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Boost fund for schools goes to rich

Government’s own watchdog slams Education cuts in deprived areas

GOVERNMENT boasts of “levelling up” in education funding were exposed as a sham yesterday, as an official report revealed cuts have been inflicted on some of Britain’s most deprived schools.

A Tory funding formula introduced in 2018 has actually caused a “relative redistribution” of resources to schools in better-off areas, according to the National Audit Office (NAO) report, formally released today.

Its research shows that average per-pupil funding for the most-deprived fifth of schools has fallen in real terms since 2017-18 by 1.2 per cent to £5,177, while for the least deprived fifth it has risen by 2.9 per cent to £4,471.

In 2020-21 an additional £266 million was allocated to 3,150 schools. The poorest fifth got nothing, while 37 per cent of the least-deprived fifth of schools got an increase, the NAO said.

By contrast, 58.3 per cent of the most deprived fifth of schools have seen a real-terms reduction in government funding since 2017-18 — including 83.6 per cent of those in inner London.

Cities with high levels of deprivation, such as Nottingham and Birmingham, have seen cuts, while local authorities with relatively low levels of deprivation in south-west England, the east Midlands and south-east England received increases of around 1 per cent.

National Education Union joint secretary Kevin Courtney said: “Yet again the Department for Education (DfE) have been found out on school funding.

“Yet again their assurances that schools are in a strong financial position turn out not to be accurate.

“Yet again the department’s claims to be prioritising the most disadvantaged turn out to be the opposite of their actions. 

Accusing Education Secretary Gavin Williamson of paying “scant attention to his brief,” he added: “We hope … that both he and the Treasury will heed this report and provide the funding schools and colleges need to allow the nation’s schoolchildren to make up for the last year.” 

School leaders’ union NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said that “despite all the spin from government, school funding has effectively remained static since 2014-15.

“The truth is that, even if these were normal times, schools are still funded inadequately.

“Time and again government has failed to deliver the funds that schools need for the nation’s young people at this crucial time.

“The NAO is also right to raise serious questions about the effect of the minimum per-pupil funding arrangement — it is deeply concerning that so many of the most deprived schools have seen a real-terms decrease in per-pupil funding over the last three years.”

Overall DfE funding for schools rose from £36.2 billion in 2014-15 to £43.4bn 2020-21, but an increase in pupil numbers meant it amounted to a real-terms per-pupil increase of just 0.4 per cent.

And while schools in poorer areas continued to receive more support overall than those in better-off parts of the country, the NAO said the gap was narrowing, and questioned whether the formula was leading to a fair allocation of resources.

NAO head Gareth Davies said: “The DfE has met its objective of making the way it allocates school funding more transparent and consistent.

“However, it is less clear whether it has met its objective of allocating funding fairly.”

Labour’s shadow schools minister Peter Kyle said: “Even before the pandemic, the Conservatives were stripping away funding from the schools and children who need most support.”

The DfE insisted that the formula was “delivering resources where they are needed most.”

A spokesman said: “It ensures that the areas with high proportions of students from disadvantaged backgrounds are receiving the highest levels of funding, providing £6.4bn in funding for pupils with additional needs in 2021-22.”

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