Ministers urged to ‘come clean’ over pupil funding changes in England

The government should “come clean” over its reduced funding for tens of thousands of disadvantaged pupils in England and repay the missing money to schools, according to the leader of the National Association of Head Teachers.

Paul Whiteman, the NAHT’s general secretary, is the latest figure to criticise the Department for Education’s change to cut-off dates for children to qualify for pupil premium funding which goes to schools. By moving the date back from January this year to last October, the government is estimated to have saved up to £200m, based on freedom of information requests sent to local authorities.

Alleging the government is “intent on clawing back funding from schools,” Whiteman will tell the NAHT’s annual conference on Friday: “They have saved millions by changing the date that pupil premium data was collected.

“The government should come clean immediately about this saving. They should instantly repay all that they have taken from school budgets in this way.”

Andy Jolley, a campaigner who compiled FoI responses from local authorities, estimates that schools may have lost between £150m and £200m in additional pupil premium payments because of the date change, although he suggests the true figure will never be known.

Jolley’s FoIs revealed that schools in Kent will miss out on £4m in funding, while Birmingham city council estimates it will lose £3.7m that would have been paid for the additional 3,000 pupils in the city qualifying for free school meals by January.

Pupil premium funding for schools amounts to £1,345 a year for each primary school pupil and £955 for every secondary pupil enrolled who receive free school meals. Eligibility was previously determined by school rolls in January. But this year the DfE shifted the cut-off date back to October, so missing out a surge of newly-eligible families who began receiving benefits during the pandemic’s third wave.

In Greater Manchester – where schools are losing an estimated £8.8m for 6,500 deprived pupils – mayor Andy Burnham dicho: “It is a money saving exercise from within the DfE but, as ever, the people paying the price for that are the poorest kids in some of our poorest communities.

“It’s the wrong cut to make at any time, to make the poorest kids pay the price. But after a pandemic when we have seen massive disruption to children’s education, particularly children whose families have been hardest hit by the pandemic – because obviously we’re talking about kids whose parents may have lost their jobs and have gone on to some form of benefits or universal credit – to make it even harder for them to catch up is simply wrong.”

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, told MPs on the education select committee on Thursday that the totals being “bandied around” by newspapers and campaigners were likely to be inaccurate.

“We don’t know the actual consequence of moving to October 2020 from January 2021 because those figures haven’t been calculated yet,” Gibb said.

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