£18m 'future talent fund' cancelled less than a year after it was announced

The government has cancelled a key strand of its social mobility action plan, withdrawing £18 million of funding that would have helped secondary schools improve the performance of the brightest poor pupils.

The future talent fund was unveiled by former education secretary Justine Greening last December. It was one of the most significant new proposals in ‘Unlock Talent and Fulfil Potential’, a document which set out the Department for Education’s plan to improve social mobility.

It’s worrying that funding to support social mobility for some of our brightest disadvantaged pupils is being quietly taken away a matter of months after being announced

But the Department for Education has now admitted to Schools Week that it has taken the “difficult decision” to cancel the fund, choosing instead to prioritise improvements in the early years.

However, it is not known whether the money saved by scrapping the fund will be put towards another specific scheme or go back into the department’s general budget.

The decision to cancel the funding has been criticised by Impetus-PEF, a charity which supports pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Ben Gadsby, the charity’s policy manager, said disadvantaged young people are half as likely as their peers to get the grades they need to succeed, adding that over a thousand miss out on top GCSEs despite being among the highest-attainers at age 11.

“We are generations away from closing these gaps. This fund would have channelled vital funding to address this,” he said.

“The future talent fund was a bright spot in domestic policymaking, at a time when Brexit is hogging the headlines. Today the future for disadvantaged young people looks a little less bright.”

The fund was a flagship policy of former education secretary Justine Greening

It follows an earlier decision by the government to slash the funding available under the fund by £5 million. When the policy was announced last December, £23 million was pledged. But only £18 million was offered to schools when the DfE invited bids in April, and officials said schools would have to raise millions themselves.

Now the fund has been scrapped altogether, despite the government having conducted a tender process for schools to lead the work.

“We constantly look at how funding is allocated to make sure every pound counts and whilst we have taken the difficult decision to cancel the Future Talent Fund, there are a wide range of other programmes to support disadvantaged pupils,” a DfE spokesperson told Schools Week.

“We know that the largest point of impact on child development are the early years which is why the education secretary is prioritising early communication skills.”

Valentine Mulholland, head of policy at the NAHT school leaders’ union, said it was “worrying” that funding to support social mobility for some of our brightest disadvantaged pupils “is being quietly taken away a matter of months after being announced, and before any child  has been supported through it”.

“At a time when schools are facing unprecedented funding challenges, it’s critical that this £18 million be spent on schools rather than clawed back by the chancellor.”