Government ministers faced criticism this week over changes made to the school census date during education questions in the House of Commons, an issue first brought to national prominence by Schools North East in March.
Referring to the use of the October 2020 census rather than the January 2021 census data for the calculation of pupil premium, shadow education secretary Kate Green argued that this amounted to a ‘pupil premium stealth cut’. She also pointed towards the fact that the national tutoring programme is only reaching one in six pupils on free school meals, saying that in some cases schools will lose out more on pupil premium cuts than they receive in catch-up funding.
Kate Green asked what analysis had been made of the funding loss to schools from these changes, and if the government would guarantee that no school will be worse off as a result of changes to the pupil premium. Gavin Williamson defended the funding provided to schools, pointing towards the funding package announced in 2019, as well as the additional £1.7 billion for catch-up.
Last month Schools North East, along with Children North East and the North East Child Poverty Commission, wrote to the Secretary of State for Education about the changes to the pupil premium, urging him to reconsider. Between October 20 and January 21, there was an increase of around 5,400 pupils in receipt of FSM across the North East, which equates to a loss of between £5.16 million and £7.26 million to our schools. This letter has received national media coverage, and several of the region’s MPs (Ian Lavery, Ian Mearns, Sharon Hodgson, Mary For, Grahame Morris, and Kate Foy) have also written jointly to the Education Secretary as a result. Schools North East has yet to receive a response from Gavin Williamson.
Shadow Schools Minister Wes Streeting also pressed the Department for Education on exams, asking for plans to be published for next year. Schools Minister Nick Gibb explained the current alternative arrangements for exams, but gave no clear indication on what is currently being considered for 2022. However, he did say that the DfE was monitoring the position for exams in the next academic year, and that a statement will be made. This information is needed as soon as possible to avoid the series of challenges schools have faced in the last year that have resulted from the lack of clear planning and guidance from central government.
Conservative MP for Blyth Valley, Ian Levy, raised a question around the support DfE is providing for special educational needs and disabilities pupils. He mentioned the opening of a new special educational needs school in Blyth, and asked the government to do all it can to ‘ensure that this much-needed facility will be available as quickly as possible for those children, who so desperately need the additional support and resources that it will offer’. Gavin Williamson recognised the important work schools do in supporting vulnerable children and those with SEND, especially during the pandemic.
Although the government has provided important additional support to schools during the pandemic, schools have often been expected to respond to government announcements with very little time to implement changes, and often without clear guidance. It is crucial that the government publishes its plans for exams, ‘catch-up’, and the longer term strategy for addressing the impact of the pandemic on all students, but especially those from vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds. Schools North East will continue to campaign on these issues, and will shortly be publishing our own recommendations for a long term education strategy as we move out of the pandemic.