The pupil premium is simply unfair

19th March, 2012 3:29 pm

According to Michael Gove, the pupil premium “goes to every child eligible for free school meals and is allocated precisely according to need”. He is correct on the first point, but very much wrong on the second. If the premium is allocated precisely according to need, it is surprising that the area getting the largest increase in their allocation this year is Rutland (8% of children living in poverty), while the smallest increase goes to the Wirral (26% of children in poverty). There is a clear relationship, which you can see here – the poorer the area, the smaller the increase in the pupil premium.

A policy that aims to get more money into schools with the poorest pupils is doing the exact opposite. On average, an English education authority, with 22% of children living in poverty, will receive a 79% increase in their main pupil premium allocation this year. This sounds good. However, delving into the details suggests something quite strange. The ten areas with the largest pupil premium increases are mostly southern and comfortable areas with child poverty rates well below the national average. The ten areas with the smallest increases (ignoring the Isles of Scilly) are all urban areas in London or the north, with child poverty rates well above the national average.

The government’s flagship education policy is rolled out at every available opportunity by the Lib Dems as evidence of why it is important to have them in the coalition. Yet the way it works in practice is very obviously unfair. Of the 68 areas getting a below-average increase, 46 have above-average levels of child poverty. Of the 82 areas getting an above-average increase, 55 have below-average levels of child poverty. Poorer, metropolitan, areas are getting less than richer, generally southern, areas – how can that be fair? How can a policy which aims to benefit the poorest be growing at a faster rate for the rich than for the poor?

The problem lies in the way the premium is calculated. This year, it has been increased to a flat £600 per eligible pupil, with no adjustment made for poor pupils living in relatively expensive areas (such as London). Eligible pupils are those who have been entitled to free school meals at any time in the last six years. Like much of the government’s rhetoric, this sounds superficially fair, but the reality is much more complicated and much less fair.

Using free school meals as the only indicator of poverty benefits relatively well-off areas in the south with stable pockets of poor people – exactly the areas that will see the biggest increases in their pupil premium this year. It militates against London, the north and metropolitan areas. A policy which aims to discriminate positively in fact has the opposite effect.

The Lib Dems have made much of their “fairness premium”, but a look at their Ministers’ own constituencies reveals the fairness problem. Sarah Teather, the Schools Minister, sees her schools in Brent receiving an increase 13% less than the average, while 10% more children in Brent live in poverty than the English average. It is the same pattern – the poorest areas receive the smallest increases.

This policy needs a serious re-think. It is totally unacceptable for Ministers to pose as the guardians of fairness and equity while their flagship policy shovels more money to richer areas than to poorer ones. It shows how out of touch Ministers are when their own constituencies are victims of their policies, yet they fail to realise it. Nobody can argue with the idea of a pupil premium that targets funding at the poorest, allowing young people to catch up with their more fortunate peers. However, this policy has the opposite effect.

When I asked the Education Secretary why richer areas were getting more pupil premium money than poorer areas, he denied that this happened. He needs to understand his policy, and then he needs to change it.

David Lammy is MP for Tottenham

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  • Someone who aspires to speak about education should learn the difference between a stock and a flow before using statistics to make his case. You should either be looking at the numbers in poverty in Rutland and the Wirral and the levels of pupil premium, or the change in the numbers in poverty and the change in pupil premium spending. You can’t compare one of one with one of the other.

    Or perhaps you did know that you were using a bogus comparison, but thought people wouldn’t notice.

  • AnotherOldBoy

    We owe Mr Lammy MP thanks for having shown on the table to which he provides the link that the total spent on the pupil premium is due to rise from £594,168,000 in 2011-12 to £1,063,596,000, a total increase of £469,428,000 or 79%.

    Those wicked, wicked Tories!   And naughty, naughty LibDems!  How dare they increase the sums going to the education of the poorest pupils? It just shows that they are led by a bunch of out-of-touch toffs who wreak their havock through their unwitting stooges like Mr Gove, who clearly is bent on introducing an elitist education for the few rather than trying to ensure that those from the poorest families have some chance in life.

    How wicked of them to keep the increase in Mr Lammy’s own Haringey to a paltry 67%!

    Of course the reality is that Mr Gove and his acolytes are doing a splended job and it is ridiculous of Mr Lammy to complain as he does.

    • Jeremy_Preece


      Hang on – I am just checking the web adderss at the top of the page – I seem to have strayed onto a Tory web-site.

    • Slakah

      Yes they are increasing the Pupil Premium, but they are also cutting the general education budget by 14.4% . Strikes me as not too dissimilar to those companies which double their prices before a half price sale. David Lammy has every right to scrutinise what is a reduction in the cut aimed at those from a poorer background. That’s the remit of the pupil premium and if it doesn’t deliver that effectively as it could do then we should point that out.

      • James3010

        sorry Slakah but i can no more accept a guardian “fact” any more than i can the daily wail, they are the mirror of each other and both require a pinch of salt.

  • GuyM

    Ummm I’m getting more and more confused here.

    So Labour is in favour of a regional benefits cap level and now in favour of a varying pupil premium based upon expense of an area.


    Is against a regional pay structure for the public sector (despite the private sector always having worked this way).

    To say Labour policy seems once again to be totally at odds with itself is an understatement.

  • externalities

    It’s odd that you are comparing 2012/13 to 11/12, rather than comparing either to before the pupil premium was introduced.

    FullFact looked at this issue (

    “So why have these areas seen a larger increase?
    …since last year, the Government has widened the cohort of pupils
    eligible for the Premium.

    While in 2011/12, the recipients in the ‘Deprivation’ category were
    those who received Free School Meals, in 2012/13 this was widened to
    include pupils who had received FSM at some point in the last six years.
    The extension was made following a consultation in which the six-year
    rule was the preferred option.

    Along with an increase in the Deprivation allocation from £488 per
    pupil last year to the current £600, this sees around 555,000 more
    pupils eligible for the Premium. It is from this increase that Surrey,
    Devon and Oxfordshire have seen their relatively large increases.”

    Why didn’t you mention that the two years you’re comparing have seen this big change in eligibility?

  • UKAzeri

    I looked in more detail at the table and it seems to confirm David Lammy’s analysis.  Some high cuts are particular, areas like Wirral have received uncharacteristically big cuts. I have expressed funding as a % of the total fund. The right hand side shows that certain areas have been cut. The changes show that though pretty much in most cases, the government used a particular mechanism to arrive with this allocation in some a specific decision was made to allocate more or less. Birmingham for example loses over 40 % of its funding level ( though like for like is obviously more). There is no denying that the coalition having increased spending   ( though Emas, child benefit etc), did so at the expense of poorer areas.   

    Unfortunatly the table is not posting properly …

    • AnotherOldBoy

      I don’t think you did look at the table in more or, indeed, any detail.  Had you done so, you would have seen that there are no cuts at all.  There are increases.
      For example, Birmingham gets an increase of £16,901.113 (40%) and Wirral £2,659,000 (46%).

      Try again!

      • Slakah

        So are you denying the overall cut to the educational budget?

        • GuyM

          Are you denying the Labour manifesto pledge to cut all budgets?

          Or have we a disciple of the two Eds?

          “Yes we need to cut the deficit but no we don’t agree with any coalition cut, but we would cut oursleves except we can’t quite tell you how.”

          • UKAzeri

            We are fully commited to the coalitions’ austerity programme. This has been spelled out more than once…

            Now lets talk about the important stuff, the 1% and how we going to get our money back :)))) in order to reverse this cuts.

          • Hugh

             Okay, let’s – the top 1% pay £47 billion a year to the Treasury. Net borrowing in 2011 was £122 bn. So, as long as we can find a way to triple the tax take from the top 1% that should sort it. I think it might need a marginal rate of over 100%, though.

          • UKAzeri

            Hugh, I actually started reading a book today called “The Political Brain” ( Drew Westen) in order to try and understand why you, clearly not being one of the 1%, choose to defend them and more importantly belive that the economic mantra they propogate has anything to do with economics rather than good old theft.

            The gurdian today ran a piece about the proposed corporate tax breaks in tomorrow’s budget, have a look …

          • Hugh

             I’m touched you feel so concerned for me. Did your book explain how to tackle a deficit that is, at a guess, higher than the entire take home pay of that 1%?

            As it is, I don’t defend the 1%; most are,  to a greater or lesser extent, overpaid – both in the public and private sector (more than most here are willing to say). It’s just that the 99 percenters arguments are a little short on detail as to how much exactly they think they’re going to be able to tax them to enable us to send the entire population to university, enjoy 50 year retirements and subsidise the pensions and in some cases homes of selected 1 percenters  (such as union leaders, for example).

          • UKAzeri

            The answer to your question is easy, it’s called TAX. The level of tax to be more precise. To be even more precise the level of tax before Thatcher and Regan.
            In terms of deficit, a good example is Clinton administration. When Clinton left the office, US had a surplus!!! A surplus!!  Then came in tax breaks by Bush and the rest is history. Furthermore business has failed to live up to ‘expectations’ of growth to plug the tax gap. So there you have it…
            But look how they make you evaluate things in terms of the deficit. After WW2 we had a far bigger deficit than today and yet NHS was created.
            Most importantly, you refer to both the 1% and the 99% as ‘them’. May I ask which part of society you belong to? (I am genuinely interested!!)

          • Hugh

             Yes, and wasn’t the post war period a breeze? Okay, we had rationing for quite a number of years, but hey ho.

            Thatcher ran a surplus in 1988 to 1990. Blair in ’98 to 2001 (under Conservative spending plans). So what? I can’t be bothered to look it up, but at a guess tax rates under Clinton were somewhat below the UK’s now.

            Finally, what level of tax are we talking about then “precisely”? 95%? And, roughly, how much do you think that is going to bring in? Given the figures mentioned earlier, it seems pretty clear to me that even if the 1% ignore Laffer entirely and commit to purely lemming like behaviour you will still be no where near wiping out the deficit.

            Forget economics; a cursory thought about the politics would suggest it’s unlikely that if it were possible to pay for the entire country simply by taxing 1% of the population no one would have taken up that election winning formula. Yet no one has.

            Less importantly, I earn more than someone on JSA and less than Ken Livingstone, so I’m part of the 99, comrade.

          • UKAzeri

            the rate of tax is just one measure. Tax evasion and avoidence is one of the key factors in diminishing returns. hence when i refer to taxation as key to resolving the deficit and general funding issues, I mean taxation in its entirety.

            I am not going to pretend that I am an economist with a ready made answer so as to the level of top rate tax but wil admit that i am happy with what it is now. We need further tightning of avoidence schemes or alternatiovly the said schemes must be widely available to the rest of us 🙂 (naturally followd by dire consequences).

            BTW the point about the NHS still stands unless ofcourse you are saying rationing was cause by NHS costs 🙂

            Finally comrade 🙂 you and me pay far greater proportion of our income in tax. Take into account VAT, road tax etc ….

          • Hugh

             I’ve replied above.

          • UKAzeri

            perhaps I should seek to use spell check more often :)))

          • Hugh

             I’m touched you feel so concerned for me. Did your book explain how to tackle a deficit that is, at a guess, higher than the entire take home pay of that 1%?

            As it is, I don’t defend the 1%; most are,  to a greater or lesser extent, overpaid – both in the public and private sector (more than most here are willing to say). It’s just that the 99 percenters arguments are a little short on detail as to how much exactly they think they’re going to be able to tax them to enable us to send the entire population to university, enjoy 50 year retirements and subsidise the pensions and in some cases homes of selected 1 percenters  (such as union leaders, for example).

        • AnotherOldBoy

          No, I am not saying anything about the overall educational budget.  I am commenting on the points being made by Mr Lammy MP and (in this case, entirely wrongly) UKAzeri.

      • UKAzeri

        “…this changes after the increase, the changes …” I acknowledge an overall increase to this particular programme. A mature evaluation of the whole issue cannot ignore the cancellations of other programmes such as EMA. To look at it in isolation is to ultimately disrespect the voters. We shed that Tory tradition with Tony’s departure…
        If we look at this year’s funding commitments as a percentage of the total pool, then in comparison to last year, Wirral has a decrease of 0.18% and Birmingham 0.41%. Hence as I pointed out the changes are less dramatic but they ‘lean’ in the same direction as the increases. The question is why? Could it be i anticipation of large scale demographic shifts that their benefit policy is aiming to achieve?

        • AnotherOldBoy

          Pathetic stuff.  You cannot turn increases of 40% and 46% into cuts or disguise your own failure to read Mr Lammy’s table properly.

          • UKAzeri

            “Pathetic stuff.”  what’s next “come down dear”?  :)))
            This is not Eaton’s playing  fields you know… you have to actually make arguments !! You conveniently don’t want to discuss EMA etc ….
            If other programs remained, this extra funding would have been welcomed by all. They effectively knocked down a house and instead built a shed, presenting it as a substantial increase in comparison to life on a dirt patch….

          • AnotherOldBoy

            It’s Eton, not Eaton.

            I wanted to discuss the fact that you claimed to have subjected Mr Lammy’s table in detal, but got it completely wrong.

            I see you have now “edited” your original post (which was, of course, completely wrong) to remove the claim to have looked at Mr Lammy’s table and have replaced it with a claim to having done your own research.

            Now that really is pathetic!

          • UKAzeri

            I took the table and manipulated the data  to understand how this years funding level compares to the last in relation to the whole fund.

            I ‘edited’ my orginal post 22 hours, long before you read it.. hence perhaps before point out spelling mistakes and calling others pathetic, you should learn how to read …

            BTW i can email the spreadsheet if you want, though I must warn you that in addition to reading it requires some basic maths skills to undertsand, hence you might find it … whats the word I am looking for …. pathetic


  • Ed

    Lammy is an utter charlatan, trying to trick people into confusing the absolute level of the premium (definitely highest in poor areas) with the year-on-year change. Does he think people are stupid? Does he have no better arguments?

  • mikestallard

    Quite right – reduce the number of free school dinners all over the country to match those in the North. Education is not about free meals. It is about treating people – parents and children – as individuals whose future needs we are trying to meet by increasing their awareness of real life.
    Allow me to remind you that we are already spending billions of pounds to the bankers to repay our trillion ( pound debt.

  • Hugh

    “I mean taxation in its entirety.” You may well mean tax in its entirety; I’m suggesting that it looks fairly likely that if you take their earnings above 100k in their entirety it’s still likely to fall short of the numbers you’re trying for.

    And,  yes, they did create the NHS in the post war period. That rather underlines the fact that it, and a hundred other things that contribute to the current deficit were not problems they faced.

    As for the ridiculous notion that there might be some connection between NHS costs and rationing, well, here’s Wikipedia: “Rationing continued after the end of the war in 1945… At the time this was presented as needed to feed people in European
    areas under British control, whose economies had been devastated by the
    fighting. This was partly true, but with a large number of British men still
    mobilised in the armed forces, an austere economic climate, and a
    centrally-planned economy under the post-war Labour government,
    resources were not available to expand food production and imports.”

    • UKAzeri

      lol … so it was the central planning and the evil NHS that was to blame not the War … I am sorry but we are now entering the realm of US/Tea party style, politcs debate and i find this kind of exchange too stressful.
      Neither of us will pursuade the other and to be fare in many ways my position is irrelevant  🙂 Consumers dont see validity in values that are not expressed in £s….

      • Hugh

        I don’t think David Kynaston, author of  Austerity Britain, 1945-1951, (book of the decade for the Sunday Times) is a teapartier. Nor am I being overly consumerist in wanting to discuss what is essentially an economic question (whether simply taxing the rich can avoid the need for tax cuts) in economic terms. If I am, though, I’ll take comfort form the fact that there’s a lot of us consumers about, since no country to my knowledge has concluded it can avoid cutting spending by simply tapping the 1%.

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