Education Mar 5 2010

Pupil premiums – good in theory but how will they work?

The Liberal Democrats and the Tories are proposing a pupil premium. But in a new report the Institute for Fiscal Studies casts doubt on how effective it will be in significantly reducing the educational achievement gap between children from rich and poor backgrounds.The report concludes that the cuts required elsewhere in school budgets might outweigh the benefits and argues that other measures to tackle childrens’ home learning environment, parenting and attitudes to education, must accompany any changes to funding if schools are really going to help children overcome disadvantage.

The Lib Dem’s Nick Clegg is the latest party leader to promise a pupil premium as a cornerstone of his party’s education policy. HIs party plans to fund this by making cuts elsewhere so every child on free school meals will carry a premium of £2500 to his or her secondary schools.

The pupil premium idea has two aims –  to give extra money to schools with disadvantaged intakes and to create incentives for popular schools to admit pupils from poorer homes who may have with lower prior attainment than their better off neighbours. At the moment the league tables provide powerful disincentives for popular and successful schools to admit certain children.

But the pupil premium is not a new idea. We already have a system where money follows pupils and deprivation plays a part in the way schools are funded now. Critics say this is too blunt an instrument to really help poorer children.But the simple fact that a child claims free school meals may also be too imprecise. A report by the right of centry Policy Exchange in 2008 suggested that children should be judged eligible for the pupil premium using much more detailed postcode data which links addresses to likely levels of deprivation.

The report’s authors included Sam Freedman, now a policy advisor to David Cameron. They claim that free school meals are ‘too crude a measure’ to judge deprivation and prefer a wholesale restructuring of the school funding process with pupils allocated a deprivation score based on geodemographic data such as  MOSAIC which uses 400 different variables to analyse postocodes and would be a better indicator of student performance.

Their scheme would cost over £4billion and they suggest funding it by abolition of the Educational Maintenance Allowance, which currently helps to fund some post 16 year olds, the National Challenge, which has controversially singled out schools where fewer than 30% of pupils get five good GCSEs including Maths and English, and the Contact Point database, which shares data about children between different professionals.

Giving more money to schools to support disadvantaged children must be a good thing but many unanswered questions remain, not least how much money would be needed to compensate for poverty at home or growing up in a deprived neighbourhood , whether the cost of the pupil premium could be fully compensated by cuts elsewhere and how much money per pupil would be needed to encourage some schools to drop semi selective admissions criteria and admit more challenging pupils.

School funding already varies according to the deprivation of the intake which is important but it is important the the money does go to supporting the right children

One Response to “Pupil premiums – good in theory but how will they work?”

  1. PaulEast says:

    Pupil premium is not a new idea and already exists in the Further Education sector where the student’s postcode is matched to the index of multiple deprivation in small local areas (called “super-output areas” if you must know) and a weighting applied. It has encouraged some to recruit in “deprived areas”. I’ve never seen an evaluation of its effectiveness and it doesn’t directly encourage the development of a strong local “offer” to students. It probably works about as well as the old Free School Meals tag does as a proxy for poverty. Really, these ideas are not new ones and the all depend on how much money there is to slice and dice!

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