61.The link between socio-economic background and attainment has remained strong in England compared to many other OECD countries, despite gradual progress over the past twenty years. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds have continued to perform poorly in assessments compared to their more advantaged peers. A full 43% of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) at age five did not reach a good level of development in 2018, compared to 26% of those not eligible. To support disadvantaged children and raise educational attainment, the Coalition Government introduced the Pupil Premium in 2011 as an additional funding source for state-funded schools in England. Under Pupil Premium, schools with students registered as being eligible for free school meals (FSM) within the past six years attract a £1,320 or £935 grant for primary and secondary school students respectively. A total of £2.4 billion was allocated in 2017–18 in respect of circa two million pupils.
62.The impact of Pupil Premium on tackling disadvantage was difficult to assess: whilst the gap continued to close after the premium was introduced, it did not do so at an accelerated rate. Overall, schools with larger Pupil Premium budgets and stronger accountability incentives had improved more than schools with different intakes. For disadvantaged pupils in persistent poverty (i.e. those eligible for FSM for at least 80% of their time in school), the disadvantage gap widened both before and after the introduction of the premium, however. Natalie Perera, Executive Director of the Education Policy Institute, highlighted the difficulties in attributing direct causality given the range of influencing factors, and the possibility that the premium was preventing the disadvantage gap from widening further than it otherwise might have done.
63.Our evidence indicated that, on the whole, the idea of the Pupil Premium enjoyed substantial support. There were however a number of concerns that witnesses suggested needed to be addressed regarding the premium’s use, how the mechanism operated, accountability systems, and the eligibility criteria.
64.There was widespread acknowledgement that Pupil Premium funding was being used to plug holes in school budgets, rather than being directed towards disadvantaged pupils. The Sutton Trust and Education Endowment Foundation said a “small but significant” number of schools saw offsetting budget cuts elsewhere as the main priority for the Premium funding. We were also made aware of problems within multi-academy trusts viewing Pupil Premium as a replacement for core funding. Luke Sibieta said the situation was unsurprising, given that school funding would have been cut in real terms between 2010 and 2015 were it not for the Pupil Premium. The Education Policy Institute observed that it was
surprising that the disadvantage gap continues to narrow at all—given the wider context of children’s services—and this presents a real risk that the Pupil Premium becomes a backstop against worsening attainment gaps for disadvantaged children rather than a driver for improvement.
65.Additional concerns were raised about the effectiveness of Pupil Premium even when it was being used as intended. We heard that many schools had initially used the money for new teaching assistants, whereas recent evidence suggested that these resources could have been deployed differently to better maximise educational outcomes. Luke Sibieta highlighted the importance of using the premium for evidence-based initiatives to ensure interventions were targeted and transformative. The Sutton Trust proposed introducing an incentive system under the National Funding Formula to reward schools demonstrating good use of Pupil Premium money and evidence-based best practice. This could involve building on the Pupil Premium Awards scheme to ensure that schools consistently improving results whilst closing the attainment gap were more systematically recognised and rewarded.
66.Pupil Premium funding allocations have not been rolled into the National Funding Formula. We considered the case for these two mechanisms to be rolled into one on the grounds that the NFF already contained a disadvantage allowance, or that the premium funding was vulnerable to Spending Review negotiations. When we explored this option in our oral evidence sessions, however, Julia Harnden of the Association of School and College Leaders warned that there was “a real risk if we were to support absorbing it that we would just see a net reduction in funding”. Maintaining separate mechanisms would also ensure the Department could target deprived pupils using different measures, such as the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI), which might identify local deprivation that was not captured by the Pupil Premium.
67.The option of ring-fencing Pupil Premium drew similarly mixed reactions. Darren Northcott of the NASUWT union supported the idea, saying this would ensure premium money was spent on the purposes for which it was intended. Valentine Mulholland of the National Association of Headteachers believed however that ring-fencing would be “really difficult” given the current funding pressures, and that there were already strategies and oversight mechanisms in place to guide decision-making. We also heard that not all disadvantaged pupils attracted the Pupil Premium; ring-fencing the budget might therefore prevent schools from using the premium funding to support initiatives supporting all disadvantaged children irrespective of whether they were claiming FSM.
68.The accountability system was identified as a further area in need of improvement. Maintained schools have been required to publish details of their Pupil Premium spend and impact, and academies have been encouraged (though not required) to do likewise. Stephen Tierney said the current system was “a waste of people’s time” because the plans were not properly looked at, and accountability to Ofsted was undermined by the fact that inspectors were only able to offer a “cursory glance” during visits due to other priorities. He suggested instead an outcome-orientated form of attainment measure for people from disadvantaged backgrounds that did not get lost in the wider performance tables. Jules White of the WorthLess? campaign group cautioned against an overly simplistic accountability measure predicated entirely on attainment data, however, as this data could go up or down substantially due to different student cohorts rather than any changes to funding or interventions.
69.We raised our concerns over spending and accountability with the Ministers. The Minister for School Standards acknowledged issues around governance and said the Department had taken action to improve accountability within the system. We pressed him to clarify what action the Department was taking regarding inaccurate information published on school websites. He said any such examples should be brought to the Department’s attention “and we will take them up”. When asked about how the Pupil Premium system could be reformed—for example by matching more closely allocation levels to the extent and duration of deprivation—the Minister agreed there was potential to change the distribution system, but noted that the fixed overall size of the £2.4 billion spend meant any adjustments would result in winners and losers.
70.It is clear that Pupil Premium is being used to plug holes in school budgets rather than being directed at disadvantaged children. This is concerning but sadly unsurprising, given the financial pressure schools are under. Schools should not have to choose between running their core operations and supporting disadvantaged pupils. Ring-fencing Pupil Premium spending, or subsuming it under the National Funding Formula, will not fix the underlying problem that there is simply not enough money in the system.
71.The Department should confirm that it does not intend to ring-fence the Pupil Premium or subsume it within the National Funding Formula. Additionally, the Department should investigate how the Pupil Premium distribution could be made fairer so that allocations match more closely the child’s level and duration of deprivation.
72.The Department should review and revise the Pupil Premium compliance system, and in particular Ofsted’s role and oversight, to improve accountability whilst allowing flexibility for local-level innovation–for example via a more detailed measure of the performance of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Department should set out its proposed timetable for doing so in response to this Report.
73.The Department should review options for an enhanced incentive system to systematically reward schools making good use of the Pupil Premium for evidence-based interventions that close the attainment gap whilst improving school results. The Department should set out the options and implementation plan in response to this Report.
74.In order for students to attract the Pupil Premium funding, they need to have been registered for FSM. In 2013 the Department estimated around 160,000 children in England were not claiming FSM, resulting in millions in lost pupil premium funding. More recent estimates suggested as many as one in ten eligible pupils were not being registered. We heard that the introduction of Universal Infant Free School Meals had further reduced the uptake of free school meals among eligible families, with consequent impacts on Pupil Premium allocations.
75.The Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, told us the Department needed to explore how local authorities could be empowered to maximise FSM take-up. He suggested that school application and universal credit forms could be amended to include National Insurance numbers and a tick-box system to improve the level of enrolment. The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) called on the Government to support automatic FSM registration– a move the Department had previously resisted during the development of the universal credit package.
76.The intention behind Pupil Premium is laudable. However, the lack of take-up of free school meals means that too many deserving children are not receiving the support to which they are entitled. The Department must ensure that all eligible pupils attract Pupil Premium.
77.The Department should outline in response to this Report whether it supports the principle of automatic enrolment for free school meals to ensure all eligible pupils receive Pupil Premium. It should additionally confirm what actions would be needed to introduce automatic enrolment, what action it has taken to overcome data-sharing concerns, and what actions it will take to ensure all eligible students receive their Pupil Premium allocation.
78.In the meantime, the Department should publish detailed estimates of the amount of unclaimed Pupil Premium money, and the Treasury should pay this amount into a separate fund to be spent on disadvantaged students.
79.The level of funding for disadvantaged students in further education (FE) drew further criticism. Three quarters of all young people between 16 and 19 attend sixth forms and colleges. We heard however that there was no equivalent of Pupil Premium after students turned 16, despite the requirement for young people to remain in education, employment or training until 18. There were instead two categories; one supporting the student directly and the other supporting the education provider to supply additional support, including SEND requirements. These pots were also not ring-fenced, enabling institutions to include them as part of their core budgets if needed.
Fig 6: Disadvantage funding mechanisms for 16–19 year olds
Source: Social Mobility Commission
80.Despite Year 11 pupils receiving Pupil Premium being more likely to go to further education colleges than anywhere else, we were told there was no national system and few local systems for organising admissions and transfers. Institutions receiving new intakes would therefore not know automatically which students were disadvantaged, meaning they could fall under the radar. We also heard that schools were able to use Pupil Premium to cross-subsidise their sixth-forms – an option not available to FE colleges.
81.The scarcity of evidence has hampered efforts to determine the impacts of 16–19 disadvantage funding. Analysis by the Education Policy Institute found a positive correlation between the proportion of disadvantaged/high needs pupils and funding gains, indicating that institutions with challenging intakes were being protected from the greatest funding squeezes. The report also drew attention to the narrowing of the curriculum and contact time, however, highlighting that disadvantaged students did not appear to be in providers where learning hours had been protected despite providers attracting funding increases. Concerningly, FE institutions did not appear to have adequate support and guidance to ensure Premium money was being spent on evidence-based interventions, meaning that efforts to close the attainment gap might not be benefiting from the latest research and advice.
82.The cost of transport was raised as a particular issue for disadvantaged pupils. The Conservative 2017 manifesto committed to introducing “significantly discounted bus and train travel for apprentices to ensure that no young person is deterred from an apprenticeship due to travel costs”. We heard however that progress had been slow, and travel continued to pose a significant barrier and influenced the choice of college for one in ten students; local colleges would likely be favoured over national ones or institutes of technology in such cases. Over 40% of respondents to an NUS survey of FE students and apprentices said they had little or no money to get to work placements. Councillor Paul Carter, Chair of the County Councils Network, argued that more money was needed to ensure that students—particularly those in more rural areas—could travel to the most appropriate institution rather than the one that was simply nearest. Dr Birkinshaw, representing the Association of Colleges, told us that colleges had to subsidise transport out of their core funding, and the bursary scheme funding was inadequate:
students are choosing between having money for buses or having money for food. Quite frequently we will have to subsidise food for students because they have spent their money on their bus fare.
83.We found substantial support for an extension of Pupil Premium funding beyond 16. Dr Birkinshaw said it was “extraordinary that the pupil premium stops at 16”, especially given the large proportion of disadvantaged students going into further education. The Sutton Trust similarly called for the premium to be extended to ensure disadvantaged pupils were supported throughout their education. We noted the work that had been conducted on similar areas, for example the Association of Colleges’ campaign to extend free school meals to disadvantaged 16–18 year-olds.
84.We highlighted the inadequacies of disadvantage post-16 funding to the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, and asked whether Pupil Premium could be extended beyond 16. She said there were disadvantage funding pots already available, and that she had considered an extension but was “not sure that that would be the best way”. We did not however receive a clear indication as to what she thought might be a better approach, given the deficiencies in the current system.
85.Following our evidence session with the Ministers, we received a letter on 1 May 2019 from the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills. The letter outlined existing funding arrangements and summarised the findings of research commissioned on options for supporting apprenticeship transport. The letter said however that “going further in this area would involve complexities and additional costs to the tax payer. As a result, the focus of this work is on preparing proposals for consideration at the forthcoming spending review”.
86.We do not think Pupil Premium should stop at 16. We appreciate that there are some disadvantage funding pots available, but these are too small and spread too thinly. Disadvantaged 16–19 year olds are not less deserving of support than under-16s. They should not be treated as a lesser priority. Nor is it clear why there continues to be such a lack of data sharing between schools and FE institutions, which has led to disadvantaged students falling through the gap.
87.The Department should introduce a 16–19 Pupil Premium scheme. The Department should additionally develop a data-sharing system to ensure FE institutions can identify disadvantaged students automatically.
88.We were disappointed at the lack of adequate support for transport to further education institutions and apprenticeship workplaces. It is deeply disappointing that a clear manifesto commitment has languished between two departments, with little discernible sense of urgency to address the problem.
130 Education Policy Institute, , July 2018, p4
131 Social Mobility Commission, , April 2019, p vii. Level of development refers to measures by the early years foundation stage profile assessment framework)
132 Figures for 2019–2020, available at Education & Skills Funding Agency, , 17 December 2018. The Government also provides £2,300 for looked-after children and £300 for children with parents who have served in the armed forces.
133 House of Commons Library, Briefing Paper, , 17 April 2018, p3
134 Education Policy Institute () paras 11.9–11.10
136 NAHT () paras 22–3; National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) () para 11; School Financial Success () para 11; Staffordshire County Council () para 43; Sutton Trust and Education Endowment Foundation () para 10; County Councils Network () paras 28–9
137 Essex County Council () para 10; Grammar School Heads’ Association () para 13; Ambitious about Autism () paras 11–12; Northamptonshire County Council () para 4.1; Mr John Eccleston () para 8; The Netherhall School and Sixth Form () para 4; Mr Paul Atkinson () para 8; Devon County Council () para 3.1; National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) () para 15; Ark () para 5; North Yorkshire County Council () para 14; Education Policy Institute () para 11.13; Association of Directors of Children’s Services () para 17; National Education Union () para 40; Cambridgeshire County Council () para 4.1; Effervesce () para 4.1; WorthLess? () para 8
138 Sutton Trust and Education Endowment Foundation () paras 16–18
141 Education Policy Institute () para 11.13
142 Qq27, 54
144 Sutton Trust and Education Endowment Foundation () para 21
145 Sutton Trust and Education Endowment Foundation, , July 2015, p4
146 Hinchley Wood School () paras 5.1–5.4; f40 Group of Authorities () paras 5.3–5.4
147 National Governance Association () para 3.1
149 Education Committee, , 31 January 2017, HC 154, Q18
158 Department for Education, , December 2013, p5
159 Rt Hon Frank Field MP () paras 5–6
160 Social Mobility Commission, , April 2019, p52
161 Great Harwood St Bartholomew’s Parish C of E Aided Primary School () para 12; Norfolk County Council () para 11; Association of Directors of Children’s Services () para 18
162 Frank Field () para 7
163 NAHT () para 24c
164 The Guardian, , 16 November 2017
165 Social Mobility Commission, , April 2019, p72
166 Social Mobility Commission, , April 2019, p72
167 Association of Colleges () para 11
168 Gateshead College () para 5.2
169 Education Policy Institute, , May 2019, p9
170 Ibid., p28
171 Ibid., p9
172 Social Mobility Commission, , April 2019, p73
173 The Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto 2017, , p53
179 Sutton Trust and Education Endowment Foundation () para 22
180 Association of Colleges,
182 Department for Education ()
Published: 19 July 2019