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Schools forced to use pupil premium to meet funding cuts

Additional funding paid to schools with disadvantaged pupils is increasingly being used to cover funding cuts elsewhere, a new survey has found.

The Sutton Trust survey showed that although the number of teachers saying their main priority for their pupil premium funding is offsetting budget cuts remains a minority, it has tripled in the past year, going from 2% to 6%.

Furthermore, 20% of the 1,607 teachers surveyed said they did not know what their main priority for pupil premium funding was.

Sir Peter Lampl, chair of the Sutton Trust, said: “It is worrying that a growing number of schools feel they have to use funding for disadvantaged pupils to offset budget cuts.

“The pupil premium is a key lever for raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and it’s vital that it continues to be focused on their education.”

However, the Sutton Trust report found that teachers had a positive attitude to the goals of the premium, with 98% of head teachers and 79% of classroom teachers saying it had allowed them to target resources towards their poorest pupils.

The most common priority for spending was early intervention schemes, with 28% of teachers saying this was their top priority.

Other suggestions included one-to-one tuition (13%) and more teaching assistants (10%).

The pupil premium was introduced in 2011 to provide schools with a fixed sum for every pupil who has received free school meals in the past six years or been in care.

The sum is currently at £1,320 for primary pupils and £935 for secondary pupils, at a total cost of £2.5bn, or over 6% of the £38.8bn schools budget.

Last year, the Public Accounts Committee warned that the funding is being applied inconsistently and this is likely to get worse following the introduction of the Universal Credit benefits scheme.

The government was recently forced to halt plans to turn all schools into academies after opposition from councils, although schools in the lowest-performing local authorities may still be forced to become academies under the new Education for All Bill.

(Image c. Creatas)

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