Major challenges ahead for schools in poorer areas

With educational inequalities having widened during lockdown, the IFS is warning that schools serving more deprived pupils face major challenges over the next few years.

Schools serving more deprived pupils in England have already seen the largest falls in spending per pupil over the last decade. School spending per pupil in England fell by nine per cent in real terms between 2009–10 and 2019–20. Accounting for expected increases in teacher pay, the real-terms increase in spending per pupil will be lower, at six per cent. Moving forwards, the government’s new National Funding Formula will deliver funding increases of three–four percentage points less to schools in poorer areas than to those in more affluent areas up to 2021.

The IFS says that these patterns run counter to the objective of levelling up poorer regions of the country and will make it harder to address the educational challenges and inequalities resulting from coronavirus. In response, only the new £250 million National Tutoring Programme is targeted at more deprived schools, representing just 0.5 per cent of school funding.

Given lost schooling and a likely widening of educational inequalities during lockdown, the government has announced a range of measures to help schools face these challenges. These include a one-off extra £80 per pupil aged five–16 and a national tutoring programme. According to the IFS, only the National Tutoring Programme is targeted at more disadvantaged pupils. It is also not at a scale that will allow schools to address the inequalities that have widened during lockdown.

Luke Sibieta, Research Fellow at IFS, said: “Schools in poorer areas of England face significant challenges over the next few years, with a likely widening of educational inequalities during lockdown and higher costs associated with higher teacher starting salaries. However, schools with more deprived pupils have seen the largest falls in spending over recent years and are set to see smaller funding increases than schools in more affluent areas from the government’s new funding formula. Most of the Covid catch-up funding will be spread across all schools, regardless of disadvantage. This provides a strong case for greater targeting of additional funding to more deprived schools.”