Schools are being forced to divert money intended for plugging the achievement gap for the most disadvantaged pupils, on balancing their budgets.
A report from the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) found that two-thirds of schools in England were facing budget cuts, and at a time when the Department for Education faced having
£2 billion cut from its own budget.
During the current academic year, schools received £623 for every pupil on their rolls who is entitled to free schools meals. This will rise to £900 next year and the funding will total £2.5 billion by 2015. The study said the figures show that the Pupil Premium, which is not ring-fenced, is “not additional money” for most schools.
Jonathan Clifton, the author, said: “Over the next three years, schools face a cut in their main budget on the one hand, and an increase in their Pupil Premium funding on the other.
“The Institute of Fiscal Studies has calculated that when these two things are taken into account, the majority of schools are expected to see a real-terms cut in their per-pupil funding. They conclude that around 65 per cent of primary schools and 80 per cent of secondary schools will see a real-term cut in their budget between 2010/11 and 2014/15.”
Mr Clifton said that because Pupil Premium funding was not ring-fenced it ended up being “subject to competing demands”. The problem over how to use Pupil Premium was compounded by politicians who used confusing language over whether it was aimed at pupils who were falling behind, or those on free school meals.
It is estimated that fewer than a quarter of low-achieving year 6 pupils are on free schools meals and only 26 per cent of pupils on free school meals are considered low-attainers.
The report called for more money to be targeted at primary schools so pupils could start their secondary education with good standards of literacy and numeracy.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of National Association of Head Teachers, said: “We welcome the acknowledgement that Pupil Premium is not new money. Rather than robbing Peter to pay Paul, we should be fully funding all stages of education; a more planned approach to creating new schools where they are needed could help ensure these funds were available.
“As school leaders are best placed to decide what works in their communities, perhaps primaries and secondaries could work together to decide in which phase the Pupil Premium would be best spent.”
A DfE spokeswoman said: “The coalition has protected schools funding, while also ensuring that every disadvantaged child benefits from the Pupil Premium, which will be worth £2.5 billion a year in 2014/15.
“It is vital that schools use this funding effectively to raise disadvantaged pupils’ attainment and close the unacceptable gap with their peers.
“While schools are free to use this funding in the way they think will most help disadvantaged children, they are held accountable through Ofsted inspections, performance tables and a requirement to report online on how they use the Pupil Premium.”
A Sutton Trust/NFER survey, published in May found three per cent of the schools surveyed said the Pupil Premium is off-setting budget cuts elsewhere, down from 11 per cent in 2012.