If spending on poor pupils seems lavish, it’s a drop in the bucket compared with cuts

There are many tricky questions facing education policymakers but here is a conundrum: why, if funding for poorer pupils is now outstripping money spent on those who are better off, is it proving so hard to narrow the attainment gap? The Guardian reports.

The funding figures revealed last week by the Institute for Fiscal Studies mask a complicated set of indicators. The shift in spending over the past 20 years includes more children from poorer homes staying on in higher education as well as the money committed to schools by successive governments for the worst-off pupils.

Nevertheless, narrowing attainment gaps between poorer and better-off children – currently about 18 months at the end of GCSEs – continues to be slow and painstaking work. The Education Policy Institute reports it is slowing down, and at current rates it might take a century to narrow the GCSE attainment gap in English and maths.

Education researchers such as Prof Becky Allen argue that this cash, targeted at pupils who have been eligible for free school meals at any time in the last six years, distorts decision making, may ignore needy young people whose parents are in low-paid work, and is difficult to justify given the lack of evidence as to what would have happened to such pupils without the pupil premium.

The trouble for the government is that alternatives to these piecemeal initiatives are much more difficult. Even the Education Endowment Foundation, [pdf], established to research and disseminate strategies to narrow gaps, admits there does not appear to be a direct relationship between increased school funding and pupil attainment.

What matters is how schools use the money and the quality of teaching. But in a country that can’t even guarantee there will be enough teachers in the next 10 years, that seems a tall order and a glaring indictment of current policy.

School funding still needs fundamental reform. Money remains inequitably distributed and no one knows how much is needed to guarantee optimum performance for all pupils, not to mention the worst off. But this kind of forward-looking exercise, which might incorporate pupil premium money in the basic grant to schools, is only politically realistic at a time of plenty, when no one is left worse off.

The fact that social class still has such a massive impact on where you end up is a stain on society. We have fallen into the habit of believing schools alone can resolve this, but they can’t. More imaginative thinking, across all children’s policies, is needed.

Read the full article If spending on poor pupils seems lavish, it’s a drop in the bucket compared with cuts

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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  1. Anonymous

    ‘We have fallen into the habit of believing schools alone can resolve this, but they can’t.’

    ‘We’ haven’t. The government may choose to pretend that schools can resolve the problem … after all it gives them somebody to blame … and Ofsted will always support any pretence by ministers. That doesn’t mean ‘we’ ever fell for it.

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