Why is nobody talking about the pupil premium?

The Conservatives backed the pupil premium in their 2010, 2015 and 2017 general election manifestos. But it's not mentioned at all this time. Tes analyses why that might be

John Roberts

The pupil premium is not mentioned in any of the political parties' manifestos this year.

The pupil premium is now almost a decade old and for most of that time has been something that Conservative politicians have been very keen to talk about.

But for the first time in 10 years, there is no mention of it in the manifesto for the party that explicitly backed the policy in their plans for the 2010, 2015 and 2017 general elections.

It was one of the flagship initiatives of the incoming coalition government in 2010 – supported by both its political partners – giving schools additional funds to better support pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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In the  2010 Tory manifesto, there was a pledge to create it. Five years later, the Conservatives pledged to protect it at its current rate “so that schools receive additional money for those from the poorest backgrounds”.

And two years ago, there was another commitment to keep it in place.  This year it has not got a look in.

Writing for Tes, Jonathan Simons, a former head of education in the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit under Gordon Brown and David Cameron, suggests this omission leaves the Conservatives open to the accusation that dedicated funding for the poorest could be on the way out.

He also suggests that the Conservatives might attempt to express support for the policy to neutralise such an attack.

The omission of the pupil premium is perhaps made more surprising when you consider that Conservatives have faced accusations that funding formula changes they are introducing will favour schools in more affluent Tory voting areas.

The existence of the pupil premium is arguably their best defence against the suggestion that they are not prioritising the education of disadvantaged children. 

In fairness to the Conservatives, the pupil premium is not mentioned in the other two big parties’ manifestos either this year.

The Liberal Democrats do, however, talk about extending the pupil-premium approach to help children and families remain in education beyond 16.

The party says a "Young People Premium" for students aged 16 to 18 would be based on the eligibility criteria as the pupil premium but with a portion of it would be paid directly paid to the young person.

Speaking to Tes, David Laws, a former Liberal Democrat schools minister in the coalition government suggested that the lack of mention of the pupil premium could actually indicate a cross-party consensus on leaving this system in place because it is now well established.

But he also sounded a note of caution about the policy dropping off the political agenda.

He said: “The premium has not been uprated to account for inflation for a number of years – and if this continues to be the case, then this major funding stream for disadvantaged children will gradually shrink in real terms. This is an issue for all parties."

There are other striking omissions in this year’s Conservative manifesto when compared to its predecessors.

The Conservatives do not mention support for Teach First and there is only a short reference to opening more free schools – in contrast with the past two elections when bold targets of 500 more opening over the course of the next parliament or 100 new schools opening a year were put forward.

The Conservatives have not responded to Tes questions about why there was no explicit commitment to the pupil premium this year.

Is support for it waning? Did they have nothing to say about it this year or did they simply not have space to include it in a manifesto which appears to be as much about brevity as it is about Brexit.

Supporters of the principle of attaching more school funding to every disadvantaged pupil will be hoping the omission does not say too much about the party’s priorities for education.

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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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