More cash for schooling of poorer children

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Poorer children will be given extra funding to help with their schooling, ministers confirmed today.

The Government announced it is pressing ahead with plans for a "pupil premium" which will see additional money attached to youngsters from disadvantaged homes, following them as and when they move schools.

The premium was a key plank of the Liberal Democrats' election manifesto, and they held on to it in the coalition with the Tories.

Education Secretary Michael Gove today announced that the premium will be introduced from next year, and launched a consultation on what measures should be used to decide if a child is eligible for extra cash.

This could include children who are, or have been, eligible for Free School Meals - a measure of poverty, or youngsters in families that receive out-of-work tax credits.

There are also proposals for the premium to cover looked-after children and children with parents in the armed forces.

The Government has not yet said how much money will be pumped into the premium.

The Lib Dems, before the election, suggested their scheme would initially cost £2.5 billion a year for the poorest pupils - those on Free School Meals.

The coalition's agreement simply said there will be "a significant premium for disadvantaged children from outside the schools budget".

Mr Gove said: "Children from poorer backgrounds, who are currently doing less well at school, are falling further and further behind in the qualifications race every year - and that in turn means that they are effectively condemned to ever poorer employment prospects, narrower social and cultural horizons, less by way of resources to invest in their own children - and thus a cycle of disadvantage and inequality is made worse with every year that passes.

"Last year of the 80,000 pupils who had been on free school meals, just 45 made it to Oxbridge. Just two out of 57 countries now have a wider attainment gap between the highest and lowest achieving pupils."

Official figures show that just over one in four (27%) teenagers eligible for Free School Meals achieve five GCSEs at grades A*-C including English and maths, compared to more than half (54%) who are not eligible.

Malcolm Trobe, policy director for the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: "ASCL welcomes the principle of additional funding to follow pupils from deprived backgrounds in the form of a pupil premium and sees this best delivered as part of a national funding formula.

"However we are concerned that some schools may see their funding reduced and therefore there will be a detrimental impact if changes are introduced too quickly. It is essential that changes in the formula are tested carefully at school level to ensure that no institution suffers excessive turbulence in their funding.

"It will be important for the Government to build in transition funding in the first year or two, if there are schools that will ultimately have their funding decreased.

"There must be some mechanism to ensure stability once the premium is fully introduced, so that schools do not experience significant fluctuations in funding from year to year. In addition, the baseline funding - for pupils not attracting a premium - must be high enough that those schools with no students on a premium can function adequately."