Levelling-up education cash just £50 per-pupil, analysis suggests

'If the government is serious about tackling the attainment gap, then schools must be given the resources they require to do the job'

'If the government is serious about tackling the attainment gap, then schools must be given the resources they require to do the job'

13 Oct 2023, 5:00

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Ministers have been accused of failing to bridge the attainment gap after handing schools in left-behind parts of England just £50 per child through a major levelling-up scheme.

Several multi-million-pound government grants either prioritise cash for the towns and counties with the lowest results or give them exclusive access to extra money through the education investment areas (EIA) programme.

But Schools Week analysis suggests that one of the funding channels works out at just 83p extra a year for every pupil – while another offers less than £3 a head. However the Department for Education has contested our analysis (see nerd note).

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the NAHT, said: “We said at the time that the funding for investment areas was insufficient, and these figures seem to bear that out.  

“If the government is serious about tackling the attainment gap, then schools must be given the resources they require to do the job.” 

More than £83 million allocated

The EIAs were chosen because they were the “the weakest [places in the country] based on sustained low performance” across key stages 2 and 4 between 2017 and 2019.

The DfE hopes the initiative will help the areas “achieve the fastest progress” under its “national mission” to ensure 90 per cent of pupils meet expected standards at key stage 2 and increase average GCSE maths and English language grades from 4.5 to 5 by 2030.

Paul Whiteman
Paul Whiteman

Schools in the EIAs are prioritised money through the trust capacity fund (TCaF) and the Connect the Classroom scheme, which aims to improve internet speeds.  

Meanwhile, secondary teachers working in the areas can access larger retention payments through the levelling-up premium.  

Calculations using figures obtained through Freedom of Information requests show more than £83 million a year has been allocated to the EIAs. 

Twenty-four of the regions are also classified as priority education investment areas (PEIAs), places with high levels of deprivation as well as low achievement. 

Ministers unveiled these investment areas last year “to address entrenched underperformance, including in literacy and numeracy, in areas with some of the highest rates of disadvantage in the country”, according to the schools white paper. 

Schools in PEIAs are also eligible to receive cash through the local needs fund, while a handful of children in five of the priority areas will be given one-to-one support until 2026 through the attendance mentoring pilot. 

In all, the two projects will direct a further £21.7 million a year into the priority areas.  

When taken together, the five funding streams dish out £105 million on average every 12 months. This equates to £49.83 for each pupil, our analysis suggests.  

‘Drop in the ocean’

A trust chief executive – who asked to remain anonymous – called the EIA funds a “drop in the ocean” when compared with pupil premium payments, which start at £1,035 for each free school meal or looked-after child.

Of the five funding channels, the attendance mentoring pilot had the lowest cash-per-pupil pay-out (83p). The figure for the levelling-up premium stood at £2.88 (see table).

Academy trust leaders have also stressed that some EIA schools may not be eligible to bid for finances through any of the funding channels.  

Howard Nelson, the chief operating officer of the Peterborough Keys Academies Trust (PKAT), said that TCaF – used to help form and grow trusts – was only suited to chains looking to expand.

Even though its five schools were in an EIA, PKAT “hasn’t been in a place to use the money from the fund, [but] at some point we would like to grow and that’s when it’ll become very useful”.  

Another trust leader said: “We’ve not seen any benefit at all for our infant school. It’s already got good connectivity and the pupil premium only applies to secondary schools.” 

Scheme ‘making a difference’

Despite this, Nelson believes that Connect the Classroom is a good example of capital funding to help improve outcomes. 

PKAT has lodged an application for £8,000 through the programme to upgrade one of its academy’s wi-fi networks.  

Hugh Greenway, the chief executive of the Elliot Foundation, also credited the scheme for “making a big difference in terms of equality of access” across his trust, after 12 of his academies got cash through the grant.   

Clare Flintoff is chief executive of Asset Education, which runs eight schools in the Ipswich PEIA.

She said the town has been allocated more than £1 million through the local needs fund.

Flintoff said the money – which will be used over the next two years – will “support schools where pupil attendance has not recovered to pre-pandemic levels”.

“This all follows the opportunity area programme which has provided additional funding to the vast majority of schools in Ipswich in a myriad of ways, for example [through] training for teachers and leaders [and] remote learning support assistants,” she said.

The £72 million opportunity areas scheme gave additional cash to 12 social mobility “cold spots” but ended last year, before EIAs were set up.

118 of 211 TCaF bides for EIA schools

Schools Week’s FOI shows 118 of the 211 successful TCaF bids in 2022-23 – the first year in which investment areas were prioritised for the cash – involved schools in EIAs.

They got on average £187,000 per application, while trusts wanting to expand into other parts of the country received £125,673.38. 

In all, the government dished out £33.7 million through TCaF in 2022-23. The figure stood at just under £17.5 million the year before.  

PEIAs have also been allocated a further £42.3 million through the family hubs and start for life programme across two years. We did not include this in our analysis because the cash is for councils, not schools, and much of its focus is on early years’ provision.

A DfE spokesperson claimed our findings “entirely misrepresent the funding allocations”.

The various grants “go towards pupils and teachers in schools with the poorest outcomes to drive up standards as opposed to all pupils in each area”.

The DfE added that it will “double the rates of the levelling-up premium [from £3,000 tax-free annually] to up to £6,000 tax-free and…extend it to those teaching eligible subjects in all general FE colleges”.   

Nerd note

Our analysis is based on data obtained under freedom of information requests.

It allowed us to work out how much funding was being issued to schools each year under separate schemes, which we then divided by the total number of pupils in those areas.

The trust capacity funding was harder to work out as cash was given to trusts and sometimes covered both investment area and non-investment area schools.

In this case, we divided the total funding for the bid by the number of schools to get a figure just for investment area schools.

The attendance pilot has only been rolled out in five council areas.

But we still divided the funding by the total number of pupils in the priority investment areas, because it was a government decision to limit the scheme’s reach.

The Department for Education said this was misleading and we should divide the funding amount by the number of pupils actually benefitting.

We disagreed. We also excluded the £21 million yearly funding as part of a family hubs programme because this goes to councils for early years’ provision, not schools.

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