Winners and losers in poverty 'lottery'

A TES analysis of test results in England's most deprived areas suggests that extra funds have helped some schools raise pupils'

achievements. Jon Slater and Warwick Mansell report

SCHOOLS in the most deprived areas are given up to four times as much money direct from the Government as their affluent neighbours, a TES analysis has revealed.

Education authorities with a high proportion of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are by far the biggest beneficiaries of ministers' decision to take a tighter grip of the education purse strings.

But funding for areas of great need is still a lottery as money is attached to initiatives for which all authorities do not qualify. If they do, councils often have to match government spending.

Ministers use the standards fund to target money at deprived areas and to raise standards. In 20012 the Department for Education and Skills contributed pound;2.5 billion.

The most deprived authority in England, the London borough of Tower Hamlets, received an average of pound;574 per pupil, from the standards fund compared to just pound;157 in Wokingham, the least deprived. Poole, Dorset, received even less, just pound;141 per pupil.

Central government finance for schools via the standards fund has increased dramatically since 1997 and now makes up around 10 per cent of schools'

budgets.

Ministers use the fund to finance flagship policies such as specialist schools, education action zones and Excellence in Cities - the latter two specifically conceived to raise standards in deprived areas.

Action zones were quietly dropped last year after a number of rows over the role of the private sector and mixed evidence of their impact on schools'

performance.

Initial evidence from Excellence in Cities has been more positive. Exam results in areas which are part of the scheme have improved faster than the national average.

Despite the apparent success of ministers in using the standards fund to target money at deprived areas and raise standards, it has not been short of critics.

Ministers were forced to drop the system in which schools and LEAs bid for cash after heads complained about the extra paperwork.

Both the National Association of Headteachers and the Secondary Heads Association have criticised the Government for failing to ensure that all schools get a fair share of standards fund money.

Fifteen of the top 20 authorites to benefit are in London, despite the fact that there is no London wards in the 20 most deprived, according to the Government's own measure of poverty.

London boroughs, however, dominate the list of councils with the highest proportion of free school meals - a measure which is often used as a proxy for deprivation - suggesting that they have more widespread poverty.

While inner London did well, other big city councils such as Liverpool, Newcastle and Manchester received less funding than would be expected given their free school meals "ranking".

Dudley in the West Midlands received the second least money per pupil (pound;142) yet comes close to the middle of the deprivation ranking.

Rural areas do particularly badly with 10 county councils in the 20 lowest funded authorities. Smaller cities, such as Plymouth, in Devon, also tend to lose out.

The Government is attempting to meet their concerns by introducing "excellence clusters" based on the Excellence in Cities scheme but aimed at smaller pockets of deprivation.

But headteachers remain to be convinced. John Dunford, general secretary of SHA, said: "Unlike previous governments I think this one is serious about improving achievement in deprived areas. It deserves credit for the extra money it has put in.

"But it needs to focus less on helping deprived areas and more on helping deprived children. There are many schools with deprived children that are missing out on additional funds."

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