Cuts ‘will make it harder for schools in poorer areas to address Covid issues’


Larger funding cuts for schools in disadvantaged areas in England could make it even harder for them to cope with Covid-19 challenges, a report suggests.

Schools in poorer areas – which have already seen “larger falls in spending per pupil over the last decade” – are set to see the smallest increases under the Government’s new funding formula, an Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) analysis has found.

This could create “additional challenges” for the most deprived schools who will be seeking to address inequalities from school closures during Covid-19, researchers suggest.

The Government has announced a range of measures to help schools facing challenges due to Covid-19 – including a one-off catch-up premium of £80 per pupil aged five to 16 and a tutoring scheme.

But the National Tutoring Programme – which will provide subsidised access to tutors and coaches for school-aged pupils – is the only scheme targeted at more disadvantaged pupils, the paper highlights.

“This will make it harder to address the inequalities that are likely to have emerged during lockdown,” according to the IFS report, which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

Planned increases in starting salaries for teachers will also place further pressures on the budgets of schools serving more deprived pupils as they are “more likely to employ inexperienced teachers”, it says.

The report adds: “The Covid-19 pandemic and closure of schools during lockdown will create immense challenges for schools, with lost schooling and a likely widening of existing inequalities.

“This comes on top of existing challenges, such as past squeezes on school resources, increases in teacher pay and a growing need for school repairs.”

Extra funding should be targeted at more deprived schools at the forthcoming spending review to address the “likely widening of educational inequalities and higher costs”, the report says.

Dr Luke Sibieta, research fellow at the IFS, said: “Most of the Covid catch-up funding will be spread across all schools, regardless of disadvantage.

“This provides a strong case for greater targeting of additional funding to more deprived schools.”

Josh Hillman, director of education at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “As a result of the Covid-19 crisis, the most deprived pupils are not only more likely to be behind in their learning, but their families are also at greater risk of poverty, food insecurity and job losses.

“This could further entrench the disadvantage these children face.

“It is therefore crucial that schools in deprived areas receive adequate and well-directed funding so that they can help to close the disadvantage gap and ensure all children can reach their potential.”

The report highlights that school spending per pupil in England fell by 9% in real terms between 2009–10 and 2019–20, which the IFS says represents the largest cut in more than 40 years.

The Government has allocated an extra £7.1 billion for schools in England through to 2022–23, which should increase spending per pupil by 9% in real terms between 2019–20 and 2022–23.

In the long run, the new National Funding Formula should ensure the funding system is more responsive to changes in the geography of deprivation.

But in the short term, the new formula will deliver funding increases of 3 to 4 percentage points less to schools in poorer areas than to those in more affluent areas up to 2021, the report finds.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Schools know only too well the realities of real-terms funding cuts, and it is shameful that those serving deprived communities have been particularly badly affected.”

She added that the financial situation in schools and colleges has been made worse due to additional costs incurred in putting in place Covid safety measures in order to reopen this term – such as enhanced cleaning, hand sanitisers, signage, and supply cover when teachers have to self-isolate.

“This will put even more strain on budgets which are at breaking point and mean that schools and colleges have less money to spend on educational provision. It is a desperate situation and the Government has its head buried in the sand,” Ms McCulloch said.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “This incompetence cannot be allowed to continue, and the Government must ensure that schools, pupils and staff are given the support they need in the months and years ahead.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Schools are receiving a £2.6 billion boost in funding this year, as we begin to invest over £14.4 billion in total over the three-year period through to 2022-23 compared with 2019-20 – giving every school more money for every child.

“The lowest-funded schools are receiving the greatest increases as every child deserves a superb education, regardless of which school they attend, or where they happen to grow up.”

She added: “We continue to target additional funding through the national funding formula for schools with high numbers of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, providing £6.3 billion in 2020-21 for pupils with additional needs, representing 18% of the formula’s total funding.

“Our £1 billion Covid catch-up package on top of this is helping level up opportunity for every young person up and down the country.”