Monday, 9 August 2010

The dangers of a paltry pupil premium

I've written this piece for the Public Finance blog on the problems that could arise if the Government gets it wrong on the pupil premium and school funding:

Today’s reports about Departmental warfare with the Treasury over the cuts are hardly a great surprise. But what will disappoint many in schools is the suggestion in The Guardian that the pupil premium, the Lib Dems’ flagship schools policy, may be less than £1000 a year – compared with the £2500 promised in the Lib Dem manifesto – and that the Treasury is expecting the Department for Education to stump up much of the cash itself.

This should not be a great surprise at all. While ministers have set great store by David Cameron’s declaration at PMQs, early in the coalition’s tenure, that the money would come from outside the education budget, the department’s consultation on the Pupil Premium suggested that a number of existing pots currently going direct to schools were for the chop. The Treasury was never likely to allow a substantial premium without DFE paying a large part of the cost.

The July consultation document suggested that the government would ‘mainstream relevant grants’ into the dedicated schools grant, leaving local authorities to decide on its ultimate distribution. This would likely include at least the School Development Grant, School Standards Grant and School Standards Grant (Personalisation). For many schools, the value of these grants is already significantly more than the value of a likely pupil premium. At the same time, the consultation is clear that the Government wants to ensure that the real beneficiaries of the premium are outside inner city areas, where funding may be kept down over time as the government moves towards a national funding formula.

A pupil premium is a good idea, as is a national funding formula. But trying to introduce the latter and move towards the former in these cost-cutting times is a recipe for political disaster: the vociferous losers will shout louder than the relieved winners. And the row over BSF funding may pale by comparison.

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