Annal Nayyar bloggs -Public Finance Report Education: too little, too late Too many primary age pupils are still falling behind. Extending the Pupil Premium and other forms of support to younger schoolchildren could make a huge differenceTackling Britain’s long-standing problem of educational unfairness will require a step change in the way we focus on children during their primary school years.

Annal Nayyar bloggs -Public Finance Report Education: too little, too late

Too many primary age pupils are still falling behind. Extending the Pupil Premium and other forms of support to younger schoolchildren could make a huge differenceTackling Britain’s long-standing problem of educational unfairness will require a step change in the way we focus on children during their primary school years.

Much policy and political attention on education tends to concentrate on the big questions about secondary school reform, or otherwise on the pre-school years and early intervention agenda. Critical though these are, new evidence published by Save the Children today, shines a light on the importance of primary school.

In our report, Too Young to Fail, we show that if poor pupils are behind in reading, writing and maths by the age of seven, their prospects in life are already severely prejudiced.  They have less than a one in six chance of going on to get a batch of good GCSEs at 16.

Under the coalition and the previous Labour government  there has been progress.  London has led the way with very impressive improvements in attainment for their poorest pupils both in secondary and primary education.

But a business as usual approach will not be enough.  In 2013, one quarter of Free School Meal  pupils were still not reaching the ‘expected level’ in the government’s new phonics test.

In the rush to devise policies which boost living standards for all households, the educational injustice still facing our poorest children must not fall down the agenda.

In the 2010 election all parties paraded policies intended to ensure no child was left behind in school – all had versions of what became the Pupil Premium.  In 2015 we need a similarly creative and ambitious debate. In its report, Save the Children suggests one possible policy direction.  We discuss how the Pupil Premium, which has been largely accepted by school leaders as a good reform, could be radically extended. Secondary schools already receive an additional payment for each child who leaves primary school without reaching the current expected level.  An immediate priority, we argue, is for a similar ‘fair chances premium’  for 5-7 year olds. But thinking further ahead there is a case for increasing the primary Pupil Premium from the £1,300 it will reach next year to as much as £3-4,000.  As the government reviews school funding – against the backdrop of wanting to transition to a national funding formula – there is an opportunity to ‘frontload’ more money.

In England, in 2011/12, per-pupil spending in secondary schools was over £5,300.  In contrast in primaries it was almost exactly £4,000. Given all the evidence about solid foundations early in children’s life being so critical, it is hard to see how this is the right balance.

At the same time school budgets already include what the Institute for Fiscal Studies describe as an ‘implicit premium’ – money in their general budget which is not part of the Pupil Premium but is linked to deprivation.  In 2010, this amounted to £2,000 per FSM pupil in primary schools.

Through a mix of ‘frontloading’  funding and making explicit at least a proportion of the implicit premium, a £3-4,000 boost per year for each poor pupil would be possible. This would see £18-24,000 extra allocated for poor pupils across primary school.

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