Teather: Pupil Premium is a real Liberal Democrat achievement

I came into politics to make a difference for the most disadvantaged in our society. It is over three years since I, as Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, championed the Pupil Premium as our flagship education policy and debated it at Conference. I never dared imagine a time when I would be unveiling it as Government policy and then actually implementing it. But this week, the Coalition Government announced that a Pupil Premium, funded from outside the schools budget, will be introduced next September. It will mean that from next year, schools taking disadvantaged children will get the additional money they need to provide them with the extra support they deserve, no matter where they are in the country. This could mean more individual tuition or catch-up classes, but it will be for the school to decide, we won’t be telling headteachers how to spend the money.

This is a real Liberal Democrat achievement. It was the centrepiece of our education policy during the election campaign, and it is now being implemented in Government. While the Conservatives had a similar policy, it was the Liberal Democrats who pushed for it to be funded from outside the schools budget, and for it to feature specifically in the coalition agreement. And it’s no secret that it was one of the sticking points of the negotiations with Labour – they simply refused to agree to it. I find this shocking – a policy designed to support the most vulnerable in our society and give them the chances that other children have – rejected by the Labour Party. If any of us ever needed another example of Labour’s complete failure to represent the most poor, and the emptiness of their rhetoric, this is it. Make no mistake, it is the Liberal Democrats who are now the party for the most disadvantaged, championing policies like the Pupil Premium in opposition, placing them at the heart of our manifesto, and making them happen in government.

Liberal Democrats are committed to the Pupil Premium because we understand that education can be a key driver of social mobility. But it is shameful that we still have an education system which too often perpetuates inequality rather than tackles it. The poorest children are only half as likely to leave school with 5 good GCSEs than their better-off classmates. The Pupil Premium will help in tackling Labour’s failure to break the link between social background and performance at school, opening up opportunities for children regardless of where they are born.

The Coalition Government is now consulting on the way in which the premium should be implemented. The consultation includes options for how deprivation should be calculated

  • in relation to children on Free School Meals
  • in relation to tax credits
  • by using marketing classifications like MOSAIC or ACORN
  • And it includes questions about other groups who might benefit, such as children in care or children of those serving in the armed forces, and raises the issue of how it could be extended to cover children in the early years. We are determined that it has the best possible impact and I urge you to get involved in the consultation and to give the Department for Education your views.

    This week the Coalition Government’s Academies Bill will also become law. In my view the Liberal Democrats have long been opponents of the “command and control” way that Labour managed the school system, and in favour of more freedom for schools, a more strategic role for Local Authorities, reformed pay and conditions and more flexibility for headteachers to run their schools as they and their communities think best. And, by working within the Coalition, Liberal Democrat members of the House of Lords have been able to secure important protections for the most vulnerable, such as children with Special Educational Needs, that we could not have done from the Opposition benches. This is what coalition means – the Academies Bill is a flagship Conservative policy and the pupil premium is a flagship Liberal Democrat policy – and they are both part of our programme for Government.

    Outside the glare of the public spotlight, in my role as Minister for Children and Families, I am also leading many other changes that the Liberal Democrats have fought for as part of our pledge to make sure every child gets a fair start in life. In the last few weeks we have started to review the Early Years Foundation Stage, to plan changes to make the system for children with Special Educational Needs fairer, extended free childcare and begun to consider how to tackle the commercialisation of children. I am working with Ministers across Government to deliver on the Coalition’s commitment to end child poverty in the UK by 2020, and am part of the Prime Minister’s Taskforce on Childhood and Families – focused on removing the barriers to a stable and secure family life for families of all shapes and sizes.

    There is no doubt that these are difficult times to be in Government. The financial legacy left by Labour means that we will simply not be able to afford to do all the things we would like to do. But I am clear, by being in Government and working hard, the Liberal Democrats can make a real difference.

    I want Britain to be a fairer, more liberal place. For the first time in generations the Liberal Democrats are now making real progress towards achieving this goal.

    Sarah Teather is the Liberal Democrat MP for Brent Central and the Minister of State for Children & Families.

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    This entry was posted in Op-eds.


    • Hi Sarah.

      A thoughtful and well-written piece – but I will abstain from celebrating wildly too much yet. Why?
      It will mean that from next year, schools taking disadvantaged children will get the additional money they need to provide them with the extra support they deserve, no matter where they are in the country
      Question 1. How much, per pupil, will the premium be? Will it be variable or a straight payment? Your figure pre-GE was £2.5bn. Roughly £960 per pupil per year, if targeted at one third of the school population? Not a great deal now – likely to be a whole lot less after Govey gets his claws into it.

      Question 2. What is the LD preference for the funding implementation. Consultation has shown to be weak under the Coalition (re: Academies bill) therefore excuse my cynicism.

      Question 3. How many pupils will benefit? I know this links to 2 but there must be a definition of success

      Question 4. How will the funding be linked to the growing number of pupils in the primary years – and surplus places in secondary?

      Question 5. What is going to be cut to fund it. If it’s tax credits, you could begin to feel more satisfied in your role. If it’s other school or LA budgets – you’ve made too many concessions yet again to your Tory master.

      This is a real Liberal Democrat achievement
      Correction. It may be a real achievement. Until we see the figures and how schools can apply the additional funding it is too soon to draw such a conclusion.

      The Academies bill. You paint it as a LD concession to allow the Tories to concede the pupil premium. If so, this is a dreadful strategic mistake on your part. The Academies bill is an erroneous and cheap piece of legislation which in comparison with the Pupil Premium – is regressive and ill-advised and will without doubt make our educational system less fair. Most educationalists, given a choice, would dismiss the Academies bill if it meant not having the Pupil Premium. But as you did not consult on the former – the latter is coming regardless.

      I hope that the PP is both substantial and protected from future cuts. I hope that you truly consult on it and listen to the obvious concerns of parents and educators – 12 weeks is not a great deal of time to understand concerns. I hope that you get around the problem of schools hoarding the money to protect themselves from your boss’ outlandish + draconian budget cuts to the schools budget. I hope that you don’t concede yet more from this policy in an effort to ensure you have some clear LD legislation on the books. I hope that you understand the research from the US on diminishing returns on targeted funding for poorer students.

      Overall – I hope you don’t force through a policy to give you a boost in the pools at the further expense of the British education system. The scrapping of BSF + the Academies bill have done enough damage in the 11 weeks you’ve been in power.

    • The pupil premium was a Tory policy pre election too.

    • Andrea Gill 27th Jul '10 - 3:51pm

      @AJ – read the article, she said as much but said that during the negotiations it was Lib Dems who won the concession that it would be funded from outside the school budget

    • Paul Pettinger 27th Jul '10 - 4:18pm

      Hi Sarah,

      Thank you for being open and coming on to Lib Dem Voice and also for differentiating between the Conservative’s flag ship Academies Bill and our flagship pupil premium policy.

      While it is important for the sake of the Coalition that Liberal Democrat MPs and Minster are loyal to the Government, it is also important that we keep our identity and are open about what policies and legislation are of a Conservative origin and what has been put forward because of the Liberal Democrat presence in the coalition.

      Turning to an issue of education policy, will the Department for Education review the laws that require all maintained schools to provide their pupils with mandatory daily collective worship of wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character? These laws are a gross infringement upon enlightenment values, as they deny children true freedom of religion and belief, by constantly presenting them with just one viewpoint. The laws are also ignored by a great many schools, which is a very unhealthy state for a democracy, while in others they are rigidly enforced. Sometimes a school’s approach to collective worship will change with the change of a head teacher and/or governors, so suddenly a school that provided inclusive assemblies may begin providing ones that overtly instructional, to the consternation of some parents and children.

      Earlier this month Julian Huppert tabled an Early Day Motion, which called for the laws around collective worship to be replaced with a requirement that schools provide inclusive assemblies that focus on shared values (see http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=41335&SESSION=905). There is a remarkable amount of common ground between the different religions, as well as also non-religious belief systems (see the Golden Rule: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Golden_Rule). Assemblies that are built on commonly shared moral and ethical considerations are far more educationally sound and appropriate in our increasingly diverse society. I notice with interest that repealing the laws that require daily collective worship in schools have become one of the most popular laws to repeal on Nick Clegg’s recently launched your freedom website ((http://yourfreedom.hmg.gov.uk/repealing-unnecessary-laws/scrap-law-that-says-school-must-hold-collective-worship).

      Will the Department for Education review the out dated and (in my humble opinion) overtly illiberal arrangements around collective worship in state schools

    • But why announce it on the day the Academies Bill gets final approval so that it gets drowned out by a more major education story?

    • Dominic Curran 27th Jul '10 - 4:22pm

      That’s all well and good, Sarah, but do you honestly believe, in your heart of hearts, that the Bill rushed though parliament with unseemly haste this week is a ‘good thing’ for our schools? Do you really believe that the Free Schools policy is a good thing, won’t take money away form existing schools and disrupt LEAs’ abilities to plan? Your article neatly sidestepped taking a view on that while smartly rubbishing Labour’s centralist approach. So we and the Tories agree on what was wrong and you push that, but disagree on the solution, which you’re silent on. I think we as a party need to realise that we can and should be vocal about our disagreement with Tory/Coaltion policy and show weary resignation with having to vote for it. That will make us look a little less willing to change our views at the merest sniff of power (not that i think we have, but that is undeniably the perception).

    • David Allen 27th Jul '10 - 4:46pm

      I hold no brief for Labour, but, I’m surprised that a progressive policy would have actually upset them so much as to become a sticking point in negotiations. Was it just the concept of a pupil premium they didn’t like, I wonder? Or did it come attached to other more controversial concepts, such as expanding parental choice, reducing the powers of local authorities, changing the admissions code, or indeed, expanding the academies programme in the way that the coalition government has now adopted?

    • While I welcome the pupil premium, as Cuse points out this is not yet an achievement. The amount and the use to which the funding is put will make all the difference. It is also worth noting that it is not focused on underachieving pupils. More than half of pupils entitled to FSM already achieve national standards in all core subjects in primary. If the premium is balanced by removal of Labour’s funding for one to one tuition (600,000 pupils this year) then many of the poorest underachieving pupils may actually be in a worse position. Can you confirm that this is not your intention?

      Your claim that you achieved more concessions on the Academies Bill working within the coalition is frankly ludicrous. If the LibDems were sitting on the opposition benches, this terrible piece of legislation would never have had a chance of becoming law! I know the Anti-Academies Alliance have already written to you to remind you of your personal promise to oppose the expansion of academies in government so it is not worth reproducing here. However, I must point out that the government’s continual refusal, throughout the process, to include parental consultation ahead of a decision to switch to academy status is a democratic outrage – and it is no excuse that Labour was often similarly undemocratic.

    • So, there’s no involvement of parents or the community in the decision to become an academy, you’re supporting the expensive ‘free school’ opt-put. and you’re piloting a Tory policy to introduce school vouchers (sorry, pupil premium). Well done! When you say you came into politics to help the most disadvantaged, did that mean freezing or cutting their benefits, or just merely dismantling a universal education system for their children? Lovely. What principles!

    • Giles Andrewes 28th Jul '10 - 3:59pm

      Yet another bonkers idea. What has educational achievement got to do with how much money you spend? Let’s not give the Eton example because it does not wash. The attainment of children is directly linked to the parents because without supportive parents no amount of one-to-one education will improve the child’s education.

      The pupil premium, like Academies, is a Tory policy that they have waited years to introduce – vouchers. You have now set up the process of money following the child that they will expand across the school system and you are but one step away from parents using their vouchers in the Academies/Independent sector. Why do you think Gove was so desperate to adopt the policy during the election?

      Sarah Teather is a credit to the Tory party and all those past Tories who tried to introduce this policy but were shot down by the left as being evil, The Tories have now found their fall girl.

      To think I campaigned to get this bunch of fools elected.

      In any case, I thought David Laws claimed he invented this idea.

    • [academies]
      “flexibility for headteachers to run their schools as they and their communities think best.”

      uhh excuse me ???

      so we can allow some little hitlers to run around and treat their staff like rubbish and have no redress… some people must think that its all a bed of roses for some teachers in schools these days.. teacher bully other teachers.. heads bully other teachers…. this will make it worse not better..

      it’s all becoming lost in a ‘government line’ these days…. try having your own opinion for once

    • Could you answer this question honestly,i know that word isn’t in the lib dem lexican but please try,did you know that when Gove said over a thousand schools had applied for academy status that he was lying?

    • Ian mitchell 3rd Aug '10 - 11:30pm

      “I came into politics to make a difference for the most disadvantaged in our society.”

      Get out of bed with the tories then

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