Conor Ryan: The pupil premium won't work unless it's new cash

The coalition has made improving social mobility one of its central planks. The new Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has declared he wants to close the gap in results between the richest and poorest. Paying schools more for each disadvantaged pupil on their rolls is their big idea to achieve it.

A pupil premium is not a bad idea. As the Lib Dems envisaged it in their manifesto, it would provide schools with an extra £2,400 a year for every poor pupil on their rolls, at a total cost of £2.5bn. While the coalition agreement endorsed a "significant" premium, it declined to specify a sum, though it did promise it would be funded from outside the schools budget.

But unless a pupil premium is wholly new money, is linked to strong outcome measures related to social mobility and to a much more equitable approach to school admissions, it is unlikely to achieve its objectives.

We must probably await the autumn spending review to see how the premium is to be funded. Ministers will need to rebuff Treasury efforts to get them to raid pots like the Standards Fund to pay for it. Schools already facing tight budgets will not see the premium as significant extra resources if it simply replaces existing money, even if it is on top of their general budget.

The coalition plans to move to a national funding formula. As it does so, because Labour increased school budgets fastest in poorer areas over the last 13 years, the biggest long-term beneficiaries of the premium are likely to be schools in Tory and Lib Dem constituencies in the shires, places where schools with small numbers of pupils on free school meals receive no extra funding for those pupils.

Yet money is not in itself a panacea. During Labour's term, while some indicators of social mobility improved, according to research by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, there is still a fourfold achievement gap between children of graduates and non-graduates.

Labour's big improvements occurred specifically through programmes with tough targets, like inner city academies replacing failing schools, or the London Challenge initiative where the best heads helped weaker ones. They did not occur uniformly, or simply because they spent more money on schools in disadvantaged communities.

If the coalition is serious about narrowing the gap, it has to do more than put its money where its mouth is. Schools must say how they'll use the extra cash to narrow the gap. In this era of greater freedom, nobody would suggest that ministers should specify how this must be done (and there is no evidence that cutting average class sizes, as Nick Clegg has suggested, would make much difference). Schools should decide how to spend the premium, but they should publish their proposals in their development plan, which should be published online.

They should also be held accountable. The Government should publish information about variations between pupils of different backgrounds within schools in the annual league tables, and ensure they are considered by Ofsted. They should make clear to schools that don't reduce these variations over time that they'll lose the premium. Unless there is a consequence to failure, exhortation will not be adequate.

But that's not enough. Ministers want schools to seek out pupils from poorer backgrounds and believe that the premium will be enough to persuade them to do so. If schools have been blatantly fiddling their admissions criteria, this may indeed by the case.

Separate research by the University of Buckingham for the Sutton Trust has shown that the country's top 164 comprehensive schools took only 9 per cent of children from income-deprived homes, although they drew pupils from areas where about 20 per cent were income-deprived. It may be that these schools are getting around the tough admissions code and the schools adjudicators. More likely they're using proximity and sibling rules to decide who gets in. Poorer families are losing out.

In most cases, if schools are applying admissions criteria based on how near pupils live to the school or the numbers of brothers and sisters there, they have little scope for manoeuvre. Unless these schools allocate a significant proportion of their places through a lottery open to all – with practical advice to poorer parents on how to apply – or through fair banding across all abilities, the pupil premium will do little to enable poorer children to attend the best schools.

And at a time of increasing austerity in the public services, even the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary, Danny Alexander, might himself start to question whether it is really delivering value for money.

The writer, a former senior education adviser to Tony Blair and David Blunkett, blogs at http://conorfryan.blogspot.com

Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Peter Moores was criticised for failing to handle top players when he last led the England team
sportFive years after being sacked from the job, Peter Moores to be named a cricket coach
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environmentGardeners rally round the endangered bumblebee
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: KS1 KS2 Crewe Teacher Perm Ch...

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education is the lea...

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: KS1 KS2 Teaching Cheshire

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Long term position in large p...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit