The IFS’s verdict on the Pupil Premium

At the start of this week details of the Pupil Premium to help the education of the most disadvantaged children were published. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has now run its eye over those details and come up with its verdict:

Pupil premium: simple and transparent financial incentive

The Government’s chosen pupil premium is simple, amounting to £430 per pupil eligible for free school meals no matter which local authority children live in. The Government originally proposed a pupil premium that would have varied in generosity across local authorities, been relatively complex to understand, and gone against the Government’s stated aim of evening out differences in funding for deprived pupils. In a welcome move, the actual pupil premium announced this week will be much simpler and more transparent, potentially sharpening the financial incentives generated by the pupil premium.

Welcoming simplicity over giving extra support to particular parts of the country is more than a mere technical evaluation, highlighting how the IFS’s views on topics quickly stray into areas of political debate – even if in this case, I think they are right about the importance of simplicity, a much underrated feature of policies.

The IFS also look at the change in funding levels, with more pupils qualifying for the Pupil Premium than previously planned but the payment per head reduced as a result:

The pupil premium is lower than expected. The main reason given is that the Department for Education are now expecting a large increase in the number of children registered for free school meals, from 17.4% of pupils in January 2010 to about 20% in January 2011 (it is the number of pupils registered with their school for free school meals on 20 January 2011 that will determine precise allocations of pupil premium funding in 2011-12). This 15% increase in children registered for free school meals is significantly larger than has taken place in recent years, and is expected to arise through the stronger financial incentive generated by the pupil premium for schools to ensure all pupils entitled to free school meals are indeed registered as such with the school (i.e. the increase is amongst children in households with incomes low enough to qualify for free school meals, but who are simply not registered at present).

Getting more children who are already in theory entitled to free school meals registered for them sounds like it may be a helpful knock-on result of the policy, though file away this explanation as there is a fair chance an increase in the number of children will at some point be quoted as if it is bad news rather than a result of a welcome increase in take-up.

You can read the full IFS policy note here.

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