A flagship education policy aimed at boosting the attainment of disadvantaged pupils is threatened by funding cuts, according to research published today.
There are "encouraging signs" that the pupil premium is being put to good use, but its future success could be "undermined" by future funding cuts, says the National Foundation for Educational Research.
Per-pupil funding has been frozen in real terms between 2017 and 2019, but in the preceding two years total school funding fell by just under 5 per cent.
The NFER paper says: "There are encouraging signs that the pupil premium is being put to good use, but funding cuts may undermine its future success."
It adds: "Concerns are beginning to grow that further cuts to funding may impact on the future success of the pupil premium. As illustrated by NFER’s own survey, schools are increasingly using the funding to cover day-to-day costs for all pupils, diluting its impact."
The attainment of disadvantaged pupils could also be affected by the introduction of the national funding formula (NFF) in April, the NFER's evidence review suggests.
Disadvantaged pupils 'will lose out'
It says: "It is pupils living in the least deprived areas who will experience the highest relative gains in overall funding as a direct result of the NFF."
This is because the formula – in seeking to address the historic under-funding of many rural areas – will shift funding from the most disadvantaged pupils and schools to the so-called "just about managing’ group", it says.
The findings come with social mobility at the forefront of the government's agenda. It is a topic that education secretary Damian Hinds – like his predecessor Justine Greening – has highlighted.
In general, increasing school budgets has a "modest" impact on attainment, the researchers find.
But, the paper says, the benefits have mainly been found among disadvantaged pupils, and in studies examining primary school data.