We are crying out for a fairer Pupil Premium deal

On the Sunday morning of conference, the Liberal Democrats will present our plan for education, ahead of the next General Election, with an exciting array of new announcements, today, I want to focus on the most important one, reducing inequality of outcome in education, a policy problem that has only been exacerbated by covid.

Since the 1800’s, people have been tirelessly campaigning for a fair education settlement, for liberals this comes down to our core principles that no one should be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.

Nothing encapsulates this more than our very real change we achieved in government, the Pupil Premium, a system of targeted funding to disadvantaged pupils.

Alongside the expansion of Free School Meals, the introduction of Pupil Premium worked as an effective incubator for social mobility. When introduced by the Liberal Democrats in the 2010-15 government, figures showed that attainment between advantaged and disadvantaged students narrowed by 4%, with the Sutton Trust calling for Pupil Premium to be the key lever in narrowing the attainment gap.

However, since the Liberal Democrats left government in 2015, the Conservatives, left without the likes of David Laws checking their worst excesses, have introduced real term cuts to the Pupil Premium. With figures from the excellent Teach First showing that since 2015-16, Pupil Premium has not kept up with inflation. These real term cuts fall on those who need it the most, including children in care, which is a textbook definition of callous conservatism.

The real term fall in Pupil Premium is recognised as causing significant problems with Schools Minister Nick Gibb admitting that the attainment gap is not closing fast enough. Which in typical Gibb fashion, is a realistic assessment of the scenario. This isn’t something however, to be analysed and wept over, it is a call for action so that no child is left behind.

Too often, disadvantaged groups are overlooked when the government makes policy and education is an area where the impact of real term cuts has the worst impact.

This is why the Liberal Democrats are bringing our plan for a fair funding arrangement using pupil premium to conference in September, because we recognise that the closest solution resembling a silver bullet to the disadvantage gap in education is a fully effective Pupil Premium.

* Callum Robertson is a teacher and former Chair of the Young Liberals

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Sandy Smith 23rd Aug '23 - 7:44am

    The poverty related attainment gap exists because of two types of poverty. Financial poverty (ie deprivation) can be mitigated to some extent by targeted pupil premium money. Cultural poverty, including parental attitudes towards the importance of education, is much more difficult to address and probably accounts for more of the gap.

  • Steve Trevethan 23rd Aug '23 - 8:45am

    Might cultural poverty be related to financial poverty?

    Might some in power and/or seeking power wish and work to minimise the likelihood of an astute, analytical future citizenry?

  • Alan Sherwell 23rd Aug '23 - 10:32am

    Financial poverty is one contributor to cultural poverty but only one and Pupil Premium does not/cannot alleviate the former. What PP does is give schools some tools to help tackle both and, in my experience as a chair of governors, it can be effective in that – if only partially. One example would be providing extra staff time to identify pupils’ individual needs and start to tackle their individual barriers to learning more effectively. What schools can’t do is tackle all society’s problems, which too many people (largely but not exclusively outside the LDs) seem to think they should

  • Tristan Ward 23rd Aug '23 - 11:47am

    Our core principles also include promoting liberty, equality and community.

  • David Garlick 24th Aug '23 - 7:37pm

    A great education can go a long way to bring about cultural change as required here. If fighting for a finacial survival is the main goal then cultural change is much more difficult to contemplate let alone achieve.

  • Peter Hirst 25th Aug '23 - 2:10pm

    Free School Meals is an excellent way of providing for those who might be disadvantaged. Others might include breakfast clubs, after school activites, catch ups and having a personal mentor. Each could be accessed by applying with no criteria other than to improve educational attainment.

  • Jason Connor 26th Aug '23 - 3:17pm

    Wasn’t it the coalition government that got rid of EMAs (Education Maintenance Allowances). These allowed young people from poorer families to stay in further education? I don’t actually think this party’s record was that great in government when it comes to helping disadvantaged groups. David Laws was revered by the Conservatives for his austerity measures, even more than their own MPs.

  • Peter Davies 27th Aug '23 - 9:01am

    At the time, the argument was that there were better ways to use a limited education budget. It’s almost certainly true though whether it was spent in better ways is arguable. I would argue that support for 16-19 year olds is a matter for the benefits system and should not be part of the education budget. As things stand, those still in full time education earn their parents Child Benefit and additional Universal Credit unless they have two younger siblings. Those not in education are rarely eligible for benefits. That means a small EMA is effectively still in place but it only works if the teenager is motivated by contributing to the family budget.

    We are committed to removing the two child rule which would help but we need a comprehensive policy for the funding of young adults that recognises their semi-detatched status. They have their own budgets but remain a cost and sometimes contributor to household budgets. It should make it possible to stay in full-time education or training while retaining a degree of financial independance. At the same time it should not stifle the ambition of those who choose to work.

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