Pupil premium may be set on 'sliding scale'

10th September 2010 at 01:00

The pupil premium, an additional sum of money given to schools for every deprived pupil they take on, could vary on a "sliding scale", the Education Secretary said this week.

Speaking at Westminster Academy in west London on the first day of the new term, Michael Gove said that introducing the funding mechanism on a sliding basis would encourage more mixing of richer and poorer pupils.

Mr Gove confirmed that the Department for Education is considering a sliding scale when it introduces the pupil premium and is "currently consulting on what shape it should take".

"If there is greater poverty in school, then it is more likely it will be located in a more challenging environment. These pupils could be from communities with low aspirations, and such problems mean the schools are forced to pick up the pieces of children who have uniquely challenging pasts."

Mr Gove added: "It is critical we ensure that it is up to the school's discretion how it is spent, but if we can ensure resources are employed properly then we can have a profound effect, but first we must make sure the funding mechanism is right."

But Professor John Howson, managing director of Education Data Surveys, a sister company to The TES, and also president of the Liberal Democrat Education Association, believes the pupil premium could have little impact on schools.

"If they are seriously looking at a sliding scale, and by taking on more poorer pupils you get a bigger amount of money, then the question will be 'will the cost of teaching those children be more or less than the extra money provided through the premium'" he said.

"The general assumption from various studies into a premium is that it won't really change attitudes from schools, but it may give those schools that are struggling an opportunity to improve results."

Professor Howson added: "If you have a child that comes into a school halfway through the year that doesn't speak English and is on free school meals then the pupil premium will give the school a better chance to cope with such kids."

The pupil premium is a key policy in the Coalition, as it is seen by most Liberal Democrats as a key concession that it forced while thrashing out a deal with the Conservatives.

Children's minister Sarah Teather, who has been tasked with overseeing the pupil premium, told The TES that it was as significant politically as it was for narrowing the gap between the rich and poor.

The Liberal Democrat MP said: "It's extremely important for both reasons. There is a recognition that this is a flagship Liberal Democrat policy and this is a Coalition government so there is that political commitment. But it also shows both parties are committed to narrowing the gap in attainment between rich and poor."

The exact figure and the nature of how it will be administered has yet to be decided, but the comprehensive spending review on October 20 is being earmarked as a key date.

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