Pupil premium change: Labour accuses government of £133m ‘stealth cut’

curriculum life skills Kate Green

The government’s pupil premium funding change is a “stealth cut to school budgets at a time when children need more support than ever”, the shadow education secretary will warn tomorrow.

Kate Green will tell the annual conference of teaching union NASUWT that the decision by ministers to base pupil premium funding on free school meals data collected in the autumn instead of the spring “shows disregard for children’s futures as we recover from this pandemic”.

Labour said this evening that its own analysis of data from a quarter of local authorities suggests schools nationwide stand to lose up to £133 million as a result of the change, because pupil premium cash will now not factor in those pupils who became eligible for free school meals between October and January.

The government has so far refused to say exactly how much it will save as a result of the change. Estimates from other groups and individuals vary – the NAHT leadership union has predicted primaries alone will lose £180 million, while campaigner Andy Jolley previously estimated the change could amount to as much as £250 million across all schools.

Party estimates 120,000 children affected

Labour obtained data under freedom of information from a quarter of councils, which reported that almost 30,000 more children across their areas became eligible for free school meals between the October and January censuses. If this is extrapolated across the country, around 120,000 children stand to lose out on roughly £133 million in additional funding, the party said.

“The government’s mishandling of the Covid crisis has kept children out of school, missing out on learning and time with friends, and now they are cutting support that would help children most likely to have struggled with learning over the last year,” Green will tell teachers tomorrow.

“The Conservatives have neglected children through this pandemic and now risk leaving them behind in our recovery.”

Green will also tell the conference that Labour is committed to “tackle child poverty, to end educational inequality, to ensure every child has the chance to fulfil their potential, and that – for every child – Britain will be the best place in the world to grow up in”.

A Department for Education spokesperson said the government had “prioritised children and young people” throughout the pandemic.

“We have made sure schools have continued to accept new free school meal applications, providing meals to anyone who becomes newly eligible, including while pupils were learning remotely.

“Our significant investment in education recovery now totals £1.7 billion, and pupil premium funding is increasing to more than £2.5 billion in 2021-22, reflecting an increase in the number of eligible pupils.”

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