Pupil premium being used to plug budget cuts, say heads
Schools are using money intended to support poor pupils to plug gaps caused by budget cuts, say head teachers.
More than 80% of heads say the "pupil premium" has been absorbed by funding shortfalls, according to a National Association of Head Teachers survey.
Many doubted that the government's flagship fund, designed to sustain the poorest pupils through school life, would improve their performance.
But the government said schools should not need to use it for other purposes.
Of 2,000 heads questioned, around a third said the premium equalled the value of cuts elsewhere in their budget. Just over half said it had not even made up for the losses.
Only 14.3% said the premium was greater than the value of other reductions in their schools' budgets.
The £600 pupil premium, a key initiative for the coalition government, is extra funding which follows the poorest children as they move schools in England.
It is given to pupils who are eligible for free school meals with the aim of closing the achievement gap between rich and poor.
It means that schools with large numbers of pupils on free school meals will receive more money but other schools will get less.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the head-teachers' association, the NAHT, said: "The pupil premium seems to us to be the right thing to do as a concept... but in today's climate it is simply redistributing funds in the system, not adding more."
He said it could be argued that it was extra money for the poorest pupils, but he added: "Some children will get less as a result... You could argue that's fine and they need it less."
A government spokeswoman said: "The pupil premium has been designed specifically to help schools to improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.
"We have protected the overall schools budget in cash terms so there should be no need for schools to use the premium for anything other than this purpose. The premium itself has doubled this year and is set to double again by 2014-15 when it will be worth £2.5bn."
Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg called for clearer accountability to ensure resources were effectively targeted at the poorest pupils.
"The government promised that the pupil premium would help the poorest pupils do better.
"But the reality on the ground is that it is merely a fig leaf for the biggest cuts to education funding since the 1950s."
Uniforms and lunches
Some heads said they put the money towards paying for extra teachers, support staff and extra tuition for individuals or small groups.
Others used it for books and computers or for trips and extra-curricular activities for the poorest pupils. Some put it towards uniforms and lunches.
Mr Hobby said: "By and large the front-line budget is stable, but that's with the pupil premium included in it.
"Where the education budget is disappearing is at local authority level, where they are cutting 30-40% over the next few years."
Mr Hobby said the areas being cut by local authorities were music tuition and special-needs support, which schools were now buying in themselves.
The survey was carried out online for the Press Association by the NAHT earlier this year.
From September schools will have to publish information on how they spent the pupil premium and detailing the impact of the spending.