Shellina Prendergast, Kent County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, has sent the following letter to The Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP, Secretary of State for Education, urging the Government to commit more funding to support the education of disadvantaged pupils who have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dear Secretary of State
RE: Pupil Premium
I am writing following my appointment as Cabinet Member for Education and Skills for Kent County Council to raise my concerns regarding educational support for disadvantaged pupils, particularly those eligible for free school meals.
Kent’s commitment to narrowing the attainment gap between these pupils and their peers was highlighted in the Grammar Schools and Social Mobility Select Committee published in June 2016 Microsoft Word – Select Committee on Grammar Schools and Social Mobility Report – June 2016 – FINAL (kent.gov.uk) and the Pupil Premium Select Committee Report published in July 2018 Pupil Premium Select Committee (kent.gov.uk). Work has been underway to implement the recommendations.
Over time a range of support has been provided to schools, particularly those with the widest achievement gaps. For example, the West Kent Pupil Premium Project, distribution of Pupil Premium toolkits, Pupil Premium reviews and intervention planning. The overwhelming majority of schools involved in this project demonstrated improved outcomes with the DFE validating the positive impact of support, additional evidence can be drawn from the 2019 achievement data as outlined below. Kent has also developed an innovative project in collaboration with the Education Endowment Fund to support schools to make sustainable improvements which will also contribute to this important work. We would be very happy to share further details of this work if it is of interest.
The effectiveness of the work can be seen in the data. In 2019 at Key Stage 2, the proportion of FSM pupils who achieved the ‘expected standard’ in Reading, Writing and Mathematics combined improved by 6 percentage points in 2 comparison with the previous year. The closing of the FSMs gap was evident in maths, grammar, punctuation and spelling and higher attainment in writing.
Good progress was being made in the primary phase, though the secondary phase remains a challenge. It was therefore with dismay I learned of the DfE’s intention to make changes to the calculation of the pupil premium for the financial year 2021- 22 which could result in a loss of over £4 million to Kent schools during this year when we know that numbers of families meeting the threshold is increasing as a consequence of Covid-19. I am aware that Natalie Elphicke, MP, will be writing to you about the impact on schools in Dover in particular.
The Government’s announcement of a planned investment of just £1.4 billion over three years, or £50 per pupil per annum for post Covid educational catch up is an additional area of concern, particularly since the National Audit Office has found that less than half of pupils benefiting from the existing tuition support fund are eligible for free school meals.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies reported in February 2021 that ‘most children across the UK will have missed over half a year of normal, in person schooling…. more than 5% of their entire time in school’. The DfE’s publication, Understanding Progress in the 2020/21 Academic Year, published in January 2021, finds that ‘schools with high levels of disadvantage have experienced higher levels of loss than other schools, particularly in secondary (2.2 months in schools with high rates of free school meal eligibility and 1.5 months in schools with low rates of free school meal eligibility).’ According to the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), the ‘Covid-19 gap’, the extent to which pupils’ attainment in reading and maths been impacted by school closures is around two months’ progress, while the ‘disadvantage gap’ (the measure of how those on FSM compare to their peers) has increased from a lag of five months to seven months. Although the full impact of the pandemic remains to be seen, we know disadvantaged pupils are disproportionally affected. The funding that has been announced will not address this learning gap. As a council, Kent is investing over £10m of our own funding in the post Covid Reconnect Programme for children and young people, but we are not able to compensate for the lack of national investment.
Ministers have given some indication that additional funding may be forthcoming and a significant uplift in current funding would be welcomed by schools and the Council in supporting them in addressing the post-Covid learning gap for the most deprived children and young people.
Cabinet Member for Education and Skills