What will be the impact of recent announcements on education, for people in poverty?
It is welcome news that the overall budget for schools will increase in real terms. Given pupil numbers are set to increase quickly, however, the aim is to ensure cash spending per child doesn’t fall (spending per child is likely to fall slightly in real terms).
The education budget as a whole (including non-school spending such as children’s, family and youth services) will only fall by 1% a year, which contrasts well with other departments’ settlements. The key question now is: how much will spending on those non-school services fall, to allow the increase in the schools budget?
Of particular note for those interested in education and poverty are:
15 hours of free childcare for 130,000 disadvantaged children. The revival of this policy could bring real improvements for those children and families. We know that good quality childcare can help children’s development and support their later attainment, behaviour and well-being. 15 hours of free childcare also gives parents some respite and can help to promote better relationships in the family (although it is not really enough to enable work ). But there are a number of concerns about the policy:
The 'pupil premium'. This provides additional money to schools 'attached' to children from low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds. The extra £2.5 billion promised is very significant at a time of big cuts elsewhere. It is also good to see money focused on child’s circumstances rather than aimed at deprived areas or schools with high deprivation intakes, as many poor children do not live in deprived areas or attend schools with high numbers on free school meals. There are concerns, however, that how they use this money will be left very much to the individual schools. Strong messages need to be sent about the importance of using the funding to improve attainment of low-income children and how this can best be achieved.
Funding 75,000 new apprenticeships over the next four years. This is a positive contribution to providing skills and training that really help people into work. We hope this can help to reduce youth poverty and increase opportunities for decent work and career progression.
University funding. The Government has yet to announce their response to the Browne report, but amid the furore about top-up fees there is a fundamental point often missed. The biggest factor keeping low-income children out of university is the attainment gap that opens up by age 16. One-quarter of families in the poorest 20% get 5 good GCSEs as opposed to three-quarters of the richest 20%. Nevertheless, our research does suggest that aspiring to university may be linked to higher attainment throughout school. So the underlying issue against which to judge the plans will be how far they enable people from low-income backgrounds to feel that university is within their reach.