Factometer: unrated

The claim
“We’re going to have something called the pupil premium, which means extra cash goes to the most disadvantaged to really help them.”
Michael Gove, Education Secretary, 26 May 2010

Cathy Newman checks it out
Michael Gove is promising a revolution in schooling. But revolutions are rarely peaceful, and there are warnings today that the coalition government’s plans for new academies and Swedish-style “free schools” will result in casualties.

To smooth the way, the education secretary is promising a “pupil premium” – extra money from outside the existing schools budget – to ensure schools are encouraged to help the most disadvantaged pupils.

But there are warnings from politicians and economists today that the reforms will do quite the opposite – entrenching social division, and leaving the best schools the preserve of the pushy middle classes.

Over to the team for the analysis
The coalition government set out its education stall yesterday with two core goals: high standards, and closing the gap between rich and poor. To this end, the government plans to let parents set up their own swedish style “free schools” and today offered to give every school the option to become an  academy – free from local authority control.

Those that do will get extra money from central government, more say over teachers’ pay and conditions, and the chance to select up to 10 per cent of their pupils.

A third important policy plank is a new “pupil premium”, where schools get funds for each poorer pupil they educate.

The current funding system already has weighting for deprivation built in, but this is much less transparent than an explicit pupil premium would be. On average, pupils eligible for free school meals attract around double the cash of children from wealthier backgrounds – but this varies significantly across the country.

Both coalition parties proposed an additional pupil premium before the election; the Lib Dems wanted to spend £2.5bn on it, while the Tories were didn’t give it a price tag.The government has now committed to funding a “significant” premium for disadvantaged pupils with money from outside the schools budget by making cuts elsewhere.

It’s not yet clear how much cash counts as “significant”. An education department spokesman said the details were still under ministerial discussion.

So how much of a real difference would the premium make to poorer pupils?

On its own, perhaps not that much. A detailed report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies concluded the effects of the extra cash on pupil’s attainment were likely to be “modest” at best.

“The evidence seems to suggest that the impact of financial resources at the school level on children’s educational outcomes is actually very small,” Haroon Chowdry, one of the report’s authors, told Channel 4 News today.

“Instead, things that seem to be the most important first and foremost are children’s families, their home environment and the early years environment. Within schools the academic consensus seems to be that the most important factor isn’t budgets but is the individual teacher and things that are going on in the classroom.”

So how successful it is depends on the wider educational reform package. “If the pupil premium is accompanied by reforms to the early years environment, or improvements in teaching practices – things that are proven to work – then we could see some improvements in the educational outcomes of the children that are targeted by this policy,” said Chowdry.

Cathy Newman’s verdict
The intentions behind the pupil premium are clearly good, but it’s impossible to know whether poorer children will get the help they need until we know how much cash is available.

As the spending cuts start to bite, there’s real scepticism that the government will be able to afford the big money required to make a difference.

And Paul Holmes, a Lib Dem member of the schools select committee during the last parliament, told us tonight the explosion of new academies will “dramatically worsen” social division.

If the government wants a revolution, it may well get a bloody one.