In making changes to the school funding system, the Department for Education (the Department) has failed to take enough account of the impact of its decisions on individual schools and their pupils. The adverse impacts have fallen disproportionately on deprived local areas and schools. The introduction of the national funding formula in 2018–19 has resulted in a relative re-distribution of funding from more deprived schools to less deprived schools; in the three years to 2020–21, average per-pupil funding fell in real terms by 1.2% for the most deprived fifth of schools, but increased by 2.9% for the least deprived fifth. And the Department’s decision in 2021 to change how it calculates pupil premium funding means that schools have lost out on £90 million of funding to support disadvantaged children.
There is a lack of urgency in the Department’s approach to making improvements to the school system. Delivery of a number of its initiatives has slipped, and the Department is unwilling or unable to commit to revised timetables. In particular, the further delays in publishing the SEND review, which was announced in September 2019, are unacceptable. While the Department drags its feet, more and more children with special educational needs and disabilities are progressing through the school system without the support they need.
The Department has committed £3.1 billion to help children and young people catch up on learning lost due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, funding drops significantly from 2022–23 and the total falls well short of the £15 billion that the Government’s own Education Recovery Commissioner recommended. We have previously highlighted our concerns about the tutor programme but whatever aspect of catch-up schools need certainty so they can plan ahead. The Department says it is working through the feasibility of the more costly elements of the Commissioner’s proposals, such as extending the school day, and that further funding will be considered as part of the upcoming Spending Review. Given the importance of this issue and the scale of the challenge, we intend to return to the subject of education recovery at a later date.