A flagship £1.25 billion a year scheme aimed at helping disadvantaged children has had little or no impact on the way they are taught in more than 50 per cent of schools, says a report out today.
Instead, many are using the extra cash to fund existing provision threatened by cuts or allowing the cash to be swallowed up in their main budget, the first in-depth study of its impact by education standards watchdog Ofsted show.
The pupil premium was the Liberal Democrats “big idea” and support for it was seen as their key victory in negotiations when the Coalition Government was devising its five-year programme.
At present, it gives schools an extra £600 for every disadvantaged pupil - mainly based on whether they are eligible for free school meals - that a school takes in.
A survey of 262 schools by Ofsted, though, shows the vast majority have said it makes no difference to their admissions arrangements.
“School leaders often said they felt the 'pupil premium' funding was not 'additional' money,” says the report. “Commonly, they felt it had replaced other funding streams that had been withdrawn.”
Two out of five schools said they had used it fund existing or new teaching assistant posts - while more than one in four said they used the cash at least in part to fund existing or new teaching posts.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of schools and chief executive of Ofsted, said: “The big issue is that this money is for our poorest children to ensure they achieve as well as others who come from prvileged backgrounds.
“It is simply not good enough for heads and schools to say it is not cxhanging policies.”
He added that he was concerned over the concentration on employing teaching assistants - whose numbers had swelled from 80,000 to 220,000 between 200 and 2011 - while the teaching force had only increased by 30,000.
“Where teaching assistants are properly trained that's no problem but our survey (and a similar one by education charity the Sutton Trust) has shown that teaching assistants have the same impact as good teachers and good teaching,” he added.
The survey also revealed a third of schools had used the cash to pay for educational visits or residential trips for pupils - while one in six had used it to pay for or subsidise school uniforms.
“School leaders, including governing bodies, should ensure pupil premium funding is not simply absorbed into mainstream budgets - but is carefully targeted at the designated children” the report concludes.
It suggests the Government should consider ring-fencing the money for the poor if schools continue to fail to target it effectively.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “We have given schools the freedom to use the additional funding in innovative ways.
“However, it is vital they use it to boost results for the most disadvantaged pupils,”
“Pupil premium funding is not sufficient to protect schools against the real terms cuts to their funding,” said Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers.
“If the Government is serious about addressing the needs of disadvantaged pupils, then funding should be available for schools to employ more qualified teachers.”