The pupil premium: don’t celebrate just yet

Michael Gove wasn’t the “winner” in the Spending Review many proclaimed him to be.

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The Browne report's recommendation that the block grant to universities be nearly completely withdrawn has aroused widespread consternation and criticism.

Stefan Collini's article in the latest edition of the London Review of Books is a clear-eyed (and thoroughly terrifying) assessment of the likely effects, were the proposal to be implemented. But it's not just higher education that teeters on the edge of a financial precipice.

Conventional wisdom has had it that the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, was a "winner" in the recent Spending Review (SR), having elicited from George Osborne £2.5bn for the "pupil premium" (a scheme devised by the Liberal Democrats that disburses money to schools for each pupil eligible to receive school meals) and having overseen an increase in the schools budget from £35bn to £39bn.

However, research carried out by the Financial Times, and published in that paper today, shows that, in the words of Luke Sibieta from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (which has corroborated the FT's number-crunching), "most schools will see real cuts in funding per pupil over the next four years".

First, the FT's analysis shows that although the "schools resource budget" will rise by 0.4 per cent in real terms, a demographic bulge means that the school population is likely to rise by 2.7 per cent over the period covered by the SR, with the effect that current spending per pupil will actually be cut by 2.5 per cent.

Then there's the pupil premium itself:

A primary school would need to have more than one-fifth of its pupils [eligible to receive free school meals] to avoid losing money, according to the most likely model for implementation. At the average primary school 17 per cent of pupils are eligible . . . Financial Times research suggests 62 per cent of primary school children are in schools that will not meet that bar, and whose budgets will be cut in real terms.

A secondary school would need to have one-quarter of its students receive the pupil to maintain a rising income. The average FSM rate for secondary schools is 14 per cent. FT analysis suggests 84 per cent of secondary school pupils are in schools that will experience cuts in real terms.

All of which suggests that Gove's "victory" in the SR was mostly pyrrhic.

Jonathan Derbyshire is executive opinion editor of the Financial Times. He was formerly managing editor of Prospect and culture editor of the New Statesman.

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