Too bright for the Pupil Premium?

The government seems to be briefing about possible changes to the Pupil Premium. The suggestion seems to be that bright children need it less than other children (choose an adjective with care here – dim/thick/less able but not SEN – all have implicit value assumptions associated with them). If this mooted alteration to the Pupil Premium is true, then it is the first change since it was agreed that pupils in primary schools needed more help than their secondary brothers and sisters and rates were altered accordingly. At the same time, pupils in care also received even more funding; quite rightly so.

Surely even the Tories wouldn’t want to say that because you are a bright five year-old, according to baseline testing, you don’t qualify for the Pupil Premium even though you are in a single parent household on low income and there is another toddler for your mother to look after, so you don’t receive the sort of attention you need to stimulate your innate ability. But, perhaps that is exactly what they do want to say. Reward the hardworking poor, but punish the children of those that aren’t aspirational for their offspring sounds like a Tory mantra.

Indeed, perhaps this is a change that is aligned to the return to selective school campaign. After all, if the Pupil Premium helps produce more children in primary schools for less well-off households that can pass the entry tests for selective schools then they will displace children from higher income brackets some of whose parents might then have to resort to paying for private education rather than allow then to attend secondary modern schools.

Of course, the concept of equality behind the Pupil Premium is to provide help where it is needed to bring everyone up to the level expected of them by the point at which you take the measurement of attainment; either Key Stage 2 and the move to secondary school or Key Stage 4 and the former school leaving age.

Now, if what the government are saying is that the use of Free School Meals as a proxy for entitlement isn’t the best measure, then we need to know what they are considering replacing it with? No doubt it would be helpful if any debate about changes to the Pupil Premium could also be a part of the discussions on a national funding formula for all schools. The present disparities in school funding levels mean that pupils from low income households in rural areas often receive much less funding than those in similar income households in some urban areas; especially in London. So, could the change to the Pupil Premium help iron out this problem if the government isn’t willing to tackle it in other ways?

One problem is that any degree of extra complexity added in to the Pupil Premium scheme will almost certainly significantly increase the cost of its administration. Sometimes, a universal flat rate programme is the most cost-effective, even if it is something of a blunt instrument. However, until the government reveals its hand, we won’t really know whether this is just an attempt to save money from the education budget or another attack on the low paid by this Tory government.

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