19 crisis, the most deprived pupils are not only more likely to be behind in their learning, but their families are also at greater risk of poverty, food insecurity and job losses. This could further entrench the disadvantage these children face.
"As this research shows, it is, therefore, crucial that schools in deprived areas receive adequate and well-directed funding so that they can help to close the disadvantage gap and ensure all children can reach their potential."