Rachel Arthur
Programme Development at Teach First

Budget 2021: Updating the pupil premium is the best way to help our country’s disadvantaged children

In the Autumn 2021 budget, the government announced a much-needed increase in funding for all schools. Despite this, Teach First maintains that future funding will have the greatest impact if targeted towards schools serving disadvantaged communities.

In the Autumn 2021 budget, the government announced a £4.7bn increase in funding for all schools in England, plus an additional £1.8bn for the COVID-19 education recovery package. We welcome these decisions and support the government’s ambition to level up education. However, we maintain that future schools funding would have a greater impact if it was more closely targeted towards schools serving disadvantaged communities – where young people’s education has suffered the most during the pandemic.

Nationally, disadvantaged pupils underperform against their peers at every assessment point. The Education Policy Institute’s (EPI) annual report for 2020 showed that pupils experiencing persistent levels of disadvantage are nearly two years behind other pupils in their levels of GCSE achievement, compared with 18 months for all disadvantaged pupils. This gap has widened during the pandemic and the challenge to close it is now even greater. It is important to note that the COVID recovery premium is for this academic year only, and it will not be sufficient to close the gap that COVID has exacerbated.

My experience with pupil premium at school

I worked as an assistant headteacher for a number of years, in an Academy where over 50% of the pupils were eligible for free school meals and therefore classified as pupil premium. I have seen first hand what an impact the pupil premium funding can have on a cohort when it is planned for and spent well. The plan I wrote for the pupil premium spend would be drawn from the data for the cohort; I would look at patterns and trends for our disadvantaged pupils, and then put interventions in place to close the gap. These interventions would be reviewed regularly (sometimes termly or half-termly) and where successful, they would be rolled out to a wider cohort.

On a day-to-day basis this impact could be seen across the school: from practical things like new boots for pupils for football training, to trips to art galleries and music lessons (where we tried to close the gap on things that some parents simply couldn’t afford). The ambition was to remove the financial barrier for pupils who couldn't access opportunities that their peers could. Be that a school trip, a tutor for a subject they were struggling with, or something as small as breakfast, I wanted to ensure parity of experience and access for all pupils.

Schools need consistent real-terms increases in disadvantage funding

For schools to be able to make long-term plans for strategic change, they need reassurance that the funding is going to be around for longer than a year. The government, along with the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), state that a school’s pupil premium plan should cover the next three academic years. However, Pupil Premium rates are often revised on an annual basis. Schools can’t plan year on year if they don’t know that the money is secured.

The pupil premium (PP) was launched by the Coalition Government in 2011 to try to close the gap in educational attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their more affluent peers. The introduction of the pupil premium has been extremely successful in increasing the focus on improving outcomes for disadvantaged children. A National Audit Office report from 2015 found that 94% of school leaders said that they now explicitly target support at disadvantaged pupils, compared with only 57% before the policy was launched. There is also evidence to suggest that the Pupil Premium has decreased socioeconomic segregation between schools and improved the attainment of disadvantaged primary school children.  We think that in a time of widening inequality, the rationale for this policy’s inception is as relevant now as it ever was.

Making pupil premium work for all

Pupil premium rates have not kept pace with inflation since 2015-16, meaning that support for disadvantaged pupils has declined in real terms. If pupil premium rates had continued their 2011-14 path, then they would now be approximately £100 higher per pupil per year than the actual rates that were used in 2018-19. For some schools, this could be as much as £50,000 missing from their budget (IFS, 2021).

We are calling for this funding to be brought back up in line with inflation, to reverse the cuts that schools have faced over the last 10 years. Pupil premium rates should then continue to rise in line with inflation for the rest of the Spending Review period. This consistency in budget and funding would allow schools to implement longer term strategies, as they would have the reassurance that this money isn’t going to be taken away.

In August, we published ‘A fighting chance for every child’, a manifesto to end educational inequality. We are now in the process of refining some of the proposals in conjunction with a wider range of stakeholders. Early next year we will publish a follow-up report that recommendations for how the pupil premium should be modified in order to better support the educational attainment of disadvantaged pupils.

Watch: Our Future Terms panel on pupil premium

This panel aired on Thursday 11 November 2021



Marc Newall - Policy Manager at Teach First


  • Rachel Arthur - Head of Computing at Teach First
  • Sam Freedman - Senior Adviser at Ark Schools; Senior Fellow at Institute for Government
  • Hussein Hussein - CEO at Cape Mentors
  • Fozia Ramzan - Federated Deputy Head Teacher at St Stephen’s Primary School

You can now listen to our Future Terms panels on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. To sign up for the next event, visit our website.

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