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Burnham For Mayor

Monday, 18 October 2010

An open letter to Nick Clegg

House of Commons

15th October 2010

Dear Nick

‘Pupil Premium’

Today you have made a number of very prominent commitments.

For these to have the impact you wish, they will need to be funded from outside of the schools budget, as the Coalition Agreement promised.

I am therefore writing in advance of the Spending Review to seek two assurances.

First, that you will honour the Coalition Agreement commitment that funding for these announcements will be additional to the entire schools budget.

Second, that this funding will not be recycled from other related budgets, such as by deep cuts to the universities budget. If it were, it would ring very hollow for those students now facing large tuition fee increases. 

We will be looking closely at the detail of the Spending Review to ensure that any benefits from this announcement are not counteracted by the impact of cuts elsewhere.

On the pupil premium in particular, you must meet your manifesto pledge that the pupil premium would be 'additional money' – a pledge reinforced in the Coalition Agreement.

When announcing the protection for the schools budget this year, David Laws confirmed that the Government’s definition of what grants were part of the schools budget was the same as the previous Government’s.

Therefore, for your proposed pupil premium to represent more than a relabeling of existing school funding it must be additional to an inflationary increase for the schools budget, which for 2010-11 totaled £37.2bn.
If this is not the case, you will not have secured your ‘reddest line of all’ – a commitment to ensuring a better future for our children.

We will also look closely at the method for allocating the pupil premium. If this follows proposals set out in your consultation document, “Introducing a pupil Premium”, 26th July 2010, it will have the effect of diverting funding from the most deprived areas to the least deprived areas.

Current variations in schools funding between Local Authorities is caused in large part by existing efforts to target deprivation. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) described this as an ‘implicit pupil premium’ and valued it at  £2460 for primary schools pupils and £3370 for secondary school pupils.

In an updated report published today, the IFS state that, "Furthermore, given the scale of the likely cuts in departmental spending to be announced next Wednesday, it seems likely that overall school funding will be cut in real terms. If such cuts are shared equally across schools, then the pupil premium could (depending on its final size, and on the cuts to the overall budget) lead to a net result where schools in affluent areas see their funding go up, on average, while schools in deprived areas experience cuts in funding.”

If the pupil premium does indeed skew the budget away from deprived areas it will fail the fairness test.
Finally, we will be looking at your intentions for projects aimed at deprived areas with overlapping problems and entrenched educational under performance, such as one-to-one tuition for those falling behind or the National Challenge programme, which is turning around hundreds of schools.

If better off areas benefit the most from the pupil premium and it is funded by cutting existing projects like these, we risk abandoning one of the key challenges we face; turning around long-term low achievement in some of our poorest areas.

In summary, I am deeply concerned that although aspects of the ‘fairness premium’ sound good, they may turn out to be mere mirages.

In particular, the pupil premium could have a perverse effect if it is in the context of an overall budget cut, diverts funding towards more affluent areas and is funded from cuts to existing projects which help those in deprived areas.

I would be interested in any reassurance you can give that this will not be the case.