DfE refuses to confirm if £1bn catch-up cash is new funding

The Department for Education has refused to clarify whether the £1 billion “catch-up” premium is actually all new cash.

Headteachers have questioned where the funding is coming from after the department announced on Friday the £55 million year 7 catch-up premium would be axed next year.

The department originally said the funding would now come through the national funding formula from September – but apply to all pupils, not just those in year 7.

However, the department later clarified to Schools Week that only an extra £49 million is being provided next year – and that will actually come from the funding increase announced last year by prime minister Boris Johnson.

There’s also worries over the government’s reluctance to confirm whether the PE and sports premium, worth £320 million a year to schools, will continue.

The department also refused to confirm whether the £1 billion catch up funding announced last week is all new cash. They said more information on details of the package will be “provided shortly”.

Andy Byers, headteacher of Framwellgate School Durham, said: “Announcing a new package whilst taking another away means that “new money” is not quite all “new money”.”

Department data shows that at least £55 million was allocated to schools under the year 7 premium this year.

The literacy and numeracy catch-up gave state-funded schools, including special schools and alternative provision settings, additional funding to support year 7 pupils who did not achieve the expected standard in reading or maths at the end of key stage 2.

The announcement the fund was being discontinued, at 4.30pm on Friday, was news to most heads, despite the government claiming it had always been the intention to end the premium.

One headteacher, who receives £14,000 for each of his two schools under the year 7 catch-up, said it has enabled them to employ a higher level teaching assistant in each school.

He also pointed out that schools have submitted their budgets for next year based on the year 7 catch-up funding continuing – leaving them having to find the cash from elsewhere.

The government announced on Friday schools will get £650 million next year to spend on catch-up plans for pupils. Another £350 million will go to setting up a national tutoring programme, which will offer subsidised tuition.

Schools will have to use their £650 million to access the subsidised tutoring, with lessons said to cost around £12 per session.

But schools are still waiting for details of how the cash will be handed out. It was reported this week the £650 million will be awarded on a flat per-pupil basis – meaning schools with more disadvantaged pupils will get the same as schools in richer areas.

A DfE spokesperson said the £1 billion package will be “additional to the core schools budget paid out through the national funding formula, which is increasing by £2.6 billion next year”.

But the government is also stalling on whether the sports premium will continue.

Former sports minister Tracey Crouch this week joined former education secretary Baroness Nicky Morgan in tabling a formal request for clarity on the cash, which ringfences £16,000 per primary school to invest in PE and physical activities.

Former children’s minister Edward Timpson challenged the government on Monday to confirm the “instrumental” funding would continue. It follows data from Sport England that one in three children have been less physically active during lockdown.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said he wants to ensure “all children get an active start in life and engage in daily physical activity”. He would only say arrangements would be confirmed “as soon as possible”.

But the news is already weeks late. The government confirmed continuation of the fund for 2019-20 in April last year.