Secondary schools are using money earmarked for the poorest pupils to paper over the cracks caused by Government spending cuts, according to a major report out today.
It warns that very little of the £1.25bn "pupil premium" allocated to schools for teaching disadvantaged pupils is being spent on ways to boost their performance. One in 10 schools were found to be using the money to plug the gap left by budget cuts.
The findings are a bitter blow for the Liberal Democrats, who view the pupil premium as the major concession wrung out of the Conservatives on education when they went into government with them.
The research, carried out by the respected National Foundation for Education Research for the Sutton Trust charity, is the most authoritative yet to examine the programme.
The Trust's findings show that less than 3 per cent of the 1,700 teachers surveyed said their school was spending the money on effective ways of improving pupils' performance, such as providing regular feedback. Instead, the money – which amounts to £600 for every child eligible for free school meals – was being spent on early intervention schemes (16 per cent) and reducing class sizes (15 per cent).
Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "If the billions of pounds allocated through the pupil premium are to genuinely help improve the results of poorer children, then we need to ensure that the teachers receive the best guidance on what works in the classroom."