Schools have been urged to draw up three-year strategies on how they will spend their pupil premium, despite the cash only being guaranteed year on year.
Updated guidance this week from the Department for Education called for schools to adopt a “longer-term strategy”.
From September they will be “encouraged” to move away from “time-consuming” full annual reviews. Instead they should consider a “multi-year approach”, such as one review covering a three-year period, with “light touch” annual reviews.
The department said this would help schools take a longer view of the support the grant would provide and “align their plan with the wider school improvement strategy”.
But funding experts have highlighted potential issues as the funding is guaranteed annually.
Julie Cordiner, an education funding specialist and co-founder of School Financial Success Publications, said: “It would be nice if they were giving us three-year allocations [of funding] too.
“While pupil premium is easier to forecast that other funding streams, the difficulty comes in schools that have high pupil turnover – they would find it quite challenging to predict or manage over a three-year period.”
The new guidance said a multi-year approach would give schools greater certainty when planning for expenditure, recruitment, teaching practice and staff development.
Julia Harnden, a funding specialist at the Association of Schools and College Leaders, said: “We welcome anything that streamlines the process for schools as the best people to know what their pupils need to achieve their potential.
“But this may be hampered by funding settlements not matching that three-year period. You’ve got to make assumptions about the level of funding.”
The change comes as the Education Endowment Foundation published a new guide on the premium.
Spending the cash on ensuring an effective teacher was in front of every class and that every teacher was supported to keep improving should be the “top priority”.
Targeted academic support was also “likely to be a key component of an effective pupil premium strategy”, with other strategies aimed at breaking down the non-academic barriers to success in school.
John Dunford, the former pupil premium champion, said the change in focus was a “move in the right direction”.
But he warned: “If a strategy is part of a school’s long-term plan, but they find it’s not working, then they should drop it and spend money on something where the evidence is that it works best straight away.”
Cordiner welcomed longer-term planning. “Three-year, high-level forward planning is what all schools should be doing. There’s a bit of resistance . . . when they haven’t got the information, but you can state assumptions and, if they are reasonable, then that’s enough.”
More than £10 billion has been spent on pupil premium funding since its introduction in 2011.
However, a report by Education Datalab in 2017 found the attainment gap between the long-term disadvantaged (pupils who had been eligible for free school meals the longest) had actually widened.
Pupil premium funding levels for next year were announced on Monday. The DfE said: “The longer term pupil premium strategy is a suggestion to help schools think more strategically about how to support their disadvantaged pupils.
“Spending plans beyond 2019-20 will be set at the next Spending Review. We will provide schools with up-to-date information at the earliest opportunity. Schools may find it suitable to continue with their current one year planning for the time being, while they consider a longer term strategy.”